「始まりの終わり 終わりの始まり」 (Hajimari no Owari Owari no Hajimari)
“End of the Beginning, Beginning of the End”
I did not expect this. I did not expect it at all. I should have, probably. The writing was all written on the wall. But HeroAca is traditionally a series that gives us chills up the spine, from its thrilling battles, gut-wrenching sacrifices, and explosions both literal and otherwise. It’s not traditionally one that pulls on the heartstrings, nor gets the tear ducts working, even if just a little bit.
In the excerpt, I said this episode made me cry; that’s not true. I took some liberties for brevity’s sake. But when All Might hugged Izuku, yer damn right there was a tingle around the ol’ eyes, and again when Izuku’s mom confronted a famous hero for her son’s sake, with his life and happiness on the line. The fascinating part is that these emotions weren’t explored for their own sake. They all serve the theme, and that has to do with mentors.
The entire episode can best be understood in light of All For One’s monologue at the end. Here it is in full:
“I lost, All Might. It was a pitiful struggle. But you were wrong. At the end of the fight, you chose a path that led you closer to your students. You missed your chance to leave. You lost your chance to die. A teacher’s job is to help his student become independent. The teacher he’s come to rely on goes someplace he can’t reach, and his hatred grows stronger, allowing him to walk the path of a true leader. He has comrades. He’s learned how to increase their number. You’ll be fine, Shigaraki Tomura. Take all the experience, hatred, and regret and use it to move forward!”
This episode represented the branching of All For One’s and All Might’s mentorship philosophies. Prior to this, they were both shepherding and protecting their successors, teaching them personally as well as getting them out of jams. Now, they’ve diverged. All Might is retaining an active role; he will continue to teach and advise Izuku, even if he’s no longer able to protect. All For One, on the other hand, is as good as dead. For all Shigaraki’s growing power, he lacks the ability to spring someone out of Tartarus, and likely will until (and unless) he brings society totally to heel. Then perhaps he can rescue All For One, though by that point, Shigaraki will no longer need him. Perhaps that’s even All For One’s end game. He still needs to pass along his quirk, after all, if he hasn’t already. If he plans to at all.
And there’s truth in All For One’s theory. That’s what makes it so pernicious. (Lies are always best when they’re accompanied by truth.) A teacher’s job is to help his student become independent. The crucial facet is in whether the mentor’s absolute absence is desireable; if the mentor occupational hazard (trope!) is not a hazard so much as the goal. Can not All Might continue to have a part in Izuku’s life even after Izuku is a full-fledged pro hero who’s independent of him? After all, that is how All Might and Gran Torino operated, to great success. All For One is trying to catalyze a radical transformation in Shigaraki as quickly as possible, and maybe that’s necessary; he does have an entire society bearing down upon him. It seems a huge risk, though. I’d rather keep all of All For One’s hacks available myself, and let Shigaraki grow slower. Power is power. But that’s just me.
Themes aside, there was so much that worked about this episode. All Might finally getting to praise Izuku was a tear-jerker; don’t we all want to hear that from our favored teachers, role models, and/or parental figures? The teacher visits were great, especially Katsuki’s family; I love seeing that his parents are aware of how he got his rotten personality, which means he probably wasn’t getting praised for shallow things at home at least. Though we know where he got his temper from, haha! I also really, really liked Katsuki’s blunt question of All Might, and how he was aware (and said so) that All Might was hiding the truth from him. I’ve been bullish on Katsuki—he’s still a bully who hasn’t been fully reformed, and that’s not ideal, but there’s steel in that child’s spine, and a surprising moral center for the rage monster he seems to be. Even then, him thanking All Might is—once again, it shouldn’t be surprising? He shows deference to adults, or at least to All Might, who is his role model as well. But it still was. That pride, man. You could almost call him the Lion’s Sin. He still surprises you, though. Katsuki is sharp, and not as twisted as he seems.
Izuku’s mom, though. Holy shit. It’s good to see a parent who’s an actual character with a real viewpoint, as opposed to a non-entity as most anime parents are, either because they’re absent, not the focus, or dead. Not so here. Izuku’s mother—Inko, I ought to use her name if we’re going to talk about how she’s a fully realized character—is such a mom. In fact, I can’t see her without thinking of my own mom, from her determination to keep worrying about her son, to her support tinged with fear, and her desire for his happiness above all else, to little details like her gaining wait as she got older. It’s all to easy to imagine her years from now, proud and worried about her hero son, who she still calls her baby boy even as he’s off being the greatest hero in the world.
But right now her son is not the number one hero, he’s a boy who keeps hurting himself in the pursuit of his dream, and that’s not okay. I understand totally her misgivings, and that’s good because it helps keep this story about superheroes and supervillains grounded. This is someone’s son. This is people’s lives. And when All Might got down on the floor and told her that he believed Izuku is his successor as the Symbol of Peace—will someone stop cutting those onions?! And why’s it so chilly in here! Pick one emotion and stick with it FLRGKBLP damn this series is good.
The truth is, though—to return to the theme of mentorship from earlier—that Inko is the one who has it right. Because it turns out All Might’s theory of mentorship isn’t all that different from All For One’s, as shown when All Might promises to protect and raise Izuku, even if he has to give up his life. They both accept the central premise that a mentor might have to give up his life for his student. They only differ in certainty and intentionality: All For One is certain it’s absolutely necessary and will conspire to bring about his own “death”, while All Might will merely accept his removal if it’s the best path forward. Not so with Inko.
“I don’t like this after all. I mean, you are Izuku’s reason for living. It’s not that I have U.A. I just want Izuku to be happy. So don’t give up for life. Please live properly to protect him and raise him. If you can promise me that, then I will allow it.”
It turns out that the thematic opposites are not All Might and All For One. They’re All For One and Midoriya Inko, a 41-year-old housewife who worries endlessly, cries at the drop of a hat, freaks out often and occasionally faints, but who has her head screwed on even better than the Symbol of Peace. For I want to see Izuku and All Might act like All Might and Gran Torino got to, and how Toshinori and Shimura Nana would have, had her story ended differently. The Symbol of Peace deserves that happiness. He deserves to enjoy some of the peace he sacrificed so much to create, even if his successor is going to have to do some work to make sure it continues.
My SECOND novel, Freelance Heroics, is available now! (Now in print!) (Also available: Firesign #1 Wage Slave Rebellion.) Sign up for my email list for updates. At stephenwgee.com, the latest post: Risk Tolerance in the Creative Life.