One Punch Man, a 12-episode series based on a popular webcomic of the same name, tells the story of Saitama, a salary-man-turned-superhero in a fictionalized version of Japan. This familiar backdrop is shared not only by average citizens, but also by other heroes and, more importantly, strange and monstrous villains of indeterminate origin that wreak havoc on the general populace.
At first glance, this is not a particularly remarkable premise for a show inspired by a shonen manga (young men’s comic). Rather than following the standard work-your-way-to-the-top trope, however, One Punch Man delivers a protagonist at the very height of his abilities. His powers are so great, in fact, that he finishes most encounters with a single punch – ergo “One Punch Man.” While this might signal the conclusion of most series, the fact that the story begins at this point in Saitama’s journey delivers a fresh and new perspective. Where most protagonists would find great solace in such prowess, Saitama has grown completely bored and disenchanted with his overwhelming strength. Much of the narrative, in fact, is propelled by his quest to find a worthy adversary–a venture that he fails at spectacularly during the series’ relatively short run.
(Genos makes a dashing entrance.)
Along the way, Saitama meets a number of interesting characters. Some become ardent supporters and bitter enemies in equal measure. Of chief importance is his relationship with a young cyborg named Genos. This character, who effectively serves as the viewer’s proxy in most scenes, is so taken by Saitama’s abilities that he resolves to become his disciple. He is one of the few characters that is allowed to bear witness to the incredible strength and nobility of our hero – a fact that is played up for laughs to great effect. Eventually, in an attempt to face off against stronger villains and gain a modicum of fame, Saitama and Genos register with the Heroes Association, a publicly funded entity that grades heroes based on ability and consolidates their strength under a corporate-like hierarchy.
(Pictured Above, Comedy.)
One of the series’ greatest strengths is its effective use of comedy to offset some of the grimmer elements of the story. Where most shows would revel in the brutality of its heroes’ encounters with otherworldly monsters, One Punch Man mitigates the severity of these clashes with well-timed visual and contextual comedy. Certainly some of these bits may require esoteric knowledge of Japanese culture and anime to be fully appreciated, but by and large the writers and animators strike a universally humorous chord. Similarly, the animation, a beautifully kinetic affair, is something to be lauded. Character designs are engaging and run the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime. By consequence, the cast of supporting characters features a cadre of charming heroes and “not-heroes.” Not only do their efforts provide a suitable backdrop for Saitama to make a display of heroics and nobility, they also offer a respite from his perpetual ennui.
(His power lever is well over 9000.)
If there is one thing that detracts from the appeal of this excellent series, perhaps a consequence of its brevity, it is the fact that much of the mystery surrounding the origin of Saitama’s incredible strength is never truly explored (though it is often joked that he just trained “really” hard). Arguably, this kind of running gag does add to the charm of the series, but it also stifles some of the character development. In addition to this, while battles are by no means boring, there is generally a lack of tension once Saitama arrives on the scene. To be fair, almost every encounter he has seems to become progressively challenging, but there is never really much in the way of real suspense. I suppose this might be a clever “meta” moment the creators wished to share with the audience, but I shan’t overreach. Thankfully, this does not really hurt the series any more than it does other shows of its ilk.
(I’m outta this mug!)
In the end, One Punch Man is an enjoyable affair that takes a fairly standard formula and adds a deceptively ingenious twist. It treats it characters intelligently, for the most part, and gives us a hero with just the right mixture of self-confidence and good nature to be likable. While it is a bit on the short side and not overwhelmingly weighty, its brevity prevents it from becoming a time-sink and is generally a great deal of fun to watch. If over-the-top battles, silly gags and a dash of heroic melodrama sound like your bag, you should definitely give One Punch Man a go.
Slider and Images Courtesy of Viz Media.
Note: This review only covers the 12-episode anime TV series. It does not include the 7 OVAs that are planned for release.