The second season of My Hero Academia was a wild ride,
elevating the series from a decent, yet slow-paced shonen power fantasy
into one of the best, most exciting shows of the last decade.
With a 24 episode run full of laughs and tears, two fantastic openings,
click the “i”(icon) to learn more about those,
and a roster full of best girls,
oh hey, there’s one of them now,
it gave us a lot to love.
As a battle shonen series, HeroAca naturally lives and dies on the strength of its battles.
One really incredible fight is usually all it takes for a series like this to earn at least a cult following,
but Hero Academia went beyond, “Plus Ultra”, in this department.
Every fight this season is strong and memorable in its own right,
and the show has not just one, but three solid contenders for Best Fight of the Year.
I’ll be picking apart both Todoroki vs. Deku and the All Might exam arc down the line,
but today I’d like to focus on the fight with Stain from the Hero Intern arc,
because it features some really incredible fight choreography and animation,
and because it marks a major turning point for several characters, and the world of HeroAca as a whole.
And while we’re talking about how Stain fights, my buddies over at Wisecrack have put together a fantastic video about WHY he fights,
delving into the philosophy of what it means to be a hero.
Their whole channel is full of insightful videos about anime and western films alike,
so you’re gonna want to check them out once this video is over.
If you’re not caught up on My Hero Academia,
well let’s be real, you are caught up, and I’ll spare you the full series summary,
but if you need a quick refresher for the fight’s context, following the battle tournament at the UA Sports Festival,
Deku and his classmates are recruited by various hero agencies around Japan to train out in the field.
Deku goes to train under Gran Torino, an old retired hero who was once All Might’s mentor,
and there he finally begins learning to properly control the immense power of One For All,
which he could previously only use in bursts, usually breaking a limb in the process.
While this is happening, a villain known as the Hero Killer Stain is on the loose in the Hosu ward of Tokyo, uh, killing heroes.
– “I don’t know what I expected.”
In his rampage, the killer paralyzes a hero named Ingenium, the older brother of Deku’s classmate, Tenya Iida.
Consumed with thoughts of revenge, Iida accepts an internship in Hosu and begins searching the city for Stain.
Amid the chaos of a monster attack led by the League of Villains, he finds him,
and he’s woefully underprepared for the fight.
When their train is attacked by a Noumu, Gran Torino and Deku enter the fray.
Deku, noticing that Iida is missing from the heroes defending the city, and realizing this means he must have gone after Stain,
runs off to find his friend before the Hero Killer can claim his life.
Since the fight is spread out across three episodes with a lot going on around it,
we’re going to mainly focus on just what happens in the alleyway.
When Iida finds Stain in the middle of killing the Pro Hero Native,
the villain initially doesn’t pay him any mind, seeing him as a child.
But once Iida reveals that he’s there solely to avenge his brother, and declares:
Stain’s response is short and to the point.
Stain’s goal is to kill the money-grubbing, glory-chasing heroes he sees as perverting the heroic ideal set by All Might,
and with the naked pride and anger in this declaration, Iida has marked himself as a target.
The killer dodges his second kick easily, taunting him and his brother for being “weak fakes” as he cuts him down.
Iida defends the example his brother set as a hero, and tells Stain that he’ll kill him.
Stain responds to this empty threat by simply lecturing the kid on what a real hero would do in this situation;
save Native before trying to take him down.
According to Stain, true heroes put others first and never use their powers for their own gain.
This line handily explains both why he feels Iida and heroes like him need to die,
and why he chooses to carry out those executions himself.
As someone who looks up to the heroic ideals of All Might, Stain would probably be happier saving other people,
but in his twisted mindset, he thinks that he can do more good for the world by threatening other heroes into following his ideals.
With his sword pinning the young speedster to the ground, he says:
And he may as well drop a mic right there because that cuts way deeper than his swords have, at least up to this point.
But he aims to correct that, ingesting Iida’s blood in order to paralyze him using his quirk Bloodcurdle, then lining up a finishing blow.
Fortunately, his little monologue created just enough time for Deku to find him, charge forward,
and sock the killer in the jaw, saving his friend’s life.
