Heroes, Witches, and Self Doubt

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Until just this last week, I haven’t binge-watched anime in roughly a year, and even then, I think I paced myself through most of Hanasaku Iroha. The last time I truly sat down and watched an entire season in one go…I can’t even recall. I hadn’t planned on getting back into the habit, but after starting one episode of both Little Witch Academia and My Hero Academia, I found myself unable to stop. Both series of similar titles had main characters that resonated with me in similar ways, and similarly made me want to root for each protagonist in such a resolute fashion. While cheering on the hero of a story isn’t an uncommon thing for me, I don’t think I’ve ever felt anywhere near this compelled before now.

These two loveable, quirkless/magicless misfits are full-on failures, and the ultimate underdogs. Constantly reminded of their shortcomings, Deku and Akko have to push past all the challenges that come with being born the way they are. Finding their own way, they only sometimes come so close to victory only to have it taken away. The mockery they face from their peers doesn’t help much, as these characters live by their simpler, nobler goals, making the petty urges to prove others wrong seem like an afterthought, if not a thought at all. Their motivations come from their heroes and their desire to be like them. Goals like making stuck-up jerks eat their words and becoming the very best only come as an aside to the grand dream of being like All Might and Shiny Chariot.

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It’s a simple, wonderful ambition, but it’s certainly not enough always pull them forward. Of course, this is where Akko and Deku start to differentiate a bit, but both characters have this wonderful thing in common in at least certain points in their life that make them much more admirable, and much more human. That “wonderful”—glorious, even—thing is their self-doubt. Deku has his “first and last setback”, and it’s a beautifully brutal one at that, meanwhile Akko is constantly reminded of how incapable she is. Every time her broom refuses to take off, whenever her transmutation spells only half-work, and each moment she’s on the edge of expulsion: it’s all plenty of adversity with not much payoff, which is something both protagonists face near equally.

Sure, they grab some technical and/or moral victories, but as far as bringing home actual gold, these two are always a step short. Their inspirations guide them, sometimes literally but most times figuratively, and the image of those inspirations pop up consistently throughout the protagonists’ growth, through all their toughest times. It is somewhat cliché to have split-second thoughts and flashback of what a character is “truly fighting for”, be it a reminder of their wonderful friends supporting them or whatever. I find it fascinating that for our heroes in these two anime, that momentary glimpse is solely the people they look up to. They’re fighting for what they want, and because of their hard work they often earn it.

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But it’s not like that dream alone can keep them going at 100%. There are dips when characters, mainly Akko, become super down on themselves and question whether they truly belong in the academy. It’s unreasonable for a character to be optimistic all the time, that’s just plain inhuman and impossible to relate to. The reason I relate to Akko so well is because of how much she struggles, how much she fails, and how much she begins to doubt herself. Deku doubts himself far less because of his profoundly deep resolve, but it’s not like he’s and endless fountain of courage and charisma either. While they always end up not giving up, we get to hear the doubts in their minds before they find a way forward. Akko goes through a very harsh period of self-doubt when she nearly flunks out. Same goes for when Deku thinks he’s failed the entrance exams.

A hero without worry is a hero I will be severely disinterested in, but a hero with doubts, a hero that finds a way through his/her wit and unique perspective—well, they’ll be very entertaining to say the least. But what do you think? Have you been watching these shows? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments! As for me, I’m not really into shounens, but My Hero Academia hooked me pretty hard and I watched it all within like two days. Binging isn’t the best way to consume for me though, as I found it more difficult recalling certain parts and overall just thinking more concisely about certain issues. I guess it’s better to have some time to mull things over. Oh well. Thanks for reading.

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