Returning again to Funimation’s new streaming service which recently launched in the UK, this week’s series is the one anime that they have been plugging the most. It was their most high-profile acquisition this season, but I want to highlight for personal reasons.
My Hero Academia began as a manga in Weekly Shonen Jump, the biggest manga comic, by Kohei Horikoshi in 2014. The anime began at the beginning of April. The series fits into what I see as the “non-school” genre of anime set in schools that would never exist in real-life, but what interests me about this show is that I think in a peculiar way it deals with the subject of disability.
Chronologically, the story begins in China when a bioluminescent baby is born. Following this, other people around the world start exhibiting strange abilities. It spreads so rapidly that these “Quirks” as they are eventually known, become commonplace. Thus moving to the present day, the setting for the story is set: a world in which 80% of the world’s population have superpowers. This results in superheroes and supervillains emerging across the globe.
Unfortunately, our hero, Izuku Midoriya, is not much of a hero. He is one of the 20% “Quirkless” people with no superpowers at all. He is completely normal, and is thus bullied for it, especially by his classmate Katsuki Bakugo, whose Quirk is to create explosions by sweating nitro-glycerine from his palms. Despite his lack of ability, Izuku still wants to become a hero.
On the way back from school one day, Izuku is attacked by a villain, but is saved by his favourite hero: the super-strong All Might, the greatest hero in the world. Izuku follows All Might, where Izuku learns that his idol’s always-smiling public image is not all that’s cracked up to be. Due to an injury, All Might can only keep his bulky, muscular image up for a few hours a day. The rest of the time, he is very thin and vomiting blood. All Might says that Izuku is unlikely to become a hero, but then they discover that the villain he trapped earlier has escaped. Izuku and All Might both reach the scene, in which the villain is attacking Katsuki, but none of the heroes at the scene are able to stop him. Izuku thus decides to rush out onto the scene, and although he cannot stop the villain, he inspires All Might to go back to his super-form and save the day.
Afterwards, All Might decides to offer Izuku his Quirk, “All for One”, which becomes more powerful the more people it is given to. Thus All Might starts training Izuku to use his new Quirk, and to study at U.A. High School, the school that trains the next generation of superheroes. He manages to join the school, as does Katsuki, and so Izuku begins the long process of training, while at the same time trying to hide from everyone the fact that All Might is helping him and how weak he sometimes is.
At first My Hero Academia seems to be typical boys comic fair: a male lead trying to achieve a seemingly impossible task, in this case being a great superhero. It also is able to create characters easily, just by adding superheroes with new abilities. In Izuku’s class other characters include Ochako Uraraka, who can control gravity (but she becomes sick if she uses her ability too much); Tenya Iida, who has super-speed thanks to engines in his legs; Shoto Todoroki, a boy whose left-hand side of his body controls fire, and his right-hand side controls ice; and Yuga Aoyama, who has the strange ability of firing a laser from his belly button.
However, there is more to it than just plain superhero action. Firstly there is the artistic style of some aspects of the show. For example, All Might is drawn in an American style when he is in a superhero form, referencing US superhero comics. But for me, this title has another element to it, which is this: My Hero Academia is set in a world where superhuman abilities are normal, therefore it is not normal to have no ability. To me, being Quirkless in this world is the same as being disabled in real-life.
Speaking as someone who has a disability, namely Asperger’s Syndrome, the reason I like My Hero Academia is because this is a story about someone who in his world has a form of disability, but someone is able to help him and let him achieve his dream. While many people with disabilities are fine with who they are and would not want to change (including myself), it is also true that there are times when you wished you could be perfectly able bodied, where you would take up that offer of living a normal life, to be free of so many problems and prejudices.
Plus, there is that bit of me that thinks that I’d rather describe my Asperger’s as a Quirk rather than a disability. It sounds less negative to me. I’d rather be known as quirky than disabled.
My Hero Academia is streamed on Funimation.