Seeing that there are two people in danger, more than he can carry away on his own,
Deku makes a snap decision to text his location to his classmates, and stand and fight, stalling for time until help arrives.
Iida tells him to run, since the fight has nothing to do with him,
but Deku also responds to that with a lecture on what it means to be a hero.
This makes Stain smile, and in this moment, he decides not to kill Deku.
By saying this, and standing his ground despite the clear fear in his eyes,
and following through with a good attack to prove he’s not all talk,
Deku has proven that he strives for the same ideal as Stain.
He’s exactly the kind of “true hero” that Stain hopes to create through killing, so it’s worth letting him live.
With Stain now trying to secure a kill without hurting Deku, this is where the real battle begins.
Deku leaps at Stain, who analyzes his battle strategy as he moves.
By closing in, Deku limits the effectiveness of Stain’s ranged weapon.
This makes it clear that both Deku and Stain are thinkers,
and by having Stain evaluate Deku’s decisions while Deku reacts,
we can see that the experienced killer is a step ahead of his opponent.
…until he’s not.
Borrowing a move from Bakugo, Deku leaps out of Stain’s field of view after getting behind him,
then delivers a devastating blow to his head.
Considering that the super-speedy Iida couldn’t slip past Stain’s defenses, this is pretty damn impressive.
Unfortunately, with Deku trying to control his power output,
his Detroit Smash isn’t strong enough to stop the villain, who manages to paralyze him with a tiny cut.
Seeing this does allow Deku to figure out how his power works, however,
and while he’s incapacitated, the cavalry arrives just in time,
as Todoroki sends the killer back with a burst of flame, then creates an ice wall to move everyone else to safety.
He then informs everyone that the pros will be there in a few minutes, which puts further pressure on Stain.
At its core, this fight is all about time.
Stain is battling the clock from the second it starts.
First, while Deku rushes to find and save Iida,
then as he stalls, waiting for one of his friends to show up in response to his text.
Once Todoroki arrives, all the young heroes need to do is buy a bit more time until the pros show up,
though how long it will take with the Noumus attacking the city is anyone’s guess.
Inside this bigger time limit, Stain’s power creates smaller countdowns by temporarily taking the students out of commission.
As we learn shortly, due to his blood type, Deku can return to the fray pretty quickly when he’s cut,
but every time he’s paralyzed, it puts them at a disadvantage until he can recover.
Iida regaining his movement gives them a bit of an edge,
but if he or Todoroki get caught again, their chances of success suddenly dwindle to nothing.
This creates a pretty low bar for the kids to succeed in their first fight against a major villain,
since they don’t need to actually beat him on their own.
But it also adds a great deal of tension to the fight.
Unlike the minor villains who attacked UA in the first season, Stain is a force to be reckoned with, having killed dozens of pros already,
and a single mistake could cost Native or Iida their lives.
As the timer runs down on Stain, he only gets more desperate and violent,
which makes him even more dangerous, but also creates an opening as he forgets Deku’s recovery time.
Watching for the right opportunity, Deku leaps to attack simultaneously with Iida,
and their combined might is enough to line him up for a final blow from Todoroki, at last knocking him out.
The timer, and the knowledge that help will arrive soon, creates an expectation in the audience that’s subverted in this moment.
Instead of being saved as we expect, the kids manage to win the fight themselves, which comes as a genuine surprise,
and the time limit is also the mechanic that allows this win to happen, backing Stain into a corner so that he makes a mistake.
It’s a really brilliant bit of plotting.
But that’s far from the only thing about this fight that’s brilliant.
The big action moments, like Stain bursting through Todoroki’s ice, Iida using Recipro-Burst to stop his blade,
and the two final attacks against him are all animated with an incredible amount of kinetic energy and style.
I’d love to do a full Sakuga breakdown on all of the cuts in this fight,
but it would probably take me about an hour to get through all of them.
Beyond just looking pretty, the action in this scene is written really smartly,
playing up each character’s individual strengths and methods of fighting.
Deku’s quick, analytical mind is given plenty of chances to shine here.
He finds Iida in the first place by analyzing the hero killer’s past behavior,
and when the fight begins, he concocts and executes on clever tactics on the fly.
