My Hero Academia seemed to arrive at just the right time. The anime premiered just as many of the shounen greats of the past were coming to an end, and there was a need for a monster one to replace them as the show that would define a generation of young anime fans. MHA was a perfect fit, a combination of anime and Marvel, taking us into the world of a superhero high school as only anime can do.
I think the series is wonderful, but it’s not perfect. One shounen trap it falls into, for instance, is a refusal to make the stakes as high as the series claims they are. If bad guys are as bad as they seem, and the heroes are in as much danger as the show tells us they are, then why aren’t more important characters dying? I’m not asking for Games of Thrones, but I appreciate when an author or mangaka is brave enough to let the story unfold without putting a shroud of protection over every lovable character.
Still, there’s a lot to like about the series—the heroes, for instance. They’re a lot of fun. Deku is a fine leading character, too, though it took a while for him to grow on me. I don’t know, there was something unusual about him. Okay, yes, he was whiny, but even when that went away, something else didn’t. And strangely enough, a few seasons in, when Mirio Togata becomes a featured character, I saw the same thing in him as well. And this intangible side of both Deku and Mirio came out especially when they talked about or interacted with Eri.
It took me a while to put my fingers on it, but the Overhaul arc and the school festival one secured it in my mind. It’s through Eri that we see what that being rescued is more than just a momentary act, and Deku and Mirio demonstrate this unexpected side to heroism, though it’s one that Christians should be able to immediately recognize, because the fullness of what Miro and Deku are trying to achieve is found is Christ.
But before we get to God himself, let’s back up, starting with the Overhaul arc. As it begins, it looks like the focus is going to be on four major characters: Overhaul, Mirio, Deku, and Sir Nighteye. And they do all remain a heavy focus of the arc, but there’s another character who plays a major role: Eri. She only gets a little screen time in the episodes, less even than some of the other pro heroes like Fat Gum, but she is pivotal. And her role in it is a very different play for My Hero Academia. While people or kids needing rescue have featured prominently in arcs before, never have they been the most important character in an arc, and here, I argue, she is.
What’s interesting is that as the show brings the victim into focus, superhero society itself comes into focus as well. How will the heroes rescue her and stop Overhaul? And as they do this, viewers begin to see how most superheroes work. Their relationship with those they rescue is a lot like doctors and patients. When you visit a doctor, a lot of times you only get to see the actual physician for ten minutes, if that. The same goes with other healthcare professionals, like dentists and pharmacists.
Superheroes, whether they dress in scrubs or in capes, often only get to be with the rescued for a short amount time. They use their talent and expertise to save people, and then move on to save more people. Eri, just like all other victims, needs this type of rescuing, too. She needs to be snatched away from imminent danger. Eri needs to be taken away from the abuse of Overhaul to a place where she won’t be exploited and hurt anymore. This is what Mirio and Deku are poised to do. They are determined to rescue Eri at any cost—and for once, the cost is high. Mirio loses his powers, and Deku must fight against a villain with enormous strength. This is the work of a hero. Mirio and Deku are imitating All Might and countless others who put their lives on the line so that other lives may be saved.
This kind of approach is what I traditionally think of when I think of heroes. Even if they have some extraordinary powers, it’s really their courage they have, the wherewithal to put others first at great physical expense, that makes them truly heroic. MCU characters fit the mold, as do MHA ones. And in real life, military men and women, first responders, and again our medical personnel are called in times of crisis and in moments of risk to do this.
It’s no wonder that when we look at the Bible, the people living through those times are expecting the same. During captivity, the empires and occupiers showed immense physical power with their militaries, and the Jewish people expected a similarly strong hero to be their Messiah. Like the kings of the Old Testament and those battling them, they expected a leader who would crush their enemies. But their expectation was a little off. It’s not what the prophets foretold. Look at what Isaiah tells us:
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. (Isaiah 42:1)
Alright, good start! Chosen by God, full of the Spirit, bringing justice…sounds pretty awesome, like the Avengers reigning down vengeance upon Thanos and his gross alien creatures. But then Isaiah follows up with this: “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”
Wait a minute. I can’t imagine Thor wielding his hammer and the Hulk smashing while keeping silent, and certainly not while being tender enough to not break bruised reeds, plants that are already in the process of dying.
