My Hero Academia: The Hidden Depth of All Might vs All for One

The clash of titans!

My Hero Academia has been making splashes in the international anime community since the first season’s debut in 2016. Right from the beginning My Hero Academia sets up a excellently thought-out world with its own rules, society, and systems. The show focuses on Deku, a young aspiring hero, and his journey through an elite superhero high school called “U.A.” Exploring and understanding this super-hero world through the eyes of a diverse cast of high school students has proven to be a winning recipe, as the show continues to soar in popularity. At the moment, the show is in the thick of it’s third season, and has had its first major world-changing event for the story.

This article contains spoilers for the ANIME ONLY for up to episode 52. I will not be discussing the manga at all.

Airing just last month, All Might (the #1 Hero) and the villain mastermind “All for One” had their fated clash – ending in All Might’s victory and All for One’s arrest. The price, however, was the loss of All Might’s superpowers. He enters retirement, never to fight or do hero work again.

But behind all the punches thrown, the city-destroying shock-waves, and the clashing of opposing wills – there was a quieter story being told. At it’s core, this fight is the story All Might overcoming his anger and emotions to do the right thing. To even begin to do this though, he had to confront the greatest mistake of his past. The mistake that has haunted him for many years.

All Might in his two “forms.” A grievous battle wound left him greatly weakened. He has only been able to hold his “muscle form” for a few hours per day. However, the public was never informed of his weakened state…

All Might is the definition of a perfect “Hero” by society’s standards in My Hero Academia. He is #1 across all the charts, and it’s said by him and his peers that he has never failed to rescue someone in need of help. He has a flawless public record, and his spot as the #1 Hero has elevated him to the position of “Symbol of Peace.” The basic idea behind this is that, as long as All Might is around, no major catastrophe or terrorist attack can’t be stopped or dealt with. His very presence in the country is said to have brought crime to an all-time low, because he is so powerful that no one dares to step out of line. This, his public image and reputation is of utmost importance.

But this is just what the public knows in the world of MHA. All Might made a critical mistake. One that was never revealed to the public.

Years before Deku’s journey started, All Might’s first major clash between himself and All For One took place. In a fight, All Might is near untouchable and god-like – but All might’s heart was weak. All For One understood exactly how to hurt All Might. All for One exploits this and murders Shimura Nana – All Might’s teacher and most respected figure in his life. We don’t see exactly how this happens, but we hear All for One taunt All Might in their second clash when he says:
“She died in a truly pathetic way.”

All for One is regarded as a master manipulator with a cold heart – he is the antithesis to All Might. All Might is the “Symbol of Peace”, and it’s fair to say that All For One is the “Symbol of Evil.” He wants to control everyone and everything in his path, for the satisfaction of being on top of the world. He taunts All-Might into making a bad decision: he brings up Nana’s death and holds it over All Might. In All Might’s moment of psychological weakness, All for One lands a deep wound on All Might. All Might suffers from the after-effects on this life-crippling wound for the rest of the series. But the fight did not end there. All for One’s taunt may have worked – but not in the way he may have intended.

All Might’s greatest failure

We never get to see exactly how the fight ends. But we get snippets of what characters who were there say, and most importantly: the above image.

“A wounded hero is the most frightening. I see the image of your face as you come after me with your guts strewn around in my dreams sometimes even now.” – All For One

This is the one time the cold and emotionless All for One describes any kind of negative emotion: and it’s fear. The quote is up for interpretation, but to me, this sounds like All for One is recounting the last thing he saw with his eyes. He had successfully push All-Might to the edge all those years ago – and experienced his wrath first-hand. The above image is the aftermath. It’s left hazy and unclear in both the anime and the original manga, but this image and the state All For One is later seen in implies one thing: All Might smashed All for One’s head open, or perhaps blew it clean off. It’s mentioned a few times as Deku learns to control his powers that it’s easy to seriously hurt and even kill people with this power. The show goes on about how one needs to use restraint when controlling the quirk One for All, as to not kill people accidentally. The world of My Hero Academia, like most organized institutions in fiction, does not believe in killing or execution without trial is just. But of all people, it’s the Symbol of Peace who flew off the handle and used killing intent to blow All for One’s head clean off. The image of All Might sitting in a pool of All for One’s blood is haunting, as he is meant to be the Symbol of Peace. What kind of Symbol of Peace fights with killing intent?

