I feel like Bakugou is definitely one of the more complex characters in BnHA, absolutely the one with the biggest personal arc, the typical ‘antagonist who is one of the good guys but also an asshole’.
It’s a trope, I’m sure.
My initial idea was to make a single profile for him, but something like that would quickly become a full length novel because there’s Way Too Much to unpack, so I’ma settle for a Whole Bunch of Smaller (but still Stupidly Long) meta’s.
Starting with: Bakugou’s Pride, and his self-image.
Also, since I’m far from the only person making BnHA analyses, shout-out to @saisai-chan who has posted just… so much Bakugou meta, and who has been very helpful in inspiring some of these ideas.
Bakugou’s Perfect Origin Story
Let’s start with how stories work in the BnHA universe.
Horikoshi is writing a very self aware story. His universe is a modern one, in which marketing and imagery are important.
You can see it in All Might. This is a man that clearly gets his inspiration from American Silver Age comics. He’s flashy, just all-round GOOD and constantly spouting americanisms. And while he isn’t necessarily ‘fake’ in the sense that Yagi’s personality definitely matches, it is also just that: a meticulously crafted image.
It even literally ‘pops’ when he’s out of the limelight to reveal his true form.
In this world, heroes are celebrities, as such they project a certain image.
Even the kids know this. People like Kirishima are told that hero-ing is all about the ratings and the entertainment factor.
This is a world in which Stories matter.
Bakugou knows this.
I truly believe that Bakugou, being the smart sort of fanboy he is, is pretty damn genre-savvy. He’s well aware of the importance of images and stories.
You see, he had already decided upon his Perfect Origin Story, like, ages ago. From a very young age, he was destined for greatness.
Everyone kept telling him so, of course. He didn’t really have a reason to doubt this.
He’s shown as a kid sporting a bunch of yes-men and admirers. His teachers never seem inclined to curb that boastfulness. Before he arrives in UA, no one ever seems to try to take him down a peg. Like at all.
He can be blowing up Midoriya in a classroom with the teacher still present and no one even attempts to stop him.
This, incidentally, is a pretty unhealthy way to grow up, and it did little to curb the crueler sides of his personality.
But he still wants to be a hero. He wants the money, the fame. He wants to WIN.
Please note that right now, he wants to be a hero for all the wrong reasons. Where Midoriya has this compulsion to help, where Kirishima is looking for courage and some sense of manhood, Bakugou just wants to be better than everyone else. Because, at this point in his development, he’s very much a selfish asshole.
And he’s determined to do be the best, by also crafting the Best Origin Story.
He’s even made these rules for himself. ‘I have to be the only one from this small local school to make it into UA’, ‘I have to be always on top, never be helped’.
He’s completely fixated on ‘the right back story’ because the fucker is a hero fanboy and he wants to Live the Life like the big heroes do it.
And Deku, bless him, is Constantly Fucking up that Plan.
At least that’s what it must look like in Kacchan’s eyes.
But truth be told, Bakugou’s Perfect Hero Origin Story has been falling apart since the very start of the series.
BnHA may be the story of Midoriya becoming the strongest hero, but it is also very much the story of ‘how Bakugou’s self image got smashed into the ground over and over again’.
Once he’s ready to enter UA, his Origin Story is already muddled.
Instead of the right debut under the right circumstances, he’s Sludge Kid.
Instead of never being helped, being the only on in his class to go to UA, being destined to greatness, he finds himself, literally, a side character, an antagonist even, in Deku’s story.
And I honestly believe that Bakugou, at some point, realizes this. Everyone likes a good underdog story. Part of the reason Bakugou is so angry with Midoriya when he finds out about his quirk, is because he feels Betrayed. Like Midoriya hid his quirk all these years just to have a proper ‘rise to power’ story.
It’s a first crack in the perfect façade that Bakugou has created for himself.
Right now, he still believes in his ‘destiny’, but it won’t be for long.
Bakugou’s self-esteem takes a pretty big hit when he gets into the hero course.
Suddenly, there’s people like Todoroki, who are also, in many ways, destined to greatness.
When he hits UA, Bakugou is the very definition of a big fish from a little pond, who gets moved to a bigger pond and finds, suddenly, that he’s not that big or fancy.
