REVIEW: My Hero Academia, Episode 7: “Deku vs. Kacchan”

 

New episodes of My Hero Academia are on Funimation.com: episodes premiere Sundays at 5:00 AM, English-language dubs on a one-month delay Wednesdays at 9:00 PM.


It is a challenge for me to explain why, despite what an awful person Katsuki Bakugou is personally, his portrayal is beneficial for this series. This episode identifies that Katsuki’s fears are what motivates his action, creating the very sweat that gives him his explosive superpower, as well as emerging out of his own low self-esteem. While the episode may not be a satisfying indictment of this violent character, that seems less to be its point: the point, rather, is about a society that elevates some over others, makes certain people feel they cannot be criticized lest affecting their self-esteem, and what value characters like Izuku and All Might have for the sake of collaboration and through a superpower like One for All, compared to someone like Katsuki who is so far only destructive–and without better guidance from his teachers, risks becoming self-destructive.

Teaching students of various temperaments and skill sets requires not only flexible teachers but a range of teaching approaches. I wrote about the value last week about having All Might and Shouta as contrasting forms of teaching. This week’s episode of My Hero Academia looks at contrasting students, Izuku and Katsuki. The former has been without superpowers and learns slowly how to adapt to them. The latter has been treated as a golden child–and when his self-esteem is not reinforced, he resorts to anger and self-destructive tendencies.

That the series continues to take these issues largely seriously is to be commended.

That the show also manages to fit in a heroic student trying to be a hammy supervillain and a student hugging a nuclear missile is just hilarious.

Still, I don’t know what to make of this episode’s potential moment when Katsuki (Japanese: Nobuhiko Okamoto; English: Clifford Chapin) could have killed Izuku (Japanese: Daiki Yamashita; English: Justin Briner). Out of narrative convenience, Katsuki’s over-kill actually doesn’t kill Izuku, yet it also lends a bit of depth to Katsuki to reveal that while he is an asshole, he is not a murderous asshole. So…yay?

It is obvious in the series that Katsuki is not a decent person. Yet I appreciate that these episodes do not excuse but explain his behavior. In “Deku vs. Kacchan,” the seventh episode of My Hero Academia, the character finally gains a bit of backstory, and next week he gains depth. What makes this episode work is in terms of the first dialogue Katsuki has with his teammate, Iida (Japanese: Kaito Ishikawa; English: J. Michael Tatum), as his only mission update is that he is furious with Izuku dodging his attacks and refusing to use his superpower in this combat. “I’m not asking about how you feel!” Iida shouts when Katsuki’s only mission report is that he is “angry” at Izuku. Yet it is Katsuki’s emotions that are the focus to this episode and an explanation as to what leads a supposed hero to be more like a villain.

In this episode, the evidence presented to All Might (Japanese: Kenta Miyake; English: Christopher Sabat) was that Katsuki was capable of killing Izuku. Even when Katsuki insists his Explosion attack will not kill Izuku so long as it does not hit him directly (in Japanese–in English, Katsuki says Izuku better dodge), that implies, first, that the debris of the attack won’t kill him either, and second, that Katsuki’s aim is good enough.  Rather than risk having Katsuki kill Izuku, it would have been more pragmatic for All Might to stop the battle at that moment. All Might’s reprimand of the student is far too timid, although his more hands-off approach in the next episode is shown to yield helpful results, forcing Katsuki to reach the conclusion on his own that his behavior has to change, rather than potentially rejecting that notion before consideration.

Katsuki seeks to make a show of himself: that is how All Might can teach him. This has been the student’s nature since his first appearance. In his entrance exam to UA, Katsuki attempted to earn the most combat points, at the cost of points for protecting others. He also refers to Iida (in the Japanese-language version of the show) as only a side character, as if he himself is positioned as the main character. If he is not treated as the hero, he stops listening–and All Might slowly becomes aware of this fact. Yet the show also makes aware that Katsuki, a beneficiary of a society not unlike our own that worries about offending students lest harming their self-esteem, indeed has such a low self-esteem and does not react well when reprimanded.

