Boku no Hero Academia and How to Hype a Fight

by BanjoTheBear

Boku no Hero Academia / Episode 1 / First meeting with All Might

How can the build-up of a character hype what’s to come?

There’s a lot to talk about with Boku no Hero Academia. The crazy Quirks. The show’s theme on heroes. The fun character designs.

The anime does a lot to capture the audience’s attention. However, one of Boku no Hero Academia‘s greatest moments comes near the end of the first season: All Might’s first true fight.

Many were taken in by the flashiness of the combat and the overall feeling of triumph. (At least, I was.) And rightly so. Those are qualities of the fight that made it so awesome.

But, perhaps unbeknownst to some, there was a lot of hype, a lot build-up to that fight beforehand. In fact, it was happening throughout the entire season. With All Might’s character.

The question is, what did the anime do?

The following essay will be a small dissection of how All Might’s character is slowly built over the course of the season and the hype such building brings. Hopefully, by the end of my piece, you’ll not only have a greater appreciation of All Might but also a greater appreciation of Boku no Hero Academia overall.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

So I Dub Thee Unforgiven

The best way to go about discussing how Boku no Hero Academia hypes that final fight through All Might is with a not-so-obvious comparison to a famous film: Unforgiven. [1]

Unforgiven is a 1992 movie directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. It also stars Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman, meaning the film has some pretty nice acting. If nothing else, it won the Oscar for Best Picture, so it must have done something right.

Anyway, the story follows William Munny (played by Eastwood), “…a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious  and intemperate disposition.” The film is often referred to as a eulogy to the Western genre [2], for it’s (more or less) the last great one after an era when Westerns were all the rage.

Unforgiven / Munny's residence, used as part of the opening crawl scene

However, this piece is not about Unforgiven‘s cultural influence so much as it is about its narrative influence.

Because I know what you’re thinking at this point. “Banjo, how is a Hollywood movie about violence’s influence related — at all — to an anime about high-school kids with superpowers?”

I’m going to be spoiling the film very shortly, so, if you haven’t already, I highly suggest you go out and watch it. It’s one of my favorites, and I could not recommend it enough.

Go on. My essay will be waiting for your return.

Last chance. Spoilers inbound!

Unforgiven‘s story is, in some sense, deceptive. While Munny is obviously the main character, he does not often feel like one. During the film, he’s usually on the side, keeping quiet or simply not making much of a fuss. He just wants his reward, and then he’s gone.

It’s more nuanced than this, though. For while Munny isn’t a huge player, the film is constantly hyping and building his character.

Take his description from earlier. From the very opening scene, Unforgiven already paints him as this evil, infamous rogue that terrorized the West. Simultaneously, rumors of his exploits are discussed by himself, his longtime friend, and even their new buddy. [3] Yet, at almost all points throughout the film, it’s never shown.

Unforgiven / Munny recovering from his wounds

In fact, the opposite is presented instead. He shoots a man with a non-fatal shot, feeling sympathetic towards the victim. He gets beat up by the local police, succumbing to intense sickness and nearly dying as a result. He can’t even mount a horse properly. The “notoriously vicious” Munny is anything but.

Until the final fight.

He rides into town, walks right into the bar where Little Bill and his cronies are drinking, and blasts them all away with scary ease and even scarier fortitude. Their last exchange of words is top-notch. [4] “I’ll see you in hell, William Munny.” “…Yeah.”

How freakin’ cool is that?

It’s an interesting narrative technique. Unforgiven alludes to Munny’s carnage yet goes out of its way to make him this washed-up old guy that didn’t want a part in these games anymore.

Another way to put it is delayed gratification. The whole time, Munny is fragile and lame and rumored, but he never does anything truly stunning. As a result, the audience is constantly wondering.

Are the rumors true? Is Munny really the man that his reputation claims him as? Can he actually be this infamous murderer? (The answer is “yes” to all of them.)

Unforgiven / Munny aiming for the final shot

That’s what makes the entire final scene so captivating. That is, the audience always has some idea in the back of their minds about what Munny is capable of. They want him to go in guns blazing because it has been hyped for so long. Then, when that final fight rolls around, its stark contrast with how his character is normally portrayed makes it that much more enthralling.

Do you see the connection?

All Might follows the exact same pattern.

