Boku no Hero Academia is about as elemental a hero shounen as there could ever be, I think. And All Might is about as elemental a hero. I love Deku as a main character, and BnHA is primarily the story of the kids – and that’s as it should be. There’s a reason these sorts of series usually center on the new generation, because they’re characters in transition – their bodies, their minds, their identities as heroes and as people. Teenagers are by their very nature the most dynamic characters possible, and this story is a chronicle of that dynamism.
But damn, this episode certainly had the right title. “Hero” is a word that gets tossed around a lot (certainly in this series it does, for obvious reasons) but All Might exemplifies it. He’s a hero for all the right reasons, and a true believer in the best sense of the word. There’s no artifice in what he says or does (apart, of course, from hiding his condition from the world). All Might believes in the ideal of the hero, he believes in himself, and he truly believes that he can be the shining light that keeps the world safe because by God, somebody has to be. But boy, that sure is a lot for one man to carry on his shoulders.
And you know, that’s one of the things I like about Boku no Hero, a quality it shares with the best examples of this genre. All Might is a man, and he has limits. When pressed as he was here (defending children in his care is about as strong an incentive as All Might could possibly have) he can exceed them briefly – now you know what “Plus, ultra!” really signifies. But in the end, he crashes. And it’s not only All Might with his gruesome injuries but everyone in this cast, no matter how powerful they seem – they all have their limitations. They’re all humans, not superhumans, and their quirks are not who they are, just a part of what they are. If you thought the term “quirk” (it’s actually “kosei” in Japanese, but if anything the native meaning fits even better) was chosen by coincidence, I don’t think it was – I believe Horikoshi chose it quite intentionally. The quirk, for me, is the most interesting superpower mythology since Togashi came up with Nen.
This episode, then, was largely All Might finally being unleashed in all his heroic glory – but that’s not all it was. His arrival heartens his charges but it’s what his enemies have wanted, too – he’s the reason they’re here. All Might’s priorities are simple – first and foremost this is a rescue mission, which means putting his speed to work in getting the kids to safety. He makes quick work of the zaku and princess-carries Aizawa safely out of (further) harm’s way, and delivers him to Izuku – with orders to get him out of there and wait for the other teachers to arrive. That leaves the three truly powerful enemies to worry about, but All Might isn’t about to sanction the children going to battle with them as long as he’s there.
The problem for All Might is that he’s facing an enemy that’s seemingly been bio-engineered specifically to neutralize him. Noumu’s shock absorption seems to make him (?) immune to All Might’s punches, and when All Might tries to use a suplex to embed him into the concrete to immobilize him, the full nature of Noumu’s strength becomes apparent. Here the cunning nature of the enemy plan becomes clear – Noumu immobilizes All Might (doing some damage which implies detailed knowledge of his weaknesses) and Kurogiri uses his warp gate to effectively cut him in half.
Here lies the ultimate dilemma for the students. They’ve been ordered to safety, and if they try to intrude could potentially become a huge weakness for All Might. But Midoriya-kun knows the truth – he knows what those three fingers Thirteen-sensei held up mean. It doesn’t matter that Midoriya currently isn’t strong enough to really help, because in his heart he’s always been every inch the hero All Might was. True heroism is acting even when failure seems all but certain, because the alternative is too terrible to accept. Fortunately for him, though, two of the strongest in Class 1-A also decide to step in – and Kacchan and Todoroki have the element of surprise on their side.
There’s plenty of fodder for future development here, like Kirishima’s assertion that Kacchan’s behavior “isn’t very hero-like”, and Shigaraki’s musings on the hypocrisy of heroism (even if he doesn’t fully believe them himself) but the moment at-hand is all about survival. All Might’s “cheat” does manage to subdue Noumu, but his race is almost run – and Shigaraki and Kurogiri are still staring him down. You always know what All Might will do in a moment of crisis, what he will prioritze above all else – but against an enemy that has no qualms about going all-out against children, that sort of idealism only goes so far…