MY HERO ACADEMIA exploded into the spring with the expansion of its unique universe. In a world where most everyone has some kind of power or ‘quirk’, superhero training is as normal as test prep. This season centers around a festival-type competition at UA Academy.  Many students use their performance to get scouted by professional heroes. This is the first season where we see the students in general studies who didn’t place high enough for hero training. For those not in the hero course, this festival is a rare chance for promotion. With fresh perspectives and new quirks to watch, MY HERO ACADEMIA presents the viewer with something that I feel is imperative for any shonen series: contrast. This is the first time we see the full extent of a lot of quirks, and it’s been incredible to watch thus far.

Minor spoilers ahead for MY HERO ACADEMIA up to and including “Shoto Todoroki: Origin”.

Intrinsic to the format of this festival is a focus on particular characters at specific times. This allows some degree of exposition on students who didn’t get much screentime earlier in the series. At the very least, it means each quirk gets a moment in the spotlight, so characters like Ochaco Uraraka aren’t entirely overshadowed by powerhouses like Shoto Todoroki. What the show brings out for most characters has to do with individual quirks; the powers students wield have a direct relationship to their struggles in life. In this case, I saw quite quickly that with great power often comes a really, really, really sad backstory.

Selfless Devotion

Amid the excitement, explosions, and costumes, I had forgotten one of the most unique realities of this world: being a superhero is simply a job alongside normal life. It’s not as if only some people have powers and are de-facto heroes because of it. Despite the prevalence of quirks in this world, not everyone has the luck or desire to become a hero.

Uraraka, the girl with the incredible quirk of gravity manipulation, was of the first characters given a little extra slice of spotlight. In Season 1, she quickly became one of Izuku Midoriya’s closest friends. The pair was only able to score enough points during the entrance exam by saving each other’s lives. Despite this incredible power and closeness to the main character, she’s mostly an extra. During the first episode of Season 2, however, she reveals that her excitement to become a hero is purely to support her family.

Uraraka’s father tells her to follow her dreams.

For Uraraka’s family construction business, there’s no work available and they are poor as a result. Her quirk would dramatically reduce costs by making several tons of material weightless, so it makes sense that she would want to help her parents like any other child. Her father rejects this, however, and wants her to make her own dreams come true. Just like a real world family, Uraraka’s parents want her to find her own dreams rather than just support them financially. She is by no means ‘strong’, but she is incredibly crafty and dogged in pursuing her goals. Her goal is the most selfless and admirable, and that kind of strength lets her come close to defeating Katsuki Bakugo. She outsmarts him so much that he’s shaking when he narrowly escapes her barrage of rocks.

READ: Want to hear more about Uraraka’s match against Bakugo? Check out this analysis!

Ice Melts

Todoroki is one of the wealthiest students and the son of the legendary Endeavor. Most unique about him is his unique blend of quirks. His father’s power of flame and his mother’s control over ice both developed in him together. This might seem like a miracle, but it came at a terrible price.

This is a dark side of superheroes, which forced me to remember that this is a world with all of the greed and pride of our own. Endeavor forced Todoroki’s mother into their relationship, having multiple children until one was born with both of their quirks. These “quirk marriages” are extremely frowned upon among superheroes. Due to his power, Todoroki is placed on a pedestal from the beginning of the festival as a clear rival for Midoriya.

This premise is crucial to Todoroki’s development within the series and important to understanding his origins. He was trained to use his quirk since birth and crafted into the perfect potential hero. The only time his father ever acknowledges him is in regard to his incredible power. Endeavor merely sees him as a project to create a hero stronger than All Might.

During the first event of the festival, he freezes insanely large areas in an instant, immobilizing half the competition single handedly. He swears to never use his power over fire in battle, but comes close to unleashing it reflexively in the wake of Midoriya’s quirk.

Todoroki reflexively unleashes his flames against Midoriya.

As a child, he resented the way his father abused him and his mother. We see Endeavor beat him as early as 5 years old, doing the same to his mother when she defends him. Eventually, she went mad and directed her hatred toward her youngest son, pouring boiling water on Todoroki’s red side, the side that most resembled his father. Given this, it makes sense that he rejects Endeavor’s flames, only using ice in combat. It also explains why that ice is so powerful; he honed it as an absolute rejection of his abusive father’s power. That is, until he and Midoriya duke it out for a second time.

Mind Games

In a world where power is common, those who use it improperly are just as easy to find. Someone with a quirk that’s generally seen with an ‘evil’ connotation could easily become a villain. Hitoshi Shinso, a student from the General Course at UA Academy and Midoriya’s first battle opponent, has the power to completely brainwash anyone who verbally responds to him. For his entire life, others relegated him into a box defined by the power of his quirk.