Not-So-Disposable Hero

All right, it’s probably a stretch to say Boku no Hero Academia‘s narrative format is the exact same as Unforgiven‘s — an old cowboy and a buff superhero are rather dissimilar. But the parallels are clearly there.

One of the first similarities is in All Might’s catchphrase. Munny is described as a man with an “intemperate disposition.” All Might, whenever he arrives, says something to the effect of “Everything’s fine. Why? Because I am here!”

However, similar to Unforgiven, the audience almost never sees this answer firsthand. Instead, like Munny, the audience gets the opposite. Not as extreme but still not what is expected at this point.

Take Deku’s favorite video. It’s from the perspective of a person’s phone, recording All Might as he carries several people to safety. As though it were taken to rumor-monger about him through a viral YouTube ad. It’s obvious he’s done something miraculous, but, at the moment, it’s hard to say what.

Boku no Hero Academia / Episode 2 / All Might revealing his true identity for the first time

Then there are the whispers. Throughout the anime, different characters and outlets speak highly of All Might. His abilities. His various deeds. His role as a Symbol of Peace. Again, a lot of talk without much walk.

How about his main persona? Early on, the audience comes to learn of All Might’s decrepit state. The horrible wound he took, the weakened body he has been forced to use. While he does his best to wear a mask for the populace, his true self is someone that, unfortunately, is slowly whittling away.

All Might’s cheerful, confident attitude counts, too. He is a happy guy despite his situation. But his happiness makes it a bit harder to take him seriously. As though he never really seems to set himself to maximum capability.

The most clever detail, though, comes from somebody else. Namely, Deku. Deku cannot control the power that All Might has bestowed upon him. To the point that Deku literally breaks his arms and legs when using it. That’s how much strength, how much concentration it takes to wield the greatest Quirk. Yet All Might does so without fail.

Boku no Hero Academia / Episode 6 / All Might after seeing Deku's hero costume

See how similar he is to Munny? The whole season has rumors and whispers swirling about All Might. He’s constantly shown as fragile. And his carefree behavior suggests that he is more than meets the eye. The anime hypes him right from his introduction and doesn’t stop. But, without any tangible confirmation, it is ultimately difficult to accept that this man is truly the best.

Until the final fight.

All Might shows up at the scene, but, before he jumps in, he does something interesting: He does not smile. Rather, he scowls.

Now, any anime or novel or film has its own rules. Rules that govern the setting or what is “allowed” to happen. Along the same lines, characters will have their own rules, too, as part of their build-up.

Breaking those in-universe rules means one of two things: the show really messed up or something extremely important occurred. After all, rules are rules, and breaking them without regard would leave the story in disarray.

Take, once again, Unforgiven. Munny swore off alcohol after marrying his wife. Yet, before the final showdown, he takes a couple of swigs of whiskey. [5] He breaks one of his rules, signaling his intent and starting the hype train towards its final destination.

Boku no Hero / Episode 12 / All Might arriving to the final fight

In Boku no Hero Academia‘s case, All Might breaks one of his own rules by not smiling when confronting the enemy. It’s minor, but it was another part of All Might’s build-up that the anime carefully constructed. And by breaking this rule, the hype finally starts to make sense, indicating immediately that something is about to go down.

And go down it does. From All Might’s initial thumbs-up to his “Plus Ultra!” declaration, the fight ends as one of the most memorable moments from the show. What sells it completely, however, is the hype that the audience had been thinking about.

Is All Might really the best? Will he demonstrate his prowess? Can he win even though he’s weaker? (Once again, “yes,” “yes,” and “yes.”)

It’s all there to make the audience question, make them want to see All Might go all out. So that, come this final fight, it’s not just a cool spectacle — it’s delayed gratification that everyone has been clamoring to see from the beginning.

Final Thoughts

So what have we learned?

First, one way in which a scene can achieve intrigue is through gradual hype. By teasing the audience with information and misdirection, the payoff at the end can be immensely more satisfying than if it gave it all right away. Be it an Oscar-winning film or a Japanese animation, such a technique clearly works.

Boku no Hero Academia / Episode 13 / All Might and Deku resting after the final fight

Second and last, good characters take time to build. Through their selves, their peers, and their actions, a story can elevate a character from pitiful to wonderful — so long as he or she receives proper attention.

So the next time you are watching a film or an anime, take note of what it’s building up and praise the care it puts towards its characters. For you may just find that such details do not need any forgiving!

List of References