Friday, April 9, 2021

Green Phoenix - Let's Talk...Mineta from My Hero Academia

 https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/5a/Boku_no_Hero_Academia_Volume_1.png

Hello everyone! Let's get into yet another edition of "Let's Talk", my free-form editorial series where I discuss a subject that is on my mind all off the cuff and from the heart. This time we will discuss a topic that is tangentially connected to something very near and dear to my heart. If you are a fan of the anime My Hero Academia, you may or may not be surprised by what I have to say. But we will get to that in a moment.

It will probably be something of a hot take, but I feel like I do have something to say on the subject.

For those of you who follow my content outside of this website, you would be familiar with my very personal connection to fandom and fan content, including for the purposes of this article: fanfiction. I started reading fanfiction through the My Little Pony fandom, before then expanding into Steven Universe, Game of Thrones, and the subject of today's article, My Hero Academia,an anime written by Kohei Horikoshi that takes place in an alternate future Earth where most people develop superpowers and become superheroes. The show is incredibly good and I find that the prospect of superpowers to be a fascinating breeding ground for great fanfiction stories.

As of writing this article, the show is starting its 5th season, which you can watch subbed on CrunchyRoll. While I do plan on watching it when their are more episodes available for me to begin bingeing, I felt like this was the perfect opportunity for me to discuss an aspect of the fandom that severely disturbs me and that I want to discuss with some measure of detail. If you read the title of this article and are familiar with My Hero Academia and its fandom in any capacity, you likely already know what I am going to talk about.

So let's talk about the Fresh-Picked Hero: Grape Juice (otherwise known as Mineta Minoru, the pervert of Class 1-A) and why the fandom hates this character so much and why that's kind of a bid problem.

***
The world of My Hero Academia is filled to the brim with extraordinary powers and abilities called Quirks. Most of the Quirks in the show are fairly benign and largely unremarkable. But some people will use their abilities to become licensed superheroes and combat villains and other criminal elements. The story follows the life of Izuku Midoriya, a person without a Quirk who desires to become a superhero as well, and his academic career at a superhero high school after being given a Quirk by the most powerful hero in Japan, All Might.

While the show follows the adventures of Izuku Midoriya, a large quantity of the fandom is drawn to the numerous and unique side and minor characters that are introduced throughout the series. This makes sense of course because of the sheer variety of personalities and viewpoints on the underlying theme of the show (the nature of heroism) and it means that almost every character, even villains, has an extensive following in the show, including fan content. There are however exceptions to this rule. One is the hero Endeavor, who is a abusive and ambitious man who ruins the lives of his family for his own desires (though that perception is fading as the series moves forward), and the second is Mineta, Izuku's classmate and the resident pervert character.
1528d79cdc7aa6da563054816837 by RaphaelLover123
 
As stated in the opening sequence, I find Mineta's inclusion on the list of unloved characters to be a little strange, especially when one considers that there are vast number of much more villainous and ethically terrible characters in the show beyond one horny teenage boy. I will admit that I am not particularly enthusiastic about the pervert trope in anime and find some of Mineta's antics to be quite ridiculous or contextually troubling, but I also hold a similar opinion for characters like Master Roshi from the Dragon Ball franchise and Melodias from Seven Deadly Sins, who actually does a lot worse that Mineta ever does. Despite this, I cannot help but notice that there seems to exist an almost vitriolic hatred for the little hero-in-training within the fandom that borders on sociopathic with their treatment of him.

