In 2009 a Japanese author who went by the moniker “One” began publishing the webcomic One Punch Man. After growing in popularity and being made into a Manga, it eventually got the anime treatment. A story about a fictitious country which established a “Hero Association” in order to combat increasingly frequent monster attacks sounds like pretty typical anime fare. It’s not.
One Punch Man is a parody of all things anime and superhero.
While many animes have found success using the formula of a character that slowly gets stronger and takes on increasingly powerful threats, One Punch Man does the opposite. Saitama, the protagonist of the series, starts off incredibly powerful from the get-go. In fact, he’s so powerful that he can defeat any challenger with one punch. This has left him feeling empty and numb, as there is no longer any challenge to being a hero and he longs to find a worthy challenger. The first season (12 episodes, 6 OVA’s) is now available from Viz media on Blu-ray, with a full English cast.
Publisher: Warner Brothers
Saitama’s story, and the entire tone of One Punch Man, is best summed up in a flashback during episode one, where he runs into the first monster he ever fought. An out of work “Salary-man” in the Japanese-like city the story is set in, Saitama is leaving another failed interview when he runs into “Crabrante”. Saitama doesn’t notice everyone around him screaming and running for their lives, as he is exasperated by the routine life he’s trying to live and his lack of success. He finally does notice the monster when it’s standing right in front of him. Crabrante has the top half of a giant crab and the legs of a man. He’s also has whitey-tighties on and someone has drawn nipples on his chest in permanent marker while he was sleeping in the park. Since he has claws for hands, he isn’t able to wipe them off. Now he’s gone on a rampage looking to find the kid with the “huge” chin that did the deed.
This isn’t a typical monster, nor is the fact that his origin simply consists of him eating too much crab and turning into the nipple-avenging monster he is now. The scene shows Saitama’s nonchalant attitude about everything he does and the way the anime likes to sprinkle in terror (the streets behind Crablante have tell-tale signs of the massacre he just committed) along with the humor (when Saitama sees the big-chinned kid, he has second thoughts about helping him because he’s so ugly). That’s not to say Saitama is a blank page. He’s revealed to be very kind to heroes less powerful than him and caring towards his sidekick, Genos.
The characters in One Punch Man, both the ones from the Hero Association and the Monsters, really stand out, with the former being atypical “action anime” stereotypes and the latter being played more for comic effect, except in a few instances. Genos, the young man who was turned into a cyborg after an evil cyborg attacked his city, seeks revenge and would be your prototypical hero in most other anime, with awesome fighting abilities and a running inner monologue that would make Batman proud. It’s with a wink that he becomes Saitma’s apprentice after witnessing his awesome power, and true to his character, he analyzes Saitma’s every move for tips on becoming just as strong, even if it’s just buying groceries or washing the dishes.
He’s the one who convinces Saitama to take the hero business more seriously and to try out for the Hero Association. Divided into ranks, from “C” to the top of the line “S” ranking, the Hero Association quickly bumps Genos up to “S” class, attributing one of Saitma’s actions to him, and he becomes extremely popular with the population. By contrast, Saitma only passes the written exam by one point and is labeled a “C” class hero and extremely unpopular, although he is many times stronger than anyone shown in the “S” class so far. After increasingly deadly monsters keep appearing and terrorizing the city, wave after wave of heroes fall, only for Saitma to step in and…. “Bop!”, the monster explodes into debris. This should get old, but the story uses all the tricks of other animes and sets up each main villain to be super powerful beforehand. Lurking in shadows and revealing devastating abilities, each time you begin to think that “maybe” this one might actually be a challenge for Saitma. It’s a credit to the writers that it doesn’t become tiring and only enhances Saitma’s dilemma as he becomes more and more disillusioned with the power he’s attained, if winning is meaningless.
The battles are fun and frenetic, even the ones where you know the antagonist doesn’t have a chance against Saitma. It was nice to see that the creators didn’t take the easy way out, with this being a parody, and included some really well produced animation. The monsters, many of which bear the suffix “king” (Subterranean King, Ancient King, Beast King, etc..) are ripe for humor, as often they are played straight and deviously plot the mayhem they will cause, only to become shocked at the resistance Saitma provides. My favorite is when KamaKyuri, a praying mantis-like monster, attacks Saitma in his home. As he bursts through the wall screaming with bloodlust, Saitma merely says, “Pay for my ceiling”, and obliterates his head with a quick punch. The final two arcs of the first season, a two episode one about the attack of the “Deep Sea King” and the three episode finale featuring an alien warrior called “Boros,” who may actually be strong enough to be a threat to Saitma.
Is It Good?
One Punch Man is a great change of pace for both anime and superhero fans. It asks the question, “What would you do if you became the most powerful person on Earth?” and the answer is far funnier than you would have guessed and makes you wonder how writers of extremely powerful icons like Superman had never thought to explore these waters. In addition to the solid 12 episode season, there are 6 OVAs (original video animations) that include stories about how Saitama got his outfit, an “S” class hero celebration at a resort, and a tale featuring Bang wanting Saitama and Genos to become his pupils, among others. They add to the value of the package, but are short and don’t progress the story.
One Punch Man‘s real trick is that is accomplishes its goal without becoming boring. It drags all the classic anime tropes into the light while still honoring them, and somehow makes the story of a man who you know is too powerful to lose, right from the beginning of the series, not only interesting, but extremely funny and iconic.