Not all heroes wear capes, but do they at least give good speeches? That’s the vibe I’ve been getting form My Hero Academia lately. Shounen anime shines in delivering that classic “coming-of-age” story, and the recent increase in mentorship has really solidified that. Todoroki and Endeavor, Deku and Gran Torino, even Bakugo is learning little by little how to be a true hero. Yet, what does that really mean?
Out of all the things I love about shounen anime, I gotta say that it’s those unexpected moments that really grab me. I go into something like Dragon Ball Z expecting big fights and bigger climaxes, but then something like Vegeta hugging his son happens. In the middle of the chaos, the sudden oasis of calm refreshes the palate and makes you think. Why are the characters really fighting? What’s going on in the heads of everyone involved? Good shounen take advantage of these lulls in the best way, progressing plot and growing characters.
Following the Tournament arc, My Hero Academia has switched gears. The students are now taking internships with various hero agencies, and real life has been a wake-up call. Mental and physical makeovers are happening, expectations are being shifted, and limits are being pushed. A hero’s life isn’t easy, but everyone’s passion keeps them moving forward. Life is looking up for everyone.
Well…everyone except Iida. Rocked by his brother’s defeat at the hands of the Hero Killer, Iida distances himself. Taking on the mantle of Ingenium, his brother’s former identity, Iida continues to walk the hero’s path, but for his own reasons. Seeing his mentor fall to a villain in such a way hurts him. His identity is in flux: he’s confused and angry, looking for answers. So he takes an offer at an agency in Hosu, the city his brother was attacked. A chance at revenge, and possibly redemption…
In contrast, Deku has been taken in by Gran Torino: All Might’s mentor. Short and frugal, Gran Torino is just about the opposite of Deku’s expectations for the man who raised All Might, but Torino is more than he seems. His training forces Deku to change his perspective on his Quirk: All for One. Rather than channeling all of its’ power into a specific area, he learns to distribute it evenly through his body. His control and versatility increases tremendously as a result, and he truly begins to accept himself and his powers as a result.
In that same vibe, Todoroki chooses to study under his father Endeavor. Still turning over his new leaf, Todoroki recognizes that for all his faults, his father is still the #2 hero. That’s no small feat, nor is it one to be taken lightly. Putting aside his personal distastes, he utilizes the tools available to him, and begins to learn more about the nitty-gritty of peacekeeping. It isn’t an easy transition, but he feels at peace looking back at his old self, recognizing how he’s grown.
These branching paths all come to a head when the Hero Killer, Stain himself arrives in Hosu. During a city-wide crisis, Iida confronts Stain as he nearly dispatches a Native, fellow Hero. In classic shounen style, Iida roars his challenge as he fights, declaring that he will take revenge for his brother and that Stain will die. Reeling from his anger, his attacks are no match for Stain’s cold precision, and he easily falls prey to Stain’s Quirk, becoming paralyzed. Yet, even as he bends over a helpless Iida, Stain motions toward Native and remarks “Save that guy first”. Pointing out that “being taken in by the hatred before you and trying to fulfill your own desires…is the furthest from what a hero should be.” Iida’s self-serving motivations blinded him to the needs of the hero next to him, Stain declares that fake heroes like Iida need to die.
Things come to a head with the arrival of Deku, and eventually Todoroki. Neither of them has quite the strength to defeat Stain, but they manage to keep him from killing anyone. With time against them, their only hope is to stall until the pro heroes arrive.
What makes this segment so impactful to me is how well it parallels different stages of the Christian walk. Each of the main characters is on a separate step in one journey, and it’s one that we all face at some point. Let’s take it step-by-step:
Iida serves as a paralogue to a Christian struggling with sin. For Iida, the case could be made for pride. In his struggle, he doesn’t see that he needs outside help. He knows his adversary, he knows the challenge, but foolishly tries to defeat it alone. His struggle is in vain, however, and he falls to the blood-leeching power of Stain, blinded by his own grief and rage. Even as his friends arrive to help him, he implores them to leave, lamenting that he isn’t worth it. His mistakes cost him his strength, but they didn’t steal Bad things happen to all of us, those in the faith and outside of it. We all fall, we all struggle, we all have to wrestle with life issues. What separates the believer’s struggle, though, is that we don’t “grieve as the rest, who have no hope” (1 The. 4:13), but we have the assurance that our lives are in the hands of a loving God. He knows our pains, and sends us comfort through His Spirit, and through others.
Todoroki’s character arc represents that of a Christian who’s just come out on the other side of that struggle. His identity now found in who he wants to be, not who he doesn’t want to be, he’s learning what it means to be him. He knows the path of self-serving, and what it does. He recognizes “the face of someone who would act on pent-up resentment”, and he also knows “how narrow the field of vision can get for someone like that”. Looking beyond his circumstances wasn’t easy, and it required the input of an outside source – Midoriya – in order for him to truly realize that his life belonged to him. It was his responsibility to dictate his own behavior, not to base it on what he hated. With that in mind, setting aside his personal grudges to learn from the man who hurt him was mind-blowing, yet freeing. In the same way, looking beyond ourselves requires the insight of the Holy Spirit, opening our eyes to the fact that God “causes all things to work together for good, for those who love [Him], for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Realizing this doesn’t automatically make life easy, but it does give us hope.
Midoriya, the third stage in this cycle, parallels a Christian who has come to grips with who they are in Christ, but is still working their way into living it out. His training with Gran Torino involves a total shift in the way he utilizes his Quirk. Rather than seeing One for All as a specialized tool for specific circumstances, channeling it through his body and integrating it into his gameplan reveals its’ true power. He has more answers to threats, can understand how to apply himself more, and is growing in confidence as a hero. Using even 5% of his power is a struggle, but he enjoys it. Pushing past his own limits and relying on his gift; in that he finds strength and purpose. While we don’t have the raw power of All Might coursing through our veins, we do have a different type of power. God Himself resides within His people, through the Holy Spirit, changing more than our physical abilities. Powers of compassion, forgiveness, self-identity, empathy, and inner strength all lie within us, waiting to be tapped into. To do so requires us to recognize our own intrinsic weakness, and to choose to let His power work through us. Coming to this point in the journey requires a lot of humility, which is why it’s a process. Midoriya didn’t suddenly wake up with the ability to control One for All: only through time, patience, and humility was he able to begin to understand it. It’s the same with us. We aren’t suddenly made perfect, but we are being perfected (Phi 1:6).
Each of us is on a different stage in our journey. Maybe you feel like Iida, knocked down by life and looking for change. There’s hope for you. You might be in Todoroki’s place: just starting to really understand your relationship with God and others, and trying to fit everything together. There’s peace for you. Some of us empathize with Midoriya: trying to integrate this newfound “Christianity” into our lives, enjoying its’ comfort but scared of the change. There’s strength for you. The Bible, our personal letter from God, gives us a lot of information about how God works through our lives. When we’re weak, He gives us strength (Isa 40:29), when we’re broken, He puts us together (Psa 34:18), and when we’re unsure, He gives us confidence (2 Cor 3:4-5). The foes we face might not be serial killers or deranged maniacs, but our battles are no less intense. Push, pull; back, forth; life is a rhythmic cadence, an elegant dance with our darker selves. Trying to gain the upper hand against a nature that finds it easy to sin is impossible to do alone.
Fortunately for us, we aren’t alone. We’re never alone. We stand, united by our God and the power He gives. Weak, yes. Helpless, yes. Needy, yes. All of those downfalls, fulfilled by Him, and through Him.
Together, we are strong.
Together, we are heroes.