I'm really not exaggerating here. As of writing this article, there are 164,850 articles with the My Hero Academia tag and 4,464 have the Mineta Minoru character tag, meaning they in some way involve the character. Of these My Hero Academia articles, the following numbers appear and reveal a pattern about Mineta's treatment in the fandom.
  • 267 articles with the tag Mineta Minoru Dies.
  • 2,641 articles with the tag Shinso Histoshi replaces Mineta Minoru.
  • 1,483 articles with the tag Mineta Minoru Doesn't Exist.
  • 696 articles with the tag Mineta Minoru is Expelled from U.A. High School.
  • 375 articles with the tag Pervert Mineta Minoru.
  • 152 articles with the tag Homophobic Mineta Minoru.
  • 304 articles with the tag Mineta Minoru Being an Asshole.
This sets a very worrying trend, especially when you compare it to the tag for Redemption, or fixing characters and making them more heroic.
  • 154 articles with the tag Hero Toga Himiko. (Toga Himiko is a vampiric serial killer that believes she is in love with the main character and wants to kill him to show that love). 
  • 381 articles with the tag Katsuki Bakugo Redemption. (Bakugo is Midoriya's primary rival and is a racist, violent, suicide-baiting bully that spends almost all his time degrading his fellow students and only sees hero work as beating up bad guys. He's also the most popular character in the show.)
  • 75 articles with the tag Shigaraki Redemption. (Shigaraki Tomura is the primary antagonist in the show, a nihilist who wants to kill everyone because he can't deal with his own trauma.)
  • 39 articles with the tag Mineta Minoru Redemption.
  • 50 articles with the tag Mineta Minoru is a Decent Human Being.
It seems like the My Hero Academia fandom is more willing to explore the character of and redeem literal serial killers and murderers, than a horny 16 year old who is training to be a pro-hero just as much as the main character of the series. Yes, Mineta does things that are troubling, but upon reflection and reexamination, there seems to be a concerted and active effort to flanderize this character and attribute values and behaviors that the canon character had never expressed.

Flanderization is a common occurrence in fandoms, as most interpretations of characters will inevitably get reduced into their most primal form for either easier consumption by a reader due to them being able to already fill in the blanks with their own perceptions of the character or because of poor writing capability and characterization. Where fandom then gets troubling with this is when fan interpretation becomes a sort of faux-canon and recycled through other people's stories.
 
In terms of Mineta, he goes from being your standard pervert trope character from just about any anime into a single-minded sexual abuser, harasser and homophobe who is incapable of doing anything without it being associated with girls. The abuse and homophobia are values that are never seen in the show, Mineta rarely ever actually does anything perverted. When the show focuses on him, he will make an inappropriate comment as the pervert joke character is expected to do. But in moments of genuine drama or where he is in the background, he is a normal everyday student that hangs out with his friends. I actually went through the show looking for moments where he purposefully groped or assaulted his female classmates and I could not find a single moment.
 
The closest he gets to it is moments where he falls into a moment of "accidental groping", the most well-known case being where he goes to hug Tsuyu Asui when they learn that the heroes are coming to save them and he touches her boob while hugging. Despite the fact that this was clearly and contextually an accident, this is seen by Mineta haters as a sign of how awful and terrible the character is, and is often coupled with his ugliness and cowardice to show how worthless and replaceable he should be. All other times, he is either not in control of his actions or is touches someone because they are in some sort of athletic contest, such as the Obstacle Course Race from the Sports Festival Arc, where Mineta attached himself to Yaoyorozu Momo using his Quirk, something he had been trying to do to several characters throughout.
 
While harassment is a legitimate issue that the entire pervert trope has to deal with and Mineta is not the worst offender in this category by far but because he isn't a traditionally good-looking or powerful character like Roshi, Jiraya, or Melodias, Mineta is an easy target to decry as terrible and disgusting and awful. And I do think that Mineta's appearance goes a long-way to explain his villanization by the fandom.

The My Hero Academia fandom has something of a reputation, even among fandoms, for their prodigious shipping. They will literally ship nearly every character with every other character just because they are pretty. The most common ship in the fandom is between Izuku Midoriya and his abuser and bully, Bakugo Katsuki. All the hatred that other fans hold for Mineta, I hold for Bakugo as bullies and discriminatory assholes has always been a difficult subject for me to deal with. But because Bakugo is "pretty" and has a powerful Quirk, everything he does is forgiven by the fandom. He's the bad boy that can be redeemed and can date literally anyone. But Mineta who is ugly and small with a weird Quirk is irredeemable and worthy of ridicule and is little more than a villain. The number of ships with him number less than a hundred on Archive of Our Own. I get that Mineta can use some work on his personality, but it says a lot that a fandom that ships everyone makes Mineta's predominant ship be Death.

I am not joking.
 
In addition, the desire to make Mineta homophobic raises a whole bunch of other issues because it is a quality that has never been expressed by the character in the show...ever. I'm fairly certain the show hasn't even really explored sexual or gender orientation outside of the occasional trans character and Mineta has never been at the center of any of it. This tendency of fandom writers to make Mineta homophobic seems like a very deliberate attempt to place evil traits on a character to make audiences hate him even more. It's blatant efforts to villainize a character by using societal moral shorthand to achieve the desired result for the character, which in Mineta's case is either expulsion, arrest, or death.