All Might’s approach is not ideal, as it only reinforces Katsuki’s arrogance, and with such a dangerous superpower, he cannot be permitted to act as such. At least All Might realizes he can persuade Katsuki by telling him his practices fail to achieve the mission’s goal. All Might is intrinsically aware how to appeal to Katsuki’s goals first rather than adhering to one ideal. When Katsuki has such a destructive power, however, it risks reinforcing his destructive nature.

Katsuki has been identified in the series as someone whose entry into superheroics is dependent first on his ability, second on how he uses that ability for his own gain. There are the materialistic gains and libertine gains, evident since Episode 2 when Katsuki is not necessarily against going to an adult bar to flirt with women, as he turns it down for the sake of how it would look before his entrance into UA. There are also the gains to his own self-esteem. It is by having people around him to praise his own superpower, as being more impressive than other superpowers and more impressive than the skills of non-powered persons, that Katsuki feels better about himself.

And when Katsuki does not get the attention he wants, he has to make a show of his powers to gain attention: he gets fired up, whether by anger or physical exertion.

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And when he gets fired up, he sweats.

Katsuki’s sweating is important. It is shown at the beginning of this week’s episode, a flashback to when Katsuki led his classmates, including Izuku, to trespass into a neighborhood park. The lighting, the cicadas, the children’s attire of shirts and shorts, and the outdoor setting all suggest initially that Katsuki sweats due to the summer heat. But despite his cocky smile and his orders to his classmates to keep walking, he is sweating. It is a subtle demonstration of his nervousness. This episode also reveals the science behind Explosion, Katsuki’s superpower introduced way back in Episode 1: his sweat has explosive properties that, when collected, can produce light or fire. As sweat is produced out of intense physical activity, the ability is one attempting to introduce Katsuki as someone associated with a certain hyper-masculine posturing: he has to make a scapegoat of someone else in his class, and the seemingly weak Izuku–his name’s alternative spelling, ”Deku,” meaning “weakling”–serves as his punching bag.

This fear makes him sympathetic. To have his ego stroked for so many years, then to have this crisis of faith in himself, is an experience for many people. It doesn’t negate the awfulness of his behavior, but it lends him depth that the subsequent episode builds upon. Katsuki’s actions, however dangerous and unrealistic they are, also lend characterization to Izuku. I cannot believe that Izuku had already planned for Ochako (Japanese: Ayane Sakura; English: Luci Christian) to use the resulting debris to distract Iida if not for seeing first how Katsuki’s Explosion could produce that debris to begin with. Given how thorough his journals are, this quick-thinking is realistic rather than a storytelling shortcut.

The title to this episode, “Deku vs. Kacchan,” eschews using the character’s literal names: it’s not “Izuku vs. Katsuki.” It is the nicknames each character gave the other. “Deku” was Katsuki’s insult to Izuku to call him weak; “Kacchan,” with “chan” being a Japanese honorific of endearment, was Izuku’s name to express closeness. It is important for Izuku’s pet name for Katsuki serve as this title, based on its closing revelation: that Izuku has always been this intimate with Katsuki because he admired his abilities and his endurance. Therefore, he listed Katsuki alongside superheroes like All Might and Eraserhead as role models who can teach him how to be a better superhero.

In this regard, Izuku’s journals are analogous to All Might’s One for All: both contain a set of skills drawn upon by numerous superheroes, archives of expertise to be shared with as many people who can gain them. As the show will reveal, however, there is a danger: to have this information contained in one archive, whether a book or a superpower, means that, in the wrong hands, it can draw upon a wealth of abilities for the sake of evil. There is something interesting in this idea of such an archive that I cannot quite figure out yet; it would benefit from re-reading texts from my “archive theory” courses (or compare Izuku to Dipper in Gravity Falls). Within this one show itself, however, there is a reason why My Hero Academia reveals later the inverse to All Might, with a superpower known as “All for One,” that is about not sharing people’s abilities with as many others as possible, but about stealing superpowers for one person.

