Why We Glorify School-Age Memories

Image from My Hero Academia.

Deep space is fun and fantasy worlds are neat, but my favourite setting for stories is a school. These wondrous places fill me with nostalgia and a romantic longing for youth, innocence, friendship, and learning. I never attended a school that evoked such feelings in real life—the schools I frequented were mostly mundane, brick buildings with minimal landscape design—but somehow, I travel to a past I’ve never lived when I see them on screen.

In My Hero Academia, students attend U.A. High, a superhero school where they learn how to use their powers, called Quirks. Although there are hints of a darker storyline early in the series, much of that tension is relaxed by the high school atmosphere. The classmates, who bond over their shared abilities, become close friends by seeing (and sometimes competing with) one another so often. In Japanese schools, a class stays together throughout the day in the same classroom, and teachers are the ones who rotate in, so they learn and grow together.

The finale of Season One, however, shatters the sense of wonder associated with the school when the students and staff are attacked within its walls. The aptly named League of Villains appears in force, and while the superheroes-in-training courageously fight back, they’re also very afraid. Kids battle against hardened criminals who are willing to kill. They aren’t in a controlled learning environment anymore; the danger is real.

U.A. High is a school that feeds my dreams, led by teachers who are superheroes themselves.

This span of episodes brought me out of my comfort zone. I’d fully bought into the goodness of U.A. High; it’s a school that feeds my dreams, led by teachers who are superheroes themselves. Even though the baddies are ultimately repelled, that warm, fuzzy sentiment I had for the school was shaken. It’s no longer a perfect place.

Another beloved school—one of the most adored in fantasy literature—is Hogwarts. Like U.A. High, where students practice their very dangerous talents under the supervision of the best, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy is a safe place without being safe. The students practice magic every day inside a wondrous castle that is both home and school. I can’t think of any other fictional place that I wish would exist and no other school I’d rather attend.

As the Harry Potter series progresses, however, the sanctity of Hogwarts’ halls diminishes. Voldemort is weak at first and his intrusions can be halted by the fumbling magic of children, but as he gains strength, the disturbances become larger and darker. Hogwarts is no longer a place I want to be, not when a student dies in the Triwizard Tournament and when the authoritarian Dolores Umbridge becomes the school’s Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. The Battle of Hogwarts smashes any of my remaining sentiment associated with the school. The castle literally becomes a battleground; the carnage reminds me of old photographs depicting ancient churches destroyed during World War I in Europe, sacred places laid ruin by war.

Hogwarts is a magical escape for Harry at first, a fulfillment of wishes to be someone special and swept away from an abusive home. But it quickly and consistently shows itself to be dangerous, a place of painful memories, torture, and death. I realize that the Hogwarts I like to visit in my mind is the one that Harry and his class experience when they first arrive, chock full of cool wizardry and fun—without the painful years ahead.

I similarly paint my own school days with pretty brush strokes when the reality is different. My childhood was happy, but it certainly wasn’t the stuff of movies. I never went on a great adventure, I didn’t have a perfectly compatible gang of inseparable friends, and I didn’t make a treasure trove of nostalgic memories worth telling stories about. And yet, as the sentimental type, I flip through old photographs, dig out old mementos, and read through my yearbook, developing a story in my head of a momentous childhood experience that never really was.

Hogwarts is a magical escape for Harry at first, a fulfillment of wishes to be someone special and swept away from an abusive home.

I don’t think that kind of nostalgia is necessarily a bad thing. It’s nice to remember the times I valued with classmates and teachers, and because of social media, there’s an entire new dimension now in which I can pour out those feelings; I can reach out to friends from the past. But I need to be careful not to dwell too much on long ago, because my view of the past is warped and faded.

There’s a scene in My Hero Academia, months after the fight with the League of Villains, in which the main character, Midoriya, finds himself squaring off against Hero Killer Stain, who has already killed or immobilized heroes ranging from well-known, powerful fighters to one of Midoriya’s own dear friends. He calls upon his classmates to help, and Todoroki, a high school rival at U.A. High, arrives. The two struggle side by side against Stain in a painful, costly battle.

Midoriya is as earnest a character as they come, the type to imbue optimism and warmth in situations where they don’t really exist, thinking the best of people and situations. But instead of painting a happy façade over his difficult memories, Midoriya uses them, the bonds he’s formed, the losses he’s taken, to do something good. His experiences challenge him to become stronger and to face the here and now for what it is, not a dim shadow of some Xanadu that never was.

I’m thankful for my past, for all my years of schooling. And while I may reimagine those times to be more like The Philosopher’s Stone than The Deathly Hallows, I know that I don’t have to let my memories live there. I can go somewhere even better. In the reality of what happened in the past, I find myself challenged to live a better future.

Charles Sadnick

Charles Sadnick

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Converted from the moment he first heard Han Solo reply, “I know,” Charles resisted his nerdy urges until Hayao Miyazaki, Spike Spiegel, and Evangelion Unit-01 forced him to confront the truth of his inner geekery. Baptized into otakudom, Charles masks himself in the not-so-secret identity of TWWK as he blogs endlessly about anime and faith.

He can also be found, however, feeding his other nerd habits, including A Song of Ice and Fire. Charles also remains hopelessly stuck in the 90's, maybe best demonstrated by his unexplainable passion for The Phantom Menace.

A historian and director at a government agency by day, Charles joins in the work of college and digital ministry is his off-time, while growing each day in the round-the-clock charge of being a husband and father.
Charles Sadnick