My Hero Academia's Problematic Representation of Bullying

My Hero Academia became a beloved series faster than most people expected. It’s exciting, action packed, and full of the colorful characters, relationships, and tropes that shounen fans have come to love. One common shounen trope My Hero Academia toys with constantly is the enemies-to-friends dynamic. This is due to Midoriya’s kind and empathetic nature; he tries to see the good in everyone, sometimes even when they don’t deserve it.

One character that, without a doubt, doesn’t deserve this consideration from Midoriya is Bakugou. Much of the story of My Hero Academia surrounds the relationship of these two characters as they grow from a bully/victim dynamic, to rivals and then eventually, to friends. Obviously, for such a thing to happen, it would be essential for Bakugou to be given some kind of redemption arc. He would need to apologize and show Midoriya that he is truly remorseful for his actions. That’s the only way they could ever even begin trying to form a friendship.

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Recently, manga readers saw the beginning of some form of redemption. Bakugou apologized to Midoriya and told him that he always felt like Midoriya was better than him, so he tried to put him down to feel superior. However, this apology is somewhat inconsistent with what the audience has seen from Bakugou so far. Bakugou has never attempted to stop tormenting Midoriya until this point, despite the implication that he had come to a realization about his feelings before this apology. His behavior never changed, and it was never truly reprimanded.

This is a fundamental issue with My Hero Academia. It never properly addresses Bakugou’s behavior and instead thrusts the obligation to make amends onto Midoriya. It creates a flippant, “so what if he did that” attitude in regards to bullying because of this refusal to show consequences for the harm Bakugou has caused. Midoriya is also never given proper attention as a victim; adults often overlook Bakugou’s harassment and compliment Midoriya for being the bigger person. However, this is a terrible lesson. It isn’t up to Midoriya to accept any apology from Bakugou or to be the bigger person. It should be up to the adults in his life to recognize the bullying he’s facing and provide consequences for the actions of the bully.

From the start of the series, the audience has been given a certain image of Bakugou. His temper and personality are just as explosive as his Quirk, and he is rude with a huge superiority complex. Part of this is due to the praise that he received as a child. Everyone told him how wonderful he was and how amazing his Quirk was, and how sad it was that Midoriya had no Quirk. We know this was the start of Bakugou’s bullying of Midoriya; he called Midoriya useless and worthless and weak. He pushed him around despite Midoriya’s obvious adoration of him. This attitude continues as they enter U.A. Bakugou continues to look down on and intimidate Midoriya, especially once he sees Midoriya using a Quirk. Bakugou is angry that Midoriya never told him about it. However, Midoriya had no obligation to tell Bakugou about his Quirk.

At this point, the teachers of U.A. can clearly see there is some kind of issue between the two boys. Instead of resolving it properly by separating the two, giving Midoriya help in handling the trauma caused by Bakugou, and having Bakugou punished for his vicious actions and put into some kind of counseling for his anger issues, they constantly throw them together in an attempt to help them come to some sort of solution. Other times, the teachers just let them work it out on their own until it becomes a physical altercation where both boys are punished. For what it’s worth, this is a great example of how bullying is treated in the real world. It’s never just the bully getting punished; the victim is punished for fighting back, even though we idolize being your own hero.

However, it’s an abhorrent way of actually handling bullying, especially in the context of the series. My Hero Academia: Vigilantes has explained that Aizawa experienced bullying in a very similar fashion to Midoriya. One would think this would make him much more sympathetic to Midoriya’s experiences, but it seems just the opposite. He never tries to stop Bakugou from picking on Midoriya verbally, only barely holds him back when he tries to get aggressive physically with Midoriya, and when Midoriya fights back, he punishes them both. Toshinori isn’t much better in this regard; he often pushes the boys into being teammates for exams and other assignments and encourages Midoriya to let Bakugou in on the secret of One for All. He constantly calls Bakugou a “good friend” for Midoriya. Because of this, Midoriya is forced into trying to make amends with Bakugou to work with him, sacrificing his own comfort to try and placate a person that terrorizes him. Once again, Bakugou is never reprimanded for this behavior. It’s just accepted as how he is as a person. Not only does this enable Bakugou’s bullying, but the way that the teachers handle the conflict between the two continues to give Midoriya false hope for a friendship with Bakugou despite the impossibility of a healthy friendship ever happening at this point.

Along with Bakugou’s poor behavior never being well addressed, Midoriya’s trauma is never properly addressed either. Midoriya is often shown to have fearful responses to yelling and anger beyond what would be considered normal, and this is due to Bakugou. While we see Midoriya grow more confident and find solace in a new group of friends, we never see him get any kind of help for his anxiety or fear. It just seems to vanish. It’s incredibly unrealistic to present Midoriya’s growth this way. Considering that he was tormented by Bakugou for years and continues to be a target of his anger and intimidation, Midoriya would most likely need some kind of counseling for his trauma.

It may be easy to overlook this issue because My Hero Academia is a work of fiction. However, it’s something that’s targeted at a younger audience of middle and high schoolers. These are children who might see this relationship between Bakugou and Midoriya and decide that it’s something normal. They may seek to handle the issue of bullying the same way this series does: constant confrontation of the bully and no adult interference. Sometimes, talking it out just doesn’t work. It obviously doesn’t for Midoriya; Bakugou refuses to listen and only seems to get angrier. But with this recent apology from Bakugou, My Hero Academia wants to pretend that this method works, despite Bakugou not actually showing any remorse for his actions or interest in stopping them prior to the apology. Even worse, it presents the adults as incompetent in handling harassment. Seeing the way Aizawa and Toshinori continue to ignore the issue and try to get Midoriya and Bakugou to work it out on their own isn’t helpful to the young audience. All it shows them is that the adults aren’t there for them and that they will push the burden of resolution onto the victim while the bully continues to get away with their behavior.

Overall, My Hero Academia doesn’t handle bullying properly. It may seem like it does, given how Midoriya changes throughout the series, growing from a timid and jumpy person into a confident and outspoken one. But at its core, My Hero Academia never truly acknowledges the bullying Midoriya faces at Bakugou’s hand because it’s too busy focusing on the enemies-to-friends trope. The teachers do not stop Bakugou from being hostile towards Midoriya. They simply tell Midoriya to try and work with Bakugou, that he will be a good friend someday and neither boy is ever given any sort of counseling. Bakugou’s apology shouldn’t be a step towards friendship, even if Midoriya accepts it. It should be a step towards closure for Midoriya, who has received none so far for the trauma that he’s been carrying for years due to Bakugou’s terrorism.

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About The Author
Sebastian Stoddard (23 Articles Published)

Sebastian Stoddard is an Anime Features writer for Collider. He also writes video game reviews for Popzara, where he enjoys being able to try out tons of great (and not so great) titles. When he's not writing (which isn't often), he can be found playing D&D, reading and researching, making and taking quizzes online, and watching documentaries about whales and dolphins. He also may or may not be thirty tarantulas disguised as a human boy...but that's classified information.

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