I don't desire to excuse the aspects of Mineta's character that are terrible, because they do exist. But those are character flaws that can change with time and growth and can be explored in fiction. And Mineta has a lot of potential from a narrative standpoint, despite the fandoms lack of desire to actually explore it. Mineta is shown to be an incredibly intelligent, if somewhat lazy, student, outscoring most of his classmates without even really studying. His Quirk, despite not being particularly strong in a combat sense, is an almost perfect non-violent capture weapon that's been shown to be strong enough to hold All Might, the most powerful superhero in My Hero Academia's universe. In addition, Mineta has been shown to be incredibly tactical and clever, being the only student to face-off one-on-one with a U.A. teacher in their Midterm exam and he won. The hero in question, Midnight, was selected because her sexual appeal was a weakness for Mineta. And he overcame for the purpose of the test.
 
And Mineta also has an aspect that I think many people overlook. If you look at him, he could technically qualify as having some form of dwarfism, which means that Mineta has the potential to be an exploration of disability in the very ablest universe that is My Hero Academia. He doesn't have a traditionally heroic Quirk, his physicality is limited by his body, and he shows many traits of a lack of self-confidence and a desire to be accepted by his peers. This shows a character who likely had a deeply troubling childhood, just like Midoriya, and a good author could explore that to tell a story that is both inspiring and hopeful. As it is now, most Mineta fanfiction is deeply depressing or uncomfortably brutal. It actually unnerves me how violent some people can be in their stories, even willing to turn the other students in Class 1-A into straight up murderers in order to "punish" a child.

Mineta absolutely has a lot of character flaws, especially surrounding his cowardice and perverseness. But I think it is an absolute disservice to the fandom that there isn't a greater desire to explore what Mineta could become with a refocus of his character. I've actually considered and done a little work on releasing a pro-Mineta fanfiction for the sole purpose of giving this little weirdo his time in the sun.
 
The fandoms overwhelming hatred of Mineta and their reasons are deeply troubling to me. I absolutely understand if his behavior makes you personally uncomfortable and I am in no way excusing it, but I think it is severely hypocritical for people who love a suicide-baiting abuser like Bakugo, real sexual assaulters like Melodias from Seven Deadly Sins, or excuse serial killers and monsters in fiction because they are "cute" or "hot", to comment on Mineta's behavior as if it is uncharacteristic and severe enough to warrant his treatment and abuse in fandom content. And the blatant efforts to flanderize his character by simplifying him down into either a literal rapist or attributing flaws he has never canonically shown whilst ignoring his genuinely positive traits is fundamentally damaging to the My Hero Academia fandom community. And it ironically goes against the very themes of the anime and manga in general.

A core theme in My Hero Academia is the exploration of what it means to be a hero. And the argument that My Hero Academia wants to make is that it doesn't matter what your Quirk is, whether it is explosions and pyromancy, or invisibility and sticky hairballs, you can be a hero. The reason you want to be a hero aren't nearly as important as the desire to help other people. Mineta for all his faults and his, frankly, juvenile reason for being a hero, still desires to be a hero even when other career options might be safer or easier. Despite his fears and anxieties, Mineta has never failed to act when he ultimately needs to and has actually come in clutch when his allies needed him.

I firmly believe that Mineta is due for a major moment of character growth in the near future. Due to events that I cannot go into in the manga due to spoilers, Mineta has been faced with a severe loss (alongside the rest of U.A.) and I believe it is the perfect opportunity for Horikoshi, who has stated many times that Mineta is his favorite character, to really explore what makes Mineta tick and complete the arc that he started with the character all the way back in the USJ. Being afraid and uncertain of oneself, and desiring popularity and acceptance by ones peers, should never stop you from doing what needs to be done in a moment of crisis. That is what Mineta's story is at its heart and the fandom really needs to take a hard look at itself and see if they can really choose to ignore and villainize such a character arc.

Mineta has a lot going for him as a character and could be used to tell some very interesting stories, if fans of My Hero Academia only had the will to look beneath the surface and escape the cycle of spite and flanderization that has infected the fandom.

But that is just my take. I could honestly keep talking about this and I might actually discuss my issues with the pervert trope in general in a later Let's Talk... but I would, and I'm a little hesitant to say this, but I am interested to hear your perspective on this matter.

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