“All men are not created equal.” Midoriya Izuku learns a pretty harsh lesson in the pervasive social hierarchy attendant to the flourishing of superheroics – namely, that the presence of Quirks (to him, at least) practically brought with it a new social status wherein people show fanatical devotion to those who utilize their newfound powers for good, and members of the younger generation work diligently to present themselves as worthy of taking up the mantle of superhero. My Hero Academia begins with a personal anecdote from Izuku’s perspective – he protects another boy from three others, led by the rather aggressive Bakugō Katsugi (who almost immediately shows the more pugilistic and judgmental side of a society now structured around superheroes). As one might imagine, the opening shots of Izuku being pummeled by Katsugi and his almost-sycophantic lackeys illustrate the low standing the Quirkless have in this new Japan; Izuku cannot physically protect himself from the trio’s attack, and the encounter leaves him with a pessimistic outlook on life. The two later meet in class, and this subsequent encounter further cements the social hierarchy that the seemingly sudden presence of the Quirks brought about; approximately 80% of people in the world have some sort of Quirk, leaving Izuku in the powerless 20% who can only watch as others go on to do amazing things. The image of Izuku watching the criminal Quirk-wielder on the elevated train tracks places the protagonist initially in the back of the gathered crowd; he finds himself among the rabble, who do not interfere when superheroes with unique powers track down and confront those who violate the law.
By placing Izuku amongst the crowd, and showing him taking brief notes on the superheroes who save the day, My Hero Academia places central focus on an individual who can’t seem to break free from the confines of his Quirkless identity – he exists as a member of the minority “powerless” group, but he remains dedicated to the heroic cause. Rather than allow his Quirkless element define him, he actively seeks out superheroic acts and documents them; he practically acts as a chronicler of those depicted as “above” him both physically and socially in the first episode’s first few minutes. As Izuku notes in a brief narration, the Quirk traits afforded the wielders the opportunity to fulfill one of their greatest wishes, to become arbiters of justice in the form of superheroes; instead of being a dream, the supernatural became real in this universe, allowing those with these special traits (which manifest differently in each individual, and can be scientifically measured to some degree) to don costumes and protect the city. The first few minutes of the episode illustrate both Izuku’s realization of the (seemingly inherent) hierarchical nature of human society and the breakneck pace of superheroic action – these heroes operate as government-paid entities, capable of working within the law to bring justice to those who oppose social expectations. This brief action sequence, which shows four superheros (Kamui Woods, Death Arms, Backdraft and Mount Lady) taking down a petty, humanoid-shark villain who went berserk after being caught snatching a purse, brings audience attention to both the cooperative nature of superheroics and the possibility of individuals to bask in the limelight – Mount Lady specifically illustrates the latter, as she enjoys the attention she receives from body-slamming the villain into submission, while the three others coordinate their attacks in a great display of cooperativeness.
Speaking of the action sequence, Izuku prefaces the scene with a mention of the first recorded instance of a Quirk manifesting itself in the fictional QingQing City – this luminescent baby marked the emergence of the Quirk as a profound aspect of society, and people fairly quickly accepted Quirks into the social fold. Before long, superheroes emerged as arbiters of justice in a world where laws and governments adapt to accommodate them as a superpowered force for good; a concomitant development, however, is the incredible increase of crime, as Quirk-endowed people have the ability to flout the law in various ways. With the four heroes engaging in combat with the minor villain (who serves as a means of illustrating how those with Quirks don’t always pursue a positive life for themselves), the audience gets to see a practical example of the dangers inherent in superhero fighting, but also simultaneously the respect and devotion the general populace grant their heroes – individual Quirk users such as Death Arms and Backdraft have established reputations as heroes, and Kamui Woods represents the up-and-coming talent who works alongside them to develop their own fame and glory. The audience cutaways show Izuku briefly interacting with another person in commentary as the fight progresses; Izuku in particular dons the role of primary commentator in the series, as he carries a notebook, into which he applies his thoughts on the fight and its participants.
Mount Lady represents the somewhat chaotic element here – her formal entry comes when she uses her kick attack to slam the villain into the guardrail, thereby taking the attention away from Kamui Woods, and her mugging for the cameras that seemingly appear out of nowhere illustrates her craving for attention in a world dominated by displays of power in the form of superheroic feats of strength and daring-do. The attention-starved superheroine contrasts with her compatriots, as she desires glory for herself, while the other four work alongside each other to the accolades of the adoring public; she wants to take all the credit as an individual, while those around her sought to cooperate in order to subdue the villain and keep the general populace safe. Kamui Woods demonstrates the classic superheroic trend for theatrics as he fights – he recites his attack’s name as he performs it, while Mount Lady simply performs hers abruptly from the side of the screen, introducing herself mid-battle as a physical force capable of interrupting another hero’s chance for glory. As mentioned, this presents Mount Lady as someone who prefers the limelight – she enjoys having the spotlight, and takes the opportunity to prove herself capable of defeating an opponent without any assistance (even though she interrupted a fight in progress in order to show herself the victor).
