Ever since his introduction to the series, Katsuki Bakugo has been a beloved fan favorite of My Hero Academia. His quirk is amazing and allows for endless creativity in its usage, but beyond just his strength, Bakugo is one of My Hero Academia’s most emotionally complex characters and a unique take on the classic shonen rival archetype — or at least, that’s what he ought to be.
Recent events in My Hero Academia Season 6 have only solidified the unfortunate reality that Bakugo’s character exists almost entirely for the benefit of Izuku “Deku” Midoriya’s growth. While Bakugo is supposed to be Deku’s main rival, like the Vegeta to his Goku or the Sasuke to his Naruto, Bakugo’s role within My Hero Academia has been reduced to a damsel in distress, with little purpose other than for Deku to save and win further affection from. Just where did such a distinct and individualistic character’s development go awry?
Bakugo’s Disappearing Individuality
Bakugo is initially written to be Deku’s main rival and foil throughout the series. Bakugo is an arrogant, loud, naturally-born talent with a burning desire to crush all his opponents, while Deku at the start of the show is mild-mannered and awkward — someone with low self-esteem who has to work incredibly hard simply to catch up to his classmates. Bakugo’s viciousness is played to an extreme, and it’s established early on that Bakugo not only doesn’t respect Deku but also actively bullies him, even to the point of telling him to go jump off a building. However, as the series progresses, the audience sees that underneath all the bravado and anger is a deeply troubled yet intelligent young man who genuinely does want to become a hero. This is most obviously seen when Bakugo is captured by the League of Villains and boldly refuses their offer to join them. Over the course of the series, Bakugo grows to acknowledge his own weaknesses and also to respect Deku as a genuine rival.
However, as Bakugo’s story becomes further entwined with Deku’s, he begins to lose other aspects of his character that give him individuality beyond just his relationship with My Hero Academia’s protagonist. Bakugo’s friendship with classmate Kirishima for instance, his first-ever one built on mutual respect and comradery, gets almost no attention after his rescue from Kamino Ward. Bakugo still has his angry outbursts, but they are never interwoven with small moments of consideration and respect, like the one he showed Uraraka after their battle at the Sports Festival. Instead, Bakugo’s relationships and emotions almost entirely begin to revolve around Deku, whether it be claiming he’s better than him or showing concern over his safety.
Bakugo also has no main villain to call his enemy, instead following Deku like a sidekick to deal with whatever issue he’s facing along with him. Todoroki’s antagonist is Dabi, Uraraka has Toga, and even Iida had to fight Stain in his own arc that focused on his feelings and desire for vengeance. The series’ deuteragonist having no identifiable enemy or connections other than in relation to Deku demonstrates just how much Bakugo’s individual character has suffered as the series has progressed.
From the Symbol of Victory to the Symbol of Needing Rescue
In many shonen series, the rival character is famously known for the act of “jobbing,” where they take on the primary villain and get beaten down just to show how powerful the threat really is. However, Bakugo rarely even gets his own villain fights to lose. Instead, Bakugo’s role seems to be being captured, which fuels Deku to drive forward the plot, much like how a princess is used in a fairy tale. Due to Bakugo’s unyielding willpower to always come out on top, Deku has called Bakugo his mind’s “symbol of victory,” yet what has Bakugo done to live up to this reputation?
In the second episode of the anime, Bakugo is helplessly captured by a sludge villain, which fuels Deku to move without thinking to save his friend and demonstrates to All Might that Deku has the instincts to be a hero. Later, Bakugo is again captured by the League of Villains, and Deku is forced to rescue him again. In the aftermath of this and All Might’s retirement, Bakugo is wracked by guilt, and Deku must emotionally rescue him from his inferiority complex and reestablish their relationship. Finally, in the latest season of My Hero Academia, Bakugo is brutally injured by Shigaraki as he flies in to save Deku from himself, which again fuels a Deku rage moment and sets him after Shigaraki.
Throughout the show, Bakugo rarely makes choices of his own accord and instead must constantly be rescued in order to deepen Deku’s character or to fuel him forward. If Bakugo was losing fights he picked due to his own character motivations independent of Deku, it would be one thing, but Bakugo never gets the chance to make that choice, instead being forced into a helpless tool for Deku’s development.
Deku’s Pseudo Main Heroine
My Hero Academia has received criticism over its female characters and their agency within the story. However, while many fans complain that Urakaka has had little focus aside from her feelings for Deku, she’s still given her personal journey where she learns she wants to be a hero who saves others and how to become a better fighter, and she has relationships with characters like Asui that exist independently of Deku. It is in fact Bakugo who acts more like My Hero Academia’s main heroine. Aside from their cute little side moments, Deku rarely shows interest in Uraraka throughout the story. Instead, Bakugo is the one who rewards Deku’s growth and development with greater affection and attention.
As Deku becomes stronger, he earns more of Bakugo’s respect. Their childhood friendship which has long since fractured mends itself more and more. Bakugo has gone from Deku’s bully to his rival to his acquaintance — and now, with Bakugo throwing his life on the line for Deku’s sake, someone who is willing to die for Deku. This development track, along with Bakugo’s tsundere-like tendencies, make him resemble a love interest more than a rival. Bakugo rarely even shows his competitive nature with Deku any longer, instead expressing genuine concern and care for him. My Hero Academia’s progression has shaped Bakugo into a prize for Deku to win over rather than into a unique character with separate developments and motivations — a tragic turn for such a strong-willed and distinctive cast member.
Of course, Bakugo’s story being so intrinsically tied to Deku’s makes sense for his character. His arc going from a bully to someone who has let down his emotional walls and grown to respect Deku as a friend and rival is still compelling and tugs at the heartstrings. However, this arc would be more effective if Bakugo has his individual character goals and motivation that were distinct from his relationship with Deku. By becoming too linked with Deku’s successes and failures, Bakugo has lost his individuality and has been reduced to a supportive sidekick rather than his own hero.