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Why a Bully like Bakugou is Topping Character Polls


C H A R E C T E R I S A T I O N – A N I M E


Joyita Faruk


Bakugou Katsuki — a bully, a brash hothead, and also the most popular character from My Hero Academia. Almost as if spurred on by his drive to be the best in-universe, Bakugou has routinely usurped the #1 position in nearly all the yearly popularity polls in our world. 5 out of 6 polls in Japan, 4 out of 5 in the US — the disparity between the votes keeps increasing. So much so that his 2020 poll’s 14937 votes is almost double that of the protagonist Midoriya’s 8115 votes. But why?

Two words: Character Development.

Bakugou has had one of the most satisfying character arcs in the 300+ chapters of the manga, as well as the closely following anime series. The development becomes more overt in the later chapters. But in light of season 5 coming out, I’ll avoid any spoilers and tell you why he wins my vote, too.

Bakugou is a refreshing rival

In the first few episodes, unlike most of the audience, it wasn’t his treatment of Izuku that made me hate him. It was his existence. His character felt disappointingly flat and predictable. The bully prodigy spoiled by the yes-men around him making the goody-goody underdog protagonist’s life hell. The obvious rival.

This trope has been explored so much that we can’t even call it an exploration anymore.

We learn how fragile his arrogance is when just the thought of quirkless Izuku applying to UA has him trying to browbeat the poor boy into submission. Bit by bit, UA cracks down on his belief that he is the idol in a world of extras.

Bakugou rising to the top. Illustration credit: Joyita Faruk/The Dhaka Apologue

The group exercise in season 1, where Bakugou and Izuku were pitted against each other, was building up to a moment of earth-shattering reality to the blonde. And we know what follows that — the big fish in a small pond realises how big the sea is, and crumbles apart.

But when the pebble at his feet makes him taste his first defeat, in front of their childhood idol, All Might, Bakugou doesn’t break. Instead, he goes on to challenge All Might himself, and makes a promise to surpass him. 

He is not satisfied in being the big fish in the small pond. He does not want to go crawling back to the comfort of his pond like other characters in his position would.

It was incredibly refreshing to see. That’s when I realized Bakugou is, a little different, to say the least. Horikoshi made his debut so lackluster because he was meant to subvert those expectations.

He is — as Midoriya says — really amazing

Despite Midoriya’s voiced disapproval of Bakugou’s abrasive actions, he has always admired him, too, and we start seeing why.

Bakugou is hot-headed, blessed with an amazing quirk, like a popular jock in our world. You would expect him to be dumb. But he’s a canonical genius on par with Midoriya. He dissects situations and formulates plans and strategies at the same speed. We see them coming to the same conclusions in the Do-or-Die Survival Training OVA.

Todoroki mentions this when watching Bakugou in the UA Sports Festival, he is more strategic than you would think. And it makes sense. How much mastery and combat awareness do you need to contain and direct explosions so perfectly?

The reason why he feels so slighted when Todoroki doesn’t use his fire is because he wants to defeat him at 100%. It doesn’t mean anything to win when your opponent is only giving half. That kind of determination is compelling to watch and experience.

The respect he shows to Uraraka in their fight

Uraraka’s fight with Bakugou is one of the most poignant moments in understanding his character. Uraraka, despite getting into the regaled UA high aiming to be a hero, is seen as a weak damsel in distress by the audience and most of her peers when she stands against Bakugou. They gasp at Bakugou for not hesitating, for going all-out in battle. 

How can he be so cruel to a poor girl!? — they cry.

In the world of superpowers, they still see the girl as inherently weak. They claim Bakugou is toying with her, as if it’s inconceivable that Uraraka would present any sort of obstacle for him. Aizawa calls out their sexism brilliantly, saying Bakugou is simply on-guard in the face of his opponent’s strength.

Because unlike the rest of the audience, Bakugou is not immediately discarding her because of her gender or quirk. He’s expecting a real fight and remaining cautious. He takes her seriously. Uraraka even thanks him. Amidst the underhanded misogyny in many anime titles, this scene was a breath of fresh air. 

His perfectionism can be relatable

The boy has lived his life on a pedestal. Being the best is not a heartwarming, motivating goal, but a necessity. His identity is centred around it, which is why he’s so easily threatened. The paradox of a superiority complex is that he is a bundle of insecurities.

He has to do things perfectly, be crowned undisputedly, or it doesn’t bear any weight. The gifted kid syndrome that many experience, when everyone else catches up to you eventually, is that you’re left reeling without a sense of worth outside of your accomplishments. 

A lot of the audience can relate to that. And perhaps Bakugou’s unrelenting nature — in the face of his failures, his strive to overcome himself — is also inspiring.

He is intriguingly complex and layered

Many characters in-universe, as well as fans of the anime, had thought Bakugou was in the hero business for a power trip. The Villain League thought it would be all too easy to recruit him with promises to escape a restrictive society when they kidnapped him. 

Bakugou doesn’t spare a thought, or try to pretend he’s considering the offer. He scoffs, saying they only want his help in causing trouble. The simplicity in his thought process in that moment truly establishes his heroic nature. His refusal to be anything but himself is displayed in a sincere kind of honesty.

We tap into more of his mind, when he blames himself for All MIght’s retirement in that heartbreaking scene before Bakugou and Deku’s fight. His respect and admiration for his idol, the reserves of empathy we finally get to see cements his spot further as a boy hoping to be a hero, rather than a villain waiting to be exposed.

Bakugou is original… kind of

The truth is that many aspects of Bakugou’s character have been done before, but I don’t think anyone has done Bakugou before. The amalgamation of his layers of personality, his numerous flaws, and the little contrasts — like how he’s a great cook, a brash person excelling at a domestic task — makes him feel real. 

One wrong choice, and Horikoshi could’ve turned him tropey. But it’s telling of his mastery of characterisation, how simply and beautifully he fleshed out a character like Bakugou.

 


Joyita Faruk, a self-proclaimed Bakugou Simp™, is on her miserable, caffeine-addled journey towards being the laziest workaholic she knows. She’s currently preparing herself for the pains of carpal tunnel syndrome, because she types 100k word fics on her phone…Send her well wishes at [email protected]

 

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