The Bully Hero: Saving Your Life and Calling You Names

Bakugo from My Hero Academia

It would be nice if all heroes acted politely, loving, and . . . well . . . ideally heroic even in fiction.  Honestly, I think this is what people expect more so today than when I was growing up.  Even anti-heroes don’t have as many edges as they used to, so a character like Bakugo up there can really ruffle some feathers.  I mean:

As you can tell, the issue that appears is the overall meanness and anger that a Bully Hero displays.  They spit insults, are terrible in team settings, and can be selfish.  These are attributes that many people place with villains.  At the very least, it’s with a hero who will either go evil or isn’t the main character.  They could be a rival who is created in contrast to the more noble protagonist.  Sadly, this ends up being where we pigeonhole heroes with this kind of attitude.  It makes Bakugo a rarity and explains why there are many who don’t like him.  After all, he isn’t nice.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t make a focal hero with a bully mentality.  There is room for growth and softening without losing all of their edges, but it is difficult to keep the audience around for the opening stages.  The insults, threats, and callous behavior can be off-putting, which is why some authors will typically steer clear of this persona.  There’s that danger of going too far and losing the more noble aspects of their personality.  It’s easy to do since we can get so focused on the negative to make sure those come across.  After all, we don’t want the character to abruptly turn into a nice person.  The delicate balance needs to be maintained throughout the entire adventure or until the character sheds the bully personality.  Not always possible if they still gain success and victories while being a jerk.

I think the most important part of a Bully Hero is to make it clear that this character wants to do good.  They openly demonstrate that they are here to save the day regardless of their attitude.  Continuing to use Bakugo as an example, he wants to be the greatest hero in the world and sees everyone else as stepping stones.  He threatens and bullies others, especially Midoriya, but moves into the mindset of a combat-based hero when that is what’s needed.  You never get a true sense that Bakugo will turn evil, but the possibility is there to keep his edge for the opening section.  Then, he grows and starts to accept help in some fashion as well as refusing an opportunity to be a villain.  All of this combined turns him into an abrasive character, but one that you can’t deny is a hero.

My son always thought of Bakugo as a minor villain because of the attitude, which makes sense for a child.  We teach children that bullying is bad and this creates the sense that those who do so are villains.  So, a hero like that won’t be perceived as one until they outright prove themselves.  It was around season 3 of the anime that my son began to see Bakugo as a hero, but that was because he loudly declared that he would be one.  It was a scene that started his change and led to scenes where he was visibly softer regardless of the insults and threats.  At this point, the other characters and the audience get a sense of that simply being the type of person he is.  You need a Bully Hero to show their vulnerability and softer side even if it’s only peeking through.  That’s how you make sure that they are never perceived as a villain.

I’m sure everybody can think of another Bully Hero, but I wonder if they’re from an older period of time.  At least with American shows and movies, I can’t think of many that appeared in recent years.  Those that are violent aren’t verbal jerks and only threaten the bad guys, so they remain team players.  Maybe they’re simply not popular or more difficult to write than I realize.  What do other people think?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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9 Responses to The Bully Hero: Saving Your Life and Calling You Names

  1. L. Marie says:

    Would you think of Wolverine as a bully hero?
    I know in Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is a bully hero. He’s incredibly mean, but loves Catherine, which shows some vulnerability.
    Though I didn’t like Heathcliff at all, I don’t have an issue with this type of character, since this is an aspect of that character’s personality. As long as there is some consistency.

    Like

  2. Wonderful post. This plays to my theory about low hanging fruit. The all to perfect hero, with the teeth to match is low hanging fruit. Give us something different and we might stick around for the long haul. One of my favorites doesn’t exactly fit into our genres, but Dr. House was wonderful. In your example, it almost doesn’t matter if the bully hero arcs across as long as he’s dementedly successful without being a villain. I love these kind of characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jean Lamb says:

    What about James Potter? He’s a hero, possibly *because* he bullied Snape (because he would be mean to Harry twenty years later). And his son Harry is ok with this, because two of the other bullies assured that Snape somehow deserved it ‘for being a greasy little oddball’.

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    • I’ve found that one strange since he isn’t a hero. Just a bully that kind of gets glossed over. Honestly, their younger versions didn’t really match their adult ones and how they were perceived. Felt like two different characters.

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      • Jean Lamb says:

        Sirius Black didn’t change at all, but Harry loved him. Besides, Rowling assures us that anyone who attacks Snape (she really hates him) besides Voldemort is a good person. Her ethical priorities are sometimes different than most YA writers.

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      • Never got the ‘jerk’ sense from Sirius either. I sometimes wonder if the fans love Snape and see him as a hero, but Rowling meant for him to be a villain. That or she messed up the delivery, so he’s fairly ambiguous.

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