Even though Boku no Hero Academia has the superpowers known as Quirks (kosei), there’s something very group-oriented about it…
I was reading an academic piece on how Japanese people are taught from youth about how to distinguish between different social groups and categories in general (often broadly put into the distinction of “inside” – uchi – and “outside” – soto), and it brings up the word kosei. Kosei translates to “individuality”, but here’s the kicker – I learnt about it as the word used in Boku no Hero Academia to represent Quirks! It’s just a stroke of luck that the English language had such a cool-superpower-sounding word perfect for the purpose, but now that I’ve got the two associated, it’s interesting to see how Boku no Hero Academia fits the group mentality associated with uchi and soto.
First of all, the idea of UA already defeats the idea of individuality. Even though it has to accommodate different powers, it has to standardise them somehow in order to rank students and grade them – that’s pretty obvious.
Additionally, if you’ve been catching up on Vigilantes like I have, or seen everything up until the end of the Stain arc, you’ll notice (at least initially) villains are often the ones who strike out by themselves, as opposed to UA – a tight-knit community with a sense of camaraderie. This paints individuality as something that should be condemned, and that kind of goes against what people normally praise when it comes to Boku no Hero Academia – the way it uses Western influence to become something that can stand on its own. After all, individuality is often praised and elevated as an example in Western society, and while this does exist in Asian culture, it’s to a lesser extent.
Due to pressure, the villains band together for some big scenes in seasons 1 and 2 but interestingly, this is more of a “if we have bigger forces, we’ll be able to kick bigger amounts of butt” thing and the individual members of the League of Villains are still more likely to work alone or leave the group temporarily to do their own thing than work together. In Vigilantes specifically, designated instant villains get singled out for the usefulness of their Quirk in the real arc’s villain’s purposes, which further illustrates the idea that a level of individuality may be there, but it’s all going to equal out to the group in the end.
When it comes to the sports festival, the cavalry fight emphasises it’s better to combine one’s strengths than it is to work alone. Bakugou has the tendency of attacking solo (both as a matter of portraying himself as being the best equivalent to a villain in the show and to demonstrate how his ego won’t let him cooperate), which ends with him taking the final gold but not with his happiness. Interestingly, he turns his back on his usual ways when facing All Might later in the second season, because even a villainous type like him would cower out of respect and/or fear to the World’s Number One Hero. However, there’s also a sociological aspect to this, embodied in this idiom: “出る釘は打たれる” (deru kui wa utareru) – literally, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”. By becoming more cooperative, he becomes less like an anti-hero and more like a socially acceptable version of himself, for better or for worse.
Even in the beginning where Deku and Ochako go up against Bakugou and Iida in the abandoned building, it’s noted – by All Might, parallel to Superman and thus the most likely to work alone – that heroes are encouraged to work in teams. The idea of the comic book hero working in teams isn’t new, of course, but in Japan it’s a lot more common to get spinoffs (hero ones or not) that focus on a group, even if one character gets top billing in the name (sentai teams come to mind, for one). Not only is this good for merchandise purposes, but it does emphasise how much the Japanese do things in groups (both clearly defined and not) a lot…and of course, that translates to their media as well.
So, do you think Boku no Hero Academia embraces individuality or does it implicitly promote groupwork, even with a framework that has always embraced solo work above all?
…and if you haven’t watched/read anything Boku no Hero Academia yet, are you going to join in for season 3?