And it’s this killing intent spurred from emotional weakness that becomes the ultimate punishment from All Might. Not only is he so wounded that he can only use his powers for 1-2 hours a day – but also because All for One was presumed dead: he got away.

All for One’s scarred state from the battle.

All for One’s power to steal quirks is formidable: to be able to survive and live on after having your head blown off is a feat beyond belief – even in the world of superheroes. It’s implied he had some kind of “super-regeneration” quirk that somehow fought off immediate death and regenerated his head. But it did not come without a cost. In the present, All for One is permanently attached to a portable life-support system (Darth Vader style) and notes that his powers have diminished severely along with the state of his body. It also goes without mentioning, but his face is also deformed beyond belief. For whatever reason, his super-regeneration couldn’t bring back his eyes, nose, and ears. Along with any facial features. His head is just a mound of flesh with a mouth attached. None of this is explained or talked about, rather it is shown. This visual story-telling is one of My Hero Academia’s greatest strengths as a show. They know when to show rather than tell. After the fight, it’s later revealed by All for One in prison that he cannot see. He has been using an echo location quirk to see his surroundings. Just as All Might fought in his skeletal state, All for One fought blind and with echo location. It’s no mistake on the author’s part, Kohei Horikoshi, that both these all-powerful beings (the Symbols of Peace and Evil respectively) both survived their first battle, but came out irreversibly crippled and weakened.

All for One goes on the run again, ultimately getting away, and years pass for the two Symbols… The events of the present start taking place, and both All for One and All Might individually start training their successors: Shigaraki Tomura and Midoriya Izuku respectively. Their students clash and after a few incidents, the two of them meet face-to-face again.

Punches are thrown, a city gets destroyed, and the two use their biggest flashiest moves on each other. However, as the two exchange blows: All-Might manages to land a clean hit on All for One and destroys his mask – as well as damaging his portable life-support machine. As the helmet shatters, All Might has to confront the reality of what his past self did: face-to-face.

All for One’s mutilated state.

All Might is shocked, and his reaction is guttural. The horrible irredeemable villain that he once knew All for One to be has been reduced to a sickly state. Directly due to his own actions, no less. No matter how bad or horrible someone is, there is something deeply wrong about permanently mutilating someone’s face like this. Even someone as bad as All for One. All Might knows this, but worst of all: All for One knows this too. He laughs at All Might’s reaction. His mutilated state is inconvenient and obviously hurt All for One immensely, but he knows exactly how to twist it to his advantage. He loves that All Might hates himself for giving in to his anger.

All for One laughs gleefully as he uses Shimura Nana’s catch-phrase and pose on his own deformed face.

This is just the first blow to All Might’s emotional composure. The fight rages on, but All Might’s weakened state catches up to him first. All Might’s weakened state is revealed to the world, as he reverts out of his “muscle form” and into his true sickly skeletal state. The world is in shock, as the live footage of All Might’s true form is revealed to the world. All for One has All Might exactly where he wants him, but understanding to never count a hero out, All for One decides to toy with All Might’s emotions once more to put the final nail in the coffin. He reveals that his student, Shigaraki Tomura, is Shimura Nana’s grandson. He gloats that he managed to find the descendant of All Might’s greatest idol and twist them into his world of villainy. The news destroys All Might, and his guilt complex surrounding his failures overwhelms him.

All Might’s despair

However, in classic shonen fashion, the crowds start cheering for All Might. The injured civilians in the rubble around the fight call out for All Might and he regains his composure. He realizes that even though his sickly skeletal state is the direct result of his past mistakes, he is still the Symbol of Peace.

