Ochaco shows badasses wear blush stickers in “My Hero Academia”

“Bakugo vs. Uraraka.” My Hero Academia Episode 22

This is a challenging review, as I want to be more self-reflexive about what I am getting wrong about My Hero Academia–and then can’t come to a solution to those problems. I’m trying to get a better grasp on what this episode does with Ochaco and Bakugo, yet I feel like I so bound up in my thinking as a man that I am missing something–because I won’t shut up and just listen.

I struggle to write about Ochaco given how much the episode does very well with her–even as I keep analyzing portrayals of female characters and, as I note below, whether her characterization in this episode is also to help characterize Izuku. The episode goes a long way from what we got to see from her in the USJ arc: whereas in that one she analyzed Kurogiri to determine how to get him out of the way, other moments of her portrayal in that arc were crying over the injured Thirteen (foreshadowing their future mentor-mentee relationship). Here, from the beginning, she rushes at Bakugo low to the grown, putting into action the plan no one but Monoma figured out: get Bakugo to keep kicking up the ground so she can make it float and, as she and Izuku accomplished in their trial against Bakugo and Iida, bring down the building–one of at least two parallels this episode sets up between Ochaco and a previous detail, but never makes it obvious with a flashback. She knows to play possum, leaving her jacket behind floating to distract Bakugo–and hey, she didn’t have to lose an arm to pull it off! The episode shows she can plan, has a strong ability, physical strength, and ambition to withstand Bakugo’s blasts far longer than other characters.

And where I struggle is where next to take this analysis, given how comparatively less Ochaco gets to do. Her arc in this competition is centered around impressing scouts so she can get into a good superhero agency and support her parents financially. As her father tells her on the phone, her path to superheroism is far from over, and she has so much more time to impress others. When she is in a school of such highly powered individuals, that pressure is weighing on her because, as she said last week, Izuku’s rivals are not only Iida, Todoroki, and Bakugo, but now she as well. If she cannot impress scouts early, she may lose her chance, seen as someone who is in the competition each year but can’t push forward to get to the top.

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This is a struggle Ochaco shares with Bakugo: desiring attention when you’re already in such a competitive school, where all your classmates have Quirks and had to fight so hard to get here that they are threats not only with their superpowers but their personalities. It is hard to get noticed. Bakugo’s arc has been how does the child prodigy, praised for so long because of his ability, deal with not being the big man on campus. Ochaco’s arc is more personal: the story so far has not suggested she wanted to stand out, and her desire to do so is for the sake of supporting her parents. Given how powerful both of them are, it’s a fascinating parallel that feels under-utilized that could do more with their shared goals but differing reasons.

And part of that problem owes to whether Bakugo’s stock-character qualities can lend some complexity to his opponent Ochaco. We’re not yet at the arc in which he depends on collaboration to get out of a bad situation–and even that arc still depends on Izuku and Eijro knowing Bakugo’s psychology and planning around his hostility against Izuku. I know many fans find him to be a fascinating character, as he comes across a potential villain, something his classmates in this episode say he is great at performing, yet never turns into a villain. This isn’t like Shinso, whose ability is seen as only villainous, or Mina, whose ability is largely destructive: Bakugo is judged by a villain not just by his ability but because he’s a gigantic dick.

Like Endeavor, just because you aren’t in the Evil League of Evil and instead signed up with a superhero agency doesn’t mean you’re “heroic”: it just means your occupation is hero, not that your character is. Bakugo has been shown in this arc to be so selfish not to know his classmates’ names or abilities, even mocking them for their physical appearances. He has antagonized others, not just to get attention from agencies but to go out of his way to shut down potential collaboration he must forge to successfully complete superhero missions. Bakugo has that drive and its accompanying arrogance of Stephen Strange and Tony Stark, yet just as I find recent adaptations of those two characters to be unctuous, so too I find my reaction to Bakugo: again, they’re all a bunch of dicks.

That does not discount Aizawa’s point that, in this competition, of course Bakugo must not pull back, especially as Ochaco withstands this fight despite the low expectations of an audience seeing her as a defenseless girl. Bakugo’s transition, from focusing on her physical appearance (“round-face” in the manga and English subtitles, “pink cheeks” in the English dub) and its associated young girlness, to acknowledging her as a worthy rival, is important for a gender perspective: he stops mocking her on the basis of how soft he thinks she is, and all the gendering associated with that assumption, and after seeing her suicidal tactic anticipates a real challenge. It is odd to have Bakugo think only now does the challenge begin when she drops meteors onto him, after she tricked him and withstood his blasts up to this point–but Bakugo has shown he is not a consistent character, shooting himself in the foot when he didn’t need to given his blind rage, and given such low expectations I have for him, at least he realizes Ochaco is not a pushover. Even when she cannot continue after that tactic, he stops calling her nicknames and calls her by her last name.

