How Deku’s Journey Can Help Us Process Our Own Pain

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Khadjiah Johnson
Khadjiah Johnson (she/her) is an Afro-Caribbean American comedian, writer and performer from Brooklyn. You can find her works on Funimation, Black Nerd Problems, BET and more.
Deku |My HEro Academia

By Khadjiah Johnson

If there’s anything this year has taught me, it’s that anime can guide us through lessons life forces us to learn. 2019 has been one of the hardest years of my life, and in order to cheer myself up, I decided to re-watch My Hero Academia.

I knew what I looked like to others. It was my “Jordan Year.” I consistently gained new opportunities, whether it was a huge performance or new writing gigs, people saw a light I couldn’t even produce myself. This reminded me of the idea of the Symbol of Peace.

Throughout My Hero Academia, viewers are guided through a journey about dreams, power and perseverance. In a world filled with Quirks, bonafide superpowers, many aspire to be heroes — but not all are well-equipped for the emotional turmoil it takes to succeed.

Though My Hero Academia may be the story of how Deku becomes the “world’s greatest hero,” it could also be seen as an analogy for how people react and process their own personal pain.

Deku

From the moment Deku learns he is quirkless to the moment he overcomes pain to develop Shoot Style, viewers are given a glance at each stage of the character’s path to positivity. Every time Deku is presented with a challenge, he grows stronger and learns to re-distribute his negativity. He adapts.

For us, each event in our lives holds a different weight from the last. Pain is an inevitable part of growth and the catalyst to push us to go beyond! We could use the lessons learned by Deku in the practice of processing our own pain. I know I did.

Moving forward

Deku quite literally breaks himself fighting villains, inspiring classmates and trying to save others. Once the torch is officially passed to him from All Might, he has even more burdens to carry. Life tends to pile things on, doesn’t it?

Todoroki vs. Deku

Let’s look at the Sports Festival Arc. During Deku’s battle with Shoto Todoroki, Deku is still getting used to the power of One For All. But he isn’t just working to defeat Todoroki, he’s sorting out his own abilities and testing different solutions, all while looking to bring out the best in someone he considers a friend – a way to bring out who they truly are.

We see Deku break each bone in his hand, showing us that he’s tackling his trauma head-on. When faced with difficulty, some people might deflect responsibility, averting their eyes from what’s in front of them, refusing to process it. Others might accept what’s happened, take it how it is and drive forward in spite of the pain.

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But neither one of these makes the pain any less… painful, right? I learned that sometimes our body will process pain in different areas of our body. There were times this year I didn’t recognize my own walk. It wasn’t cheerful clacking. With each step I took, my heels jabbed the pavement.

I compartmentalized my energy at work, knowing that if I didn’t it would consume my spirit elsewhere. My coworkers depended on me to finish projects or help them when their load was too heavy. How do you pivot from feeling like you’re not good enough, to being confident enough to uplift those around you?

Deku employs this learning, setting aside his own pain to build up his opponent, while also managing his pain in his own way. The lesson? It’s perfectly fine to observe your surroundings and find the right way to move forward.

Impulse control

Deku’s process in managing his pain continues when he starts an internship with retired pro hero Gran Torino. Here is this older, seasoned veteran equipped with incredible speed — a freeness built from years of experience.

This speed teaches Deku an important lesson: how to let go of impulses and be free to push on. In mere months, Deku has gone from a quirkless boy to shouldering the weight of humanity, even if they don’t know it yet.

Deku

But Deku is still caught up in what was. His bedroom is plastered with images of the Symbol of Peace and he consistently compares himself to All Might, despite his mentor’s insistence that the true power in One For All is that you can – and will — make it your own.

Just as Gran Torino puts it, Deku’s admiration for All Might and sense of loyalty to him can be seen as shackles. It’s here that Deku deals with two important steps of processing trauma at once: regression and acceptance.

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It would be easy for Deku to fall back into the arms of his favorite hero’s legacy, but that’s not the path forward. Just as we have to take what we’ve learned and use it to move past the pain, Deku uses the past to find a realization for his future. He discards those shackles and pushes on.

Deku & All Might

A new comfort zone

The last time we see Deku destroy his arms, he’s battling Muscular to protect Kota, a young boy that’s quite the opposite of how he was as a child. Though Kota had a Quirk, his pain affected his perception of how heroes utilize their bodies for others.

Deku and Kota go through something incredible here, the perfect representation of managing pain through the help of others. Though Deku successfully protects Kota, he effectively loses his power – his arms. But surveying the damage is just another part of the process.

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Sometimes a scar will remain visible and you’ll have to carry yourself out of sadness in ways you are not yet used to. Barely surviving does not make you any less admirable or weak – it’s resilience. It’s through this resilience that Deku discovers that his legs can be the new center of his power, a shining light at the end of a dark tunnel he hadn’t seen before.

Deku Kota

He supports the weight of Kota and carries him to safety. This is the beginning of Shoot Style.

From here, we get glimpses of the path forward for Deku. On the mission to save Bakugo, Deku fully utilizes his support system to accomplish the mission. He uses his legs, in sync with Iida’s, to propel Kirishima forward, securing Bakugo.

His world is completely different now. From destroying his arms, running into multiple near-death experiences and seeing his friends suffer, Deku comes out of this completely transformed. We see him cry. And good or bad, this is an illustration of how these experiences gradually change us and push us to adapt.

Managing your pain is like cultivating a Quirk. It might be an uphill battle trying to better yourself in spite of the challenges laid before you, but you too will become a hero! And sometimes, we have to hold all of our grief, all of our trauma, in our legs, because we’re forced to carry the weight and push forward.

All Might Pointing

When it gets difficult and heavy, put on that smile. People still believe in you. But when nobody is looking, it’s OK to let go of the muscles, the smile and accept the lessons life teaches us – like the act of letting go.

“Now, it’s your turn.”


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