All Might, Midoriya, and how to go beyond your limits

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.

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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.

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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”.)

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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:

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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.

Plus Ultra.

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13 thoughts on “All Might, Midoriya, and how to go beyond your limits

  1. What a great article! This perfectly summarizes why I find this series so compelling. It´s a good, inspiring picture of the (super)hero, and it also has this hopeful way of looking past his limits.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Gaheret! And great screenname, by the way. 😺 There’s a lot of fantastic insight in MHA, and I hope more gets written about it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Luminas here! This is a really insightful post about how the power of faith and grace is about relying on a power that goes *beyond* yourself, not about finding a power *within* yourself.

    I’m not entirely sure why, but when something like this happens in an anime or game I tend to call it a “Corona” event. Corona is the gold ring around the Sun, just that little bit extra skimmed off the top. One of the best “Coronas” I’ve ever seen is actually from Princess Tutu, where the titular character manages to perform a pas de deux entirely by herself. With an invisible “ghost” Prince Mytho acting as her partner, lifting her up. It’s not flashy at all, not “Super Saiyan.” It’s just a woman dancing. But she’s dancing with an unfathomable, limitless power at her aid, and that becomes something miraculous. I see the Trances in FFIX in a similar fashion, even though they’re actually a game mechanic and the game’s villain does perform one.

    And it’s worth pointing out the subtle difference here with heroes and villains. All for One’s power allows him to steal and redistribute powers, essentially stockpiling power by stealing it. And he isn’t the only villain implied to do something like this, either. In most cases, a villain performing a “Corona” is not actually doing so at all. They are instead revealing their true Mass, size, or strength, which is often drawn from somewhere else it already existed. Equivalent exchange, violating the laws of nature and but not necessarily conservation of energy in the metaphysical sense. Villains convert and corrupt energy and power rather than create it.

    But when a Hero performs a Deux Ex Machina….it feels kinda like, in the best and most emotionally resonant examples, that’s….literally what it is. Something beyond anything, beyond reason and logic and limits, lends its aid and brings the Hero that almighty strength. Sometimes, hell about half the time, that something is the love and belief of dozens or even millions of people. And what is God if not Love?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, you really like light imagery: Corona, Luminas…

      The whole hero power up thing you identify can be traced back to classical epic. There’s literally a pattern, identified I think by Milman Perry, of the gods deciding to endow a hero with extra power; then he becomes an absolute power house on the battlefield; then another god or super being interferes and he gets injured; then he is miraculously healed, powered up even more, and sent out to win the battle of the day. Take a look at the Illiad, for example, and you’ll see it used a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah. Whatever it is, it’s *old.* Older than Feudalism, so old it got built into the way stories are supposed to work as essentially a cultural meme. And it arose independently in many, many cultures. Logic has never acted as an iron-clad proof of religion, to me, because most religions can trace their particular logic backward in time. We just aren’t culturally Muslim nations, for instance, and so do not hear their internal debates.

        What makes a lot *less* sense without it having truly happened is the Great Flood story showing up in Native American myths in North America, hundreds of thousands of miles away from the Middle East. Or most of the human race arbitrarily deciding that hero and villain powers always work the same way, with zero contact with one another and no basis for those assertions. Or the fact that for some reason, Satanic figures tend to show up looking a bit harlequin-esque, or at the very least in some form that represents social and moral fear or ambiguity to the local population. These commonalities are just…odd, unless at some point we were one people and we had a specific reason for these assertions.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Basically, in a Carl Jung like fashion, the abilities of heroes and villains (especially the more magical or impossible they are) tend to follow some kind of consistent internal logic that many cultures inexplicably share. We “know” what people blessed with the grace of God are “supposed to be able to do,” or rather are granted by the Lord. We “know” what both Satan and his demons are “supposed to be able to do” and not do. And, since it’s not really anywhere in the Bible, we also don’t know why we know that.

    Perhaps that strange logic is, itself, part of how we limited mortals perceive the innumerable complications and intricacies of Divine Law. And part of what C.S. Lewis meant in the opening of Mere Christianity.

    Liked by 1 person

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