Problematically Good and Problematically Bad Deuteragonists
I’ve been in the My Hero Academia fandom for a while now. I’ve also been in recently introduced to the Invader Zim fandom because of the hype surrounding the movie (it was well worth watching through the entire series for). That was when I noticed something about the two series:
Now, I’m not entirely sure if Jhonen Vasquez meant for Dib to become Zim’s deuteragonist, but Kohei Horikoshi is not subtle about Katsuki being Izuku’s deuteragonist. What’s interesting is that the two dynamics are inherently problematic for different reasons, but one of them works, and the other doesn’t. Let me explain:
Probematically Good: Zim and Dib
Now, just because their dynamic is arguably better doesn’t make it all that great. Zim wants to conquer the Earth and remove Dib out of the picture through various means, while Dib wants to expose and experiment on Zim for his own gain. They both want to one up the other for their own gratification. But as much as they hate each other’s guts, their relationship is astonishingly symbiotic, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post.
The important key to their dynamic is that there’s a balance. At any given moment, they can switch their narrative roles: Zim as the protagonist and Dib as the antagonist, or Dib as the protagonist and Zim as the antagonist. There are also times where both Zim and Dib are the protagonists, but usually begrudgingly so, and only because a more antagonistic force is at play.
That and they are completely willing to work together if the situation calls for it, like escaping the nightmare realm in Dib’s head, or foiling Tak’s plan to dominate the Earth. The only time Zim and Dib don’t work together is during “Planet Jackers,” but that was before either of the previously mentioned instances, and on top of that, there was no logical incentive for Dib to join Zim. (In the Halloween special, Dib accidentally drags Zim into his head, and with Tak, Zim shows Dib pictures of the giant weanie stand, bringing out his suspicions.)
Even if the characters hate each other’s guts, they recognize each other to the same extent, and also understand their capabilities. Their dynamic may not be completely healthy, but it is balanced (which is ironic considering it’s between an eccentric alien conqueror and a prodigious 12 year old boy).
Probematically Bad: Izuku and Katsuki
This is probably the first problem with Izuku and Katsuki’s dynamic: it is NOT equal.
In recent chapters, mostly after Deku vs Kacchan 2, Horikoshi tries to make it seem like the dynamic is equal, but paying close attention makes it clear that it isn’t.
Even disregarding Izuku and Katsuki’s toxic past, the dynamic is still unequal. Katsuki is unnecessarily a douche who likes throwing around his brawn and other signifiers of superiority whenever possible. He’s started mellowing out a bit, but his asshole attitude and self centered tendencies are still present when they don’t have to be. You can still be a conceited and hot headed individual without being 100% of a self centered egotist. What’s even worst is how Izuku, Katsuki’s basic counter in nearly every way possible, sing Katsuki’s praises to hell and back while Katsuki constantly tells him off, even though Katsuki should like praise?
Zim and Dib are foils, too, but their dynamic is more complimentary, while Izuku and Katsuki’s dynamic is more counterintuitive.
Katsuki is condescending and completely one track minded, similar to a certain Irken invader. However, Zim actually recognizes that even he isn’t the greatest being in the galaxy, and is willing to work with others without complaint, except maybe Dib. How many times has Zim asked GIR, Computer, and even Minimoose to come to his aid? I can only think of one instance where Katsuki willingly accepted helo without backing himself into a corner (the Kamino hand hold, if you were curious). He only worked with Izuku during final exams because he got himself decked, both by All Might and even Izuku. He onky handed Denki the grenade during the Provisional License Exam because he recognized he wasn’t getting out of this on his own, and if Denki and Eijiro hadn’t followed him, he’d be another flesh ball and likely would have failed the exam there.
Compare that to Izuku, who is actively willing to help others, and actualky takes some time to think through things without immediately resorting to fisticuffs. He sees the potential in everybody, and holds his peers up in a high regard. Katsuki only holds people up with begruding respect, and while he has been getting better, his character development is sad compared to the other characters, like Shoto or even Tenya.
What’s worse is that there’s nothing mutual about their relationship. They aren’t each other’s compliments; they’re each other’s counters. Katsuki is willing to verbally (and previously physically) bash Izuku over and over, but Izuku always looked towards him with respect, only resorting to physical confrontation with Katsuki if he wanted to help him. Even learning about One for All has done nothing to help further advance Katsuki as a character. He acts like Izuku and All Might forced the secret on him even though he clearly threw a tantrum about it in order to get Izuku to tell the truth, thinking it would explain how he passed the Provisional License Exam even if Izuku’s strength had nothing to do with it. Katsuki even goes as far to say that he’d be able to use all of One for All’s quirks at a point where Izuku could barely use one, and Izuku believes him, even though a) It’s clear that, strength aside, there’s a psychological component to the additional quirks, and b) Katsuki was beaten by All Might, and by that logic, if he wanted to use all of One for All’s additional quirks, he’d have to be as strong (if not stronger) than All Might to use all the quirks properly. We know Katsuki is stronger now, but he probably still isn’t All Might levels of strength yet. And Izuku just blindly agrees with Katsuki because clearly, Katsuki could do no wrong. Sure, he has a few troublesome bits, but he’s overall great hero quality. Well, strength aside, he’s not, but that’s a debate for another time.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this:
Zim and Dib both hate each other, but they also properly acknowledge one another and are willing to work with each other and others when necessary. They both have their good and bad points, but that only adds to their worth in their dynamic and as characters.
Izuku admires Katsuki as a Symbol of Victory, but Katsuki probably thinks of Izuku as barely human, going out of his way to assert dominance even when it’s completely unnecessary, while Izuku is still willing to trail behind him all the while. Izuku is a good person, while Katsuki is a bad person who’s just barely learning to be a good person.
TL;DR Zim and Dib are a good example of problematic deuteragonists and can occasionally act as good deuteragonists, whil Izuku and Katsuki’s deuteragonists dynamic is completely counterintuitive since the narrative and Katsuki refuse to shape up, and since Izuku is the only positive force in the relationship, leaving it imbalanced, problematic, and overall bad.
Thank you for your time.
-Crimson Lion (21 September 2019)