A similar thing happens to kids in a lot of schooling systems, where they’re the smartest kid in class all through primary school, but then they move to a bigger school and are put together with kids their level and suddenly they’re not the hottest shit in class anymore.
It’s a grounding experience and usually it’s a healthy thing.
It is also literally what happens to Bakugou, only with way more explosions and heartbreak.
Because while he can probably deal with Momo and Todoroki,
Midoriya just… baffles him.
Let’s start with that first Heroes x Villains fight.
Here’s Deku, the kid who has been a ‘pebble in the road’ for Bakugou since forever, suddenly developing quirks and Standing Up to him.
Remember, he’s never friggin done that ever.
It’s been a few months since the Sludge incident and suddenly here’s this kid that has taken all his beatings for as long as he remembers, and he’s Fighting Back.
For Bakugou, this must be Very Confusing. He doesn’t know what happened. At this point, he doesn’t know about All Might and One for All and any of that shit.
He just sees Deku, doing great at this hero thing.
It pisses him off, but at this point, his narrative is still ‘I’m the best’.
Todoroki might be cool (heh), but he’ll just work harder and WIN.
It isn’t until after Deku actually beats him, for the first time in their lives, that things start really crashing down for Bakugou.
And then they keep crashing down.
Like let’s be real here. A LOT of bad stuff happens to Bakugou. He very much takes the brunt of the hits this series has to offer. And because of where he started, because of his belief in being destined for greatness, a lone idol above a sea of ‘extras’, everything that happens is an attack on his self-worth.
Brick by brick, UA is pulling down his pride.
He’s suddenly in an environment where his classmates are not afraid of him.
Where he’s being made fun of.
If anything, these kids are willing to call him out on his shitty behaviour, which is something apparently no one has ever done before.
And honestly, this is probably a good thing. His inflated sense of self, his pride, it’s one of his main motivators, but it’s also what causes his downfall in a lot of fights.
He’s brash, he’s overconfident and one of these days that will get his ass killed. This is the thread running through most of his fights, it’s his pride that lets him down when he’s in a tight spot.
And you have to give him credit: he’s dealing with it.
He’s starting to tolerate, for instance, the presence of Kirishima, who seems completely immune to posturing and who is unimpressed with random threats.
“Then the others are basically ok, right?”
Bakugou also develops, for want of a better word, Faith in his classmates. He recognizes that they’re not weaklings. These kids in his class are not ‘extras’, they’re not like the kids in his middle school, who were only there as background noise and voices of praise.
They’re more like named characters in his story. Sidekicks.
For him, that’s a pretty big step, ok?
Bakugou’s Beat them All Narrative
So Bakugou’s Perfect Origin story has failed him. He’s no longer the only big fish in the pond. It stings him to all hell that someone like Todoroki might also be good and it stings Even More that Deku could be better, because, again, the Underdog is always a better story.
What you see with the sports festival, is Bakugou trying to gain control of his own narrative again.
When he does that thing where he yells at other classes to get ‘out of the way extras’, when he walks up to the mic and pledges to wipe the floor with everyone else.
That’s Bakugou abandoning his ‘perfect origin story’.
He’s dealt with it. Deku exists, Todoroki exists.
He needs something else to define him.
Bakugou has, at this point, decided on another story, one that is just as close to his heart.
Be the Best.
Take your beatings and rise above.
Again, he has reason to believe this could happen. He came first in the entry exam.
If he stands alone above his class mates in an arena watched by thousands of people worldwide, that’s a great way of getting back his image. He won’t be ‘Sludge Kid’ anymore, he’ll be ‘the first year that won UA’s sports festival’.
Be the Undisputed Champion.
Be Number One.
That’s his new goal.
Work hard, beat everyone else, overcome All Might.
Incidentally (and rather beautifully mirrored) this is the narrative that Endeavour has also chosen for himself.
But, as always, it doesn’t go according to plan.
This, I think, is why he’s so upset at Todoroki.
Because bless that kid, in his efforts to deal with his father’s plans, he ends up messing with Bakugou’s.
Let’s take a closer look at the Todoroki fight.
Bakugou is a smart kid. He’s a sneaky kid.