Alone, All for One charges up for the finishing blow. He plans to inflict the ultimate despair over hero society – to brutally kill All Might here and now in front of the whole country. All Might’s body can no longer handle the power of One for All, but the two clash once more. As they fight, All for One goes for his final attempt at emotional manipulation. He correctly guesses that Deku is the next user of One for All, and declares that he will make sure that All Might won’t be able to go back to him – just like Shimura Nana couldn’t be there for All Might. He makes sure to specifically target All Might’s most sensitive nerve, Shimura Nana, to get a reaction. But this time…

A clean hit…!

It’s easy to think of a student-teacher relationship as one of one-sided learning. But people don’t stop learning and growing, even when they’re the #1 hero and on top of the world. All Might has lived his whole life being able to control One for All, but when he taught Deku – Deku’s body couldn’t take the strain. The two had to develop unique strategies and styles for Deku to use his quirk despite the weak body that had to support it. Hearing All for One call him a failure of a teacher spurred All Might on in defiance – he is proud of Deku as a student. He then uses one of their strategies they developed, which is to focus One for All on a single limb at a time to ease the strain of using it. With this, he lands a hit on All for One. In the time that All for One spent brooding, healing, and grooming Shigaraki to be his student for the sole purpose of emotionally destroying All Might – All Might actually spent time teaching his student. Connecting with him, and learning from him. All for One stagnated and All Might grew in this time. This difference in experience as teachers is made evident here, as All Might uses his students own techniques to conquer his foe.

All for One even says “Trick like this aren’t like you, All Might!” The master manipulator hadn’t realized how much All-Might had matured and changed by becoming a teacher to Deku. All Might maneuvers himself and uses Deku’s other signature move – powering up an already broken limb with One for All to punch once again. The broken arm that All for One had disregarded was now hurling to his face at maximum speed. Thus ensues probably the most satisfying punch in anime. Not just for the viewers, but for All Might too – this time, he is doing this the right way. He is facing his past and correcting his mistake. All for One was not prepared for the growth of All Might, and ultimately fails. All Might punches All for One in the face, with a perfect balance of restraint and power. His emotions are now empowering him, as he vows to live another day. He is no longer using killing intent, but restraint, control, and maturity to take down the foe who has done so much damage to him and the people he loves.

All Might enter muscle form one last time, signifying his victory over All for One.

All for One is out cold, and All Might stands victorious – he has finally confronted and overcome the greatest mistake of his past. The last of One for All disappears from within him – his job as the Symbol of Peace is over. Now ready to move on to the next stage of his life, to be there for Deku as a teacher when Nana couldn’t be for him.

As gorgeous and hype-inducing as the fight is as a visual spectacle, there’s a lot of emotion behind each blow as these two Symbols of Peace and Evil clash. What is most impressive is how much of this is shown rather than told. It’s a tired piece of writing advice, but it truly applies here. It’s a nice change too, as My Hero Academia often over-explains its story to it’s viewers – but the backstory and emotional weight behind All Might and All for One is up to relative interpretation. This is only my interpretation based off of what we’ve seen so far, and there’s likely all kinds of little details I’ve missed or interpreted differently to other viewers.

My Hero Academia continues to amaze, and this fight is the perfect send-off for All Might as the Symbol of Peace. The way it quietly shows us how much All Might’s mistake in the past affects him now, and how much he regrets his attempted murder of All for One is very real and grounded in something quite human despite how god-like these two fighters seem. Watching All Might, the perfect hero, overcome his past mistakes humanizes him immensely and watching his character to continue to grow, now as a teacher rather than the #1 hero, will be a treat for sure.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Graduated from my Bachelor of Creative Writing at the University of Canberra. I love writing! Obsessed with Nintendo, Screenwriting, and Anime. Follow me on Twitter @Dadoniou
Edited by ees, tmtonji.

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48 Comments

  1. I love this article. It makes this current arc so much more alive and wild. Horishiki has some mad storytelling skills.

  2. BONES is doing such a stunning job of using every opportunity to use the medium of animation to enhance this already wonderful story to the fullest.

  3. Kevin Ho
    2

    All for one is my favorite villain because he is no just a normal villain he has reasons for hating hero’s no just wanting to take over the world also he cares for his own even though they may be his pawns also the way he has mastered the art of making someone there own weakness by messing with there mind heart and no just beating the shit outta them that is a true villain when you don’t need your fist to defeat a person.

