Bakugo VS. Sasuke: What Makes a Hateable Character Relatable?
Those of you who have been keeping up with the current season of anime may have heard of an up and coming series called My Hero Academia, an anime about a young boy named Izuku Midoriya and his quest to become the world’s greatest hero in a world full of people with superpowers, called Quirks. With the anime’s third season having just premiered, I thought it only right that we examine this series a little closer. But we’re not going to be looking at Izuku or his story in this article. No, instead, our subject today is Izuku Midoriya’s rival, Katsuki Bakugo. Bakugo, or “Kacchan” as Izuku calls him, is a young man with the incredible ability to create explosions from his hands. The dynamic between Izuku and Bakugo is one of the central parts of My Hero Academia, one I believe that heavily parallels Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha’s rivalry from one of the pillars of modern anime, Naruto. That being said, although Naruto came first, I believe that My Hero Academia’s Katsuki Bakugo is a far better character than Naruto’s Sasuke Uchiha. How could such a new series, one that’s only existed since 2014, create a character better than one that’s been around for over a decade?
The biggest, most distinct part of both Katsuki Bakugo and Sasuke Uchiha are their personalities. When Sasuke Uchiha is introduced, he is a dry, apathetic boy whose only interest is killing his older brother, Itachi, for having killed his whole family years prior. Sasuke goes on to study under Kakashi Hatake, and team up with Sakura Haruno and the aforementioned Naruto Uzumaki. Yet, no matter what these three say or do, at the end of the day, Sasuke is focused on his end goal, to kill his brother. Sasuke’s past utterly defines who he is and where he is going, to the point where Sasuke betrays his friends and joins forces with Orochimaru, the main antagonist at the time to gain more power to kill Itachi. Sasuke only believes in power; not in friends, not in his village, and ultimately not even in himself.
Conversely, Katsuki Bakugo believes entirely in himself, so much so that he has an ego practically the size of a planet. Being born into the world of My Hero Academia, Quirks (super powers) are everything. If you have one, you’re popular, respected and seen as someone truly special. And Bakugo was born with the ability to create explosions from his hands, one of the flashiest and most impressive abilities. As such, Bakugo is overconfident and just as bombastic as his ability is. He approaches life with vicious aggression, saying that everyone is weaker than he is, and anyone who doesn’t have a Quirk is utter trash. He’s a more memorable character simply because he’s more vocal, and reacts more to the world around him, even if it’s in a negative way. Despite his personality, Bakugo does come to connect with the other kids in his class. Bakugo becomes friends with Eijiro Kirishima, who hangs out with him despite all the insults, and he comes to respect Ochako Uraraka, who fought him to a near defeat during the Sports Festival Arc, despite her seeming to have no chance of winning. As a person, Bakugo is more complex than Sasuke.
Another big sticking point for Sasuke Uchiha throughout Naruto were his magic ninja abilities, or Jutsu. Sasuke was said and shown to be better than everyone else early on in the series simply due to his family, as the Uchiha had great skill in Fire Jutsu, and a Bloodline Technique known as the Sharingan, a hereditarily inherited skill that allowed the Uchiha to predict an opponent’s movements simply by looking at them. The biggest problem with Sasuke here isn’t necessarily with the character himself, but with the Naruto series as a whole. As the years went on, Naruto fell into a classic trope of Shonen (young adult) Anime: Power Ceilings. In Anime, particularly Shonen Anime, characters are introduced and have a specific set of skills, and are able to defeat another using those skills. Yet, eventually, a character will come along that the protagonist cannot defeat, so they train or create a new technique that beats this new foe. For a perfect example of this, look no further than Sasuke Uchiha and his varying forms of Sharingan. When he first gets the Sharingan, he has three dots in his eyes, which allows him to catch on to what the enemy of the week, Haku is doing. Yet later, he uses this same technique against another enemy, Gaara, and yet his Sharingan can’t defeat the boy’s Sand Jutsu. Power and ability are nebulous in Naruto, making it harder to connect with Sasuke as a result.