When the show shifts to a school setting, we get our first glimpse into the pervasive nature of superheroes into academics – kinds can enter U.A. High, the most prestigious academy for budding Quirk-users, to get on their way to proper superheroes, and Katsugi Bakugō demonstrates his perceived superiority, lording his status as the ace student over his classmates as a means of both demeaning their own achievements and presenting himself as the top student. He definitely believes he will achieve greatness as as superhero; Bakugō sees himself as the next truly great superhero, capable of dethroning All Might (here implied as the current greatest) as the role model for all others to follow. He even goes so far as to consider the other students “extras” – not in the cinematic sense (although we, as an audience, understand that they are literal extras in My Hero Academia destined for little more that background status), but more along the lines of supposed inferiority in the light of Bakugō self-proclaimed accomplishments as the best student who seemingly ever graced the school. Notice how Izuku languishes in anxiety while Bakugō proclaims himself to be the next big hero – he keeps his head lowered in several shots that cut to him, to avoid bringing attention to himself. He knows that he cannot possibly compare Quirk-wise to his classmates; without a special ability, he has no real basis to call himself “super,” but he maintains a heavy interest in proving himself nonetheless.
That he has high ambitions for himself, aiming for U.A. Academy, comes as a surprise and a source of derision and laughter to his classmates; the academy in question is seen as the most prestigious, and none of the other students see Izuku as worthy of herodom. Instead, the laugh contemptuously at him, while Bakugō belittles Izuku’s ambitions – the frames become claustrophobic as Izuku recoils from Bakugō’s sheer physical presence. Bakugō emphasizes his perceived superiority; he cannot possibly fathom a Quirkless ever attaining the status of hero, especially considering how he would rather see himself achieve his own self-interests and become a hero worthy of both great admiration and respect. Izuku has his own reasons for entering U.A., however – he wishes to prove himself capable alongside any Quirk-user, and U.A. represents the realization of his ideals. U.A. thus symbolizes the idealization of superhero identity; Izuku exists outside the Quirk-user ideal, and his low standing on the social totem pole (after all, the other students perceive themselves as somehow “better” than him, simply for being empowered beings capable of things Izuku cannot possibly repeat) means more obstacles for him to overcome.
Izuku’s fascination with Quirks and superheros developed early – a flashback reveals his interest in both at least can partially be explained by his childlike admiration of All Might, the single most respected hero in My Hero Academia. All Might’s response to a massive tragedy, where he saved numerous people, cemented his reputation; a video recorded his exploits that day, and Izuku once frequently viewed that recording and developed his enthusiasm and devotion to the cause of justice. He sees the Quirk as his ticket to superstardom – if he could present himself as a savior, Izuku could therefore become another All Might, wearing a spandex suit and saving the day. However, his hopes and dreams are quickly dashed by a doctor, who carefully explains to him that he has no Quirk at all; according to the doctor’s summary, a Quirk can be predicted and examined through physical studies, and pinky toe’s missing joint indicates the presence of one if detected. Despite the supernatural element of superpowers, science can still predict when one would manifest; if no indication of one exists, doctors can comfortably say an individual has none. Devastated, Izuku now watches the video of All Might with tears – he cannot achieve the same status that All Might enjoys, at least not through normal means. Tying this back to the opening sequence, Izuku emboldens himself; despite now having a Quirk, he devotes himself to superhero studies and still shows ambitions of becoming one himself, even if others likely take precedence due to their very nature as wielders. People such as Bakugō have much better chances of being accepted as a hero than Izuku – they can express themselves as power-users, and feel comfortable in bullying those without such a privilege.
However, a felicitous encounter with All Might steels Izuku’s resolve; the powerful superhero (shown with deep shading to emphasize his physique and tie him to the classic image of the American superhero), initially appeared earlier in this episode as a scrawny man, who can bulk up considerably into his All Might form when confronted with a villain. Izuku manages to see him in action win the smog-like entity All Might chases takes Izuku hostage, threatening to take over his body; when saved, Izuku becomes a big fanboy in an instant. The show takes pains to show All Might as the big muscular hero, a great contrast to Izuku, who appears weak; the image of the two, separate by a light pole, cements this divide, as the two occupy different thirds of the screen. In this shot, All Might flexes a bit, while Izumu looks on – it shows how one already established himself, while the other idolizes him as the ideal hero who can never do wrong. Izumu grew up admiring the man, who could achieve greatness in such a short time through his concerted efforts to save others without concern for his own life – All Might represents the human capacity for anything, and Izumu wants to accomplish his own goals to show how he can do so without a Quirk.