Anime is a powerful medium. It can take you to fantastical places. It can teach you valuable lessons, but failing all of that, at least it can give you a momentary escape from the daily grind.
I think that as an anime fan it’s important to examine why we collectively love anime. More than that, though, we should take the time to really appreciate what the medium does for the fan-base.
One of the most important things that anime taught me, is that believing in oneself the largest obstacle anyone might have to overcome. When doubt prevails, it’s easy to lose sight of the goals we have in mind. Ambition is only as powerful as our own personal drive to find success. When we allow our doubts to rule our minds and our actions, we’re put at a disadvantage. At that point, we’ve already lost half the battle to be successful in the first place.
There are plenty of anime that examine this concept. Honestly, you could aimlessly throw a dart upon a board and likely land on a name that uses this ethos as a key plot element. From Dragon Ball to Ranma 1/2, and Sailor Moon to Pokemon, you’d be hard pressed not to find a series that expertly crafts its narrative around this concept.
For this example though, I’m going to turn to My Hero Academia. You could point to classic, much longer lived series like Naruto too, but I find that ultimately, My Hero Academia has a much more truncated story. It’s just an easier anime to consume, and to me it stands out as a pinnacle anime to look at when discussing this particular ideology; personal belief and the struggles therein.
As an aside: if you want to actually read a review of the first season of the show, might I suggest going here to read Sammi C’s review of it.
When you sit down to watch this series, the first thing that the show does is impart the core ethos of the characters, and the way they see the world. It becomes clear quite early on that the main protagonist has plenty of personal doubt to combat within himself. However, it’s also true that plenty of the other characters doubt him too.
It’s the standard hero’s journey formula, nothing new there. However, the key thing about Deku that always stuck out to me, was just how far he was willing to go. In the earliest episodes of season one, Deku proves just how hard he has to work to prove himself.
It might not be realistic for him to become a hero at first, and it might not ever be possible as far as he knows; but being a hero is what he lives for. To him it is as much of a passion as it is a personal calling.
The faith Deku needs to find within himself and those around him isn’t something only held on a surface level. It’s so intrinsic to him as a person, that he’ll go to nearly any length to achieve success. To remove his dream from possibility at all, denies a core part of who is he, and who he aspires to be.
Now, you can say what you want about anime being simply that, anime…
To me there is something so noteworthy about the way he plucks his papers from the water fountain. Those ruined notes were cast aside by those that doubt him, and the feeling of loss portrayed here is little more than human, real in its design and desire to be worth something at all.
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We all go through that. There isn’t a person I can think of who hasn’t doubted some key facet of themselves to the point of nearly giving up. Deku nearly gives up his dream in the first episode.
The conflict he has within himself about whether or not he should give up speaks volumes about who he is as a character. There’s something to be said for the way a very disenfranchised Deku lifts his notebook from the water, angry and hurt. From having been bullied, told to jump and end himself, to having the one thing he cares about the most tossed aside, there’s little more than true humanity in these moments.
Aside from the cruelty that Deku faces, there’s a real firm ideology that Deku has to face down in becoming a hero too. Namely that he knows that in order to be successful at all, it’ll only get more difficult from here.
Watching these sorts of struggles in anime speak to me more heavily than almost any other medium… normally I’m not expecting it. When I first began watching My Hero Academia the same held true. I just wasn’t expecting this sort of content. At least, not in the first episode.
To say it was a punch to the gut would be the understatement of the century. Live action series tend to be darker, grittier, and typically try to speak to a level of realism I’m entirely prepared for. Therefore, it just doesn’t hit me that hard. When that grittiness presents itself, I’m prepared for it. Nine times out of ten, it occasionally feels “preachy” and that helps it to miss the mark too.
My Hero Academia does none of that.
In point of fact, it does the direct opposite. Placing a boy in front of us on the verge of letting go of his dream. From the very start of the series, the world around Deku forces him to question what he can really do. He really has to sit and think about his plans. He has to wonder if there’s anything he can do to achieve what he wants the most.
The luck of the draw isn’t on his side, and maybe it would be wiser to find a new ambition, but Deku lives for his.
It’s important to dream big, have lofty goals, and to aspire to something beyond your current measure. Maybe we won’t always achieve them, but the faith that we can if we try hard enough that matters too. In the end, plenty of people in reality have moved mountains for less.
I’m reminded of a real world example, a baseball player by the name of Jackie Robinson… now I’m no baseball guru, but for those that don’t know this man, you probably should. You see, on April 15th of 1947, Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s racially inclined color barrier. He was the first black man to play in major league baseball with white people. That’s huge, because the civil rights movement didn’t begin to gain any firm ground to stand on until 1955… to say he played an integral role in cutting down racial divides just doesn’t do the matter justice.
It’s a great example of the impossible becoming possible in reality. Within our daily lives, Jackie Robinson is a hero to be remembered. Disputing adversity, despite the odds, he became a major league baseball star. He did this in a time when that was just considered entirely out of line and out of place.
However, as I said, my expertise isn’t baseball, and it’s certainly not impressively historic figures like Jackie Robinson. There are people much more qualified to speak of him and what he managed to accomplish than I ever could. I merely bring him up, because the hero’s journey isn’t exclusive to anime… and watching the major league pay tribute to him, as they’ve done for years now, had me thinking on the topic.
We have real world heroes too… heroes that were likely scoffed at and told their dreams meant nothing. Validation matters, aspiration matters, never giving up… that matters… I can’t point to all things Jackie Robinson did to change the course of fate, but I’m sure that all of his acclaim is well earned in the very least.
What I can do is point to Deku, how I relate to him and his struggles. My Hero Academia reminds me so heavily that it is truly worth having a dream to live for and aspire to. Honestly, that is worth far more to each of us than anyone can put a price on.
The end of the first episode of My Hero Academia lends itself to a question, and it’s one that absolutely resonates with the core themes of the show. It all boils down to one thing, can Deku become a hero?
It’s the thing he wants most of all, and the thing that everyone tells him that he just can’t have is just to be a hero. However, his aspirations and convictions begin to touch the souls of many… and Deku eventually attains the thing he needs most in order to reach for his dreams.
At the end of episode one, though, it’s all still just a question. He has to believe he can. Personal belief is half the battle, and arguably, it’s the most important one…
This has been Kernook of The Demented Ferrets, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are par for the course. I’ll see you next time.
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