My Hero Academia: Real Heroes
Super heroes have been my thing for a long time. I can rarely remember a time I didn't love them. I remember being like 4 years old watching Super Friends with my cousins, or reruns of the 1966 Batman series. The older I got, the more I appreciated them. The concept of those who give their all, sacrifice, and rise above the apathy of the people who sit idly by and watch injustices and peril overtake the world to this day inspires me. In 2017, I was introduced to My Hero Academia. I'm still an anime/manga noob, so I am not quick to jump on new things in that medium. At this point in my life I have too many fandoms, I can't really afford the time or finances to invest in many more. Regardless of that attitude, I ended up diving into My Hero.
I had begun to hear of the show, but still didn't know enough to care. Then, in October, I met the voice actor for All Might, and his fans peaked my interest. Chris Sabat voices All Might, but I was there to meet him because he is the voice of Vegeta, Piccolo, and Shenron from Dragon Ball Z. I was surprised that there were almost as many people there because of My Hero as there were for DBZ, and being that it was a long line, I had plenty of time to hear of their love for the series. After meeting Chris and having such a great experience. I planned to check it out. A couple months later, I discovered that my local library had the entire manga series, which I read in a week. I was blown away by the heart of the story and the dedication not just to a story about superheroes, but a dialogue about what actually makes a hero. The notion of what makes a real hero started to have me evaluating things, like a qualifying examination. I was thinking of which characters in comics should qualify, as well as sci-fi, video games, etc. Then I moved on to real life, and eventually the people we learn of in the Bible. Being involved in children's ministry for a very long time, I've seen countless times where we refer to biblical forefathers as heroes in VBS, camps, study material, action figures, dvds, etc. Back in 2006, the camp I worked at was going to have a super hero summer. We were originally going to do a very "Faith and Fandom" style theme using X-Men, Batman, and all things superhero, but we decided to use biblical people as the heroes. It was a fun summer, and we still had a lot of creative times. We did Samson as a hero called "Hair Razor" (trust me I know how corny this sounds, but camp is fun), Simon Peter as Aquadude, the apostle Paul as some kind of indestructible guy, Elijah as a flash-esque character (he outran a bunch of chariots once), and so on. We attributed superhero like qualities to these biblical figures because of a characteristic or situation in their lives.
However, in My Hero, it takes more than a power or circumstance to really be a hero. In My Hero Academia, 80% of the world's population has acquired naturally developing super powers. They refer to those powers as quirks. Around the age of four, people start to develop and show their quirks. Every super power imaginable is out there among the average citizen, except for the 20% who have no quirks. The other 80% of the world has super powers, yet only a handful of people become heroes. They require education, training, and accountability.
The story centers around Deku, one of the unfortunate 20% without a quirk. Deku is fixated on becoming a hero, even without a quirk. In all reality, he displays the character and heart of a hero more than the average actual hero. It's because of this that he is eventually given the gift of a quirk by the world's greatest hero, "All Might." All Might not only gives Deku power, but also trains him, teaches him, and guides him on the journey to becoming the hero he wants to be. Samson may have had insane strength, David may have had an awesome takedown with a sling, but it takes more than a marketable angle to really be a hero. Let's look at some of the characteristics that truly make a hero.
The idea of putting others above yourself is one of the most recognizable characteristics of a hero. When you show an attitude of self-sacrifice and unrewarded concern, people see that that there is more to your actions than your own gain or benefit. One of the negative effects we see in My Hero is that some heroes only pursue that course of action for personal gain, like money, acclaim, notoriety, and attention. It’s not that heroes can't or shouldn't be rewarded for their work, but a hero shouldn't do the work for the purpose of reward. That's why the hero killer, "Stain," is so livid with the current state of heroics. He has seen that the concept of a hero has been reduced to a selfish ambition. Not that it justifies his actions, but he does have valid points.
"You are nothing more than a fake who prioritizes his own selfish desires." "You are the cancer of society, warping the word hero." "Getting trapped by your own hate and acting out of pure self-interest makes you the furthest thing from a hero.” - Stain.
