Peaks & Valleys: Boku no Hero Academia

boku no hero 2

This is exactly the kind of post that would get me a ton of backlash if not for the fact I run an obscure blog.  Not only has Boku no Hero already peaked, as someone up to date on both the anime and the manga, my interest in this IP is severely waning.  There will be spoilers ahead.

Boku no Hero has a couple serious problems which I imagine many fans have either not noticed or have overlooked because they like the show.  Fair enough I like it too, but I have to say with the battle against Gentle Criminal and La Brava over, there is basically nothing left that I find interesting in Boku no Hero.  How is this?  How did a story which was at one point so captivating become so dull so quickly?  Well there are a couple of reasons but let’s start with maybe the biggest one – Deku.  Now I like Deku, he’s a hard-working boy with a heart of gold and he wants to be the best there ever was.  But well, he’s kinda boring.  One of the inspirations for this post was NuxTaku’s video “Deku Officially Sucks” which while obviously intended to rile the fanbase of Boku no Hero, did contain some very good arguments.  Chief amongst them were the following: Deku is a character without intrigue and he’s narratively and thematically dwarfed by someone who honestly would have made a much better main character – Lemillion.

Long before I came across NuxTaku’s video I have to say one of Deku’s very first lines bugged the shit out of me – “this is the story of how I became the number 1 hero.”  It comes up before the story really even starts.  Personally I think dropping that line was a bad move because it takes away one of the biggest achievements Deku could make as character.  When I look at Deku my best point of comparison is Naruto and one of things Naruto gets on Deku by default is that it’s never framed like Naruto ever has a chance at becoming Hokage – until he beats Pain.  Sure Naruto constantly says he wants to be Hokage, but wanting something and getting it are two very different things.  For a huge chunk of Naruto, Naruto’s big talk is laughed at.  It’s considered absurd.  But once he proves himself against the worst enemy Konoha had ever faced, suddenly his claims sound a lot less stupid.

By contrast Deku outright saying he became the best before we’ve really even seen anything is a giant buzzkill.  I mean it’s not a deal-breaker or anything but it really rubbed me the wrong way and it makes Boku no Hero all about the journey, because the we already know the destination.  Now that works plenty well in other shows and it could in theory work for Boku no Hero, but Boku no Hero shoots itself in the foot yet again because we know the means by which Deku will achieve this by the end of the first episode – he has one of the world’s greatest powers handed to him on a platter.  Sure he has to train and master One for All but there really no narrative hook here.  A perfectly generic good guy is given an immense power right out the gate and the only negatives are that he isn’t ready for this power so using it beats the shit out of him.  The problem with Deku is that he already has the perfect heroic mindset so all he needs to do is gain experience and master One for All – and while this makes sense as the reason All Might gave Deku this power is because of his mindset and attitude it’s also narratively boring.  Like how many interesting fights can Deku have where his main concern is hurting himself too badly to fight on or fight another day?

As it turns out not very many.  You’ll notice in season 4 none of his big fights revolved around this problem.  And yes this is in part due to Deku creating or developing workarounds but it also shows the limits of his constricting narrative.  I’m once more reminded of Naruto.  Naruto was a kid who worked his ass off developing techniques and was given great power.  However where Deku’s power is gifted to him by his idol and it earns him nothing but respect in wider society, Naruto’s power is given to him as a desperate measure and he is widely ostracized for bearing Kurama within him.  There also a another couple of layers here.  Deku’s worst outcome in any given fight is failing to save someone or doing too much damage to himself to continue fighting.  Naruto’s worst case scenario is losing control of his power and hurting everyone around him without meaning to.  Moreover because Naruto’s power source is Kurama, he has to walk the tightrope path between drawing out Kurama’s power to master his full potential while not being overwhelmed by Kurama’s chakra and giving in to bestial rage.  Deku has no such set of consequences, his only backlash in using All for One is that he hurts himself and he has the selflessness to let that happen for the sake of saving people.

I’m sure I can take this comparison deeper but I think I got the point across.  Deku is boring.  He’s nice, he’s got a good head on his shoulders and he has an immense power he has yet to master.  And that’s basically it.  Deku doesn’t have inner demons, his worst mental setback is doubting himself on occasion.  Deku’s power and lack of mastery over it has no interesting consequences, nor can the story really go all in on those consequences more a couple of times or else Deku would never be able to fight again.  There is no mystery, depth or intrigue in Deku – we know his destination and we know the means by which he reaches it, it’s just a matter of watching that story play out.  This isn’t to say Boku no Hero or even Deku himself can’t be great but Deku’s story is one with a short shelf life and I think after Gentle Criminal that shelf life has all but expired.  Deku was at his very best during his match with Todoroki during the Sports Festival.  Because that was a match wherein winning for Deku meant tearing his body apart and ultimately losing the big match that he wanted to win for the sake of getting through to Todoroki and saving Todoroki from his inner demons.  Since then Deku has been significantly less impressive with the Stain battle being the second best Deku moment in my opinion.  It’s a shame because he could have been made a lot more interesting if he was allowed to fail more often – but because almost all of Deku’s battles outside of the Sports Festival are matters of life and death, he can’t afford to lose them.  It would also help if maybe he had a different power that allowed for more narrative flexibility.

