My Hero Academia: Why Heroes Matter – Wisecrack Quick Take
Welcome to this Wisecrack Quick Take on My Hero Academia Season 2!
Directed by: Michael Luxemburg
Written by: Thomas Ambrosini
Edited by: Andrew Nishimura
Produced by: Emily Dunbar & Jacob Salamon
My Hero Academia: Why Heroes Matter – Wisecrack Quick Take
What’s up, guys? Jared here and today we’re talking about one of the best anime of the year, Season Two of My Hero Academia. My Hero Academia asks some serious questions about heroism, namely: Are all of our heroes full of s***? Welcome to this Wisecrack Quick Take on My Hero Academia, season 2. And of course, spoilers ahead.
For those uninitiated, here’s a quick recap: My Hero Academia takes place in a world where 80% of people manifest some sort of superpower, or “quirk”, and being a hero has finally become a full-time job. And a glamorous one at that. Middle schooler Midoriya Izuku yearns to be like his idol, the hero All Might, but unfortunately, is quirkless. But after demonstrating his selflessness to All Might, Midoriya receives his very own powers from his hero. After a year of training Midoriya enrolls in the exclusive high school for will-be heroes, U.A. Academy. And at the end of Season 1, he and his classmates come face to face with some real bad guys – the League of Villains, led by Shigaraki Tomura – only for All Might to save the day.
Now there are lot of great moments in Season Two, but where this question of what it means to be a hero really comes to the fore is during the Stain Arc. Class President, Iida Tenya, learns that his brother has been attacked by the hero-killer, Stain. Stain believes that today’s heroes are more concerned with their own image than actually doing good. “This society overgrown with fake heroes, where the word itself has lost its true meaning, and the criminals who wave their power around idly, should all be purged.” Determined to get revenge, Iida then interns with the less than prestigious Normal Hero in order to find Stain, while Midoriya is stuck, well, with this guy. And as Shigaraki unleashes a horde of biologically engineered super villains on the city, Iida, Midoriya, and fellow classmate Todoroki manage to converge on Stain and capture him.
The Stain arc raises the question: what causes our obsession with heroism? According to philosopher Ernest Becker, the desire to be a hero is innate. It’s the desire to be the very best at something and ultimately, to be remembered and thereby transcend death. But most of us aren’t heroes, we’re Jerrys, or Cementos at best. Instead, Becker tells us that we redirect this desire into society, or what he calls “cultural hero-systems”. Bummed you’re not All Might? That’s okay, feel special because Ingenium’s younger brother interns at your hero agency. Sad you’re not always saving the day? Who cares, you can still feature on a TV talk show panel because of your ridiculous costume.
It’s this kind of hero worship which Stain opposes, instead believing that heroes must epitomize self-sacrifice. “Hero is a title given only to those who have accomplished great deeds! There are too many… Too many who act like heroes but are really money-worshippers. Until this world realizes its mistake, I will continue to appear.” Stain rejects a society that treats heroes like celebrities, paying them for capturing villains and allowing them to use their status for lucrative side hustles. “In addition, heroes are allowed to have side jobs. When this was made official, there was a lot of argument about this, but that ended thanks to popularity and public demand. So now I’m about to film a commercial.”
Stain believes that being a superhero with an asterisk isn’t being a superhero at all. And this argument isn’t all that crazy, and in fact mirrors an idea that philosopher/senior men’s model Jacques Derrida dubbed “unconditional hospitality.” To Derrida, unconditional hospitality is a pure, unbounded kindness and generosity to others – a “law without law”, as he confusingly called it. To Derrida, true absolute hospitality cannot be imposed upon by rules, duties, or laws – whether they be legal, cultural, or even moral. Otherwise it stops being unconditional. As one thinker put it, “The law of hospitality is absolute in that it requires one to give all one has to another without asking any questions, imposing any restrictions, or requiring any compensation.” If we apply Derrida’s logic to My Hero Academia, the heroes are only acting out a conditional hospitality.
