“I just want to cry to an uncomplicated story,” I texted a friend one Saturday afternoon. It’d been a long week, and for whatever reason, I was in a terrible mood and wanted nothing more than to bawl and let out all my pent-up emotions. The friend responded with a slew of recommendations, mostly overly saccharine dramas and arthouse films, but I already had a go-to in mind. Cut to me curled up under my covers, weeping tears of joy as I watched, for the umpteenth time, a young boy and his friends rescue their companion from a gang of murderous villains on My Hero Academia.
My Hero Academia, for those who don’t know, is an anime series centered on Izuku Midoriya, a wide-eyed boy who grows up powerless in a world where the majority of people have been endowed with super-enhanced abilities called “Quirks.” Against the odds, Midoriya gets into the superhero academy of his dreams, where he trains tirelessly to live up to the expectations of his idol-turned-mentor, All Might. I first discovered the show, based on Kohei Horikoshi's wildly popular manga series of the same name, at Anime Expo in July 2017. At the time, I was working in a newsroom as an entertainment reporter, a job I wasn’t sure I wanted for much longer. Feeling stuck and disheartened by the onslaught of depressing headlines, I began watching My Hero Academia, dubbed the superhero anime for those with superhero fatigue. I tuned in week after week because I wanted to see kind, good-hearted people strive to be the best version of themselves, even if those people were fictional and 2D.
Throughout the first two seasons, we see our underdog of a protagonist rise to the occasion time and time again. In Season 1, for example, meek-mannered Midoriya manages to outwit and defeat his longtime rival, the arrogant and hot-headed Katsuki Bakugo, in a mock battle, much to the shock of his classmates. Later, when villains infiltrate the school, Midoriya risks his life in order to stall the enemy until help arrives. Constantly saving those around him (in more ways than one), Midoriya is the epitome of goodness. But in Season 3, it’s the foul-mouthed and sourpuss Bakugo who gets the chance to deliver a hope-affirming speech and establish his identity as an uncompromising hero worthy of admiration.
Warning: The following contains major spoilers for My Hero Academia Season 3.
In arguably the show’s best arc to date, a band of baddies called the League of Villains ambush the students and kidnap Bakugo; it’s the first time the good guys are dealt a major loss and a truly devastating moment that had me at the edge of my seat, shrieking “NOT MY SON!” The enemy’s objective? Turn Bakugo over to the bad side.
“We didn’t kidnap you by accident. Even though our situations differ, everyone here has suffered because of people, rules, and heroes,” Tomura Shigaraki, the leader of the League of Villains, tells Bakugo in a classic “come over to the dark side” moment. And Bakugo — with his superiority complex, his violent temper, and his explosive Quirk — does seem ripe to become a compelling antagonist, as many fans have noted. But to my relief, he doesn’t consider the proposition for even a second.
Before Shigaraki can finish his speech, an impatient Bakugo knocks out one of his minions with a swift punch and an explosive blast. “Basically you mean, ‘We wanna harass people, so please join us,’ right?’” the hot-headed boy snarls. “Don’t bother. I want to win like All Might. No matter what anyone says, that will never change.” Though it doesn’t get much fanfare or triumphant music cues, the scene establishes Bakugo as a three-dimensional character and one who breaks away from the trope of the fallen hero. Underneath all that masculine rage and menacing sneer, it turns out Bakugo is, in fact, a Very Good Boy™ with unbending morals and a mess of emotions, just like Midoriya — and just like those of us watching at home.
Near the end of My Hero Academia Season 3, after he’s been retrieved by his friends in a deeply moving rescue operation, Bakugo breaks down to Midoriya for the first time ever. “Why did I end up having to chase after the back of someone who was always behind me? Why did a small fry like you get strong and become acknowledged by All Might? Why is it that you became strong but I … Why was I the one who ended All Might? If I’d been stronger and if I hadn’t been kidnapped by villains, then that wouldn’t have happened,” he wonders out loud, openly sobbing over All Might’s demise and subsequent retirement. The heart-rending scene allows viewers a glimpse into the seemingly one-note Bakugo, who’s been privately reeling from a bout of survivor’s guilt. “I’m weak too, you know?” he later tells All Might. “I always wanted to be strong like you. It’s because I’m weak that I made you turn into that.”
I cry every time I watch this exchange between Bakugo and Midoriya. It takes a great deal of courage to acknowledge your insecurities, to grow from your trauma, and to accept that you still have a long way to go — something few adults are able to do.
Living in an increasingly hostile world, it’s easy to become jaded and illusioned. But Midoriya, Bakugo, and the rest of the My Hero Academia gang remind me that goodwill always prevails. I watch this arc in particular over and over again because I need to see children fighting valiantly for a cause they deeply believe in. I do it to keep my idealism alive.