It’s Deku who deduces exactly how Stain’s powers work,
both figuring out that he needs to ingest blood to activate them,
and that his quirk has different time limits based on blood type.
He floats two other equally likely possibilities for this limit,
but at that point in the fight, he’s earned enough of the villain’s respect that Stain confirms his theory.
The only thing holding Deku back from stopping this villain on his own is a lack of experience using his powers.
He just doesn’t have the physical ability he needs to close out the fight without help.
However, he recognizes this by the end of the fight,
and bides his time once he recovers in order to strike at the right moment, rather than leaping back into the fray immediately.
While he’s not quite as quick or clever as Deku, Stain is also a methodical and tricky fighter,
analyzing the movements of his opponents in order to create openings for attack.
In his attack on Todoroki, he catches him off-guard by throwing a knife,
closes in to attack with his short blade and throws his sword up in the air as a follow-up.
But then he draws attention to the sword in order to distract Todoroki,
all so that he can execute his real attack and creepily lick Todoroki’s cut in order to immobilize him.
It’s quite a complex plan, all executed in the space of a few seconds,
and it leaves us in the same place as the heroes, following what’s happening, but taking a second to fully grasp what’s going on.
Todoroki counters this with his own specialty; quick reflexes and overwhelming force.
A blast of flame and ice is enough to keep Stain back, but that’s really all that he can do.
While he can track the villain’s movements and even spot when he begins slipping,
he’s not capable of out-thinking or out-maneuvering him, at least not on his own,
and he doesn’t have enough control of his powers to close out the fight.
Iida is on the other end of the spectrum from Deku.
His fighting is driven less by thought, and more by emotion and instinct.
He shows awareness of his own limitations by asking Todoroki to cool his legs so that he can use his burst one more time,
but this doesn’t extend to his tactics.
He simply charges in whenever he’s able to, using his immense speed and power to overwhelm Stain.
It’s down to his allies to plan around his actions.
The clash of different fighting styles creates a lot of interesting dynamics in this fight,
but great fights aren’t just about cool choreography and interesting strategies.
As I said in my Shokugeki no Soma video, the most important thing is what the fight means to each of the characters involved,
and this is an important point in the growth of all four of these characters.
For Iida, this fight is a hard lesson in what he’s doing wrong as a hero, as well as a chance for redemption.
Stain brutalizes him as a punishment for becoming obsessed with revenge,
while both Deku and Todoroki show examples of how he can be better.
While he wallows in despair a bit after being cut down and having his morals eviscerated,
accepting that he doesn’t deserve to call himself a hero, by the time he recovers, he also finds his resolve.
Even if he isn’t worthy of being a hero right now, he has to try to be anyway, because otherwise the name of the hero Ingenium dies.
Even the setting of the fight helps to emphasise this conflict.
The narrow alleyway represents how Iida’s focus on revenge has limited his field of view,
and made it so that he can no longer see what’s important.
Stain is, for the most part, essentially right in his view of what a hero should be,
and his admonishment of Iida for falling away from that ideal.
It’s mainly his methods that make him a villain, not his ideas,
but when Iida stands back up to fight, Stain exposes the one fatal misconception in his worldview.
He believes that bad people can’t change on their own,
which is why he tries to kill fake heroes instead of inspiring them like All Might and Deku do.
But as an audience, we know that he’s wrong,
because we know that Deku has already changed someone whose heroic ideals have been clouded by resentment.
A few words from Deku saved Todoroki, and now together they can save Iida from himself.
Of course, Todoroki is only able to help in the first place because Deku helped him.
He wouldn’t be in Hosu City at all if he hadn’t been able to cast his pride away and join his father’s agency.
And he’d be much less effective in the fight if he was still refusing to use his fire powers.
This also highlights the nifty way that HeroAca powers up its characters.
Instead of just giving them random new abilities out of the blue like most other shonen anime do,
it has them figure out new ways to better utilize their existing abilities, or get over mental hang-ups that were holding them back.
Case in point; Deku’s new ability that he uses in this fight, One For All Full Cowl,
which comes not from Guru
Guru – “Super Kami Guru.”
