There’s going to be a tendency, I think, to say that this episode is more representative of Boku no Hero Academia than the first. It’s a natural train of thought – the first ep is really the pre-introduction, if you will, and it’s with this one that we see the series take on a more action-driven and proactive style. But I would argue that the premiere was every bit as accurate to the series’ essential nature, because self-doubt, setbacks and failure are very much part of the journey Izuku is on. Yes, Boku no Hero is All Might – but it’s All Might’s true form as well. You can’t have one without the other.
That said, there’s no denying that this second episode is more approachable than the first. If one looks at BnHA as Deku’s origin story, everything that plays out makes perfect narrative sense. And he has to taste failure and despair if he’s going to have a hope to rise above them. It’s one thing to be told by his mother (her tears and apology speak louder than the actual words would have) that he’ll never be a hero. But it’s quite another to be told that by All Might, the hero of heroes and Deku’s personal hero. “You could always be a policeman” is meant kindly (and offered under temporal duress) but to poor Izuku it must have felt like a death sentence.
Horikoshi-sensei knows very well that All Might is a much more interesting hero if he has a few secrets of his own – the word “quirk” has multiple meanings with this series. If the viewer is getting a sense that there’s more to what happens in Boku no Hero Academia than meets the eye, then the anime is doing its job – and I think it is. The fact is, All Might is wrestling with the same things Deku is – weakness, fear of failure, doubt. Without saying more for fear of spoiling, I think it should already be clear that quirks are not simply randomly assigned superpowers – they’s manifestations of the user’s essential nature.
We don’t know the details of All Might’s quirk yet, of course – but we know he can only use it for three hours a day because of a terrible injury he suffered in a secret battle five years earlier. The true form of the man is emaciated and haggard, yet he fights on as best he can, the public unaware of the sacrifices he’s already made and continues to make. The true nature of heroism is obviously a big theme in BnHA, and as powerful as he was the hero we met in the premiere really wouldn’t have been all that interesting a character. All Might is that hero – but he’s a lot more as well.
The limitations All Might works under become quite a problem when he drops the sludge beast’s soda bottle prison after Izuku glomps onto him. That’s because Kacchan and his bully buddies unknowingly release the villain, and it’s Kacchan who takes the brunt of the sludge’s counterattack. None of the heroes on-site are built to take it down (Mt. Lady might, but like an oversized delivery van she can’t fit into the narrow lanes of the shopping district). Both the wizened All Might and Deku end up on the scene, and when Deku realizes who the child in the clutches of the sludge beast is, he reacts without thinking and charges in to help him.
I realize there’s a bit of a disconnect here between Deku’s behavior and the way Kacchan has always treated him. But, well… He’s Deku. If he was super strong or if he and Kacchan were eternal bros, doing what he did would have been easy. But he’s not and they aren’t, so what Deku did was really hard. Being a hero in Boku no Hero isn’t about doing what’s easy or doing what one wants – it’s about doing what’s seemingly illogical and impossible because it’s what you have to do. That’s a pretty old-school shounen theme, and I don’t think anyone is going to claim BnHA is blazing completely new trails here. But it tackles that theme with a ton of freshness and energy, and takes it to places where one doesn’t necessarily expect it to go. Both the first episode and the second are essential in defining what makes this series the stalwart that it is, and I’m glad Bones let them both speak loudly and clearly.