Academia (ac·a·de·mi·a): the environment or community concerned with the pursuit of research, education, and scholarship.
About eight months ago, I began to learn coding. It wasn’t out of some fervent desire to become an amazing hacker or something; I was simply curious and wanted to take a stab at it. Initially confused and terrified of where to begin, I looked up “how to program” on Google, and was overwhelmed with over a hundred articles on what was the best way to start. I started small: go with Python, learn basic concepts, and follow some simple tutorials from there.
What began as a weekly side project eventually turned into rigorous, 10 hour daily studying session as I took up a boot camp and internship in Southern California and scrambled to learn things like Angular, C#, and Microsoft SQL Server. Every day was exhausting as I fully immersed myself in several languages I had never seen before. Worse, I was pitted against several other interns who had computer science degrees and could easily pick up concepts that were foreign to me. Many of those days were spent in anxiety and self doubt. Could I do this? I had barely touched programming my entire life. Being the only woman in my group didn’t help either. But with the encouragement of my mentor, and a terrible stubbornness, I managed to battle my way through the very end. Looking back on it now, I find that overcoming such demanding tasks – as both a person without any formal education in programming and as a woman – also meant finding personal achievement in all of my failures and successes.
My Hero Academia and Little Witch Academia are for the most part, very different shows. One is about becoming a hero and combating romanticized tropes, while the other is about adolescence, becoming a witch, and overcoming personal struggles. However, both shows are rooted in a similar setting of an academia, which is integral to some of the main themes presented in either show.
Heroism and Witchcraft are both presented as subjects with an incredibly high barrier of accessibility in the worlds of My Hero Academia and Little Witch Academia. In order to be eligible for becoming a Hero, you must possess a Quirk, and to actually be a Hero requires formidable training and mental fortitude. On the other hand, eligibility for becoming a Witch is a far less strict barrier, but the subject itself is complex and rich enough that it prevents people from actively wanting to enroll. We can clearly see these kinds of issue prop up through the adventures of our protagonists, both whom are underdogs.
But why are both of these subjects so difficult to begin with? Much of this has to do with their presence in society. Both shows make an effort to discuss about the public and social recognition of these careers. Becoming a hero is difficult because it also entangles public standing, popularity, and connections with other forces to create an environment where the hero and the society can profit. One of the main plot points of Little Witch Academia is how magic is dying; not only are people apathetic to its existence, but it holds little value in an age of technology. Akko is able to get into a prestigious school like Luna Nova because her parents have money, not because she is inherently gifted. Similarly, Midoriya is able to enroll into UA through the connection of knowing All Might and his compassion, not because he exhibited a talented Quirk.
This is where the setting of an academia comes in. Both shows combat the problem of an inaccessible and socially rooted subject with the setting of a school. Isolated from society, it offers a home but also a guide to learning the conceptual and practical ways of a subject. What is better than learning from one’s mistakes then through the careful guidance of a mentor? Instead of being overwhelmed with the large responsibilities a career requires, one can gradually take on those responsibilities under the wing of someone who is more experienced with them. For the case of our protagonists, it only seems fitting that their journey begins in an academia.
An institution dedicated to teaching isn’t the only requirement for breaking down these barriers. Both shows recognize their protagonist’s faults – young adults who have never had the luck to be born with abilities to naturally overcome those barriers. Akko is inept at magic and spends most of the show attempting to perform basic spells like riding a broom and transforming into animals. Midoriya on the other hand, was born without a Quirk, and despite being given one from the greatest Hero himself, cannot handle it and often risks his life to use it. Neither fit very well in their school, despite having excellent mentors. Subjects are tougher for them to grasp; activities are harder to perform. But the reason they are the protagonists is not just because of their social status. It’s because they both share an intense love for their career and are more passionate about its future than anyone else.
This is the last part of the equation. Creating an educational institution isn’t enough to create better accessibility. You have to be truly invested in the past, present, and future of education. You have to love it enough that you inspire others. In this aspect, both Midoriya and Akko are the fundamental components that make their trials accessible to everyone, including us, the audience.
I often talk to my favorite Genetics professor despite now being in a completely different field of work. “Education isn’t about filling buckets”, he always mentions. “It’s about lighting fires.” I couldn’t agree more with him. Being a woman that had to pick up programming in over five months, I can say that it’s not easy. There are still incredible amounts of barriers with the career, but I still believe that the keys to breaking those down and making STEM truly accessible to women lie within an institution that is equal parts wisdom and equal parts passion.