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