He knows all the shit Todoroki’s going through with his dad. He’s seen his opponent’s fight with Midoriya and he knows, at this point, that Todoroki has leveled up.
Todoroki had sworn to never use his flame side, but, as things always go when Midoriya is involved, he’s starting to overcome that mental block.
So this is Bakugou’s chance to become Undisputed Champion.
He can finally fight Todoroki at Full Power.
Only he doesn’t.
Bakugou, I truly believe this, isn’t a bad kid at this point in his development.
He would never actually hurt someone outside of a fair fight. When he fights Ochako, this is his face when he suddenly realizes she’s down.
He doesn’t enjoy it and he certainly won’t keep attacking. What he wanted, what made him LOVE that fight, was that he had an opponent he deemed worthy.
As soon as she falls, he stops.
He’s a gentleman towards Tokoyami and Kirishima as well.
He doesn’t harm downed people.
So what made him snap in the Todoroki fight? What was different?
The simple fact that Todoroki didn’t go all out and at this point that’s all Bakugou wants. True Victory.
To be treated, in a way, with the same respect as Deku.
To face a Full Power Todoroki, and Win.
That’s what he needed out of that fight, and Todoroki didn’t give it to him.
As an aside, I don’t think he would have hurt Todoroki at the end there.
That’s his face when he notices the fight is over. That’s shock, frustration, fear, perhaps.
It is not Bakugou’s basic I Will Blow You Up face.
Furthermore, that bit where he sort of jiggles Todoroki around feels more like a pleading session to me. It’s Bakugou begging him to give him a better shot at the victory that he craves so much.
If anything, Midnight making him sleep is a good way to stop Bakugou from hurting himself.
You can see it at the podium scene. He’s still not over it. He is so friggin frustrated that he can never be the master of his own narrative.
The way UA treats him here, is, incidentally, pretty awful. Just want to put that out there. Here’s a kid who has lost every bit of respect he may have gotten. This is the picture of him that enters the papers. Him chained to the platform.
This is the point where I head into Manga Spoiler territory.
The Villain’s Pawn
So that’s where we are now.
In the intern arc, Bakugou has an internship with a hero that’s a really bad fit for him, because what Best Jeanist is trying, is again to mould his image.
It’s not too bad of an idea to teach Bakugou some inner peace, but with the way Jeanist is trying to do this, he’s Highly Underestimating the amount of explosive fire in the kid’s heart.
Bakugou knows that by dressing nicely he’s not going to fix his narrative.
He’s also not just going to kumbayaah his way through life.
Too much has happened.
Yes, he’s smart AF. Yes he’s super powerful, he adapts, he’s fast, he’s strong.
But that’s not how the world of BnHA sees him.
He’s sludge kid. He’s ‘that guy that beat up a cute girl’. He’s the winner of the Special Olympics that was chained to the platform. He is a possible villain.
Even Best Jeanist gives this as his motivation.
Bakugou has both hero and villain in him.
This is now Bakugou’s Story. It’s what he has to overcome.
He doesn’t honestly seem that surprised when he finds himself in the lair of the League of Villains.
It’s kinda cute that he has this need, right now, to emphasize one of his principles.
And as always in a crisis, he’s calm. He’s thoughtful. Strategic.
But also, and that’s what I love about this particular arc. He is vulnerable.
Bakugou is still 15/16 years old.
He’s in his first year at UA and he’s already seen so much shit.
Placing him in this situation really brings home how young and fragile he is. How fucking scared he is.
How, at this point, all that self-confidence and attitude is nothing more than a very thin film on top of a raging storm of fear and doubt.
You really have to give the guy credit for still being able to posture and fight. Because his ego is so very fragile right now. Since middle school, it’s just taken hit after hit. He hasn’t quite hit rock bottom yet, but he’s getting there.
Look at him.
This kid was So Scared. He is on the verge of tears.
And he’s trying so hard to pick up the pieces of his broken self-image.
To keep them from rolling away any further.
Him lashing out at All Might of all people seems more a way to convince himself, rather than anyone else.
Here’s his big hero saving him. Again.
Surely he’s not that weak. Surely he wasn’t scared. He’s supposed to be a hero himself.