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Still, what is the point of Bakugo? At the commercial break, the story shifts from Ochaco to him. He’s the one who cannot enjoy his victory, walking away silently after the round, then regressing to his usual fury at Izuku under the misconception that he was the one who gave Ochaco that plan. What is the story trying to accomplish with him? What effect does it want? It was Bakugo who overheard Todoroki’s backstory: was that for him to realize his motivations are rather limited, or to understand Todoroki, not just Izuku, is a rival? I don’t see the payoff yet in the manga. For Bakugo to remain a viable character, his jerk nature has to be retained. So what is the desired effect? Is it to humanize him? If so, it’s not working yet for me. Is it to give him a challenge to meet? If so, what is the challenge? He was previously a student who excelled with his Quirk above all other students, now in a new school where he is among near-equals, hence does not stand out as much despite his flashy ability. I have to keep thinking through these questions.

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Speaking of frustrating questions (and boy, am I going to get a lot out that GIF), there is also how poorly I think I’ve been analyzing female characters in this series. It is Bakugo and Aizawa, two male characters, who enter the narrative to confirm Ochaco is powerful: it is uncomfortable for me because it feels like needing a man’s voice to justify her–and it is uncomfortable personally since I think that’s what I’m doing in these reviews, and while I keep reflecting on that point, I don’t know that I’ve reached any insight. Why not have it be Midnight who says Bakugo sees Ochaco as a worthy rival, which is why he does not hold back? While Cemento overseeing the match, it is Midnight who is the one refereeing rule violations and intervening to determine whether a match can go on. The audience is yelling at Cemento but not her. Is it because Midnight has to pay more attention, hence it would be irresponsible for her to yell at the audience and risk not watching the match? If Midnight intervened, would she be seen as defending another woman, hence subject to criticism that ignores the content of her argument and is just a misogynistic bias?

I wrote about the last episode how Horikoshi challenges himself by having such a large cast of characters and, as also shown in this episode, having to design unique costumes, builds, and personalities for even background characters (many in the audience in this episode appearing in the same background shots in the manga source material). One way to have this large cast remain relevant to the story is by associating them with the protagonist, Izuku Midoriya. As he has been prone to do so far this season–in the Cavalry Battle, when speaking with Todoroki, when facing Shinso–Izuku thinks his success is owed to the community that surrounds him. As One for All is a superpower that is collaborative, Izuku stands out as a character who recognizes the value of teamwork. This was a point I raised before, and one recently explored in Mother’s Basement’s vlog.

By having the cast circle around Izuku, the risk becomes that those characters’ development serve less for themselves and more for Izuku. This is a problem not limited to just My Hero Academia: any narrative has to determine how best to integrate its supporting characters, or else one of them demonstrates that they are actually the protagonist, prompting a re-write before story’s publication or, in the case of serialized narrative, a complete re-centering of the cast. Monoma in Class 1B has practically been making the claim that he and his classmates deserve the spotlight–in fact, Monoma is the one to recognize Ochaco’s strategy long before our resident know-it-all strategist Izuku does, a fascinating parallel between the two characters, yet one that I don’t think is fully explored in the manga (especially as Monoma is initially set up as a rival to Bakugo).

The concern I have watching this episode is whether Ochaco’s battle is one serving to develop her, or to develop Izuku. It is both: Ochaco has broken free of depending on Izuku, even as he serves as a model for him, yet paradoxically her ability to face defeat with a smile–not unlike All Might’s smile–also inspires Izuku. I feel unease when Izuku walks away after showing Ochaco crying in her phone conversation with her father about his loss against Bakugo: the scene moves so quickly to Izuku thinking about her and shifting those feelings towards his own fears about facing Todoroki. It is not unrealistic: he is feeling the pressure as he is about to face Todoroki, so everyone’s problems can be subsumed into his internal struggle. Many of us sympathize with someone else by first empathizing with them, and as the word suggests, sympathy relies on putting ourselves into that person’s position. It’s selfish: for Izuku to think about himself when looking at Ochaco’s loss is to understand how she still can present herself as so optimistic, while he has been worried about how to put on a smile and project the confidence that the Number One Superhero must.

Horikoshi’s original script in the manga, as adapted for the anime, is therefore smart in having Izuku’s thoughts about the smiling Ochaco juxtaposed with his subsequent encounter with Endeavor. As I hinted above, there is something similar about Ochaco putting on a smile and the advice All Might has given Izuku to do likewise. For a series so insistent on flashbacks to remind audiences what happened just moments ago, or to save on the animation budget, I’m surprised the anime did not make that link between Ochaco and All Might. It is right there, it is the second of two parallels I noticed (the first one being the fight against Iida and Bakugo I mentioned earlier), and after my repetitive complaints about how the season has portrayed female characters post-cheerleader uniforms, I appreciate the implicit link yet am bothered that an explicit one–to juxtapose Ochaco’s smile against the narration of All Might’s advice–was not exploited by this episode. As All Might’s mentor, the one from whom he inherited One for All is a woman, this failure is all the more disappointing.