    • Dimitri Adoniou

      The fact that All-Might and AFO’s character arcs both don’t end after their fight is a great show of how great the writing is in this series.

  4. Mi Hazel
    1

    Waiting till the anime ends so I can binge watch all the episodes.

  5. It was good and they did some things better than the manga, but there were many places that simply lacked the necessary impact For example:

    1) When Gran Torino took the punch: why not put in a short still shot of All Might’s eyes widening with shock right before the punch when he finally realizes that his punch was going to GT OR

    2) Mt. Lady’s hero moment: tbh idk what they could’ve done but in the manga, this was a huge moment for her as a character. But in here, it was just kinda… there Just small things like this, could have made it marginally better (I still do think it’s amazing).

    Maybe this was overhyped for me but I will completely stand by the opinion that episode 4 was the best episode of the season.

    • Dimitri Adoniou

      I think that’s a fair opinion!

      While I love this fight, there can always be minor improvements. As much as the emotional stakes are there, the fact that it ends with two fists clashing and exploding is a bit phoned in tbh

      I kinda disagree about Mt. Lady though. I think her big moment was done great justice! The way the music swells in that scene to match the timing of her saving the kids was awesome. But your observations are more than fair!

    • No offense but these seem like the definition of nitpicking. All Might clearing apologizes for punching GT so why would we need a half-second scene before the punch landed. Likewise, I’m not sure how they make Mt. Lady letting herself getting in them face better. It was a moment that was intended to be both heroic and slightly humorous.

  6. That scene in episode 10 where Bakugo shot himself into the air reminded me of Mobb Phyco 100.

  7. i love how the fight was just 2 old dudes with terminal cancer hitting eachother

    • Dimitri Adoniou

      I really like this a lot too. The fact that these two former giants are battling with their battered and withered bodies says so much about who they are and the relationship between them.

  8. This episode made me shed a couple tears.

  9. Best anime fight 2018.

  10. Anime fights don’t need to take multiple episodes to be great …just look at this! 1 episode! And this fight was amazing.

  11. Babcock
    0

    Without his powers All Might is going back to his three katanas I guess.

  12. I cried at the end as I knew he was going to pass the symbol of peace to midoriya and I know he is retiring as being a hero. Can’t believe he used that much limit on within in his body cause he knew this was going to happen (probably wrong but its my guess). Its your turn midoriya surprise us all in s4.

  13. GREAT analysis. As a manga reader, it was beautiful, absolutely beautiful thus far.

  14. Sterling Ho
    1

    The symbol of peace, the number 1 hero, came to be because he did something unheroic. All might attempted to take a life, and was hailed as a hero because of it, even if the public did not know. All might knew that it was wrong that he lost himself to his rage, but he also knew that the world needed him, who has the strongest quirk, to become that symbol.

  15. This episode was a setup for the clash of both factions’ leaders, and their first priority was to evacuate their respective members so they could go all out on each other.

  16. I have an issue with all might. I don’t see what the big deal is, so what he was kneeling over his body. Ideals or no if someone is trying to kill you, you had better fight back or you’re going to die. And sometimes if a person fights back they still die hero or regular individual. It is unrealistic to fight and not expect somebody to get hurt. All for one has always been fighting for keeps in my opinion. You can’t go into battle expecting to fight that person another day and not get hurt. One of the reasons I like Batman is because he knows in order to keep the peace sometimes he might have to spill some blood. It is unrealistic to think otherwise. In order for Deku to be a symbol of peace he’s going to have to realize that he may have to hurt someone and he might end up killing them. he’s going to have to deal with the consequences of that and if he can’t he needs to get out the hero game. Being a symbol of peace for real means deku is going to have blood on his hands. How he goes forward knowing that makes the difference.

    • How ironic, a fictional character has more humanity than a real person.

      All Might is a hero because he doesn’t kill, you would be a trash hero ngl.

