“My Hero Academia”, the anime adaptation of Kohei Horikoshi’s manga of the same title, presents us a world where abnormality is the standard, and the amazing is in surplus. Eighty percent of the world’s population is born with some type of mutation; a quirk. These quirks come in varying levels of usefulness, potential, and power, and those born with the most impressive quirks often aim to become professional heroes.
Our protagonist, Izuku Midoriya, holds a fierce admiration of these professionals, and wishes to eventually become one, despite being born without any power. His life then dramatically changes when the #1 hero in the world, a hero named All Might, is taken by Izuku’s valor and gifts him with the inheritance of his own quirk, a strength-based power named One for All. Izuku’s body is entirely unprepared to wield such a power, and he is initially unable to control it, but is nonetheless accepted into the top hero-school in the country. Here he is forced to keep up with his peers, many of whom have unique powers never before displayed in modern media.
How then, does Izuku, a super-strength based hero, captivate and inspire the audience? The answer lies in how the show uses Izuku’s unique situation to shape One for All as its own entity, rather than an inherent aspect of Izuku himself, separately furthering both Izuku as a character and One for All as a power.
One for All stands apart from other depictions of super-strength in that we get an actual visualization of the consequences to its irresponsible wielding. In its consequences, we get a grasp on the true magnitude of its devastative potential, and learn to respect One for All as a force independent from our hero.
Upon inheritance, Izuku’s body is in no way prepared for the scope of One for All’s power. For many months, he is unable to ration how much of his power he utilizes, and any punch thrown while using One for All will shatter his bones and rip apart the muscles in his arm. Izuku must be able to fight strategically, then, and not with brute force. This is where Izuku’s character really shines—due to spending the majority of his life without a quirk, yet still holding aspirations to become a hero, Izuku is used to being reliant on his strategic capacity.
This means that even when the current power-possessing Izuku is unable to utilize One for All, he is still able to hold his own against powerful opponents. This separates him from other super-strength wielders, who are often entirely reliant on their power, and built completely around it. It gives Izuku layers of extra dimensionality– he exists beyond the strength he has inherited. Not only is this inspiring to the audience, it also helps him to stand out among other heroes—both in My Hero Academia and in media beyond.
Often in superhero media, there’s a narrative of “responsibility with power”, which serves as an important developmental tool and a plays well as a practical rationalization of enhanced capability. However, this responsibility is often depicted as ‘not being an ass’ and not using your power for fun or malicious intent. In Izuku’s situation, however, All for One forces its own responsibility upon him—if he is not apprehensive during combat, he will literally obliterate his arms. Izuku must learn to control One for All, he must teach himself ways to use fractions of his power, fractions that won’t result in self-destruction. One for All is thereby brought to life by the taming process Izuku must endure. As he develops and builds his body’s strength, we see Izuku begin to control the power he wields. He teaches himself how to allocate small percentages of One for All to certain areas of his body, allowing himself to use marginal bits of enhanced strength, preserving himself during a fight.
The beauty, however, lies in the audience’s memory of the strength he has tucked away. We have seen what One for All is capable of, and we know its potential is constantly surging through Izuku’s veins, waiting to explode. This gives his power a vivacity, a personality unseen in other strength-based powers. Whereas other heroes in media repeatedly and repetitively fight with their full strength, Izuku must be precise with his—he only has so many limbs to break. One for All is a beast which must be tamed, and our protagonist is the handler. Therefore, when Izuku chooses to let One for All out of its restraints, it’s a treat unlike any other. It’s a payoff to the audience, a rewarding climax; knowing that there’s a situation so desperate that our hero must injure himself to survive. It’s a unique dynamic, and a dynamic only possible thanks to the sheer magnitude of One for All’s power.
Overall, “My Hero Academia” shapes One for All and Izuku Midoriya as separate entities, allowing the audience to appreciate the pros and cons of both all while watching their developments unfold simultaneously. The bravery and determination of Izuku and the remarkable devastative potential of One for All may not be unique traits in their own right, but the separation of character from power allows them to build off of each other in a way that is novel to superhero media. Therefore, when they come together in times of crisis, they evoke an excitement unattainable by any superhuman strength that may have come before.