As I’ve said before, the entire world of My Hero Academia is built around the existence of Quirks. How they work, what their rules are and their limits are. Thus, when we are introduced to Bakugo and his abilities, we know how powerful he is. Not only that, but Bakugo’s abilities play directly into his personality. Because Bakugo was gifted with such a powerful Quirk, his parents, friends and teachers all thought he was amazing, and he was told so many times by so many people that he developed a superiority complex because of it. Yet, Bakugo’s power, Explosion, is well defined and understood throughout the series. In an early confrontation, Bakugo and Izuku fight, and despite Bakugo’s far more powerful ability, Izuku is able to win because he knows exactly how Bakugo fights. He’s predictable, and thus fallible, unlike Sasuke, who only seems to fail when someone comes in with a newer, more interesting ability.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have to examine just how each anime views these characters. Sasuke Uchiha is viewed by the cast of Naruto as this talented, impressive kid who absolutely deserves respect despite having done little to gain it. When Sasuke defects to Orochimaru to gain more power, it crushes Naruto and he spends the rest of the series trying to get him back, despite his betrayal, despite the fact that Sasuke wants to destroy the village Naruto calls home and kill its leaders. And the only justification for sympathy towards Sasuke is that he has a tragic past, and for a brief period of a year or two he made friends with two or three people. Sasuke Uchiha is an introvert, yet in a surprising twist, still has the superiority complex that Bakugo has. He quietly believes that everyone is beneath him, and that all that matters is getting stronger.
Oddly enough, I can tell you one person Sasuke Uchiha reminds me of: he reminds me of myself, back when I was in middle school. Having been bullied quite a bit, getting pants thrown at my head, called a freak, I became an extreme introvert. All I wanted to do was work on my art, get famous with it, and leave everyone behind. But that was before I made my first real friends. I grew, and changed for the better. Sasuke Uchiha never does. Even after killing his brother, and learning that he was wrong for doing so, he doesn’t change his behavior. Instead he refocuses his anger on the Leaf Village and wants to destroy it himself. The anime keeps telling you that Sasuke is important, that Sasuke should be treasured when at best he does nothing to warrant that, or at worst actively works toward being utterly hateable.
Meanwhile, Katsuki Bakugo is no prize either. He constantly belittles others, insults them, and even at one point tells Izuku he should “jump off of the roof of the school”. Katsuki Bakugo is decidedly not a good person. But the anime never makes any reservations that he is. And after seeing that other students can and have bested him in combat or intelligence, people wave off his bad attitude and just tell him to shut up. He still hasn’t learned anything, but the cast has. They no longer take Bakugo seriously, despite his hellish demeanor. And in a way, that makes him more of a person. We’ve all been around a person at one point or another who thinks they’re better than you are, who mouths off, but you dismiss them. Because at the end of the day, that person doesn’t matter. You just have to get through the day and don’t let them bother you. I was bullied a lot in middle school, and a lot of what Bakugo does really reminds me of them.
Looking back on my time in school, I can tell you that growing up was an eye opening experience. I was always told that I was special, that I was talented in my own works of art, and overtime I came to really believe and hold onto that. That is, until I entered high school. The scope of artistic people widened for me then, and I met tons of wonderfully talented folks, many of whom far surpassed me in art forms I had thought I was the master of. So, in a sense, I could see how Bakugo could have developed the personality he has. If I were a nastier, pettier person, I could see myself becoming like Katsuki Bakugo, which is far more than I can say for Sasuke Uchiha.
Some may say it’s a bit unfair to compare My Hero Academia to Naruto, since the former is an ongoing, still developing series. However, in all the time that Masashi Kishimoto had to develop and progress Sasuke Uchiha, ultimately he chose to keep him relatively the same throughout the series, aloof and detached. Katsuki Bakugo is loud, brash and over the top, but his personality has already started to change in the two seasons we’ve seen him thus far. We see that he can respect others after his fight with Ochaco, we see that he can work with others in the Final Exam Arc. Most importantly, we’ve seen how he deals with loss in his fight against All Might, the Number One Hero, in that same arc. Bakugo throws everything he has at All Might, believing that he can best him with sheer power, and when he can’t, he breaks down crying. Bakugo comes to realize that the way he’s approached life, and being a hero up until this point can only get him so far. Faced with his own limitations, Bakugo learns to work together with the very kid he bullied, Izuku Midoriya, to be victorious. Meanwhile, in Naruto, the first time Sasuke Uchiha sees his brother again, he is hopelessly outclassed, just as Bakugo was with All Might. However, in facing his own limitations, his own lack of power, he turned to evil, rather than those he called friend. Sasuke Uchiha would continue to do this at every turn, despite every opportunity he had to come back. That’s why Sasuke is so hated by myself and the anime community at large. Because when Bakugo chose to rely on others, Sasuke chose to be alone. When Bakugo realized that others can be just as amazing as he is, Sasuke still looked down on others. When Katsuki Bakugo grew as a person, Sasuke Uchiha remained stubbornly the same. And a character that doesn’t evolve really isn’t a character at all.