By Sean Aitchison
Editor’s Note: This story does not reflect the opinions of Funimation. It was written based on the perspective or research of the writer.
Very quickly after its anime debut, Kohei Horikoshi’s My Hero Academia took the world by storm. Anime fans love it, non-anime fans have gotten into anime because of it, and superhero lovers of all types have praised its unique take on the genre.
The hit anime series follows Izuku “Deku” Midoriya, a superhero fanboy who was born without a superpower, known as a Quirk, in a world where 80% of the population has a Quirk. Without a Quirk, Deku’s dreams of becoming a hero himself were crushed, until he was offered the chance to become a hero by inheriting the Quirk of his favorite hero and the symbol of peace, All Might.
For many, the subtext of My Hero Academia and its hero’s journey is hiding something more. For athletes, it’s the drive to go beyond each and every game. For leaders, it might be the opportunity to be better than those that came before them.
But for working artists, the idea of being born with a skill hits close to home. Their path to success is all about honing that skill. Could it be that Deku’s quest for heroics mirrors the challenge of becoming a successful artist?
Let’s take a look at the similarities between the two.
You Can Become an Artist
All Might had been looking for a successor to his Quirk, One for All, for quite some time and he offered his power to Deku after witnessing him rush towards danger when no one else could step in.
These moments carry a common theme in the superhero media that My Hero Academia is derived from: the idea that being a hero is about more than power, it’s about doing the right thing and protecting others.
This moment and Deku’s backstory also present an artist’s narrative. If you replace wanting to be a hero with wanting to be an artist, these pieces of the story reveal a secondary meaning. The obstacle of not having a Quirk — as well as the generally-accepted idea that if you don’t have a Quirk, you can’t be a hero — reflects not having the privilege or opportunity to go to an art school, i.e. U.A. high, where Deku’s hero instincts could be molded.
Additionally, not having a Quirk can also serve as a catch-all for any adversity that an aspiring artist can face: family not approving of artistic aspirations, a lack of confidence from oneself or others, the exclusivity of gaining experience, etc.
Despite the obstacle of not having a Quirk, Deku still has the makings of a hero, and this translates to the artist narrative as having passion and a desire to be an artist — he simply can’t not be a hero in the same way that a passionate artist simply can’t not draw.
Additionally, Deku’s obsessive note-taking represents an aspiring artist’s desire to learn. Despite not having access to a good school or innate talent, he is going to gather as much knowledge he can about the pursuit he is passionate about.
Having a Quirk can be seen as a stand-in for innate artistic talent — some aspiring heroes have more basic Quirks, while other Quirks are more advanced and show more promise. These Quirks belong to “prodigy” characters like Katsuki Bakugo, Shoto Todoroki and Momo Yaoyorozu.
These also happen to be the characters who struggle the most while going through school — namely Bakugo, whose powerful Quirk garners him great praise and attention, but he struggles quite a bit once the trials of U.A. High become tougher. His innate talent is not enough and he has to work at it to achieve his ambitious goals.
One For All
Deku’s idolization and admiration of All-Might serves as a powerful symbol in the artist’s narrative of the series. For one thing, he is a visual and thematic amalgam of the American superhero comics that Kohei Horikoshi is an avid fan of and that served as inspiration for the series.
Additionally, and more importantly, All Might serves the role of an art figure that an aspiring artist looks up to — Deku aspiring to be like All Might is like an artist idolizing, say, Akira Toriyama by attempting to go to the same school he did, copying his art style, creating stories similar to Dragon Ball, etc.
Continuing with this idea, All Might passing down his Quirk can also be a stand-in for either receiving encouragement from an art idol or perhaps receiving some form of scholarship or recommendation for art school that an aspiring artist would not normally have access to.
Perhaps the most poignant artist narrative subtext in My Hero Academia comes from Deku’s many injuries. Before he learned to better control One For All, using it would cause Deku to injure himself, and even when he did learn to properly use the Quirk, Deku would still push himself too hard and sustain serious damage. These injuries are representative of the toll that full-time work can take on an artist.
Deku mainly injures his hands, breaking bones and gaining scars and permanent muscle damage. These ailments ring similar to those of an overworked artist, who are afflicted by things like tendonitis, carpal tunnel and/or stress fractures. Deku has to do physical therapy, wear an armband and be sure to use proper techniques in order to maintain the use of his arms, all things that artists who have overworked themselves to the point of injury have to do.
Furthermore, Deku gains these injuries because he acts without thinking to help others, similar to how an overly-passionate or overworked animator might permanently injure their hands — both needing to learn to take better care of themselves, no matter how passionate they are about their pursuits.
Heroes, Villains & Artists
The final prominent connection between My Hero Academia and the life of an artist is a simple one: pro heroes equal professional artists and the agencies they work for and/or run represent animation studios, manga publishers and the like. Thus, the desire to work for a good hero agency reflects the desire to work for prestigious art-based companies.
Additionally, events like the U.A. Sports Festival could stand in the place of manga contests or other art competitions: they are a chance for an aspiring hero/artist to show off their skills, but there is no guarantee it will result in good opportunities.
As for the villains of the series, it’s not 100% clear where they fit in this metaphor — perhaps as failed artists who grew bitter at the exclusivity of art education or who gave up when their natural talent wasn’t enough — but regardless, the other connections are hard to ignore.
The events, characters and world of My Hero Academia reveal themes and experiences nearly identical to those present in the story of a working artist’s life. While not every aspect of the series has an artistic counterpart, the subtext is there: underneath classic superhero themes, My Hero Academia has a secondary meaning, one that very powerfully represents the journey, life and struggle of a working artist.
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