As a response to that, he learned skills to maximize his abilities, just like anyone else. Hitoshi comes extremely close to defeating Midoriya without even breaking a sweat. During their fight, Hitoshi is able to get into Midoriya’s head with careful taunts. Even though Midoriya was completely aware of Hitoshi’s quirk, the verbals jabs were powerful enough to force a response. Just as other heroes have trained their bodies to strengthen their quirks, Hitoshi has incredible skill in forcing a reaction from people.

Hitoshi brainwashes Midoriya and declares his victory.

Most people who hear about Hitoshi’s power jokingly ask him to not brainwash them, but that sticks with Hitoshi. No matter what, people are always on guard around him, and it creates immediate separation between him and everyone else. By no fault of his own, the world pushes him away and makes him the perfect potential villain.

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In context, this is pretty terrifying. I can understand why someone would be hesitant to even be around Hitoshi, let alone speak. But this relies on the assumption that he would abuse the power to begin with. Hitoshi himself wants to be a hero. His cold, calculating edge is all for the purpose of being recognized for his skill. Once he has the chance to fight in front of others, he finally receives some of the praise he craves, and is noticeably happy about it.

Pro heroes in the crowd even muse about how incredibly useful his quirk would be against villains. Villains love mouthing off, and Hitoshi could immobilize them just by being there. If Hitoshi himself were to choose a darker path, he would be unstoppable against someone who didn’t understand his power. Hitoshi’s contempt for those with combat-suited quirks is similar to the hatred for All Might felt by the villains who attacked UA Academy in Season 1. It forces us to wonder what might happen if Hitoshi never gets the recognition he deserves.

A Ray of Light in the Dark

For these types of people, something like a Hero Academy is extremely important. Someone as prideful and conceited as Endeavor would certainly be a villain if not for the recognition being a hero gets him. Without legitimate applications, powerful quirks like his are easy routes to crime. After Hitoshi’s fight with Midoriya, his friends tell him he’d become a beacon of hope. In practice, his power is just as heroic as super strength. In theory, however, most assume its most evil extremes. Midoriya wins their match, but both are better for it. Midoriya advances and develops his control over All For One. Hitoshi’s classmates treat him like a person, not just as for his quirk, for the first time.

Pro heroes and classmates praise Hitoshi from the crowd.

Students like Todoroki and Uraraka aren’t exempt from this. Uraraka is so committed to helping her family that she’ll fight until she passes out. If she hadn’t been admitted into UA Academy, who’s to say she wouldn’t use her power to rob a bank? What if Todorki became disenchanted not just with his father, but with heroes in general? His power is incredible despite his age, and losing to Midoriya without using his father’s power would only deepen his hatred.

Why This is Great for the Series

It’s not often that protagonists lose this early in any competition. In this case, however, Midoriya brings it upon himself. Every match becomes more about both students using their quirks for themselves, and not for others. Midoriya, Hitoshi, Uraraka, and Todoroki all bring out their experiences in the heat of battle. In a shonen anime where everyone has power, it’s great to see that even the strongest struggle with basic parts of life. Struggles with poverty and abusive parents are real problems. So far, the strongest motivations for each character have little to do with super-villains or some powerful antagonist.

CLICK: MY HERO ACADEMIA isn’t the only show with complex characters. Check out RE: CREATORS!

Seeing shows like DRAGON BALL SUPER or ONE PUNCH MAN, it seems real heroes beat everything into submission. Midoriya, a boy with insane strength, places first in the obstacle course without his quirk at all. Hitoshi can have anyone under his complete control with just a conversation. Uraraka almost wins her match through steady ingenuity and cunning. In MY HERO ACADEMIA, it’s not just about the win. Multiple heroes fight a variety of villains, together. Even All Might relies on those with specialized skills to come out victorious. Beyond that, these are students, not adults killing each other, and there’s as much time spent on background as the battles.

Looking Forward

The strongest in the series aren’t just those with strength, but those who understand and grow from their struggles. Side characters have their own lives outside of fighting, informing us about basic perspectives. The boy with the quirk of the world’s strongest hero loses after just two rounds. This is a show for action lovers and plot purists alike.

I have no idea exactly what the rest of MY HERO ACADEMIA will look like. If future seasons open up like this one, this will certainly set a standard for shonen anime. A focus on fighting alone is no longer satisfactory. Now that I’ve gotten a taste of this neat blend of action with a dash of seriousness, I can’t accept much less.

I wake up every Saturday excited to see what happens next. While explosions are great, I will always appreciate complex characters and meaningful backstories even more.

All images screenshotted from Crunchyroll

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