By Briana Lawrence
Every shounen anime comes equipped with a role model for the wide-eyed protagonist to learn from. This role model shows them the ins and outs of being a hero, recites heartwarming speeches, gives us a few laughs, then, well, dies. The protag cries, swears vengeance on the Ultimate Evil™️, then becomes the hero they were always meant to be.
This is why I try to not get attached to the “I wanna be just like you” characters. Real talk: They have a death flag tattooed on their foreheads.
Unfortunately, I’m notoriously bad at taking my own advice, so I’ve grown quite fond of Yagi “All Might” Toshinori, who has broken the mold by not dying. And I like him not because of what he teaches his young successor, but because he’s an absolute disaster (in a very good and positive way!).
The Disaster Icon
Did you know that All Might single-handedly saved a hundred people with a smile? He also coughs up blood on a regular basis. Yeah, All Might shouldn’t be doing hero work, so he passes down his amazing Quirk to his self-appointed number one fan, Izuku “Deku” Midoriya.
But All Might doesn’t have much experience when it comes to teaching.
While he certainly inspires the youth of the nation, All Might’s training methods are…questionable. It’s hard to forget the image of an entire classroom of students telling him to stop Deku vs. Bakugo (part one), and I’ll cringe every time I see a .GIF of him telling Deku to move trash around.
There’s a reason why Aizawa, Recovery Girl, Gran Torino and even Nezu end their conversations with All Might via heavy sighs and major side-eye. At least he’s knowledgeable about One For All…assuming he knows everything about the Quirk (he doesn’t) and assuming he tells Deku vital information in a timely manner (nope).
On the outside, All Might is a symbol that everyone idolizes, but deep down he’s just like the rest of us: scrambling to figure out how to make sense of himself and the rest of the world. That’s not a bad thing.
The Overworked Hero
All Might is forced to retire after pushing past his limit in his battle against All For One. Of course, that fight was a long time coming, and All Might didn’t have much of a choice, but I can’t help but wonder how things would’ve played out had he slowed down sooner. Not only was he doing (limited) hero work while teaching, we find out in Season 4 that he was told to slow down years ago!
Why couldn’t he just listen to Sir Nighteye and everyone else? Then I think about myself and I oop, as they say, because working past the point of exhaustion is my unintentional jam.
Adulthood is often depicted as the time in your life where you finally have a handle on everything. What that image fails to reveal is that we’re always working toward becoming our best selves and that journey isn’t an easy one. Many adults will tell you that their life isn’t made up of larger-than-life smiles and fanfare, but instead of receiving compassion for the hardships we face, we’re told to toughen up; stop being so sensitive.
It only takes one episode of My Hero Academia to learn that All Might’s smile hides the pain, a tactic that I’ve employed more than once, especially with the way 2020 has been going. You can only smile for so long before you come up against an All For One that forces you to accept the truth: You can’t be All Might forever. In fact, no one can.
But to me, the real power isn’t with All Might…it’s with Yagi Toshinori.
The Actual Lesson
During the incident with the Sludge Villain, Deku inspires All Might to go beyond. The withered hero pushes through the pain to win the day, telling us that this is what it means to be a hero. I fully expected this to be the main thesis of the entire series…until Deku got into U.A., met Aizawa, and was told the exact opposite. What good is a broken-down hero? Stop pushing past your limits and figure out what you can do right now!
To me, that’s what that iconic phrase means. Go beyond, yes, but within the parameters of what you can do right now. Once you’re content with the progress you’ve made, go beyond. Take it to the next level when you’re able to. Don’t rush the process.
This is a necessary lesson for both Deku and All Might, and while Deku is beginning to learn, it’s too late for All Might…at least the All Might who stands as a behemoth amongst the populace. He’s no longer the Symbol of Peace.
But it’s not too late for Yagi Toshinori.
Toshinori’s got time to not only embrace this idea, but instill it in the next generation. This is highlighted in Deku vs. Bakugo Part Deux, where he admits his shortcomings and encourages the two young heroes to work together. It’s not possible for one person to be the symbol society needs. Instead, it’s up to everyone to uphold the ideals that weighed Toshinori down when he was revered as All Might.
I—and many others—think we have to do it all, alone, with a smile. We don’t. You don’t. All Might’s most influential moments aren’t based on his bravado, they’re based on what he does as a person who just wants the best out of society. It was Yagi Toshinori who stood against All For One. It was Yagi Toshinori that everyone cheered for.
So thank you, All Might, for tripping over your cape the way I do so often. Thank you for showing me that a retired hero who stresses about the future, questions his worth, and still has a lot of learning to do can go beyond at his own pace. Plus Ultra!
UP NEXT: The 5 Most Rewatchable Shounen Anime