It’s apparent that I can write about My Hero Academia for years to come. And one reason is because I’m trying to figure out what kind of a teacher All Might is.
I wrote a bit last week how helpful My Hero Academia has been in showing different teaching approaches, especially in educating students with various personalities and skill sets. That is important with Izuku, who only recently gained a phenomenal superpower but whose body, mind, and emotions are not yet adapted to such abilities. With All Might and Shouta as foils to each other, with different lessons to impart to Izuku, it’s important to me that My Hero Academia continue to emphasize that education really is about learning through multiple teaching strategies rather than only one.
In college, there were semesters where I had a Monday through Thursday class schedule, which meant a lot of Thursdays nights went very late watching anime. When I started graduate school, the last anime I watched was the start of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which was only then being broadcast in Japan–and then I had to stop after the first season because coursework and teaching demanded more time. When I got back to watching anime towards the end of graduate school, I had a shift in with whom I identified in anime. Before, it would have been the students: Edward Elric, Naruto Uzumaki, Maka Albarn. After teaching classes as a graduate assistant and an instructor, now it is the teachers: Izumi Curtis, Kakashi Hatake…not so much Franken Stein because good God no.
And the last two episodes I reviewed of My Hero Academia has me looking closely at the contrasts between the educational practices of two teachers.
My Hero Academia, a Japanese comic created by Kohei Horikoshi and recently adapted as an animated series, focuses on superheroes teaching students who recently acquired superpowers. The newest instructor, All Might (Japanese: Kenta Miyake; English: Christopher Sabat), is one of the most famous superheroes, a one-person army dedicated to civic service, protecting others, but whose successes mean he is not initially the best person to serve as a teacher. While All Might is introduced as recently learning adversity–an injury is slowly sapping him of his superpowers and compromises his daily activities–he tends to struggle in teaching superheroism.
Basically, All Might is the golden boy: he is the perfect person at his job, so it may be a challenge for him to communicate as a teacher to students when it seems like he does not know what failure looks like, hence cannot as an educator teach from such failure to prepare students for that potential outcome and how to get through it.
All Might is referred to in the series and in criticism as the idealized Silver Age superhero: buff and fast, wearing cape and spandex, even outlined with a thick black line and closed eyes evocative of the Max Fleischer Superman shorts.
In contrast, All Might’s foil, Shouta Aizawa, alias Eraserhead (Japanese: Junichi Suwabe; English: Alex Organ), looks less like a traditional superhero, not even like Bronze Age or contemporary anti-heroes, and more like typical graduate students or first-year instructors struggling with the stresses of balancing work and life. Shouta is monotone, looks half-awake, and unshaven. His hair is a mess, his eyes are bloodshot, and even sleeps in the classroom and carries around inexpensive, high-energy drinks to maximize his work and minimize his need for rest. (And if you think that teachers have not had to contend with those struggles of dealing with a lack of time for food and sleep, or even homelessness that requires sleeping in their own offices, you are sorely unaware of how horrendous the United States educational system can be.)
Granted, the series gives logical reasons why Shouta looks like a stereotype for teachers: his superpower, Erasure, depends on him looking at his target to sap them of their abilities, but the ability lasts only as long as Shouta does not blink, leading to his dry, red eyes. Visually, Shouta looks like a teacher who spent too much time staring at papers or a computer screen, and combined with his disheveledness even evocative of the typical stereotype of the pot-smoking hipster teacher. Yet his strictness, aggressiveness, and aggravation all indicate a teacher who is so strict out of a desire to intimidate students to follow his guidelines to the letter or risk expulsion.
The differences between All Might and Shouta’s teaching methods are exemplified in how they each contend with a new student at their school.
After bestowing his superpower to new student Izuku (Japanese: Daiki Yamashita; English: Justin Briner), All Might still cannot quite properly phrase how Izuku is to adjust to the changes that super strength and speed give to him, forcing Izuku to learn through his own practice with his abilities and determining his own metaphors, in this case, imagining his superpower as like an egg in a microwave: he can use only so much power before he risks injuring himself or others.
Episode 5 (which I wrote about last week) was focused on the strict teaching of Shouta, in which he threatens to remove Izuku from the school if he fails to manage his superpowers. Episode 6 (which I just posted about) focuses on All Might’s difficulty adjusting to his role as an educator and mentor. Shouta is hands-on–literally, seeing as he did drag Izuku towards him by his Asura scarves in the previous episode.
All Might, however, is not only inexperienced as a teacher–since he has to read from a script when struggling to answer all the students’ questions–but is sometimes hands-off, potentially to the detriment of Izuku. The child only just inherited One for All, and his body obviously is not ready for that power. When All Might throws Izuku into a mock battle so soon, he seems more similar to Shouta than he admitted: much as Shouta said he does not want to raise up a student’s hopes artificially, both he and All Might make sure these students recognize the dangers of superheroism. All Might did start this series warning Izuku that someone without a superpower cannot be a superhero; as long as the show remembers All Might indeed gave that warning, then it grounds that character in pragmatic cautiousness despite his boisterous optimism.
I am still troubled by All Might, however. He claims he will not play favorites in this battle, and he certainly shows little favoritism to Izuku in this or the subsequent episode–but actually, in doing so, I argue he shows favoritism to Katsuki by being far too lenient on someone whose abilities and temperament are dangerous. All Might’s refusal to step in and talk down Katsuki–although he will do so in the next episodes–shows that character’s hesitation as a teacher. I appreciate seeing how a teacher tries to determine what role they are to take with stubborn students: do you intervene and potentially shut down communications between you and the student, or do you repeatedly emphasize that you are available and wait for the student to seek help from you or someone else?
As well, when All Might has been rather quiet or vague towards Izuku as to strategies to adapt to these superpowers, is it because he is confident a brainiac like Izuku can figure it out, or is he serving a role of a mentor who is rather irresponsible in giving so much power to a child (a la Shazam giving way too much power to Billy Batson) and is too closed off from his own traumatic experiences to tend to someone who is practically his legacy character?
All Might’s treatment of Izuku could be similar to how Superman avoided engaging with Superboy in Season 1 of Young Justice, with All Might’s shuddering at seeing Izuku’s superhero costume resembling his own appearance indicates to me a bit of panic at realizing he is a role model to this fanboy and some worry about his own decision to give so much power to someone who may not be ready for it. Superman eventually came around and gave his blessing to Superboy to wear his family crest, even bestowing a Kryptonian name to him; All Might is definitely a more intimate mentor to Izuku far sooner, although there is some ambivalence I feel about whether there is going to be a rift between mentor and mentee at some point–and whether that potential rift is what allows Izuku to get out of the shadow of his hero. The anime’s opening hints at that potential direction, as it begins with Izuku standing behind his mentor and reaching out to him, even as All Might’s back is in shadows–potentially overshadowing Izuku.
I write all of this criticism of All Might not to condemn the character as if he were a real person. While I admit that I am projecting some of my own questions and doubts as a teacher myself, I also remind myself that All Might is a fictional character, and his flaws are realistic while also avoiding making him a perfect character. I think such intermingling of the personal essay and literary analysis in this review can be personally productive for me but maybe not for readers–as I think is a flaw in a recent article at The Mary Sue that read Barry Allen less as a character for literary analysis and more as a person deserving indictment, in many ways warranted, for his his dangerous actions in the Season 2 finale of The Flash. Rather, I’m trying to treat All Might’s behavior as reflective of ongoing debates for educators.