While Stain's words don’t apply to every hero in the story, it does apply to some. It also applies to some of us as Christians as well. Sometimes we do the good work for selfish ambition. That ambition may be to have more numbers, money, or fame. If we are doing the right things as a church, but only to benefit our individual congregations or reputations, we are failing. In my time of ministry, I've heard things like, "They don't go to our church, so it's not our responsibility,” and, "The return on investment isn't high enough," or even the bluntly phrased, "how will this benefit us?" The church has a long history of leaders getting bogged down with their own self-interest and success, their motivations being tainted by personal gain. When that is who we become, we stop being heroes and, even more importantly, stop living as God desires for us.
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." - Philippians 2:3-4.
Mineta ("Grape Juice") wants to be a hero for the sake of getting girls. Bakugo wants to be a hero for the sake of his own pride. These motives aren't what makes a hero. It doesn't always mean selfishness is malicious. Ochaco wants to be a hero so she can make enough money to help her family, and while that is a noble intention, it still strays from the concept of what a hero truly is. Being a hero can't be about serving yourself or your own needs, and neither can following God.
When the world is full of people with powers, one of the things that separates the randomly quirked from the heroes is what they actually do with their power. Almost the whole world in My Hero has powers, but so few actually put them into real action that benefits the world. It's those that truly care enough about the world to go through training, internships, sidekick status, and more that really show what they are made of. Everyone can say they want to help people, but My Hero shows us that it takes deliberate action to prove it. Even though Christian's don't get quirks (still hoping God decides that me having super powers would be a good thing), we are all gifted and talented uniquely. We are each given gifts. None of them include grenade sweat or anything, but God does give us our own spiritual quirks.
"We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully." - Romans 12:6-8
God gives His people gifts and talents to be used. He gives them these things because they are meant to be put into action. Much like with quirks, we can talk about how we love God, our neighbors, or the world around us, but if we don't put intentional action to match our words, then the gifts we're given are wasted. It's not only about being wasted though. It's that we talk such a big game. People in My Hero that aren't on the path to being a hero generally live quiet normal lives without drawing a ton of attention to themselves or their quirks. On the other hand, Christians make a big noise. We basically advertise to the world that we love them. We advertise to the world that we have a relationship with the creator of all existence and that have something they are missing. We make all this noise, but if we don't put action to our words, they are useless.
Todoroki made this clear in the sports festival when he said, "Without knowing his background, some righteous speech from a stranger would just be annoying. Words alone have to be pretty meaningful to really move someone... What actually matters is what the person saying it has actually done. What they're doing in life. You gotta back up words with actions." People that use the term hero without actually being heroic are imposters. People that claim to be Christians without actually living out Christ like love in action are equally imposters. John lays this out for us clearly when he writes, "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Another determining characteristic is that heroes stand against certain things. They don’t just show heroism in what random villain they punch in the face, but in what they stand for. This world can be so dark, evil, and discouraging, that it's easy for us to give up hope and be overwhelmed. Heroes should be able to light the way, to show that there is hope, and that things can and will be better.
In the face of the darkness that was rising up with the League of Villains, All Might knew more had to be done than simply Detroit smashing a Nomu. He says, "The Citizens...heroes...villains... I need to light the way for all of them." All Might new that his job was to shine as a light for everyone, good or bad. He needed the good to be inspired, and for those in darkness to find their way back.
In the poetic words of John chapter 1, we also see Jesus being described in a similar way. "In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”
(John 1:4-5). In Jesus, life was the light that pierces through the darkness and overcomes it. Just like All Might passes on "One For All" to Deku, Jesus passes that light and its responsibilities on to believers.
"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." - Matthew 5:14-16.
It is our responsibility to shine into the darkness and to be that light when people are afraid. It's our job to shine so that the darkness has no place to hide, because much like when All For One and the League of Villains were on the rise, the darkness is growing. As All Might's detective friend Naomasa stated, "The stronger the light, the darker the shadows." The world is going to be full of growing darkness, but just like All Might's presence gives hope to people, we should live our lives as Christians in such a way that we not only give hope but bring the darkness to an end. When we see things like poverty, drug addiction, violence, human trafficking, abuse, and stuff like that creeping across the world, we see the darkness. It seems like it's too strong and there's nothing we can possibly do, but Jesus said the darkness has not overcome the light, and it never will.
