By Tom Speelman
His love for the genre and willingness to tweak iconic concepts with his own ideas bleed through every panel and frame of the manga and the currently airing fourth season is no exception.
But rather than simply rehash iconic superhero templates, Horikoshi-sensei (and anime directors Kenji Nagasaki and Masahiro Mukai and the staff at BONES) takes traits seen in popular heroes and makes them his own.
Deku Knows That From Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Izuku Midoriya isn’t just an ascended fanboy who gets to join the ranks of the superheroes he idolizes. He also reflects two very different approaches to superheroics: the web swinging Spider-Man and the caped crusader, Batman. No really, stick with me here.
The Spider-Man parallel is pretty apparent. Like Peter Parker (or Miles Morales, Peni Parker and many of the other Spider-heroes in Marvel’s repertoire), Deku is gifted with powers he doesn’t fully understand and can wreck him up if he’s not careful. Deku, of course, learns to use his powers to help people to his fullest extent, even those that hate him. He’s an underdog hero, like many before him.
As for Batman, Deku is constantly thrown into situations where he has to think on his feet while being perpetually outmatched. Unlike most post-1980s depictions of Batman, Deku isn’t always prepared for any eventuality, which makes him that much more interesting. Take, for example, his fight with Muscular during the Forest Training Camp Arc in Season 3.
As that fight shows, like Batman, Deku is scarily, inhumanly dedicated to saving people. Batman will go to any lengths to protect Gotham City and its people (up to and including riding an on-fire plane out over open water). Similarly, Deku will face impossible odds to save his friends and classmates, like his fights against the Hero Killer Stain or Overhaul.
No matter what or who he’s up against, like the friendly neighborhood web slinger and the world’s greatest detective, Deku will never give up.
All Might Reflects Two Sets of Superheroic Ideals
It’s not hard to see the Western influence in All Might. From his classic, brawny look to his American city-named moves, he echoes years of superheroic legacy. Personality-wise, though, the Symbol of Peace is also a reflection of both Marvel and DC’s biggest paragons of virtue: Captain America and Superman.
Like Superman, All Might is the hyper-idealized version of a man’s man: bulging with muscles and full of resolve. But also like Superman, he’s a giant goofball with a smile on his face who’s always committed to doing the right thing.
And just as Captain America is held up as a paragon of the best humanity has to offer at home, abroad and in space (even when he’s a werewolf), so too is All Might held up as the best of superheroes. It’s even in his nickname: the Symbol of Peace.
It’s that constant want — that need, really — to assure the world and his U.A. students that “It’s fine now. Why? Because I am here!” that drives All Might to put himself in danger time and time again, ultimately sacrificing his power in a climactic, incredible showdown with All For One.
Tsuyu Is The Aquatic Hero of The People
The easiest parallel for Tsuyu “Froppy” Asui is longtime X-Men foe Toad. But that’s too easy, and he’s also kind of gross. And since Tsuyu is Best Girl, we’re not gonna do that to her here.
No, the better parallels are the twin kings of Atlantis and the sea: Aquaman and Namor the Sub-Mariner. Aquaman — even with his decades of being a global joke and a couple movies’ worth of being the hunkiest superhero ever — is an incredibly powerful figure dedicated to doing the right thing. Besides communicating with sea life, he can also see in the dark, due to his eyes having adjusted to see at several thousand depths.
Likewise, Namor (the oldest Marvel hero and long considered the first mutant in that universe) is just about as powerful. Only he’s slightly more … full of rage at humanity and their mistreating of the oceans. He’s just as likely to lead an Atlantean attack on the world as much as he is likely to fight alongside the Avengers.
Froppy isn’t extremely powerful or that haughty. But she does have what could be thought of as a “weaker” powerset centering around water and her frog-like abilities. It’s that underestimation that she can use to her advantage. Her sticky limbs and mighty tongue can thwart evildoers in a variety of settings as well as fling classmates into the air for launch attacks. Plus, her camouflage power and ability to stay underwater for long times mean she can sneak up on opponents and gather intel.
Iida and Kirishima Both Offer Different Looks At Legacy
Tenya “Ingenium” Iida and Eijiro “Red Riot” Kirishima both offer unique looks at one of the greatest concepts in the superheroic canon: legacy. Specifically, taking on the superhero mantle of either a fallen family member or that of the hero who inspired you and making it uniquely and completely your own.
Given he assumed the name and costume of Ingenium after his older brother Tensei’s defeat and incapacitation at the hands of Stain, as well as his super-speed powers, Iida is a clear parallel to not just DC’s the Flash, but one Flash in particular: Wally West.
In 1985, DC Comics reset their entire continuity with the multiverse-shattering Crisis On Infinite Earths miniseries, where the most famous Flash, Barry Allen, heroically sacrificed himself. In the aftermath, Wally West, aka Kid Flash, assumed the role and learned to not only make the name and costume his own, but arguably became a more well-rounded and interesting Flash than Barry had ever been.
Kirishima, by taking inspiration from beloved superhero Crimson Riot, also recalls the Flash but in a different way. In the comics, Barry Allen called himself the Flash because he read comics starring the original Flash, Jay Garrick (that is, the Flash of the real-world Golden Age of Comics), as a kid; in 1961’s “Flash of Two Worlds” story by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino, the two actually met when Barry travelled to the parallel world where Jay lived.
While Kirishima hasn’t had anything like that yet, given Horikoshi’s love of superhero tropes, it’s fun to imagine Kirishima meeting his idol eventually.
Overhaul Is A Fascinating Take on the Villain Who Thinks They’re Right
While the content of Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther both clearly displayed the goals of both Thanos and Killmonger as explicitly wrong, their core motives (overpopulation and violent retributive revolution) led to a lot of discussion regarding the merits of their arguments.
It’s not hard to imagine that Overhaul, the villain of this current My Hero Academia season, offers a similar discourse. Due to his own germaphobia and believing an old theory saying humans received Quirks from rats, Kei “Overhaul” Chisaki wants to eliminate all Quirks entirely, which would also put the Yakuza back on top.
Obviously, genetically manipulating the majority population of planet Earth is pure evil, but it’s hard not to imagine that folks whose Quirks disfigure them or can severely limit or reduce their quality of life would see some value in such a drug. But like Thanos and Killmonger, it’s Overhaul’s relentless arrogance that sees him get brought down.
These are just some of the many ways My Hero Academia takes Western hero archetypes and reflects on them in an accessible, fresh way. What’s your favorite parallel? Which ones did we miss? Let us know in the comments!
Tom Speelman is a contributor to Polygon, Comic Book Resources and other websites. He is also the co-host of the Pokémon podcast GOTTA RECAP ‘EM ALL! (available on iTunes, Spotify and Libsyn) and has adapted, edited or proofread over a hundred titles for Seven Seas Entertainment, including Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka by Makoto Fukami and Seigo Tokiya. He can be found on Twitter @tomtificate or thinking about Spider-Man.
Not a FunimationNow subscriber yet? Sign up now so you won’t miss out on all things anime.
Love creating content about anime? Pitch us a feature for Funimation Editorial!
Looking to chat with like-minded fans about My Hero Academia and superheroes? Head on over to the Funimation Forums.