  17. Neville
    0

    I know a lot of people really like this episode… but I kind of wish the anime took some liberties. Like show BestBoiBakugou fighting a bit more, and animate the fight a little more smoothly between AllMight and All for One…

  18. It’s not common to see a shonen Anime where both the protagonist and antagonist see a lot of development and grow a lot stronger. Usually, it’s established early on that the antagonist is way more powerful than our protagonist so he has to work hard to grow stronger in order to beat him.

    In MHA (including certain parts of the manga), we seen shigaraki being better able to make use of the VILLIAN league more effectively and also he becomes more strategic in his plans.

  19. Can we just agree on how epic the animation for the escape scene was and how brutally satisfying his smile then was!

  20. Makes you wonder why all for one does what he does, and helps shigaraki so much.

  21. I think the manga did some things better but still a great episode. Love All for One. Also, in the manga, it’s implied All Might killed All for One’s friends as well. Even the symbol of peace has blood on his hands.

  22. For someone called the Symbol of Evil, the man doesn’t seem like pure evil.

  23. ees

    very excited to see this article published! BNHA is an amazing show & I believe you really did justice to the depth of the characters and the pivotal role this fight plays both for the plot as well as character development. good work!

    • Dimitri Adoniou

      Thanks so much for the kind words! Especially from someone who has done some of the best anime articles on this site!

      • ees

        thank you! that means a lot~ it was a pleasure to be a part of revising your article and seeing it published!

  24. Joseph Cernik
    1

    A good essay on a topic I know absolutely nothing about. That, I think, is something good: To read about an issue and I add to my awareness about an area I now know a little about contrasted when I knew nothing at all.

  25. I love this article. It makes this current arc so much more alive and wild. Horishiki has some mad storytelling skills.

  26. SaraiMW

    Good general overview of the show, and I must say I am always amazed at how often this show pops up on The Artifice, it is clearly beloved.

  27. The fight and the overall writing was amazing.

  28. Well summarised. I adore this show and it’s great hearing what other people take from it!

  29. I love this article. It makes this current arc so much more alive and wild. Horishiki has some mad storytelling skills.

  30. Andi

    This is a super detailed analysis, and an interesting look at the symbolism. Great read!

  31. Wow, way to really dig into such an awesome scene and bring a part as important as this into greater light. What you said about the teacher-student relationship being anything but one sided is so true and I can’t believe I failed to see just how much All Might was learning from Deku. Using techniques they developed for the training of “the student” to win in the last fight between “the masters” makes for both amazing action writing as well as cool foreshadowing for how it is “Good” will win in the end even when it looks like All For One has them all playing into his plan. Really adds to the show’s theme of real heroes having to be people that always give more than 100% while the people around them try to finagle their way to the top that I personally took away from the tournament arc.
    I like how this show takes tropes that have been beaten to death in western media, especially in superhero stories, and remind us why they became tropes to begin with. I have become so numb to the moment where the protag gets up one last time and the antag says, “what! impossible!” because of how many times its been done just to check off a box in a checklist. When this show does it so well with such fleshed out characters and in order to tell such a cool story; it reminds me why the “Class B” movie makers decided to steal the trick in the first place. I don’t know if I should thank you or curse you for getting me so hype for the show again, seeing as we still have to wait til October to watch more! Sorry for writing an essay in the comment section but keep up the great writing!

    • Dimitri Adoniou

      Hey thanks so much for the kind comment!

      I’m glad I could provide more insight into the show. MHA has, in my view, always been much more clever with it’s writing than most people give it credit for. This fight is one of the best examples of that, in my opinion.

  32. Good read, it was great that you touched on the concept of All Might losing control and going ‘villain-mode’ (so to speak) v.s. All for One in the encounter where he loses control. The writing also has more depth in some places than people give it credit for – it’s really impressive that the show is mostly about Midoriya while still giving All Might a huge redemption arc that culminates in his battle with All for One.

  33. These little philosophical details in My Hero Academia and the perfect use of visual language communicates with the deepest depths of a person’s psyche. It’s intense and yet subtle, it’s a coming-of-age story yet experience in itself!
    Given the standing, Hero Society in MHA has gone out of its way to make a person understand the dynamics behind a society that’s quirky and paranormal in itself. Still, the relatability of this society with our normal one is one masterful use of symbolic beauty.

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