But then I thought about Mirio and Deku. This description in Isaiah is exactly the kind of tenderness they exude. It’s exactly the kind of heroism that Eri needs. Can you imagine Endeavor or Rock Lock rescuing Eri? I think she’d be like, “Too scary. No thanks.” So, while getting Eri out of Overhaul’s hands is mission one, mission two—the one that takes far more patience and time, one with odds that are far worse than the original raid of the yakuza base—is not to rescue Eri physically; it’s to rescue her soul.
That’s a process that’s ugly and painful and takes a lot of time. I know that My Hero Academia glosses over it a bit, but I still give the show huge kudos for treating Eri like a kid who’s been through unbelievable challenges and comes out totally damaged and afraid. She’s fearful of everyone, even, I think, the two people she’s attached to—Deku and Mirio. But of course, they eventually get through to her, and she warms up. Eri had been taught that she’s the reason so many have suffered, but Deku and Mirio teach her that she’s worth fighting and even dying for. What a gift! And not only through the physical damage they sustain in their fights against Overhaul, but in the weeks and months afterward as they build Eri back up.
And that brings us to the School Festival arc. Sure, we’ve got Gentle Criminal causing trouble, and we have Kyoka tearing it up on the guitar and Bakugou yelling at people to listen to their music, but these are honestly side stories or obstacles to the main thread, which is Eri’s healing. She is again the most important character in an arc. Deku is going to restore her to the childlike happiness and innocence she deserves through Class I-A’s performance and he will hurdle over the obstacle of Gentle Criminal to do so.
And isn’t that perfect picture of what Christ does, the perseverance and kindness with which he comes to heal? Let’s get back to that Isaiah verse again for a moment: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” In My Hero, Eri is that bruised reed. She is hurt. She is dying, and without saving, she could become a shell with nothing inside of her, or maybe even a villain worse than Overhaul. But Mirio and Deku care for that bruised reed. They don’t fly in like even All Might would and then try to fly away again; they are there for the long haul. And they rehabilitate the plant, bringing Eri back to health making her smile again.
Eri is that wick about to be snuffed out, at the end of her rope. What use is it to save the candle when it can’t light anymore? And isn’t what we are, too, in moments of hopelessness, in our own pride and vanity as we worship ourselves as almighty, and when we’ve gone through pain, neglect, abuse? We’re flickering in the wind, and a superhero rushing in to save the candlestick might rush in too fast and not save us at all, but instead, snuff out the fire.
But God isn’t that. Yes, he is relentless in his power, but he is also relentless in his affection, devotion, and gentleness. He is Mirio, sitting by our bedside day after day. He is Deku, fighting bad guys and doing the work that will bring restoration to our souls. He will attend to the wounded. He will heal the broken. And he has done one more thing, too.
Earlier in this article, I mentioned my one big issue with Hero Academia, which is that its stakes aren’t nearly so high as intended to be. All Might loses his power, as he was already doing. Mirio loses his, too, but he might regain them one day. And out of dozens of important good guys, the only one who dies in the Overhaul arc is a one-off character in Sir Nighteye. But for God, the work of being a hero had the highest stakes of all.
As Deku and Mirio faced Overhaul, and Deku later faced Gentle Criminal, Christ faced adversaries to rescue us. He fought against sin and he fought against the devil, and as Deku used a performance to help Eri smile, Christ’s way was the cross. Deku and Mirio went way beyond what you and I would have to save Eri—beatings, humiliation, a loss of power and the risk of death. But Jesus went into the fight knowing that death was certain. And he did it so that the bruised reed would not break, so that the smoldering wick would not be snuffed.
My Hero Academia is the story of how Deku becomes the greatest hero. The Bible, though, isn’t an origin story. It’s about one who was always the greatest hero doing the impossible to save the hurting in this world, like Eri; those who have become lost, like Overhaul and Tomura; and for everyone in between.
And your story? Whatever arc you’re in, whatever you believe, however far you are from completion, you are Eri, a child in need of restoration, and your story is about how the greatest hero of all came to save you.
Featured illustration by なかむー (reprinted w/permission).