You’re probably going to need to stay with me on this point, but I think Boku no Hero Academia is like a hero version of Ginga e Kickoff.
Boku no Hero Acadamia is not a simplistic story by any means, but I think its success is based on an extremely simple formula: pick whatever you’re going to do and do it exceptionally well, and don’t worry about anything else. Really, how can it get any simpler than that? Boku no Hero knows exactly the kind of story it wants to be, doesn’t care that it’s been told many times in other forms, and doesn’t worry about anything but getting it just right. And boy, is it ever getting it right.
What I find striking now that the series has made the jump to anime is how it feels to experience it in this form. I love a great many anime, but that expresses itself differently in every case. What strikes me is that the feelings Boku no Hero elicits are remarkably similar to the ones Ginga e Kickoff did. While the two series may seem like strange bedfellows I really don’t think that’s the case. Each of them treads a well-worn shounen path, and does so brilliantly. And each of them builds around the characters first, making sure the foundation is in place to support the story.
Ultimately, what makes both these shows great is the connection you feel to the characters, most obviously but not exclusively the protagonist. I kind of feel like if you can’t get behind Izuku you’re pretty much a cyborg, because he’s just so goddam easy to root for. But as with Ginga e Kickoff, there’s a strong presence here for the mentoring characters, the nurturing adults. As honest and humbly admirable as Izuku is, I find All Might to be just as hard not to root for. Ultimately, for all his strength, he’s a gentle soul – a romantic and an innocent. That’s what made him a perfect vessel for his power and a great hero, and what got him hurt as badly as he has been. I think he’s absolutely happier every time something good happens for Izuku than Izuku himself.
The point here, I suppose, is that Izuku and All Might are both perfect vessels for that power – soulmates, in a sense. But the world of Boku no Hero Academia is not an easy place for the idealist to thrive, and Yuuei Academy is not in the nurturing business – I would equate it more with jewel-polishing. And the choice of homeroom teacher makes it clear that Izuku is going to be ground down pretty hard. Aizawa Shouta (Suwabe Junichi) is the underground hero known as “Eraser Head” (the reason for which will soon become clear) and he wastes no time with niceties on the first day of class. He immediately declares a test – eight trials in which the new students of Class 1-A will be free to use their quirks, with the bottom-feeding student punished by expulsion (you can’t get any more Shounen Jump than that).
Eraser’s point is very clear here – there will be no attempts to level the playing field at Yuuei, because that’s now how the world these kids want to enter works. Throw everything you have at surviving or get out. Of course, the structure of this competition puts Izuku at a particular disadvantage, because his usage of his quirk is all or nothing – and “all” means he TKO’s himself. He’s had three weeks to try and control it, but the best All Might has been able to promise is “someday”. That, and the nebulous advice that doing so is all about feeling – which Izuku has managed to shape into the image of an egg in a microwave. “Turn down the wattage – or the cook time” All Might offers somewhat prosaically – but just how does the boy go about doing that?
We get an interesting little taste of several of the quirks at play here, all of which are useful in padding their user’s scores in one discipline or another. Meanwhile Izuku has to try and scrape by on his own power, which predictably leads to a string of dire results. When the softball toss comes around (we never did that one in gym class in Chicago) Izuku figures it’s now or never time given the nature of the remaining events, but when he tries to use his quirk Aizawa-sensei “erases” it – and delivers a lecture of the futility (and selfishness) of incapacitating himself in a combat situation. Ultimately he releases Deku’s quirk, making it clear he thinks the kid is screwed either way. But he digs deep, because that’s what Izuku does, and manages to isolate a fraction of his power in his finger – wrecking one part of his body rather than all of it.
These rousing end-of-episode crescendos are something of a Boku no Hero specialty, and Horikoshi is a genius at delivering them in the manga chapters too. Just as its formula for success is simple the virtues BnHA extols in its protagonist are simple and straightforward – persistence, quick thinking, empathy. But that’s what makes Izuku so easy to get behind – more than anything else his superpower is decency, just as it is with All Might. And for someone like that, getting called “cool” by your mom (and your mentor, too) seems as fitting a reward as any.