Which is were Lemillion comes in.  Lemillion and Deku have the same basic dream, attitude and story arc.  The difference is that Lemillion’s is much more compelling and he ends up in a much more interesting position.  Lemillion was a guy born with a pretty crappy powers who struggled to be more than a joke in the eyes of his peers.  But through an ultra positive attitude, dedication and a tutor that helped him master his bizarre power he rose through the ranks and was very nearly at the pinnacle.  Then when he has Overhaul on the ropes, Overhaul puts him in an impossible dilemma, save Eri and take a bullet that erases his powers for good or dodge the bullet and let Eri die.  Obviously he takes the bullet and this is by far the biggest emotional moment in his arc.  He’s inches away from achieving his goal and yet he’s forced to lose everything for the sake of his ideals, because this is a bullet he can’t afford to dodge.  And yet he doesn’t give up, he keeps fighting, he keeps smiling and he doesn’t lose hope.  Lemillion is Deku but a vastly superior version of Deku, his struggles are far greater, the sacrifices he makes significantly more costly and yet he doesn’t bend, he doesn’t break, he takes it all in stride and has hope for the future.

I’m begrudgingly reminded of Bleach’s Fullbringer arc here.  After Ichigo stopped Aizen he ended losing all of his spirit power for a time and he goes on living a normal life until a group of people show him a way that he might be able to get his power back.  Now the Fullbringer arc is to the best of my knowledge fairly widely panned and I didn’t think it wasn’t very good.  But it did attempt something extremely difficult and with tons of potential, a soft reset where someone who rises to the top suddenly crashes back down to rock bottom because they sacrificed all of their future potential for victory now (see HunterxHunter for reference).  But where Bleach didn’t really have the staying power for that I think Lemillion might have had he been the main the character of Boku no Hero.  In any event Deku could not go through this very arc, because losing his power is too great a loss to the wider world.  Another limitation on Deku’s story, and a reason why Lemillion is more interesting.

Getting away from Deku there are two other problems with Boku no Hero Academia that have crippled my interest in the story.  The size of the cast and the loss of All Might.  Now large casts aren’t inherently a problem but Boku no Hero has lost a lot of steam because many beloved or otherwise interesting characters either haven’t gotten much development or have been developed some and then sidelined to make room for more characters.  Ochako is probably the best example.  During the Sports Festival her battle with Bakugo was, and excuse the pun, the tits.  In a tournament arc with tons of interesting battles her’s was solidly in second place behind the even more phenomenal Deku versus Todoroki.  And since then what have we seen from her?  Basically nothing.  Sure she learned some martial arts and she was even present for the raid on Overhaul.  But what did she do during the raid?  Did she fight any interesting enemies?  Did she suffer serious injuries?  Did she bust out a crazy new technique she’d been working on and make an impact?  None of the above.  She’s barely in the raid.  Kirishima had a bigger part to play, and don’t get me wrong Kirishima is great, his fight was awesome and his Unbreakable form looks rad as hell but I wanted Ochako to shine too.  Worse if you read ahead the manga mostly gets away from the kids and focuses mostly on the adult heroes.

It makes sense with the worldbuilding for the kids to play a smaller role as the war against the villains ramps up but there’s a ton of moving parts and Boku no Hero Academia is all too willing to jump around and develop a ton of different characters, while leaving some of the core characters to essentially stagnate.  It makes the story less engaging because the worldbuilding is not that great.  I mean it’s not terrible and it raises some interesting questions but I’ve seen better versions elsewhere.  I even wrote about it before – here’s the link– I already argued that Tiger and Bunny and Gatchaman Crowds were better at this.  That the strength of Boku no Hero is that it has polished the basics of shounen storytelling to a mirror sheen and delivers on the fundamentals so well.  Now that it’s moving into a more complex narrative it’s starting to fall apart and become boring.

Last but not least is the question of All Might.  All Might is one of the greatest shounen characters ever written.  He’s powerful, a national symbol, a man with big dreams and equally huge responsibilities with an unflinching will and all kinds of natural charisma.  To me the ultimate peak of Boku no Hero is All Might versus All for One.  These two titanic figures with larger than life powers, archenemies who have wounded each other so badly they never returned to their top form, duking it out one last time.  The fight was one of the most simplistic I can think of and yet it was also incredibly emotional.  All for One doing everything he can to break All Might’s will and reveal the secrets he didn’t want to world to know, against All Might’s implacable spirit and his willingness to throw away the last dregs of his power in one final Smash to put his nemesis down once and for all was incredible.  And the bit at the end where All Might, a battered husk of his former self points at the camera and says “You’re next” is so fucking good.  It is not just the peak of Boku no Hero but a remarkable high point in the shouen genre, sure to go down with some of the other biggest moments in shounen storytelling.  I always tear up when I start writing about this fight because it was that good, it had that much impact.  And with All Might mostly out of the story, Boku no Hero has lost one of it’s biggest narrative hooks.  All Might was really the glue that held so much of this story together and he’s gone.

With all of that in mind I hope any Boku no Hero fans reading understand why I will not really be hype for any future seasons of Boku no Hero.  All Might is a footnote, Lemillion is out of the picture.  The interesting criminals of season 4 are behind bars.  All that’s left is to explore the League of Villains and have more showdowns, with a little bit of training here and there along the way.  Boku no Hero has gotten rid of its most interesting characters and thrown much of its strong points out the window as it moves on to the next big arc.  I’m not saying it will suck necessarily, but I would be floored if any future seasons were as good as season 4, let alone the true high points of the show seasons 2 & 3.  Thanks for reading, see you in the next one.

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