We can bring the light. We can fight the darkness and all the unfair things that steal the joy and hope in people's hearts. As Eraserhead stated, "Heroes are the ones who correct all that unfairness." We can show the world who we are by fighting against the darkness and being the light, we are called to be.
Integrity is another factor that really separates a hero from an imposter. It doesn't matter what gimmicks, quirks, or following you have if you aren't a person of integrity. If you aren't filled with integrity, you are just a well-equipped, well-marketed fraud. When the #2 hero Endevour appears in the story, he automatically gives off the vibe of a sinister villain. Before the story developed and you learn about "All For One,” I had my money placed on him being the villain of the series. I still haven't ruled him out as actually being part of the villain's team (at the time the book is being written, we are up to manga book 12). The flames and the nasty attitude aren't the main reason he screams villain. It’s that he lacks integrity.
He's the #2 hero in the world, and he's a horrible person. His motivations, the way he treats his children, their mother, and other people in private doesn't match the heroic image he puts out for the world. It's like the moment when Grape Juice was displaying his overwhelming lack of integrity at camp swim time, not only failing at being a hero, but being disgusting and discouraging. Kouta responds to him with, "A hero, really? Try learning how to be a good person first." A hero needs to be a hero in every situation, just like some Christian needs to be a Christian in every situation. If your character changes depending on the situation you are in, then some part of who you are is an act.
Integrity isn't just who you are in front of others, it's who you are when no one sees. Consistent solid character equals integrity. All Might's integrity is the thing that makes heroes admire him and villains despise him, but he is the same in every situation. The Bible is full of reminders on the need, importance, and outcome of integrity.
Proverbs 11: 3, "The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity."
Psalm 78:72, "And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them."
Psalm 25:21, "May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you."
Integrity is what guides us. Integrity is what leads others. Integrity is what protects us. The best heroes are the ones who are constant, consistent, and true in who they are in every situation. The same goes for Christians. Don’t let your faith be something you put on like a costume. Let it be who you truly are, not a mask to convince the world you are something you are not.
Finally, one of the things that separates the real heroes from the opportunistic, is taking initiative. That’s the idea that you move without being asked, motivated, or manipulated. It means that you go into action and take steps that no one else is taking. We see this early on in the series when Deku goes in to rescue Bakugo. As Bakugo is being completely engulfed and overwhelmed by the sludge monster, Deku is horrified. The real "Heroes" are just standing there. I get their quirks aren't strong enough, but they aren't even trying. Bakugo is going to die. No one asked Deku to help. This quirkless kid could offer nothing the others could, but the one thing he displayed was initiative. Even though he was afraid, he ran straight into danger, threw his bookbag at the monster and started fighting.
That is hardly the only time we see Deku do this. Taking the initiative to be a hero by responding to the needs of the people is what separates him from so many others. If he hadn't shown initiative, Bakugo, Iida, All Might, and countless others would be dead throughout the series. Deku's one simple statement says it all. "Giving help that's not asked for is what makes a true hero.”
Even more so as believers, we need to put initiative into our faith. We need to show love without being prompted, to give compassion in the hard times, to give grace freely, to be quick to forgive. We don't need to wait for instruction or guidance from people to do the things God has already commanded.
Proverbs 3:27, "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act."
James 4:17, "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them."
Psalm 34:14, "Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it."
We are told that if we have the power to do good, then to do it. We are told that in all reality, it's sinful to know we can help and to ignore the need. We are also told that it's our responsibility to seek and pursue peace. So often as Christians, we have to literally be forced to do good. Pastors have to beg their congregations to even remotely live out their faith in action, but if we are serious about what God is doing in our lives, we will begin to take the imitative to act on our faith and actively look for ways to be who we are called to be. How many lives could be impacted if you stopped waiting for people's lives to fall apart and started helping when we see a need? As we see even in the first 12 books/2 Seasons of the story, being a hero is hard work. It's effort. It's struggle. It's painful. It requires commitment, perseverance and sacrifice. Yet it's worth it in the end. We see the same thing about being a Christian. Don't just be some quirkless believer. Be selfless, take action, and fight the darkness. Have Integrity and take initiative. Live out your faith heroically. Face this world with bravery.
As Deku stated, "Clench up your butt, and let your heart cry out!" Live your faith Plus Ultra!