This post has been inspired by my reading of the book “Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue” and is available here: https://www.amazon.com/Reverence-Renewing-Forgotten-Paul-Woodruff/dp/0195157958
What is it that you admire most in this world?
We all usually have at least one thing we can think of that inspires awe in us. Nature, God, Coffee, Alcohol, the list is endless. The feeling I’m trying to get at of course is Reverence. Not as we commonly think of it though.
We typically think of reverence as connected with religion. And lots of our media reflect and reinforce that frame. Death Note, for example, uses Light’s lack of Reverence as his fatal flaw that leads to his downfall. A God-Complex is, by definition, something you can only develop if you deny any being is above you. Light only gets so far because he’s an absolute genius. But as the show ultimately comments upon, someone who thinks they’re such hotshit will never stay on top their throne for long. That’s because we are in fact not gods. We need others, depend on the environment to be stable and providing for us, and no matter how good or bad things go we eventually die. In this way Death Note addresses religious reasons for Reverence; our own mortality and human error being the primary ones for why we should Revere God (whether or not this was intentional or if you’re religious or not is beside the point)
But Reverence is a virtue that extends past the religious and is vital for the flourishing of human society. And it is how it impact’s the superhero society in My Hero Academia that I wish to examine today.
Boku No Hero and The Symbol of Peace
My great friend Joe of Pause and Select fame did a video on My Hero Academia where he basically explained how the concept of “Peace” All Might stands for serves as somewhat of a metanarrative of the series. It’s about way more than just that as I’m massively oversimplifying as per usual so I’d HIGHLY recommend you Check it Out for Yourself (seriously it’s his best) however the reason I bring it up is that it hits on something interesting about the world of My Hero Academia. “Peace” in the series works somewhat like an ideology (as Joe say’s a Universal Pacifism). However, the reason for its creation and subsequent adoption throughout the world was not just because All Might and other believed in it but it served to unite them under a common cause, something higher than themselves. Perhaps it couldn’t necessarily be replaced by any old doctrine; as there are things about an abundance of pacifism in a world where everyone has superpowers that just get to the end result of a happier citizen more than say one focused on “Justice” would (a justice focus ideology/metanarrative might even cause more problems). The “Symbol of Peace” and with it, the Ideology of Universal Pacifism was something All Might manufactured specifically for the purpose of being admired and Revered by the citizenry.
Which should beg the question, why does it work?
In Paul Woodruff’s book on Reverence, he talks about how we in the modern age have somewhat collectively lost the old virtue of Reverence. Understanding why this is important and in the author’s opinion should be reversed requires understanding the virtue ethics which guide this critique. Virtue in Woodruff’s view is not about fixed guidelines or traits as is typically associated with virtue ethics, but rather a view of a virtue as a commitment that you will take the good traits in yourself and hone them. While we’re familiar with the typical ones like Courage, Cleanliness, and Compassion, Woodruff counts virtue as another important one. And virtues are important because without them (in this view) moral degradation runs rampant and society collapses.
We can see one-way virtue ethics is explored in fiction before BnH came along by again looking at Death Note. Joe made a video Kinda Related to This as well but looking at Death Note’s ending gives us some more clues into its theming. Light in his own way brought peace to his world like All Might did to his. They both brought about world peace through Reverence. The methods were completely different and we can also explore how their different ways doing it and circumstances affected the result. Ultimately their methods were different because one had virtue while the other didn’t and it’s curious to see how their respective powers and environments informed their ethics.
- Killed people as that was the power he had
- Was given power by chance
- is one of 2 people with supernatural power the other of which he controls
- Works against the justice system
- Remains in the shadows as a result
- Main rival on side of the “Law”
- Used Fear to inspire Reverence as a God would and only for himself
- Never kills (as far as we know. If so rarely)
- Was chosen to have this power
- In a world filled with superpowered beings
- Works with Justice system
- Is open with and actively seeks out the public
- Has main rival on the side of Evil
- Uses Hope to inspire Reverence as he’s only a mortal human. Also encourages it to be given to other heroes and the concept of heroism
Death Note and My Hero Academia are totally different works with tones completely opposed to each other. However, they may share the same message about the Virtue of Reverence.
What is the opposite of reverence? Hubris. And who ultimately succeeds in their goals between Light and All Might? Light is the parable of the man who won until he didn’t. His hubris was the death (lol) of him and after he was gone no one was left to rule through fear. His cult can never follow in his footsteps as none have the power. Another Kira may return but even so not for many many years (remember what Ryuk said about how often death notes drop?).
Compare this with All Might and the situation in MHA. We don’t know exactly what life in my hero academia was like before All Might but the one thing we do know is that crime was higher and things were worse than they are currently in the story (and without him, things are starting to collapse again). However, despite how things are going right now there is still something Death Note didn’t have; Hope
if you liked that L’s team won, or even if you rooted for and supported Light (I did), you can’t say there was any real hope left at the end. Everything returned to the status quo which means just as much crime and war if not more than ever before. We’ve already established no new Kira for at least 100’s of years (and no guarantee the next holder will even be as good or even one who supports Kira). The situation in BnH is quite different. There is a passing of the torch, there is continuity, an understanding that what they Revered can be obtained again and by anybody. It will be hard, and evil will make gains but there are already so many sparks of hope with all the new heroes, emerging and current, inspired by All Might. And this is because All Might instilled virtue into the future generations via the ideal of peace. All Might was the symbol, but symbols are replaceable. But it is the Reverence we place into those ideas that truly make the magic happen. A society ruled by fear and hubris, what the villains of the series want to bring about, is no society at all, but a collection of gangs and survivors. A society without Reverence is one that Bleeds for Nothing.
What you admire most doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you have something to Revere in the first place.
Please do check out my Amaaaaazing friend cherryboywriter’s article on why the Chimera Ant Arc is the greatest thing ever and should be Revered!: http://uzerfriendly.com/chimera-ant-arc-doesnt-suck/