Image Credits: /u/vinylgrave
WARNING: This post includes spoilers for the anime right up to Season 3. This post explores what My Hero Academia has taught me about truly wanting something, effort and doing the impossible.
I Want To Be a Hero
This is the element that the series introduced first and yet it was perhaps the last thing I realized. The power of desire to shape your life. To let you take control of it instead of ceding control to circumstances.
Izuku Midoriya is born quirkless in a world where it is the norm and aspires to be a hero, something that is by definition impossible for him. And he is told as much. Over and over again. For nearly a decade. What he wants is supposed to be out of the realm of possibilities for his life but that doesn’t stop him from wanting it. And so he pursues that dream for years, not just against the impossibility of it but also in the face of all the ridicule and discouragement and without what so many of us take for granted, support in the form of people and structures. Every moment of his life tested his desire, a kind of pressure that is unimaginable and yet he stuck by it.
It would’ve been so easy to settle for what circumstances he was born into and live a life that is entirely defined by its trappings but by daring to dream beyond it does Midoriya’s realm of possibilities itself extend to make possible what he desires. An Izuku Midoriya who gave up on his dream when he was first told it wasn’t possible wouldn’t have inherited All for One even though there existed the possibility for someone without a quirk to have one. It is only the Izuku Midoriya who never stopped dreaming or working towards the dream who made it possible.
The series captures quite effectively just what it is like to desire the impossible. Not only the scale of courage and perseverance required to want it and work towards it in the face of all odds but also how emotionally torturous it can be. How it can break you. When All Might finally tells Midoriya that he can be a hero, Midoriya falls to his knees, clutching his chest and in tears. Even before All Might actually says the words. I was overwhelmed at what I was witnessing but I didn’t know what moved me so greatly. I think I do now. That to have something that you want so much, no matter what the world tells you about it, and to never give up on it is in itself a heartbreakingly beautiful thing.
But to be told he could be a hero was merely the beginning. Midoriya would now have to make himself worthy of it and this once again tested his desire. What others were born with, he would have to struggle for and he does. He goes beyond what he is even asked for, for that is how much he wants to be a hero. And that is to me the underlying thread of all the incredible stories the series tells. The connection between desiring something and the effort you are willing to make to make it happen.
Shut Up and do the Impossible
When Midoriya sees Bakugo in the grips of the Sludge Villain and proves that he has what it takes to be a hero, I see him asking and answering a question very different from those around him, including all the heroes at the scene. The question I see everyone around him asking is what they can do. And they answer it in terms of their capabilities and unsuitability for the task at hand. The question I think of Midoriya asking is, what needs to be done. There is a human struggling for their life in front of my eyes. Not what can I do. A quirkless child cannot do something that heroes cannot. But what needs to be done? And then my legs moved on their own.
The question that is asked makes all the difference there is. When All Might has to face Nomu, he is facing someone who was designed to beat him even if he gave it his 100%. What can he do then? But there were lives at stake and so it was only about what had to be done. This is what lets him state with confidence that ‘It’s fine!‘. This is why every single blow of his carried more than 100% of his power. Because it wasn’t about trying to succeed or about doing his best. It was about doing the impossible and if that meant going beyond then so be it.
The connection that I spoke of earlier can be seen here and in many other moments but nowhere is it more obvious than when Midoriya faces Todoroki in an one-on-one battle during the school sports festival. Each of them has owned up to what it is they want: to win. So what are they willing to do for it?
So often does Midoriya injure himself in using his power and is then healed that the meaning and impact of it was lost to me until I heard Aizawa spell it out. To be able to jump into intense pain like that requires a lot of resolve. To break anything at all was to already go beyond what is expected of him. He has already stepped beyond what he can just do. But he won’t stop. He breaks more and more, not only willing to take extreme measures but desperate ones. He breaks what he has already broken and he breaks when even breaking didn’t appear feasible, using his cheek when he runs out of fingers to support his moves.
For Midoriya uses a purer definition of impossible than most of us. Not that which can be done but would be rather inconvenient to do, not that which can be done but would require immense commitment and effort over an extended period of time, not that which can be done but would demand sacrifices of you or have too high a cost and not even that which can be done but would require sacrificing yourself. For Midoriya, the impossible is simply that which cannot be done. The rest is fair game.
When you don’t declare something impossible merely by standing and thinking about it for a few minutes, the realm of possibilities looks very different. But when this is the conventional way to think about it, when we value our own comfort and convenience too highly to ever consider putting them at stake, what Midoriya does seems to go way beyond what is called for. It isn’t. That’s simply what you do when you want something that much. For how much you want something isn’t about the words you can express it in. Try it with something that you truly want and you’ll simply fall to your knees and choke the way Midoriya did. It is only about how far you’ll go for it.
That’s why Midoriya challenges Todoroki’s conviction. Why he asks him to give it his all. For if you declare that you truly want something but are not willing to go beyond even half of what you’ve got, just how much could you actually want it? While Todoroki’s case is caught up in a moral quandary, the question hit me too hard to carry on living the way I did. If there’s only so much you are willing to do, there is only so much you can achieve. But step out of these convenient constraints and the world opens up to you. It’s only when you can give something everything you have and then some, when it is still possible to fail completely do you open yourself to the possibility of achieving something truly phenomenal. Not something that needs to be considered in every single matter but if something really matters to you, this is akin to elevating your life to a different dimension altogether.
The series is rife with too many examples of this but before I end this, there is just one I want to talk about. Midoriya vs. Muscular. Even before the battle begins is the promise made. I’ll definitely save you! Midoriya begins with what is the best he can do if he is trying to save the young boy whose life is at stake. He fights with all the power he can safely handle. But that proves to not be enough. Midoriya isn’t trying to save Kota though, he means to do it. The word try creates too large a safety net and shifts the goal from winning to making an attempt to win and too often is this distinction not appreciated. Midoriya says it himself then, “It’s not a matter of whether or not I can do it!” He gives it all that can be given, tapping into 100% of his power despite his body being incapable of handling it. It still proves to be not enough. He continues with 100% and it continues to be of no avail. Midoriya says it again then, “You have no choice but to fight and win right here, right now!” When he ceases to think about what he can do so completely as to give himself over to what needs to be done, he taps into something extraordinary. He strikes with 1,00,000% (even if that isn’t the actual strength of the blow), going beyond going beyond and wins. That’s what’s possible when you commit yourself completely to doing what needs to be done. To doing what you want to do. You discover what you are truly capable of. And so it is that Midoriya simply shuts up and does the impossible. Over and over again.
A life lived within the comforting safety net of trying, where everything that lies outside convenient and conventional reach is impossible, limits its own imagination for what it is capable of. It hits the limits of what’s possible too early even when stretching its imagination. I don’t know if I’ll ever find out just what it is I or anyone can truly do, just how great our potential is if we step outside these limits we’ve created but I mean to find out. I do not mean to say there is nothing that is impossible. However the realm of the impossible might be smaller than we like to think it is.
Go beyond! Plus Ultra!
I couldn’t have made the connections or arrived at this understanding without Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Rationality: From AI to Zombies.