Dark Deku Escalates ‘My Hero Academia’ to the Best It’s Ever Been
Oh, my boy, what have you become?
My Hero Academia is now a few episodes into its final saga, and holy lord. Overall, season six—which technically began in the fall 2022 season—has done an excellent job of illustrating the series’ increased stakes. Each episode has been completely engrossing, the fights all nail-biting. But the second half of the season is where the series really became exceptional. If you ask me, it’s the best the beloved shounen has even been.
The current situation in MHA has brought attention to the moral grayness of hero society, which has quietly lurked in the series for ages. That grayness has finally become front-and-center, impossible to ignore. Nowhere is that complicated reality more apparent than in the previously unsulliable protagonist, Izuku Midoriya. The tone of My Hero Academia and Deku himself has completely transformed. Someone who hasn’t checked in since early seasons might find the series and its central character unrecognizable.
As someone who has absolutely had my skeptical moments towards MHA and my dips in interest, I’m reconsidering how I’ve felt about the wide breadth of tones and emotions MHA has embodied over its run. Without the school festivals of yesteryear (yestermonth, in narrative time?), what’s happening in the series now wouldn’t be hitting quite so hard.
The state of society in My Hero Academia season 6 cour 2
Spoilers for MHA Season 6 Cour 2 below!
Cour 2 has focused on the fallout from the huge battle in cour 1. Not only were heroes unable to mitigate the destruction and loss of life, but mega-antagonist All For One orchestrated a mass jailbreak on the same day. Villains are now on the loose all across Japan, plunging the country into a state of violence, lawlessness, and chaos. Worse still, there is simply not enough manpower to address the direness of the situation.
And that’s before a ton of heroes began resigning, simply because they’re human beings who can only take so much pressure. Neither the show nor the other pro heroes judge those who have resigned. In Episode 135, Endeavor treats buckling under the current pressures like a bad cold—something which could understandably take anyone out of commission.
Understandably, public sentiment towards heroes is at an all-time low. Many citizens are even trying to take protection into their own hands with vigilante justice. In doing so, they often just make a bad situation worse with their lack of expertise and add more collateral damage.
The uncomfortable, brilliant grayness of MHA
My Hero Academia initially presents itself as a morally black-and-white series. There are heroes and villains, good and evil. But as the series goes on, it becomes obvious that’s not the case. Kickstarted by the introduction of Hero Killer Stain, we realized most of society falls in between. In fact, the didactic nature of the pro hero system has cause a lot of people to feel left behind, like they’ve fallen into the cracks. The system has left many feeling unjustly, even hastily, antagonized and judged for situations which they didn’t control. This kind of headspace led to the rise of most of the series’ antagonists, including Shigaraki.
Lady Nagant, who was sent by All For One to capture Deku, became a villain after years in public service. She “turned” because the pressures of carrying out orders to kill people the government hastily deemed “villains,” and then lying about her deeds to maintain public face, finally got to her. No, duh!
There is something about all of this which … hits. Feels resonant. In a society which defines itself by a narrow, unflinching definition of justice, many people become disenfranchised. This is also one reason I love One Piece, whose World Government and Navy function similarly. The key difference is that our protagonists in My Hero Academia are either training to be or already are part of the system. As you learn the villains’ backstories and develop more sympathy for them, you realize that if the characters we learned to love beforehand do not think critically, they could become part of the problem.
Then again, many of the villains we’re developing sympathy for—like Shigaraki—have killed countless people. How do you compromise the sympathy (or even straight-up empathy) for the conditions someone was thrown into with the abhorrent actions they’ve taken since? This is a huge central question both Izuku and the series is grappling with. It’s thorny as hell, and there’s no right answer.
And then, there’s All For One. AFO, as I’ll call him for short, knows how to say the words people who are disaffected and confused want to hear. He—along with his protégé, Shigaraki—knows that, more than anything else, disillusioned people crave a target, something or someone to blame for how their life has gone awry. But he hasn’t taken anyone else’s interests to heart. All he’s looking for is power. AFO’s utter lack of care for others even extends to his closest ally, Shigaraki. Does this, ahem, remind you of anyone in American politics?
