Resemblances notwithstanding, I promise you that this post is not a rehash of TWWK’s stellar reflection.
There are at least four scenes in MHA when All Might or Midoriya use One for All and go beyond their full power. Of course, Plus Ultra is one of the series’ catch-phrases, so it’s natural that we’d see people pushing beyond their limits. What’s intriguing is how MHA chooses to account for these seemingly impossible feats.
Case #1: When the Slime Villain had Bakugo, All Might felt he couldn’t go to the rescue since he had used up his allotted “power-up” time that day. Then Midoriya ran in, and All Might summoned an extra bit of strength to save both boys.
Case #2: When the League of Villains invaded the training grounds in Season 1 (not to be confused when they interrupt the heroes’ training in Season 2, or again in Season 3—this apparently being some villainous biannual tradition), All Might goes head-to-head with Nomu. Nomu has been specifically designed to defeat him, and the weakened All Might, even at 100% of his power, cannot get the upper hand. Then All Might says, more or less, “Screw it, I’m going over 100%” and flings Nomu into the stratosphere.
(It took the authorities some time to locate where Nomu had landed. A heartwarming documentary was later released with the title “Finding Nomu”.)
Case #3: This actually involves Midoriya. When he rescues Kota from Muscular, Midoriya uses 100% of One for All’s power, even though he’s only supposed to use 5% at the risk of destroying his own body. It’s the equivalent of hitting Muscular with All Might’s full strength—and Muscular shakes it off! Then Midoriya responds with 1,000,000% of One for All! And Muscular is down for the count.
When I initially watched these, I asked myself, “Isn’t the series cheating just a bit? What does it even mean to use more than 100% of your power?”
The answer, I think, comes in one of the most recent episodes, when All Might squares off against All for One a second time. And that brings us to Case #4.
Once again, All Might’s full power is not enough. Once again, he decides to summon more than his full power. This time, he clues us in on his secret that allows him to do so. He recalls the words of his former master, the previous holder of One for All:
Toshinori, when you think you’re at your limit, remember—
Remember why you clench your fist—
Where you came from, your origin.
That’ll bring you just a little past your limit!
Is that really it, one might ask? All it takes is a little psychological self-encouragement and you can overcome your limits and any obstacle? Not at all. One’s “origin”, after all, must be something other than one’s self. The power these two heroes draw upon is not theirs: Unlike all the other heroes we’ve seen, their power One for All was given to them by someone else. Their origin as heroes is rooted in something outside themselves that then became united to them. In the series, this power is represented by a series of sparks passing an ever-increasing light from one to the next:
When All Might goes beyond his limits against All for One, and when Midoriya goes over them against Muscular, this sequence plays again. As it does when All Might takes out Nomu. It’s a sublime way of showing that One for All isn’t their power. It’s a connection to something greater than themselves that grants them the power to do far more than they ever could on their own.
One for All is kinda like Grace. None of us were born with it, and if we receive it we can do great things—at great cost.
It’s not enough to simply want something to attain it, nor even to work hard at it. For unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Nor does receiving grace mean that all natural consequences are somehow nullified: Both All Might and Midoriya suffer the consequences of going beyond their natural limits, and we suffer the consequences of choosing to live as Christians. Jesus never promised us Easy Street—he promised the Cross. And receiving grace does not mean that we can avoid the Cross, or somehow avoid the injuries and weariness that come from carrying it. Receiving grace just makes it possible to carry the Cross.
It makes it possible to go beyond our limits.