This is all to say that Ochaco’s demeanor contrasts against Endeavor’s scowl and continued fixation on molding Todoroki into his successor, the one to defeat All Might. The manga will approach the following idea later, where this episode provides the setup: the reason Endeavor is stuck as the Number Two Hero and cannot make that last push to the Number One Hero is that he does not smile. This is not some sexist bullshit, as we have heard far too much, about telling people to smile to cover for flaws or to fulfill some standard: “Ochaco should smile to make others feel better.” No, this is to tell Endeavor to smile. Ochaco, Izuku, and All Might do not only rescue people: if I am correct, Endeavor in the manga has saved more people than even All Might. Rather, All Might has been the superhero who is not just a workaholic, as shown before, but someone involved in community redevelopment, beach cleanup, and public outreach. All Might’s superheroism is that he inspired so many heroes–something a sourpuss, a brute, a criminal, and an awful person like Endeavor cannot accomplish. All Might’s smile in the face of low odds, tragedy, and fear is valuable not out of any sincerity it may have (there is likely little sincerity, actually), but the psychological influence it has to inspire others to be the best they can. In this and the previous episode, Ochaco cited Izuku as one motivation for her; Izuku has cited her and others as his motivation. Endeavor is not a motivation for anything good: his motivation has been to make Todoroki into a vessel by which to live his failed existence vicariously. His motivation has been to prevent Todoroki from using his flame abilities rather than use them productively.

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The episode is effective in foreshadowing just how effective can be those flames that Todoroki inherited from Endeavor, adding something a black and white manga cannot. I’m still surprised by the color symbolism surrounding Endeavor. Despite the fire coming from him being warm colors, he has tended to be associated with cool colors, whether his blue eyes or, now in comparison to Izuku, the blue coming off of him in contrast to Izuku’s red. This color symbolism goes a long way to the conclusion of Todoroki’s arc, to recognize that whereas his father’s power is dangerous, Todoroki has the agency to determine how to use his ability. Endeavor’s fire has been associated with pain inflicted onto Todoroki’s body and mind: that is an emotional coldness. Up to this point, Todoroki has been shown to use his heat, as he did for Hanta, as warmth, for productive, helpful purposes. He is not his father: he is not this emotionally cold person, however emotionally hard he comes across. It is important that Izuku be put into those warm colors so that he is the one to convince Todoroki in the next episode to use the fire as his own, not as Endeavor’s.

Manga vs Anime

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  • As in the previous episode, Izuku’s notebook in the anime is still the one Bakugo damaged, whereas in the manga it was shown undamaged in the corresponding Issue 37.
  • The anime adds Izuku imagining Ochaco actualizing the plan he had in mind for her to get to Bakugo first and make him float.
  • Some of the anime storyboards re-frame around Izuku and Iida’s conversation, whereas the manga had the panels shaped around Izuku and Tokoyami.
  • In the manga, the robotic medics say to Midnight “Roger” (another Star Wars reference?). In the anime, they say “I know.”
  • The anime changes the seating of Class 1A. In the manga, Bakugo sits next to Jiro; in the anime, he sits next to Denki.
  • The anime also adds a chibi-esque flashback to visualize Tsuyu’s reminder that Denki lost.
  • The anime clarifies more than the manga how Tetsutetsu lost. Whereas the manga’s panels move from Eijiro holding Tetsutetsu’s hand, then immediately to him slamming it down, the anime expands the moment, while also showing Tetsutetsu’s skin cracking under the pressure, making it absolutely clear he just could not withstand Eijiro’s power at that moment.
  • The anime also has Midnight totally shipping Eijiro x Tetsutetsu. Cemento is having none of this.
  • Unlike most other episodes this season, this episode adapts more than just two manga issues: Issue 36 is adapted before the commercial, Issue 37 after the commercial, and the first part of Issue 38, with Ochaco returning to the stands, Tomura watching the match, Izuku’s mother tearing up, and Thirteen reminding All Might about the USJ fight, right before the credits.

Sub vs Dub

  • In the original Japanese (and in the English translation of the manga), Bakugo refers to Ochaco as “round-face.” In the English dub, he calls her “pink cheeks.” Gee, someone should really write about blush stickers on badasses.
  • The dub removes any dialogue by the robotic medics taking Ochaco to Recovery Girl.
  • When Denki has to acknowledge to Tsuyu he lost, the dub uses a more English idiom: “Let me have this.”

Random Observations

  • I screwed up: regarding the episode about Shinso, I incorrectly stated that the anime did not use the manga as reference for a scene in which Izuku, having defeated Shinso, stands over him. I was wrong: that scene was in the episode, as shown here in this comparison. I have corrected the original post.

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  • This episode also has some cameos from series related to My Hero Academia. Two audience members (who appear in the original corresponding manga issue) look like Spike from Cowboy Bebop and Meow from Space Dandy, both animated by BONES, the studio behind My Hero Academia. One superhero in the audience criticizing Bakugo is Toytoy from Oumagadoki Zoo, Horikoshi’s manga before My Hero Academia.
  • Ochaco inherited her father’s eyebrows, her mother’s blush stickers.
  • I’m impressed with how much the animators have gotten out of Endeavor’s facial expressions. Try going frame by frame to see the raw egotism on display.
  • Welcome back as Thirteen, Morgan Berry!
  • Oh, hey, look–more fanart of the guys in cheerleader outfits.
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