This is particularly the case with Iida, who is so wrapped up in his desire for revenge that he forgets what it means to be a hero: putting others first. When Iida stumbles upon Stain attacking Native, Iida isn’t really coming to the rescue. Instead, he’s implicitly making Native’s rescue contingent on him getting what he wants: killing Stain. And Stain, the perceptive slasher, tells it as it is. “Save that guy first. Reflect on yourself and save others. Don’t use your power for yourself. Being taken by the hatred before you and trying to fulfill your own desires, that is the furthest from what a hero should be.”
By the way, this fight scene was really awesome, one of the best of the season, and if you want to see it broken down by one of our friends, check out Geoff over at Mother’s Basement. He just dropped a vid analyzing all the things that make this fight scene incredible. So check him out at the link in the description. You won’t regret it. Anyway… This all goes to show what makes Midoriya and All Might special: their unwavering adherence to unconditional hospitality. In fact, it’s Midoriya’s willingness to sacrifice himself for others – even without a quirk – that originally drew All Might to him. “Even though I admonished you, I wasn’t putting what I said into practice. Pros are always risking their lives!” And over the course of Seasons One and Two, we see Midoriya putting himself on the line over and over again. Whether it’s leaping into the fray against League of Villains when All Might seems down for the count, or arriving at the last minute to save Iida from Stain. Hell, Midoriya can’t even use One for All without literally shattering the bones in his body, but that’s never stopped him.
Of course, Stain recognizes this trait in Midoriya, initially sparing him. “People who are all talk are a dime a dozen, but you are worth letting live.” But Midoriya is only a pale comparison of what Stain really wants: to fight the Symbol of Peace himself. After Stain saves Midoriya from being abducted, he declares: “I must make things right. Someone must be dyed in blood. I must take back what it means to be a hero. Come! Try and get me, you fakes! The only one I’ll let kill me is the true hero, All Might!” That’s right. Stain, motivated to make a more just society, will only let himself be brought down by a true hero, the embodiment of unconditional hospitality himself, All Might.
Now, Stain isn’t the main villain of My Hero Academia, but his impact is really felt in the season’s concluding episode. What starts as a day off for Midoriya and his classmates, ends with Midoriya being briefly held captive by Shigaraki. Now Shigaraki is royally pissed at Stain for scorning him and getting so much attention. What Shigaraki can’t see is how he’s different than Stain. But as Midoriya explains, Stain stands for something. “At the very least, he wasn’t destroying just because he wanted to. He didn’t just abandon it in vain, like you did. Even if the way he did it was wrong, he was trying to live up to his ideals, I think.”
Now to end this, we’re going to invoke a little more Becker here. Remember those cultural hero systems in society? Becker said that they were based all on the denial of death. The reason why we strive to get a raise, fall in love, or even start a family is because, even if we’re only side characters and NPC’s, we’re desperately trying to feel special in our little corner of the universe and be remembered. To Becker though, society as a whole would crumble, though, if we ever realized how little our death actually means to the unfeeling universe. As such, we have to desperately protect these fragile, artificial hero-systems that make up society. This issue of confronting death becomes even more pronounced in the world of My Hero Academia where your everyday citizen’s mortality is constantly put on display. When super villains can appear and kill hundreds in an instant – how does your average person go about living their life? Just as in our lives, people can only create meaning by building up images of heros and worshipping them. And specifically, the Symbol of Peace himself, All Might.
As Shigaraki releases Midoriya, he realizes he’s been driven by an ideal all along: destroying the symbol that gives society peace. “These guys are smiling thoughtlessly because All Might is smiling thoughtlessly. It’s because that trash is smiling thoughtlessly, as if there was no one he couldn’t save!” So what do you think, Wisecrack? What does it mean to be a hero? And are they really the glue that binds society together? Let us know by dropping a line in the comment section. And, as always, peace!