The Explosively Subtle Character Development of 'My Hero Academia's' Katsuki Bakugo
My 'Hero Academia's' most explosive character Katsuki Bakugo has the most suitable development.
Katsuki Bakugo is easily one of the most interesting characters in My Hero Academia. What makes his especially interesting though, is how aggressively unlikeable he is. It’s obvious that his dynamic is designed to elicit comparisons to the rivalry/ bromance of Naruto and Sasuke. The major difference being that while Sasuke has a traumatic backstory to justify his sullen aloofness and his edgy emo behavior, Bakugo has nothing to justify his general dickishness.
For all intents and purposes, he is a malicious bully with little to no outwardly redeeming qualities except for the respect that Deku gives him. But despite seemingly being such a one dimensional character, Bakugo has been given some of the richest and most subtle character development in the entire series of My Hero Academia. In order to really dig into what makes his overall arc so interesting though I’m going to have to go over a lot of material from the manga that has not been animated, since in my personal opinion, you can’t do a worthy analysis unless you consider the entire text.
So just as a warning, lots of spoilers ahead if that’s something you want to avoid. So in terms of framing Bakugo’s role in the larger My Hero Academia universe we have to look at the larger generational saga that exists within the text. One of the most potent metaphors that you see in a lot of the most successful shonen series is the idea of a generational transition. The concept of the torch being passed from the older more experienced figureheads down to whoever is the plucky underdog protagonists of whatever the series in question is.
The overarching narrative of One Piece is how Luffy and his other supernova compatriots are all struggling to attain the mantle of Pirate king and take their place in the New World from the established older guard of pirates left behind from Gold Roger’s generation. Mainly the the Yankou. In Naruto, team seven after years of foreshadowing eventually takes up the mantle as the next generation of the legendary Sannin who preceded them as Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura are mentored and eventually supplant Jiraiya, Orochimaru, and Tsunade taking on their design aesthetic and many of their super powered abilities.
In My Hero Academia the old guard is represented by the number one and two heroes All Might and Endeavor. The rivalry between Deku and Bakugou greatly mirrors the relationship between All Might and Endeavor. Endeavor always strove to be the greatest hero, and for all intents and purposes, he has all of the fundamentals of the job down pat. He’s got a great powerful quirk. He’s very skilled at rescuing civilians and minimizing collateral damage, but the reason why he’s unable to surpass All Might is because he fundamentally does not care about the people he’s saving.
For Endeavor, being the best is about being the strongest and most capable, but because he is solely focused on the technical specifics of being a hero, he gives little regard to the very important interpersonal dynamic of providing emotional support and reassurance to the people he’s helping to save. That is why All Might is the symbol of peace, and strives to be something more than just a guy who punches the shit out of villains. His role in the superhuman post x-men world of My Hero is to serve as a symbol of stability, despite the fact that people live in a world where the person standing next to them could possibly murder them with laser eyes or some other incredibly devastatingly horrific quirk.
The My Hero Academia universe is an incredibly dangerous world, but the reason why people can shrug it off without fear is because of the larger-than-life symbol that, if something bad happens All Might will always be there to protect them. And he isn’t just there to beat up any neer-do-well with his fists, but he’s also there to hug them and reassure them that in this chaotic universe that he is a person who cares and will keep everything in order. He’s basically the comfort blanket of safety and security in an insecure chaotic world.
That is a lesson Endeavor will never learn and he has regressed so far beyond even trying to really care about other people that he’s flat out given up on trying to become the number one hero and has devoted himself to perpetually impregnating his emotionally abused wife until she can produce a child powerful enough to take up the mantle of the #1 hero instead.
Bakugo mirror’s Endeavor’s views of hero-dom in the fact that he mainly wants to become a hero just so he can use his explosive talents to be allowed to legally beat people up. He doesn’t have any of the altruistic qualities of Deku in terms of seeing his power as something that can help or save people. For all intents and purposes it feels like he’s being set up to eventually take a heel turn into becoming a villain much like how Sasuke did for the majority of the second part of Naruto.
Horikoshi is well aware of this and does a great job of playing with fan expectations. During the school trip training arc Tomura Shigaraki and the league of villains invades the training forest and captures Bakugo. Tomura hopes to see if he can convert Bakugo towards his side by showing him how the normal hero world is just a system that constricts his freedom by reminding him how he needed to be chained up during the sports festival.
But here Bakugo shows his real colors by exploding Shigaraki right in his face and telling him ultimately what he likes is the way All Might looks when he wins. This is probably the closest we get into learning what is really motivating Bakugo’s desire to become a hero. He ultimately wants to become a hero because he views it as a way where he can be viewed as the best. A place where his professional trade is literally winning all the time and what he admires in All Might is his ability to win even when all the odds are stacked against him.
But the thing is Bakugo can’t quite articulate the reason why he likes seeing All Might win. Deku understands that All Might’s heroism isn’t tied directly in his ability to beat other people down, but in his ability to sacrifice his own needs for others. Bakugo doesn’t quite understand that...yet.
The thing is despite how temperamental and overly hostile he might appear Bakugo isn’t stupid. He’s ranked number three in his classes grades. While his short fuse and temperamental nature might obscure it, there is a surprisingly intelligent and thoughtful person lying under his seemingly shitty personality.
The most telling and insightful moments into Bakugo aren’t when he’s yelling for someone to die, but rather when he isn’t yelling at all. For example take his fight with Ochako. The sign of his ultimate respect towards her was the fact that he tried his all and kept silent instead of his usual yelling and screaming we’ve come to expect from him. The most telling moment comes towards the end where he remarks calmly that there was nothing frail about her.
Another example is shortly after the hideout raid arc after All Might loses his powers. Aizawa chastises the students who snuck out to save Bakugo and threatens that if it was up to him everyone of them would be expelled. The mood of the situation grows grim, but Bakugo reads the situation and takes Kaminari and quite literally lightens up the mood of class 1-A with Kaminari’s lighting quirk.
The biggest moment for him comes when he takes Deku aside and tells him that he knows he has All Might’s quick One for All and thus far is the only character in the series to figure it out on his own using only his deductive reasoning. But despite his natural talent and intelligence what holds him back is the same thing that held back Endeavor. While he has a natural talent and mind for combat he still doesn’t grab the bigger picture in the terms that being the best hero requires more than just the ability to punch out the biggest bad guy.
His inability to learn this lesson ultimately comes back to haunt him in the Provisional Hero license arc where he is one of the few members of Class 1-A who fails to get his provisional hero license due to the fact that he completely botches the part of the exam where he needs to rescue and reassure the simulated accident victims.
But ultimately as with many other generational arcs seen in Shonen Manga and Anime Bakugo still has the potential to surpass his predecessor Endeavor by learning the lessons he was too arrogant to embrace himself.
But Horikoshi has done an amazing job giving what appears to be the most unappealing and one dimensional character much more depth than you might realize. While Bakugo is defined by the explosive roar of his hand grenade arms, pay attention to the quieter moments since those are the ones that really define who he is. I can only hope that Horikoshi continues to keep paying off the wonderful character work he’s set up because as Bakugo continues to grow and keep on the trajectory he’s on, his and Deku’s rivalry could become one of the greatest rivalries ever seen in the genre as they grow from being petty rivals into equal comrades in arms.
About the Creator
When not scrounging the internet for the best content for Jerrick Media, Isaac can be found giving scritches to feathery friend Captain Crunch.
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