There are times when I think it can be a little bit too easy to dismiss Boku no Hero Academia as a very simple and straightforward shounen action series. It’s a victim of its own success in that way – Horikoshi-sensei is so good at the craft and form that he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves for the substance. But just because a show is rollicking and ridiculously entertaining without having to work too hard as a viewer doesn’t mean it’s not deep, subtle and complex. And such is the case with Boku no Hero Academia.
The poster child for that is Bakugo, a classic Horikoshi creation who’s many reader/viewers’ favorite character (he’s not mine, but I do get the argument). If anybody ever seemed easy to pigeonhole it’s Bakugo – he seems to exhibit only one mood (fucking pissed), to be utterly fixated on one thing (“DEKUUUU!!!), and easy to manipulate. If there was every a textbook shounen overpowered blockhead it’s Kacchan.
Except, you know – he’s not. Yeah he is – but that’s not all he is. His throwdown with Class B is a perfect illustration of that. On paper Monoma-kun’s master strategy seems perfect, and Bakugo the perfect low-hanging fruit to exploit. Kacchan gives you every signal that he’s easy to manipulate, and there’s a good reason for that – he is. But when he appears to be blinded by rage, Bakugo is still looking around him – that’s what makes him different. The battle raging inside Todoroki is more obvious (especially now) but there’s one going on inside Kacchan, too. Monoma says something to him that cuts especially close to the bone (watch his reactions, and you’ll see it), and Kacchan is momentarily rattled by it – but he shakes it off in time to keep the fight alive.
Part of Horikoshi’s gift is to take a set piece like the sports festival and make it a stage for not just his hero but for much of his cast. Deku by necessity spends much of this episode on defense – he has what everybody wants, he just needs to keep it. It’s Todoroki who initially claims the spotlight, the most mysterious of the major contenders finally showing us who he is and why. He’s a player, clearly, and one with a fascinating and troubled backstory. Surely this is his time to command the narrative, right?
Not in Boku no Hero, no. In the end the death throes of the cavalry battle end up being more about the “supporting” (in this case, literally) players. It’s not Todoroki who’s finally able to break through Team Midoriya’s tenacious defenses, but Iida – the guy who’s been in the background for the entire arc. It’s his “Recipro Burst” – which allows him to max out his quirk for a few seconds, but at the cost of blowing out his engines (if you’re seeing Nen-like qualities in the quirk system about now, you’re not alone) – which allows Ice-boy to finally nab Izuku’s headband (with well under a minute remaining).
Really, this is a showcase for those who aim for the top here – at the expense of poor Monoma and Class B. Bakugo seems to be at the height of reckless individualism here but his eyes are still on the prize. He’s of a mind to go after his own headband first (plus a few others) from Monoma, then turn his attention to the big scalp. Deku immediately gathers himself for an all-out attack on Todoroki to reclaim his headband, finally drawing out One for All at this crucial moment. And when the shit hits the fan, Todoroki does what he’s sworn he never will – uses his left-sided “fire” power in an attack. It’s a credit to Deku that he was the one who finally caused Todoroki to crack, but make no mistake – it’s Tokoyami that makes the crucial move here. Yaoyarozu’s clever switch of headands has stymied Deku’s attempt to reclaim his own 10-million point one, but Darkwing’s heroics are enough to send Team Mirodiya into a qualifying 4th-place position.
This whole final sequence is shounen platinum – Izuku, Bakugo and Todoroki all finally coming together on the battlefield as the seconds tick away and confusion reigns. But across the board, it was the supporting players who made the difference in the end, allowing the three principals the chance to face off one last time in the final round (much to Deku’s Mom’s proud joy – and worry). In the aftermath a different sort of showdown takes place, Todoroki and Deku’s quiet encounter in the tunnels echoed by the meeting of All Might and Endeavor. Heroes or not, these men and boys are rivals, and the pinnacle of heroism has only room for one to stand at the peak.