And then bad stuff keeps happening, because Bakugou cannot catch a break.
He is now a villain’s pawn.
That is, in the world of Bakugou Katsuki, like the worst thing he could be.
A pawn is not the best piece on the board. It’s not the hero. It’s not the King.
It’s disposable. It’s, well, an extra.
Please look at those eyes.
That is pure, frustrated desperation.
Because he has enough strategic insight to know that All Might will always try to save him first. Even while All for One beats him up. He’s a Burden.
This is like everyone’s favourite panel, for a reason.
This panel/page/whatever is the culmination of an awful lot of character arcs, all of which deserve their own long ass post. It speaks of Kirishima’s friendship, of Midoriya’s understanding of Bakugou’s character.
But also, this brings Bakugou himself back to what he was several stories ago: Faith in his Classmates.
Or at least in Kirishima.
That guy is ok.
The reason for All Might’s demise
I would like to say that this is the lowest it gets for Bakugou.
But it’s not.
There’s the bit with the hero license.
Which I think really hits him hard.
Because again, that was his pride, his brashness costing him.
His attitude, his inherent sense of self, the way he deals with people.
He’s being told officially that this isn’t hero-like behaviour.
That to be the man he wishes to become, he needs to change.
And as we see him slowly develop, I do think it’s starting to trickle in.
In a good way.
Bakugou’s a practical kind of guy, he could just start ‘acting’, and looking the part, Best Jeanist style, but this kid is not like that.
In many ways he’s too honest, he hates lying. He doesn’t want to just look like a hero, he wants to BE one, he wants to Live the Life.
And he has serious issues lining that up with what’s been happening to him lately.
But you already know which scene I’m going to cover next.
All this time, whenever Bakugou was being torn down, Deku was being propped up. Whatever their power balance was at the start, it’s almost completely upside down now. What was once a pebble on his road to greatness, is now the big fish in the pond.
Deku fights full power Todoroki, Deku gets his license, Deku has a privileged relationship with All Might
Deku Deku Deku.
And somewhere in the back of his head Bakugou is still not over the fact that this quirkless kid is now the big hero. Dealing with that is… difficult.
Bakugou, I think everyone realizes, is not good with feelings.
He can strategize, he can study, he’s a smart kid.
But god damn does he suck at processing or voicing his feelings. It takes him ages to deal with all the shit that’s happening to him. And, to be fair, a LOT of shit happens to him.
And when he gets confused about how he feels about shit, things literally blow up.
Which is exactly what happens in Midoriya fight.
Hooo boy the Midoriya fight.
I’m going to leave the Bakugou-Midoriya meta for another novel length post, but let’s make it clear that this whole fight is a very visual representation of two people trying to come to grips with at least ten years of repressed feelings.
For Midoriya, it’s all the years of bullying, of looking up to someone who thought he was nothing, of trying to save and understand Kacchan over and over again and getting rebuffed.
For Bakugou, it’s coming to grips with this kid who has always ‘looked down on him’, who messed up his narrative, his self-image, who now threatens to surpass him, if he hasn’t already. Who is All Might’s friggin Chosen One.
What also comes to a head here is everything that has happened the past few weeks.
Bakugou feels weak. He feels guilty. All his posturing, all this attitude he’s always had, it’s all blown up in his face.
Who he is, who he has always been, his view of himself has completely crumbled.
His big idol, his hero, the person he admires most in the world, the one he wants to surpass.
He feels personally responsible for his downfall.
Never mind that it’s not true.
This is a kid who has seen his entire self-image fall down. From the perfect hero origin, the fated successor to All Might, tumbling all the way down to ‘reason for All Might’s end’.
That hurts, man.
I really hope this is the bottom for Bakugou. I really, really do.
He’s not active in the current arc (chapter 144) which conveniently gives him some time to process things.
We’ve been shown before that he always needs a bit of time.
Change in Bakugou is slow, gradual, but it’s there.
And it is reassuring that his relationship with Midorya has normalized, or at least calmed down.
Lookit this little shit lowkey attempting to give Deku advice.
It’s a good start.
When you’ve been torn down completely, there’s only one thing to do, and that’s to build yourself back up.
And I don’t know if he realizes this,
but everyone also loves a good Redemption Story.