One Punch Man is reminiscent of the shows that first got me into anime. As the title suggest it is firmly grounded as a fighting anime, complete with epic battles and crazy guitar riffs playing in the background. At the same time, it knows how to punch (haha) holes in the genre by poking fun at the very tropes that define it.
The overall concept of the show is one that promises nothing but action as it centers around Saitama, a hero who can destroy villains with just one punch. He is the strongest man on the planet, but it turns out that title isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
One Punch Man is nothing if not an ode to Japanese Action films and manga. It makes small call outs to classics like Kamen Rider and Ultraman as well as Shounen Jump Manga, depicting a world where the city is constantly being bombarded with strange monsters and heroes who try to defeat them. Our first introduction to this is a monster born from the Earth’s pollution who has a strong resemblance to many villains featured in the Dragonball Manga. He is about to slaughter a young girl when suddenly a hero appears and he’s not what we were expecting.
Simple in both face and design, Saitama introduces himself only as a hero for fun. He is a far cry from the cool heroes we often imagine. You know characters with more… anime hair. In fact, he’s down right goofy looking, but so is almost everyone in this show and that’s the point. The monster rants and raves about the end of the human race but before he can finish Saitama attacks. Killing him with a single punch.
It should be a moment when the hero celebrates his victory, especially when it comes so easily, but instead Saitama looks angry and then distraught. Once again his punch was too powerful.
Flashback to a time before all this. To a character who has a lot more details in his eyes and design, a character with hair. This is Saitama before, a man without a job, who is described as having soulless eyes. He sees a large crab monster slaughtering the innocent and does nothing to help. The monster is looking for someone and allows the unemployed sad excuse of a human to continue home.
It just so happens that walking home Saitama sees the targeted kid. In the heat of the moment, Saitama rescues the kid and takes down the crab monster in a gruesome but impressive fashion. His eyes lose their dead-eyed look in the fight and he looks happy, realizing he has the potential to be the same as the manga heroes he’d read about.
Flash Forward to current day and we get the barest of explanations. Simply put, he trained really, really hard. So hard in fact that he lost his hair. One of the pleasures of One Punch Man is that it is completely self-aware of itself. Saitama’s early comparison of himself (and even the monster he fights) to those he read about in manga is just one example of this.
We see him fight a few other monsters in the episode all equally ridiculous and all easily defeated. With each victory, we see the average day for Saitama, a man who had appeared passionate and animated in his flashback is now void of those emotions. Being the strongest man in the world and winning so easily means there’s no real fights, no challenges, and he’s just… going through the motions.
The animation perfectly encapsulates this as it shows us two different Saitama’s. The one from the flashback has his emotions written across his face while our Hero Saitama is void of these. There’s a reason why he’s drawn the way he is, and while it’s funny to look at when you realize he’s nothing more than a hollow shell of emotion it becomes kind of depressing.
In the final battle of the episode we see the real potential One Punch Man has for future action scenes. While the entire episode has done nothing but build up Saitama’s life as boring and dull, the last few minutes are fast paced and riveting when he wakes up to a worldwide attack on the earth from subterranean creatures. They’re strong and we see the old Saitama come out in a beautifully choreographed fight that continuously builds up, bordering on absurdity as he takes on the subterranean king and then!
He wakes up. Dangit, One Punch Man pulled an “It was all a dream” scene on me and I totally fell for it. Not just that, I feel bad when that blank look return to Saitama’s face after seeing him so joyful a few moments before. They got me, but luckily the show knows it should end on a joke when real subterranean’s attack. There’s a spark of hope that they’ll be just as strong as Saitama’s dreams predicted but after he easily defeats their king the creatures make a comedic retreat.
Miraculously One Punch Man manages to perfectly balance the sparks of sad with overwhelming action and humor, bringing together a well-rounded show. The only question I have to ask myself after such a delightful experience is can they keep it up? Will the balance be something achieved in every episode or will the anime veer more towards one genre or another.
There has been a lot of hype regarding One Punch Man this season, so much that I thought it might be best to hold off on reading the manga before experiencing the anime. And boy did it live up to the hype. As a fan of Shounen I appreciate the show’s unapologetic attitude of gratuitous fight scenes and general action. It is something I’m always looking for. My enjoyment of the show was so great I immediately rewatched it with my husband and decided to write these reviews for it. Though I really want to read the manga now, I plan on holding off because the surprises this show offers is part of the delight.