Fitting for a show about a superhero school, My Hero Academia often reflects on what it means to be a hero. The series grazes the idea via the gaps between students (talents, quirk v. no quirk, class 1-A v. class 1-B, Midoriya v. Bakugou v. Todoroki), the inspiration that All-Might represents, and most directly through dialogue. In episode 24, it comes to light again when All-Might is trying to console Midoriya, who effectively lost to Todoroki because he had too much compassion for him.
I love All-Might’s explanation of heroism: “…meddling when you don’t need to is the essence of being a hero.” Simple and demonstrative, it perfectly reflects what a hero does, and also what the less-than-heroic do. They don’t interfere; they don’t involve themselves in others’ affairs. They won’t help. Non-heroes are the people who are bystanders, while heroes are the upstanders.
Midoriya is, by All-Might’s definition, a hero. From the beginning, he physically gets involved in others’ lives. He won’t let Bakugou get killed by the villain at the beginning of the series, even though he has no quirk with which to fight back. He gets involved at great personal price. And then, on a more intimate, relational level, Midoriya pushes Todoroki to grow, causing him to work through the part of himself he had abandoned and become stronger. And again, it costs Midoriya a great deal – a crippled hand and a loss at the U.A. Sports Festival.
Still, Midoriya isn’t happy with what happened. He isn’t happy that he helped Todoroki. He isn’t happy that he got as far he did. Midoriya is, in his own words, “frustrated.”
I feel the same sometimes, especially when I help others. I don’t do it for myself – I try not to at least – but I still can’t help but feel bitter, resentful, sad, or angry when I receive nothing in return from those I invest in, or worse, when they make me feel like nothing, meaningless. That’s unfortunately often the case when I invest in relationships – I realize that while someone may mean a lot to me, I might mean nothing to them at all.
Maybe that’s part of this definition we’re looking at, though. After all, someone who “meddles” is often seen as annoying, inconsiderate, and bothersome. Bakugou certainly saw Midoriya this way when he tried to rescue him; I’m not sure if Todoroki sees him as much better. There are people in my life, recently, who I think also feel the same about me. But the hero must carry this burden, too, the one that says he doesn’t get what he deserves, and sometimes, so much less. It’s part of the burden Christ carried, dying for a people that hated him, and for a people who claim to love him, but frequently desert him. This is why being that meddler, one who won’t stand by while people are suffering, is in a sense heroic – it costs us so much, and in returns gives us grief as often as delight.
That’s why All-Might’s definition of a hero is as good of one as I’ve ever seen – it’s not only tells us what they do, but what they carry. And the pain received in caring for ungrateful people, whether it be while saving physical lives or caring for those in need – is the biggest burden of all.
Boku no Hero Academia can be streamed legally through Crunchyroll.