“People who experience setbacks in life are called villains,” AFO tells Deku in a recorded message during Episode 135. “Even if they extol Quirks and individualism, in the end, it’s a regulated society. Those who don’t fit are ostracized. There are no exceptions. Democracy or socialism, the roots are the same. It’s a problem from before society. It’s a principle of living in groups.”
What sucks here is that AFO isn’t totally wrong. In fact, there’s a lot he gets right—those who don’t “fit in” to some narrow definition are often ostracized or villainized by society, and that occurs everywhere. That doesn’t make his methods right, but it muddies the waters when you consider his followers. None of this is supposed to be easy to swallow or comfortable to think about. As such, MHA is currently unfolding like a goddamn masterclass on how good people can easily be led down a dark path.
And then—there’s the transformation of Dark Deku
And in the middle all of this, there’s our boy Izuku, who goes by the hero name Deku. As the current holder of One For All, Deku is the person All For One is after. And he’s currently reading like a mirror to how dark the world of MHA has become.
In order to try to protect people, Izuku left UA and is working with All Might and an elite squadron of heroes as he goes through his Batman phase—better known to fans as Dark Deku. However, the pressure of believing he’s the cause of the current dire situation, exacerbated by All For One’s sardonic willingness to kill whomever, are getting to Izuku.
What happens when you place a ton of pressure on yourself, and then start blaming and judging yourself harshly? Yup—depression, withdrawal, isolation, a twisting of your inner monologue. As the wise sage Great Explosion Murder God Dynamight predicted, Deku’s “I’m fine” attitude has taken a grim turn. He doesn’t care about taking care of himself. He has started to distance himself from all his allies, even All Might. As long as he gets to All For One, he doesn’t care how people see him. He even now sees his friends in opposition to his goals.
Izuku hasn’t done anything “bad” or against his principles … yet. But Episode 135 makes clear how far he’s fallen from his former, chipper self. Deku can now use multiple Quirks at once, because he unlocked the full potential of One For All. Because of that, and because of how he’s carrying himself, rumor is spreading among the general populace that Deku must be affiliated with All For One.
In other words, the very people Deku wants to protect are afraid of him. Deku looks scary. His costume is frayed from the wear-and-tear of never taking it off for weeks. The metal grill near his mouth looks straight-up menacing. Very Bane-esque. And the freaky transformation in Dark Deku’s appearance is even more stark in the manga.
His voice has changed as well. Illustrated in the manga via rough circles, Izuku’s Japanese voice actor is now favoring a scratchier, gruffer delivery. Yes, it does remind me of Batman. But in a way that’s incredibly unsettling. At the end of the day, Deku’s naturally optimistic, sunny disposition isn’t something you want to see morphed into Batman material.
Izuku’s mask is ripped off in Episode 135, and he looks like a different freaking person. Exhausted, yes. More importantly, as Bakugo chides him, he looks like he hasn’t smiled in ages. Considering the always-smiling countenance of Deku’s hero and One For All benefactor, All Might, Deku’s current vibe is especially telling. He’s lost himself. Without the interception of Class 1-A, Deku could become something his younger self would find terrifying.
Where do we go from here?
To get personal for a second: I’ve been reflecting on why it took My Hero Academia getting this grim for me to feel this invested again. I don’t think that getting darker automatically makes a series good. Reading ahead of the anime in Jujutsu Kaisen proved that to me. (*Whistles cutely, kicks pebble down the road of incendiary hot takes to talk about later. See you in the summer, little pebble!*)
In the case of My Hero Academia, the series has historically had two sides: the wider-world one with the bigger stakes, and the heart-warming, low-stakes one which focuses on bonding with your high school friends. Sometimes, the latter sometimes pulled me out of what I considered to be way more interesting larger-scale world-building. But now that we’re here, the purpose of the lower-stakes, cuter times feels clearer to me. The fact that these characters shared joy together laid a critical foundation for what’s ahead. In other words, all the disparate facets of the series are finally clicking for me.
I don’t know where the story’s going, because I haven’t read the manga. (Deeply considering it, though.) I do know, via internet osmosis, that it will get darker. But I really, truly hope that 1-A can rein Deku in and bring him back, at least partly, to his former self. A fight against his friends is just about as dire for his character as MHA could get.
(Featured image: Bones Studio)
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]