“Young man, you too can become a hero!”
What does it really mean to be a hero? Sure, there are countless superheroes that currently crowd the television, film, and comics industries, but beyond the basics, what does it actually mean? Is a hero someone that has immense strength? Is it someone in control of ridiculous super powers? Or is a hero simply someone who has an unflappable sense of justice?
Furthermore, this question becomes a whole lot more complicated when it’s looked at through My Hero Academia’s lens. What it means to be a hero in a world where over 80 percent of the population are superheroes is drastically different than the norm. It means that powers and abilities are not so much a privilege or responsibility to accept, but that they’re ordinary. When everyone is a superhero, nobody is a superhero, and therefore something a lot less superficial needs to be held up as the standard. If over half the people in the world can shoot flames, increase their size, or wield vines, then it’s suddenly a lot more important to find individuals who are altruistic and empathetic. “What It Takes to Be a Hero” broaches the idea that a strong quirk might be helpful in the world, but it’s going to take a whole lot more than that to be the legend that the Dekus of tomorrow will idolize.
My Hero Academia’s exceptional premiere episode did a strong job at introducing the audience to Izuku “Deku” Midoriya, their optimistic protagonist. My Hero Academia showed restraint in its premiere by deciding to more or less deliver a character study on a relatable underdog, but “What It Takes to Be a Hero” steps on the gas a little. The series’ second installment chooses to pull back the layers on Izuku’s superhero idol, All-Might, and it manages to be just as satisfying and surprising of a journey as the previous episode’s look at Deku.
All-Might looks like what might happen if you take all of the most burly superhero stereotypes—your Thor, your Superman, your Super Saiyan Goku—and throw them into a blender together. Christopher Sabat doesn’t hold back as he taps into the machismo, exaggerated bravado of All-Might, but then My Hero Academia does something special that should simultaneously assuage any fears that this is just going to be just another show about superheroes. Suddenly, All-Might, the picture perfect image of strength, shrivels up into a desiccated husk of a man and it’s just as much of a shock to Izuku as it is the audience.
The truth is that this ultra-strong superhero that Izuku has been obsessed over his entire life is really just a superhero a fraction of the time. All-Might’s strength is only possible for a mere three hours every day, with the rest of his life shrouded in secrecy as he attempts to hide this colossal weakness. The detail that All-Might has gone through various operations through the years in order to stay alive is also particularly morbid. Even after all of this pain, All-Might remains in a very compromised state where it looks like his powers are actually more of a burden than an asset. It’s a true shock to witness this frail version of All-Might (Sabat’s interpretation of this version of the character is also brilliantly on-point), but the jarring truth actually allows Izuku and his idol to bond in a way that might have never before been possible.
This information hits Izuku twice as hard because not only does it deflate his opinion of All-Might, but the hero also pushes a refreshingly stark reality check on the boy. All-Might explicitly tells Izuku to give up on his superhero dreams and that if he’s so passionate about helping those in need, then maybe he should become a police officer instead. It’s another shocking moment in the series’ second episode. It’d be like if Batman decided to pass Robin off to some Neighborhood Watch group instead of mentoring him. The typical superhero narrative would turn All-Might into Izuku’s tough, yet fair, teacher, and once again My Hero Academia takes the opportunity to show that it plays by its own rules. Izuku can’t even properly process this bombshell because Katsuki Bakugo is under attack in the city and somebody needs to come to his rescue.
All-Might’s backstory and the crushing news that he gives to Izuku is certainly important, but the episode’s real highlight is when Izuku chooses to rise to the challenge and still play the role of hero. Even after All-Might dispels the myth that Izuku has what it takes to be a hero, Izuku tries to prove that he can still be helpful in his own way. It’s at that point that the episode’s lesson really comes into focus. Even if Izuku dies at the hand of this slime monster and nobody even learns his name, he is still a hero. He selflessly charges into battle (to rescue his rival, at that) and only cares about doing good. It’s quite telling that all of the professional, big league superheroes are either useless here or balk at the opportunity to help.
In the end, it’s the quirkless Izuku that answers the call and it’s this simple act of courage that breaks through to All-Might and inspires him to act like the hero that everyone thinks he is. It’s an incredibly powerful scene that only hits harder when you understand that this normal boy who has admired All-Might for most of his life is actually more of an influence on his hero than All-Might is on him. There’s also some poignancy over the fact that the slime monster that attempts to consume Bakugo is the same predator that attacked Izuku back in the premiere.
The episode’s conclusion is considerably emotional, but it’s a well-earned “victory” for Izuku. He might not be totally victorious against Bakugo’s slime monster, but he does impress All-Might and manage to pull him out of his depressing stupor. During this pivotal moment, Izuku thinks back to his mother and the other formative support systems in his life. He can now finally make them proud, but the beauty here is that they’ve always respected and admired him. “What It Takes to Be a Hero” kind of buries the lede with what it reveals in its final moments. It looks like Izuku’s superhero story is far from over and that this individual might not always be the quirkless underdog that he’s learned to accept. Greatness awaits Izuku and due to the proper work that’s been put into his character, this is already a journey that’s addictive.
Outside of the emotional catharsis and slime-fueled action that this episode throws at its audience, there are also plenty of great comedic moments in here. While it’s clear that this show’s biggest scenes will revolve around elaborate action set pieces, there will still be no shortage of laughs and opportunities to lampoon the more ridiculous aspects of superheroics. “What It Takes to Be a Hero” also starts to expand on the many other super-powered characters in this world, but it still just offers glimpses of them. There’s a little more of Mt. Lady that gets shown off (her reluctance to disrupt the streets and how she needs two lanes of traffic to properly travel is a deep, yet hilarious aside) and Bakugo continues to be an angry, ungrateful ball of id, but it’s clear that the kid’s working through some massive issues. Once My Hero Academia gets a little deeper into its story it should become very satisfying when the show eventually expands and turns into more of an ensemble vehicle. For now, this slower approach at least still works in the series’ favor. It makes more sense to gradually introduce more insane personalities over time than to just let everyone loose and see who sticks and makes an impression.
It’s very encouraging to see that this series continues to defy expectations, effectively develop its characters and its world, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that it looks gorgeous and polished every step of the way, too. My Hero Academia debuted to a strong premiere, but the powerful storytelling that’s present in “What It Takes to Be a Hero” improves on the formula and confirms that this isn’t just a fluke, but that this show is just getting started.
Plus Ult–*erupts in terrible, bloody coughing fit*–Plus Ultra!!