Deku from My Hero Academia

My Hero Academia: A Neurodiverse Reading

This past year, as part of my weekend anime viewings with my parents, we watched all of My Hero Academia over the course of a few months. As I watched the show, something struck me. Deku and his struggles with mastering One For All are a really good metaphor for my experiences with Autism.

Before I started watching My Hero Academia, I had started listening to the excellent podcast Jay and Miles Explain the X-Men. One of the concepts that host Jay Edidin has brought up in the show is Mutants as a metaphor for disability. They have powers, but those powers can in some cases be just as much a limitation for them in as they can find benefits for them – Jay explains it a lot better. So, this concept was on my mind when I came into watching HeroAca.

Quirkless as Disability

At the start of the show, Izuku Midoriya is a person without a “Quirk” (superpowers) in a world where the majority of the population has them. This has been the case in the world for quite some time, and society has adjusted to this level of super-powered individuals in a variety of ways. However, because Izuku is quirkless in a world where everyone has a quirk, this impacts him in a lot of ways that people with disabilities would be familiar. Izuku is singled out for mockery and ridicule because he literally lacks an ability his peers possess.

Further, though it’s not explicit, once Midoriya gets out of school, will likely affect his ability to find work. Even if he can perform the duties of a job he’s applying for – there’s the real possibility that letting slip that he has no quirk would cost him the job.

Then, a miraculous thing happens – through engaging in an act of selfless heroism, Izuku shows to his hero, All Might – the symbol of peace, that he’s worthy to have All Might’s quirk – One for All – passed on to him. That, on its own, would be fine, and in a lot of other shows, the metaphor would end there. He was disabled, now he’s “normal”

Deku with his broken arm from the UHA Entrance Exam
Deku with his broken arm from the UHA Entrance Exam

My Hero Academia doesn’t do that – quite the opposite. It does this because Izuku does not have full control of his quirk. His quirk injures him. By season two and three, Izuku, now with the superhero name of Deku, has to develop coping strategies to use his power without being hurt. This is where it fits into the disability metaphor.

My Autistic Experience

My autism manifests in a lot of ways. I don’t necessarily get body language and the nuance of facial expressions unless I’m heavily focusing on the person. This is something that’s hard to do with real people. However, with film you can focus on a person’s expression and body language without creeping them out because it’s just a recording. With pro wrestling, people are playing for the cheap seats, so their performances are in big broad strokes that are hard to miss. Additionally, I have issues filtering out background noise and parsing conversations in noisy environments.

Dave Batista as Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
I also occasionally have problems with metaphors, subtext, and other more complex and nuanced topics like Drax does.

This means that when I’m out in the world and engaging in social interactions, I have to focus and concentrate on those actions. This can be mentally exhausting. When I’m talking to people about this, I describe the amount of this I can handle as my “battery”. Once I’ve used it up, I kind of shut down.

Kindred Spirit

When I saw My Hero Academia, and how Deku’s power basically takes a big chunk out of him initially, that resonated with me. The reason is, while he has a great deal of power – his exercise of his power is very different from Ultraman’s time limit, for example. While Deku’s power is great, his ability to exercise it doesn’t make him superior to his peers. It makes him an equal – “normal”. And consequently, there are limitations to how long and how much he can do it.

Related to this, the way the Shonen “power up” curve plays out in the show isn’t with him learning new secret techniques. It’s learning coping strategies. He isn’t learning additional powers, he’s learning how to manage his existing power. It’s the same I had to learn coping strategies to help myself get through the school and work day.

I don’t know if this metaphor was mangaka Kohei Horikoshi’s intent. I don’t think he would say if it was. However, much as a lot of LGBT representation comes through subtext, there’s a lot of positive disability representation that I’ve noticed through subtext as well. I like to think that Izuku Midorya helps make My Hero Academia a good actual and metaphorical example of disability representation.

If this lead you to want to watch My Hero Academia, in addition to being on the Funimation Channel, Season 1 is available digitally from Amazon and is also out in a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack (Amazon, RightStuf). Buying anything through those links helps to support the site.