Before we get started, I know that a lot of you don’t like Katsuki Bakugou, and with good reason. He was a bully to Izuku Midoriya and actively worked to crush his dreams of being a hero. But that was before season three, that was before this antagonist was given depth and put in a situation that forced fans of the show to confront his title as a villain.
If you watch or read shōnen, you know that the protagonist is in need of an antagonist. Unlike in stories from the United States, the antagonist isn’t necessarily a villain and more often than not begin in complete opposition to our hero only to be the one fighting by his side. It’s the struggle against each other is what pushes our main character to new heights. We see it happen in Bleach, Naruto, and of course, most iconically in Goku vs Vegeta. As the arcs of our antagonists progress, we learn more about them, we see into their motivations, and honestly, season three of My Hero Academia (Boku No Hero Academia) was no different.
Given Bakugou’s treatment of Midoriya, why do I see myself in him? It’s simple, I’ve been there. As is revealed at the end of season three, Bakugou has always wanted to be All Might. He is unwavering when he is captured by villains. Where they see fire and rage, attempting to sway him, they miss out on his passion and the softness underneath.
As a character in the universe where people are born with powers, known as quirks, it’s safe to say that the most destructive are shown to be the most villainous. We see it in our main characters on both sides. But similar to young Midoriya, who’s quirk begins by destroying his body, Bakugou has to show extreme precision and restraint to keep his quirk from destroying what’s around him.
Having trained since his quirk manifested and now at the most elite hero school, he is stubborn, driven, and sure of himself. However, this dedication, coupled with his inexcusable treatment of Midoriya, everyone has seen him as a villain, or at least on the path to being one. This is true for fans and teachers alike. All except those closest to him have discounted him and seen his drive as villainy. Izawa and All Might have defended him against accusations when he was kidnapped and Midoriya sees beyond his treatment.
Throughout season three you see into Bakugou’s motives. He just wants to succeed, he just wants to win, he just wants to be All Might. But when you are so sure of yourself, you lose the ability to empathetically react to the people around you. Especially when your parent reinforces a fear of weakness, as Bakugou’s mom does. His burden is just one he puts on himself, but one that is filial.
When I was in high school and even in college, I never helped anyone. I was at the top of my class and I let people fail even when I could have helped. But in my mind, my success, my ability to leave my bad part of town meant that I needed to win. It wasn’t about people being equal to me, it was about being the best and winning.
This competitive attitude is why I excelled in my studies and why I excelled in sports, but it was also why I have no friends in my life now from back then. I didn’t make them. I didn’t take the time to care. And it took me understanding that it wasn’t me versus them. I didn’t need to pull others down to be sure of myself. My own achievements were just that, my own. They didn’t depend on someone else’s failure. But took a shock and loss to get here.
In season three Bakugou is helpless. He is captured by villains and while the world turns on him, thinking he will turn, he stays true to himself and to All Might. But for the first time, he has to resign himself to being rescued. When All Might loses his quirk, One for All to the All for One, the big bad of the series that has been pulling the strings of the villains who have been attacking the academy, Bakugou blames himself.
For Bakugou, it wasn’t the villain who ended All Might, it was his inability to save himself from their clutches. He ended his hero and it’s the last straw. When he confronts Midoriya about his quirk and how he got it from All Might, they end up fighting. Midoriya, being the good friend he humors him and goes all out.
They decimate the training area and when All Might appears we see Bakugou’s tears, his vulnerability, and the bully falls away to reveal the kid who just wants to be the hero he saw when he young. He is the same as Midoriya, and if he can learn to channel his pride and drive he will be like All Might.
But it’s hard to accept that. Midoriya wasn’t born with a quirk, it was literally handed to him. In shōnen fashion, he doesn’t have to become powerful, he just has to learn how to control his power. Bakugou on the other hand, had to train, had to fight, and had to learn how to become a student at UA. But now that Midoriya has turned his quirk into his own, utilizing a shoot style with kicks, the two fight it out, once and for all. Throughout the fight, we see flashbacks to their childhood and we begin to understand their relationship.
It’s both their turns to be All Might, and after their all-out fight, they’ve come to understand each other. But beyond that, when All Might shows up, Bakugou’s weakness and vulnerability come through. Gone is the kid who believes he is the best, and instead, even having defeated Midoriya, he announces that he’s weak. As Bakugou’s voice shakes All Might reveals that this was his fault. He saw Midoriya as standing alone, the most heroic, but the weakest and therefore in need of the most help. Because of this, All Might points out that he focused too much on Bakugou’s strength, so much so that he forgot that Bakugou needed him.
For those of us who feel the need to fight, weakness is something we try to hide. We compete, we win, and when we stumble we suffer in silence. When our emotions aren’t expressed in a healthy manner, those around us ignore our need for support, and when we refuse to ask for that much-needed help we destroy ourselves. That’s what has been happening to Bakugou.
Going into season four in October, we’re going to see a new Bakugou. He’s still going to be prickly but he also has a new respect and camaraderie with Midoriya and he finally has his teacher. He now has the support system to let his guard down. He can be weak and not fail, which was ultimately his fear. Looking outside Shōnen and into another animation, Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender is a prime example of the kind of growth Bakugou has been experiencing.
This doesn’t excuse any of the abuse that he put Midoriya through, but what it does do is progress the character in a meaningful way. If shōnen shows us anything, it’s that it isn’t where we started that matters. It wasn’t our starting power level, it isn’t our families, it isn’t our mistakes, that defines us, it’s where we end our journey.
If you allow Bakugou the room to finish his journey, he will finish it alongside Midoriya, he will save the world with him. Now he is a proper rival like, he’s competing while moving towards the same goal. If you finished out season three, there is only one thing to take away about Bakugou as a character. He will always be a hero because being a villain is giving up. It’s his turn now to be a hero in All Might’s place. It’s Midoriya’s turn. It’s all of the UA kids time, and it won’t just be the chosen one saving the world.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.