My Hero Academia and Humanism

This season has had me busy at work but grinding a lot of anime over my lunch hour. Specifically, I decided to rewatch My Hero Academia in order to get current. As of writing, I am a few episodes shy of the end of Season 5 and have watched the first two movies.

think that as far as Shounen anime goes, My Hero Academia is probably my favorite one. It’s not my preferred genre but I’ve really come to like the story and general feel of the show. The superhero subject matter, bright colors and interesting character designs are compelling and entertaining. They also offer a nice break from bleak media of all other kinds. In that way it really takes me back to being a highschooler.

Something I’ve found very compelling about the show’s narrative is that its universe works well without reference to the supernatural. Now Japan is not very religious in the Western sense. We’re used to people who identify closely with a formal religion and adhere to some form of orthodoxy, however strained. As the figures from Wikipedia show, most people are irreligious while practicing a secular form of Shinto and Buddhism:

I surmise that this cultural, secular view of religion makes religious topics very accessible in Japanese media. I think this is a big part of why supernaturalism works so well in so many animes. The animistic and polytheistic nature of the religions make them very expansive for media settings. However, My Hero exceeds by not having to lean on this concept at all. The simple fact of the MHA world is that while most people have superhuman abilities; they are all still fundamentally considered human.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good.

American Humanist Association

In the world of this anime, we contend with people of all types good and bad. People are not born innately one way or the other but are defined by their environment and choices. The show emphasizes how much justice and ethics matter and symbols of these things such as All Might. It’s focused on heroes building a better world and how that is desirable to encourage growth, flourishing and creativity in humanity. The main characters Izuku Midoriya (Deku) and Katsuki Bakugo are keys to showing this growth but the myriad supporting characters as well, too many to name, all of their own facets that are growing.

My Hero Academia demonstrates that not prayers nor spirits will help you but motivated people can step up to the plate to affect real change. They can do this for the better or for the worse. People are capable of making terrible decisions for self centered reasons. They may act out of drama or a warped sense of ethics, such as the herokiller Stain. They might try to be heroic symbols have broken families or serious physical or mental maladies, such as Endeavor in the former or Twice in the latter case. Not everyone is great, but people are what they are not because they are blessed or cursed but because of their circumstances and their choices and consequences.

I find this inspiring because I feel like a lot of anime in particular leans very heavily on spiritual tropes and while I have nothing against that (I think Shinto is cool frankly) it does feel a little bit repetitive. It’s especially prevalent in the Shounen genre that My Hero Academia is apart of. Other genres, it must be said, don’t have quite as much emphasis on this. I would encourage readers to view the Amsterdam Declaration on the Humanist International website to see if I am way off base or if some of these ideals fit the world aims of the author of the series.

I hope this series stays in this vein and resists the temptation to introduce literal or figurative Deus Ex Machina because I am really enjoying it as it is.

For a little bit of fun I’ll list some of my favorite characters!

All Might – How could you not like the man, the myth, the legend and the symbol of peace himself?

Eraserhead – The stoic yet “protective in his own way” trope reminds me a bit of myself. Or so my friends say.

Uravity – My friends and I call her the ‘Cinnamon Bun’, a cute character who has an honest motivation.

Ingenium – At first I thought I would dislike him but rather than being just rules-for-rules-sake he does genuinely care about people around him and he possesses deep convictions.

Froppy – Even headed, rational and casual with a very interesting character concept and design.

Lemillion – Cheery but also very real, a prototypical All Might inheritor whose personality grows on you over time.

Ryuukyuu – Lady who can turn into a dragon? Sign me the hell up, she just checks a lot of boxes for me LOL.

Nighteye – A stern and forceful character whose impact is felt deeply in Season 4. His powers and motivates are very interesting and he leaves and impression.

Mt. Lady – Her power is turning into a giant and she’s a tiny bit of a ditz and a little bit self centered. Very real feeling character, personality wise.

Present Mic – Character who is always enthusiastic and creates loud noise as his power, a perfect analog of a good friend of mine.

Himiko Toga – A yandere villain with a unique quirk and a penchant for chaos. I’ll take it.

Herokiller Stain – A violent villain with compelling beliefs. Hard to ignore his ideological claims and criticism of society. I wish he got more play in the series though.

Principal Nezu – A quirky mastermind who is capable of weathering a storm but able to unleash crazy to teach others. Another perfect analog for a friend.