the starkest of them all

The morality scale of BnHA

Heya Nonny,
Alright, so this is one that has been sitting in my drafts for a while. So thanks for making me finally finish it :)
And I’m going to be contrite again and start with: to me, BnHA is pretty complex when it comes to morality.
Let me explain why I think so.

Mild spoiler warning for the manga (Chapter 133)

Who watches the Watchmen

So this is something @thekuroiookami​ noted in one of our chats, but  several of the underlying themes of BnHA are similar to the classic Alan Moore comic book The Watchmen (it was made into a movie, also). And I like to imagine Horikoshi knows of this comic, and that it is intentional.
Watchmen, which I’m sure you can find all kinds of meta on, is about the fall of heroes. Specifically, super heroes. It’s about responsibility, accountability. Who watches the Watchmen?

One of the central themes of that book is what it takes to be a hero. It’s about moral decisions. Should you strive for peace, and how many lives are you willing to put on the line for that. That kind of thing.
Now Watchmen, is pretty heavy and almost depressing, so while BnHA has similar themes, the moral of Horikoshi’s story is very different and so far more optimistic. What they have in common, in a big way, is that morality comes on a sliding scale.
So while heroes in BnHA are, on the whole, a force for good, they are far from black and white.

Heroes and villains

Which makes it all the more interesting, that that is totally not how they’re first introduced to us.

Originally posted by beholdanimes

We initially see the world entirely through the eyes of a young Izuku, who incidentally worships the starkest, truest hero of them all, All Might. He is the literal symbol of peace and I think we can all agree that he’s a truly good person, who does his hero-ing for all the right reasons.

The great part is that as we follow Izuku on his journey, it becomes clear that not everyone is quite this angelic.

Good people doing good things for the right reasons

Let’s start with All Might, who is the ultimate hero to pretty much the entire cast. He has the power, the drive, the attitude, the looks. Everyone has some story about how he once rescued a thousand people while going ‘It’s allright’. But then, during his very first meeting with Izuku, it turns out he’s not an ultimate hero all the time. All Might is at this point a literal façade. And the façade of the hero world just kinda keeps crumbling from that point.

It’s telling, for instance, that some of the 'purest’ heroes in this story are the younger ones.
Izuku is, obviously, the poster boy here. He wants to 'do good’ and he truly cares about people.
Slightly more interesting, though, is Kirishima. Because Kirishima is one of the first and only examples of a hero trying to de-escalate a violent situation. That stuff is standard practice for a lot of police forces. The idea is that when someone is acting out, when they’re threatening people, you try to talk them down.

That’s what Red Riot tries when faced with that tooth guy. Admittedly, he’s already punched him by this point, but the guy also friggin shot Suneater, so I’m calling that a draw.
Kirishima also ultimately fails, but at least he tries the non-violent approach, which is notably absent from a lot of other heroes.

Good people doing good things for the wrong reasons

This one is kind of the basis of Stain’s whole philosophy.
Example: Mount Lady is shown to steal spotlights, to plain profiteer from her fame and looks. That’s not really villain type behaviour, but it’s not exactly squeaky clean either.
Again, it’s a sliding scale. Uraraka wants to be a hero for the money, which would be 'bad’, but she just wants to help her parents, which is 'good’.
There’s a lot of moral greyness here.
You could, for instance, also put Iida’s crisis of conscience in here. He brashly charges in to kill stain out of vengeance, forgetting the part where he’s a: not really equipped for this fight, you dolt, and b: supposed to save the other guy. Not a paragon of virtue kind of moment for him there. But does it make him a bad person? No. It makes him human.

Good people acting bad

Some heroes are honest to god good people, but have some unsociable behaviour, or just plain look like hobos (yes hello Aizawa). You can consider this superficial.
And then things get… muddied.

Bakugou is an interesting one, because he’s incredibly powerful, and very smart, with attitude issues and a past as a bully. Is he a bad person? It seems like he’s working on it.
New question, which I know tumblr is gonna love: Mineta. He’s a sleazy teen who wants to be a hero to get chicks, and who exhibits unwanted behaviour towards women. Is he a bad person? Would you class him as a hero or a villain?
And then there’s Endeavour, who is supposed to be the number two hero in the country. And he’s a shit stain of a human being. Where exactly would you class him?

Bad people and the lives they lead

I’m not gonna do every character here, but I think you get my point. There’s a lot of moral grey in BnHA.
The same goes for villains, too.
I’ve seen quite a few meta posts on what it says about society that it has a warrior who punches people as a symbol of peace. And how the strict way in which the BnHA universe deals with quirks is what Makes Villains.
And it must be said: most of the bad guys in the story are not mindless, and they’re not without motivation.
Stain really believes that hero culture is out of control. He is the bitter ex-hero. If this were an American comic, he could be the Punisher (ostensibly a hero). He has the drive, the power, the charisma. He just has a terrible way of getting his point across (murder).
There’s a scale, even on the darker side.
Chisaki does horrible, horrible things for something he believes in. He’s a terrible human being, but he’s good to his men, he gives them something to believe in. To live for.
Shigaraki, arguably one of the most petty of villains, wants to mostly cause chaos, but he’s also aiming for revenge. His parents died and All Might could not save them. That is super sad, but it is something he could have gotten over, if it weren’t for All for One. Shigaraki has been GROOMED to be a villain since he was six. You could wonder how much of a chance he, with his bad guy quirk and his upbringing, ever had.

We’re all human here

Where I actually answer the question.
You’re right, nonny, when you say that the way 'justice’ is dealt in the story is too simple.
Because let me make it perfectly clear. The BnHA universe  may have superpowers, it’s by no means a just society. It’s not a utopia. It has the exact same issues as present day Japan, only with more explosions and… slime attacks.
There are people that don’t fit in society.
There are those that rebel, there are those that are in it for the money, there are those that use their family and ancient marriage traditions for personal gain. In Vigilante spinoff, which is arguably a grittier version of BnHA, there are those who try to seek justice where regular cops can’t do it.

While the public may need to see heroes as larger than life celebrities, what BnHA is very careful in showing us is that every one of these characters is human.

So to finally answer the question: I don’t think Horikoshi is trying to write a black and white story. There are links in the very fabric of the manga, to real world issues: to police violence, to sexism, to celebrity culture.
While the story started innocently and tropey enough, we are seeing, with every new arc, the deeper issues of this society. We’re growing up with young Izuku and learning that the world is not a perfect place.
Good people get hurt and die. Bad people sometimes get away with it.

I actually have pretty good hopes that we’ll see, later on, the likes of Izuku or Kiri or Bakugou struggle with what it means to be just. The suffocating bounds of the law are already a theme being dealt with in Vigilante - My Hero Academia Illegals (a spin-off which, if you’re into this sort of thing, I can highly recommend). So I don’t think that’s likely to be addressed any time soon. What we might see more of for Izuku and gang, is the boundary between hero and villain.
Shinsou’s struggle, for instance, with his 'evil’ quirk. Or maybe something like a Dabi arc. If he truly is Todoroki’s brother, like the theory goes, that could make for some Very Interesting story lines about the consequences of Endeavour’s behaviour.

I just hope it never gets as depressing as Watchmen, tbh.

PS: I do a lot of these.