MY HERO ACADEMIA is currently in its “Sports Festival” arc, where Midoriya and the rest of the U.A. students show off their skills in a series of competitions. The event has highlighted the realities of working as a pro hero in the world of the series, such as the fierce rivalries that emerge as you reach for the no. 1 spot, as well as some general ones, like you can’t always follow your friends if you want to grow. Earlier in the season, these two elements were almost exclusively applied to the anime’s male characters, seemingly at Uraraka’s expense in one scene. But with its most recent episode, MY HERO ACADEMIA showed that Uraraka won’t stand idly by as her male peers race ahead of her.

Spoilers for MY HERO ACADEMIA up to and including “Bakugo vs. Uraraka” follow.

Let’s start with what happened earlier in the season. As Midoriya won the obstacle course race, the first challenge of the Sports Festival, a 10 million point reward was placed on his head for the next round, the Cavalry Battle. No one else’s point value even came close, making Midoriya a generally undesirable team member. But it seemed likely that his friends from Season 1 would show up and help him out. Sure enough, Uraraka says she’ll join his team, and Midoriya approaches Iida and lays out his plan. But Iida says no. He thinks he’s been losing to Midoriya since day one, that he won’t get better if he always relies on him, and says that Bakugo and Todoroki aren’t the only ones who see him as a rival.

My first thought when I saw this was, “Why can’t Uraraka be a rival, too?” Iida makes a point of saying that he thinks Midoriya’s “a wonderful friend” before declining his invitation. And later their relationship is shown to be unaffected by this turn of events in “Victory and Defeat,” when Iida cheerfully says that he and Uraraka saved a seat for him. Clearly, the series had no problem distinguishing between competition and antagonism there. So why couldn’t that happen for the anime’s main female character, in a season with such a heavy focus on pushing yourself to be the best?

My Hero Academia - Tenya challenges Izuku - Denki Kaminari, Momo Yaoyorozu, Tenya Iida, Shoto Todoroki
Iida joins Team Todoroki to compete with Midoriya.

All Part of the Plan

In the lead up to Uraraka’s fight against Bakugo, MY HERO ACADEMIA revealed that there was a plan for Uraraka all along. Acknowledging the difference in ability between Bakugo and Uraraka, Midoriya comes up with a plan and offers it to her in “Battle On, Challengers.” But Uraraka says, “It’s fine…During the Cavalry Battle, I thought it’d be easier to team up with friends, but now that I think about it, I might’ve been trying to rely on you.” She actually felt embarrassed when Iida said he’d challenge Midoriya, and implies that they’re all rivals before boldly declaring that she’d see him in the finals.

While that doesn’t happen — Bakugo wins their fight when Uraraka overexerts herself and can no longer move — she’s able to push him to his limit. After using his Explosion Quirk to protect himself from the “meteor shower” Uraraka had been planting in the sky, Bakugo says, “That was close…” as his hand shakes.

She also gets him to acknowledge her. Bakugo clearly doesn’t spend too much time trying to remember the names of his classmates, calling Kirishima “Weird Hair” and Sero “Flat Face.” And at the beginning of their fight, Bakugo calls Uraraka “Round Face.” But when she starts coming at him after her plan fails, he says “All right, let’s get serious then, Uraraka!” To top it all off, in response to Kaminari saying “I can’t believe you were able to aim such a huge blast at a frail girl,” he asks, “What part of her was frail?”

These developments are crucial to Uraraka’s role in the series. In Season 1, she was introduced as Midoriya’s love interest, was rescued by him during the Entrance Exam shortly after that, and excluded herself from the conflict between Midoriya and Bakugo by calling it “the fated battle between men.” Though she was by no means useless, it seemed like she was largely there to be cute and to make Midoriya look good. So for Uraraka to enter into Bakugo and Midoriya’s dynamic, and for her to back one of them into a corner, is a big deal. Bakugo even assumes that her plan must have come from Midoriya, which he promptly denies.

My Hero Academia - Bakugo Blows Away the Meteor Shower - Ochaco Uraraka, Katsuki Bakugo
Bakugo foils Uraraka’s plan with a powerful explosion.

READ: MY HERO ACADEMIA was one of Sabrina Pyun’s favorite anime of 2016. Find out what the rest were with her Top 10 list!

Why It’s Going to Stick

Uraraka’s confrontation with Bakugo could be seen as a one-off attempt to showcase her as a powerful female character, an idea never to be returned to again (at least not in earnest). But after her defeat, the series spends time on her coping with her loss after giving it her all.

At first, the series seems to play off her defeat with levity, accompanying her “Man, I lost” with a cheerful cartoon noise, a cheerful cartoon background, and Uraraka’s cheerful face. She says she needs to work harder here, but it seems like the kind of thing the series could forget about if it wanted to. However, after Midoriya leaves to fight Todoroki, we stay with Uraraka and hear her trying to console herself to her father, apologizing for not doing better so she could help her family faster. It doubles down on this, her goal, after introducing it in the first episode of the season, illustrating that it’s just as important to her as Midoriya’s and Bakugo’s are to them. It’s a reassuring demonstration that MY HERO ACADEMIA is committed to her story, even when the show’s main male character isn’t in the room.

My Hero Academia - Ochaco, defeated
A defeated Uraraka talks to her father.

How It’s Different From NARUTO (and Why That Could Be a Good Thing)

MY HERO ACADEMIA is a shonen (a type of anime or manga aimed at young boys), meaning it inherits a legacy of sidelined female characters. As such, I thought it’d be instructive to see if Uraraka’s growth was any different to that of a comparable character in another shonen. Because she plays second fiddle to Naruto and Sasuke’s relationship, Sakura (the main female character of NARUTO) fit the bill.

Uraraka’s fight with Bakugo takes place at the 22-episode mark, whereas Sakura’s fight with Ino (a similarly defining moment for her character) happens in NARUTO’s 41st episode. This is not inherently a knock on NARUTO, but it shows the differing priorities between the two anime. NARUTO chose to spend more time mining the relationship between Sasuke and Naruto, and their respective struggles, before giving Sakura time in the spotlight. In contrast, MY HERO ACADEMIA is stating relatively early on that Uraraka’s development is important to the series.

Of course, even after Sakura’s fight with Ino, it took about 200 episodes (until her and Chiyo’s fight with Sasori) to prove how incredible she is, despite feeling frustrated way more than Uraraka has so far. But Sakura’s goal wasn’t originally about being a ninja, while Uraraka has been wholly committed to being a hero from the start.

In any case, I’m glad to see that we’ll likely get a substantial narrative arc for Uraraka, as MY HERO ACADEMIA’s female characters could stand to be as developed as their male ones.

READ: For another series full of relatable struggles, check out SAKURA QUEST!

All images screenshotted from Hulu.

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