I’ve been into anime since I was ten years old. I was drawn in by the stories of protagonists in my age group fighting intense battles and coming out on top. Nothing says validation to a teen girl like seeing other teen girls band together as Earth’s last hope.
But along with that came a lot of commentary on how whiny these main characters were if they didn’t just fight evil by moonlight, and honestly? I agreed at the time. These kids had more important things to think about than pastries, video games, and boyfriends. You’re Sailor Moon, for Moon Prism Power’s sake, stop crying and throw that tiara!
But something’s happened to me over the course of my anime viewing.
I grew up.
At age thirty-five, I’m currently obsessed with My Hero Academia. One of the most monumental episodes of the season is the rival battle (part two) between series lead, Izuku Midoriya, and Katsuki Bakugou — the most explosive teenager you ever did see. Bakugou essentially has a mental breakdown over everything that’s happened to him in the series, and the only real way he can let it all out is in true shonen anime fashion: a beautifully animated, crazily choreographed fight. Anyone who watches anime will tell you that the rival battle is a staple for the medium, but something really stood out to me with this one.
The attention to mental health.
At the end of the battle, All Might — the now retired hero both boys look up to — enters the scene and actually apologizes for not noticing the signs of Bakugou’s unstable state of being. He essentially takes the blame for their chaotic fight and admits to remembering how strong Bakugou is… but forgetting that he is a child.
That stuck with me. Because I’d been feeling the same way while watching the entire series but couldn’t quite pinpoint why.
Bakugou is your basic “asshole rival” character. Every anime has one. In the second episode of the series Bakugou gets captured by a villain, and Izuku — even if he’s quirkless at the time, even if him and Bakugou have a volatile relationship — runs in to save him, showing the true makings of a hero. While this does lead to All Might choosing Izuku as his successor, there’s something else that happens, and not a lot of people seem to notice it: No one asks how Bakugou’s doing.
Since Bakugou’s such a brash and powerful kid, no one thinks to ask if he’s ok after being held hostage by a villain. Instead of receiving help, he receives praise for holding out for so long. One hero on the scene goes so far as to tell him to join his agency when he gets out of school.
That’s great, but… where’s the mental care? A teenager nearly died, y’all!
Ironically, the heroes do scold Izuku for running in. They make sure he’s all right because he doesn’t have a quirk, therefore, he’s weaker and needs to be checked on. So they take the time to check on the kid they perceive as weak but ignore the actual victim because, “Wow, you’re pretty tough, kid!”
This is kind of a running theme with Bakugou. Izuku has a lot of attention focused on him and his well-being. All Might gave him a quirk that he has no control over, so folks are constantly making sure he takes care of himself, otherwise, he’ll be damaged beyond repair. Meanwhile, anytime something happens to Bakugou there’s no follow up. All Might — and other adults, for that matter — assume he’s strong enough to just deal with it. While teachers like Aizawa (their homeroom teacher) do defend Bakugou when others question his poor attitude, no one sits down to ask the basic question, “Are you ok?”
Except for Izuku.
But with everyone Bakugou looks up to labelling him as the strong one, the last thing he wants is assistance from someone he — and everyone else — sees as weak. Besides, strong folks don’t need help, right? No one bothered to offer any to him in the aftermath of episode 2. This comes to a head in Season 3 when Bakugou is not only kidnapped by the main villain group, but All Might uses up the last of his power to rescue him. Bakugou’s taken into police custody and y’all, he does not look well.
But. Nobody. Asks!
All Might personally calls Izuku to make sure he’s all right, but Bakugou? Who he went and saved? Nothing. And at this point I’m really feeling my age. Had I been watching this as my teenage self I’d be like, “Man, Bakugou is so cool! He survived being with those mean ol’ villains!”
Where. Are. The. Adults? This. Boy. Needs. Help!
As a teenager, I definitely would’ve related to Izuku — wanting to be a hero, looking up to the likes of Bakugou and all of his strength. As it stands, I’d say I’m more like All Might post-retirement: wanting to protect the children and making sure they’re ready for whatever these villains throw at them. That includes admissions of needing to do better emotionally, not just physically.
In the end, Bakugou has the foresight to go to the one person who’s ever offered to help him: Izuku. Because a lot of kids have to find their own ways to cope when the adults around them don’t notice what they’re going through. So having All Might, the hero of all heroes, admit his shortcomings in that regard is a huge deal, because he’s right: adults did fail him.
Adults fail children quite often, actually, in regards to mental health. It’s stigmatized until it becomes appropriate to talk about, and those times range from using it as a scapegoat in the face of violence (the gunman may have been mentally unstable), or using a name as a hashtag when someone, tragically, takes their own life. Children see this. Children feel this. Children want to talk about it but adults brush it aside until it’s too late.
We rally behind mental health only when we’re forced to. At least in All Might’s case, he called himself out on it.
So in conclusion, I probably owe Sailor Moon an apology. Girl, you really should’ve been able to just crush on boys and eat ice cream without any sort of judgment because, wow, you’re out there saving the world at fourteen!
As All Might said to Young Bakugou: I’m sorry.