The way to avoid the danger of such theft of knowledge and skills is to have a role model as a helpful reminder of what to do and what not to do. As with “Deku vs. Kacchan,” episode titles to My Hero Academia have emphasized that the story is about how far ahead Izuku can go on his road to progress. For Katsuki, the phrases used in episode titles such as “What I Can Do For Now” reveal not how far Izuku can go but how much further Izuku is getting ahead of him in this one-sided competition. The closing title sequence shows Izuku running, not against anyone physically, given the tracks in the dirt show only his own footprints, but certainly against his image of All Might as his mentor and seeking to catch up to him. Such issues of competition and legacy are vital for many of the characters, mostly male, in this series: we will learn that All Might, Iida, and another student with his first line of dialogue this week (and soon to be a main character), Todoroki (Japanese: Yuuki Kaji; English: David Matranga) are also legacy superheroes trying to match the ideals and feats of their predecessors–of, for Todoroki, avoiding what his predecessor has done.

And there are legacy supervillains, too, in this series. That is what is fearsome moving forward in this series: as Izuku is learning from his experiences with Katsuki, so are both of them also going to learn a lot by their engagement with legacy supervillains.

Stray Observations

  • My Hero Academia is still finding its footing with regard to cold openings. Now, it is opting for recaps; as episodes become more serious in tone, the show starts right with the opening title sequence, as if emphasizing how dire is the situation.
  • Yes, Katsuki is indeed wearing a Punisher shirt, while Izuku wears a big M shirt (short for All Might?). Izuku gets the equivalent of a Superman shirt, and you wonder why Katsuki turned out the way he did?
  • I think this is at least the second time Izuku has said, “All men are not created equal.” This kind of elitism is itself a reality: some people’s skills make them more adept at certain tasks than others. This kind of elitism is supposed to be an ideal: be the best you can be at what you do and with what you have. That Izuku’s rise to superheroism is dependent in part on inheriting All Might’s superpower, however, can send an unfortunate message. And of course the phrasing in translation for English subtitles, “All men are not created equal,” is phrased in such a way as to deny an American ideal put forward in the United States Declaration of Independence. As that document itself shows, the United States never started with that ideal actually embraced, in terms of inequality in terms of gender, race, class, and more. As we risk electing a bigot like Donald Trump, who like the worst written supervillain uses fear to divide people with assumptions of inqualities, we risk having such inequality persist, or worse, breed into fascism, thus that those rights and protections necessary for all in this nation are lost because of the fears and violence of the one.
  • Last week already showed the interest that Eijirou (Japanese: Toshiki Masuda; English: Justin Cook) takes in Katsuki, initially thinking him “unmanly” for doing a sneak attack on Izuku. Eijirou’s interest in Katsuki will be relevant in the rest of the series, as shown here when he asked All Might what Katsuki was saying into his wireless transmitter.
  • While Izuku injures himself badly in this episode, it is important to note he delayed his use of One for All by depending on observation and strategy, which earns him immediate praise from classmates–and which only increases in subsequent episodes.
  • This show’s approach to flashbacks is odd, as the blurred edges and sometimes sepia lighting on footage from previous episodes means that it is hard to tell when new animation is included. This style persists and is helpful at distracting viewers for how BONES is reducing its animation budget by reusing old footage. The style also helps me given problems I have had with flashbacks as a form of storytelling that disrupts linear storytelling. The focus and lighting also sets up a hierarchy of which flashbacks are most important to viewers: ones out of focus are exposition, while the Katsuki and Izuku childhood flashbacks, as focused and clear as animation set in the current moment, constitute new content that imparts a message and characterization rather than only background information.
  • Poor child Izuku. Only this anime could make that goofy wide-eye stare something tragic rather than comedic. Taken out of context, people would laugh; watching the show in context, it is depressing.  

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  • I did not say enough about Iida and Ochako in this episode–as the moments are excellent and require repeated viewings. Tatum’s performance in the English dub, as he channels either Skeletor from He-Man or Cobra Commander from GI Joe, was excellent–especially as Tatum has already played disturbing villains and thankfully skewed more towards camp than terrifying. And we can’t ignore the meme that generated after this episode’s premiere last month, shipping Ochako with that fake nuclear missile (link is NSFW or basic human decency). And Ochako having a spit-take into her own viser is also hilarious.
  • “Right now, he’s monologuing.”
  • “Ha ha ha!” That Joker laugh, Katsuki.
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