Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The Katsuki Bakugo Post

Over the last three years,  My Hero Academia has been on a continual rise in sales, positioning in the magazine it's published in and mainstream attention. It's a pretty darn great superhero comic for all sorts of reasons. It touches on the ethical concerns of a late-stage capitalist society making Heroics a profession. It looks at the cultural and sociological impacts of a world where over 80% of the populace is an X-men mutant.  It's a tale of privilege and its impact on personal development. It tells a passionate story that reminds boys that real men are in touch with their feelings, aren't afraid to accept help from others when it's offered and can put others first without being a doormat in the process. I could bang on all day about its themes, its impressive subtleties for a text aimed at early teens and how dang good the art direction is at conveying all the ideas.

I'd like to avoid spoilers and go with a simple recommendation for today so I'll instead say some words about one of the best characters: Katsuki Bakugo.
His name basically means "Explodey 'Splosionface". He can sweat nitroglycerine.
I can never decide the best single word summary for this guy. I'm torn choosing between "dickhead", "asshole", "tool" and "Accelerator". He's a bully. He's a thug. He's violent. He's egotistical. He's snappy, surly and rude. He only refers to other people by nicknames based on the most superficial physical traits he can recall them having. MHA's a tale of kids going to Superhero School to learn to be superheroes and as it wears on, the reader/viewer learns that everyone wants to be a high ranked hero for various reasons. For example, it's easier to secure stable employment, so Ochaco strives to be the best to financially support her family. Iida wants to work with his older brother, Midoriya wants to be in the best position to help people and so on. Bakugo just wants to be The Best so everyone he's scowling at will know he's The Best as firmly as he does.

Bakugo has a long, awkward history with the series' main character, Izuku Midoriya. Izuku is basically the greatest pro wrestling babyface ever written: a short, powerless kid who overcomes trial after trial through a combination of wits, skill, support from friends and an endless supply of passionate tears. Bakugo of course serves as a great oppsite: the abrasive jerk with immense raw talent on display at all times who seems to cruise through life. It's a great setup for conflict and allows the text to demonstrate both what it means to be heroic and what it means to not be.

It's pretty easy to write a competent story and set of character arcs with this setup. Have Midoriya take the hard road to greater physical, emotional and spiritual completion while Bakugo takes the easier roads, coasts on prior victories and listens to the whispers of villains who offer power and success beyond that which Bakugo may think Midoriya doesn't deserve. Your classic temptation to evil that I felt 2016's Dr. Strange film lacked thoughout; what people wanted to see more of in the Star Wars prequels.

Here's the kicker though: My Hero Academia doesn't do this. Instead, it opts to take Bakugo on a much more personal journey. See, Bakugo's a bad bloke but he's actually aware of this from a pretty early point in the story. He's a teenager with as much testosterone pumping through him as there is nitroglycerine and he's just one of those people who around that age gets more firery than average. He's constantly insulting and pushing away people, but he doesn't really want to. He simply doesn't know how to act any other way while maintaining who he is. Characters regularly call out his behaviour, and moments where he's acting somewhat villainous are played for laughs. Yet deep down, he tries to do the right thing. When he has ferocious fights with other characters, at first glance he's being a thug. In practice, he's not holding back because he respects his opponent's skill and understands that they can dish as good as they get. When he rejects offers of support and mentorship, it comes more from his own sense of perfectionism and a desire to resolve his issues on his own and not impose on others.

I made a quick joke about The Earthsea Cycle last week to contrast my wacky SRW rambles. On that re-read of the first novel, A Wizard of Earthsea I was thinking a great deal about Bakugo while Ged was still a young lad. While Midoriya has more of the Archmage qualities Ged exhibits later in life, Bakugo's arc feels much closer to Ged's. They're both gifted, confident, abrasive lads seeking power and prestige because they know they can earn 'em. Ged's fear of his poor attitudes sent him hiding all around the world. Bakugo's journey is conversely one about learning how to actually talk to people.

I find it fitting to end this little piece by mentioning that Earthsea was an American writer talking about identity and relationships through a Taoist lens while My Hero Academia is a Japanese writer talking about identity and relationships through a superhero comics lens. It's a neat demonstration of cross cultural influences over time. It also goes to show that no matter the era, people are always going to be grappling with issues of self doubt, communication and can ultimately work through them by understanding that everyone's going through pretty much the same thing.

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