Sorry, Super Kami Guru putting his hand on his forehead,
but rather Deku shifting his understanding of what One For All is and how he can apply it.
Instead of letting it out in a burst, he tries letting the power fill his entire body,
which allows him to move more quickly and perform greater feats of strength.
For him, this fight is the first test of his new power.
It’s also a test of his ability to succeed All Might.
Widespread recognition is a long way off for him,
but in the small world of this alleyway, for everyone involved in the fight, Deku serves as the symbol of peace.
That even includes Stain, as for him, this fight ends up being a final challenge to his flawed ideology.
Because he is wrong about fakes like Iida and the old Todoroki, he ends up losing the fight,
but he’s not entirely wrong, since he’s only defeated because of how Deku has influenced them.
Deku ultimately represents a more pure and correct iteration of Stain’s own ideals.
Stain puts up a hell of a fight in order to prove himself right, though,
and every action he takes reflects his mentality, right down to the panic at the end that ultimately results in his defeat.
Even the nature of Stain’s powers represent his ideals, at least, if you buy into blood type personality theory.
His quirk is most effective against type Bs, who are said to be the most selfish and lazy kind of people,
followed by type AB individuals, whose worst traits include being indecisive and two-faced.
All of those traits go against Stain’s view of what a hero should be.
He’s less effective against type A heroes like Iida, who is reserved and earnest, though also, as we see here, obsessive and stubborn.
And Stain is least effective against Deku’s type O blood,
which is associated with confidence, ambition, and self-determination, things that Stain wants to see in other heroes.
As the universal donor, type O blood is also generally associated with generosity.
So Stain’s power gives him a greater advantage against exactly the kind of people he wants to kill,
while being weak against the kind of hero that he wants to see stop him.
Kinda serendipitous, that.
Deku’s style of heroism wins out in the end, and Stain is seemingly defeated,
but after they tie Stain up and drag him out of the alleyway,
an injured Deku ends up being grabbed by a stray flying Noumu that got away from the pros.
Just as his fate seems to be sealed, however, Stain escapes his bonds and charges forward to save Deku,
paralyzing the Noumu by licking the blood off another hero’s cheek.
By doing this, Stain shows that he recognizes Deku as a true hero,
worthy of not just being allowed to live, but of active protection.
But after this act of heroism, he turns to face all of the heroes who have arrived, willing to take them all on.
And the sheer pressure of his killing intent is enough to stop all of them in their tracks.
Even Endeavor is afraid!
Fortunately, before the fight can be dragged out for another three episodes,
Stain passes out on his feet as one of his broken ribs punctures his lung.
It took a bit of extra time, but the kids’ efforts did manage to take him down after all.
This fight results in permanent emotional and physical changes for all of the kids involved,
and after his arrest, Stain’s philosophy will have an even wider-reaching impact on the world of HeroAca at large,
but we can talk about future arcs later on.
If you wanna hear someone really dive into the nuances of Stain’s character and his impact on the series right now,
then you’ve got to give Wisecrack’s new video a watch.
And once you’re done with that, I can’t recommend highly enough that you check out the rest of their anime philosophy videos,
especially the ones on FMA and Death Note.
Wisecrack is one of the smartest and funniest channels on YouTube, and if you’re not watching them already, you owe it to yourself to change that.
You also owe it to yourself to give My Hero Academia a binge watch, if you somehow watched all of this without having seen it.
The whole series is up on Crunchyroll, and you can watch it free with a 14-day free trial by going to crunchyroll.com/basement
Consider watching it homework, because I’ll definitely be coming back to look at other fights from the show soon, though maybe in a slightly different format.
In light of that, make sure you subscribe and hit the notification bell in order to catch those analysis videos and everything else I make when those videos go live.
And if you want to help me make them, consider supporting me on Patreon, like these beautiful human beings.
Now that we’re at the endcard, I’ll remind you one last time to check out Wisecrack’s video on the philosophy of My Hero Academia by clicking here,
or you can click here to see me analyze the show’s openings.
And don’t forget to check out all of the other wonderful anime and film analysis videos on both my channel and Wisecrack, over here.
I’m Geoff Thew, professional shitbag, signing out from my mother’s basement.