My Hero Academia's Katsuki Bakugo has been a cherished fan favorite ever since his debut in the series. Beyond just being strong, Bakugo is one of My Hero Academia's most emotionally complex characters and a fresh take on the traditional shonen rival archetype. At least, that's what he should be. His quirk is amazing and allows for endless creativity in its use.

Recent developments in Season 6 of My Hero Academia have only served to emphasize the unfortunate fact that Bakugo's character exists primarily for Izuku "Deku" Midoriya's development. Although Bakugo is supposed to be Deku's main rival, serving as the Vegeta to his Goku or the Sasuke to his Naruto, in My Hero Academia, Bakugo is merely treated as a damsel in need who Deku must rescue in order to gain Deku's favor. Where exactly did the development of such a distinctive and individualistic character go wrong?


The Disappearing Individuality of Bakugo

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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 respects 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 lacks a primary antagonist to identify as his foe; instead, he acts as Deku's sidekick while helping him resolve his problems. Dabi is the antagonist in Todoroki, Toga is in Uraraka, and even Iida had to battle Stain in his own story arc that concentrated on his emotions and desire for vengeance. It is clear how much Bakugo's individual character has suffered as the series has gone on because the deuteragonist has no clear enemies or connections aside from Deku.


Victory's Symbol Becomes the Need for Rescue's Symbol

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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?

The helpless capture of Bakugo by a sludge villain in the second episode of the anime prompts Deku to act instinctively to save his friend and proves to All Might that Deku has heroic instincts. Later, the League of Villains captures Bakugo once more, and Deku is once again required to save him. Following this and All Might's retirement, Bakugo is overcome with guilt, and Deku has to help him overcome his inferiority complex in order to rebuild their relationship. Finally, in the most recent episode of My Hero Academia, Shigaraki brutally hurts Bakugo as he flies in to save Deku from himself, which once more causes Deku to have a fit of rage and causes him to go 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

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The female characters in My Hero Academia and their narrative agency have drawn criticism. Urakaka is still given her own journey where she discovers 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 separately from Deku, despite many fans' complaints that she hasn't received much attention outside of her feelings for Deku. In actuality, Bakugo behaves more like the lead character in My Hero Academia. Deku rarely shows interest in Uraraka throughout the story, aside from their adorable little side scenes. Bakugo, on the other hand, is the one who shows Deku more love and attention as he matures.

Bakugo respects Deku more and more as he gets stronger. Their long-broken friendship from childhood is gradually getting better. Bakugo has evolved from being Deku's bully to his rival to his friend, and now, after risking his life for Deku's benefit, to someone who is prepared to die for Deku. With his tsundere-like tendencies and this development path, Bakugo is more like a love interest than a rival. Bakugo no longer even frequently displays his competitive nature with Deku, choosing instead to show his sincere concern and care for him. Bakugo's development in My Hero Academia has made him into a prize for Deku to win over rather than a distinct character with independent developments and motivations, which is a tragic turn for such a beloved character.

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.