The twelve-episode first season of One Punch Man has been a bonafide hit on the Internet. Many people have suggested it is “saving anime”. Is it worth the hype? Well, that’s up to you.
One Punch Man tells the tale of Saitama, a guy who decided to become a superhero one day and became so powerful that he can now defeat any monster with one punch- which he’s starting to find a little depressing. A cyborg hero called Genos becomes his disciple and next thing he knows, he’s involved in the country’s “Heroes Associaition” and dealing with his wacky fellow superheroes.
The origin story for the One Punch Man anime is definitely an unusual one. The project started off as a webcomic in 2009 by a manga artist calling themselves ONE. The drawings were pretty crude looking:
But One Punch Man’s quirky humor and fun premise got it a manga adaptation by Yusuke Murata, the mangaka behind Eyeshield 21. Murata’s art is beautiful and detailed, though amusingly enough, the main character of the series still often looks more simplistic and cartoony compared to everything else- a reflection of his generally blasé attitude.
One amazing aspect of Murata’s manga is that he sometimes has the art function as a flipbook- so the you end up seeing something like a beautiful detailed anime in your manga. Some people have made gifs to demonstrate this:
Gif from here.
So when an actual animated adaptation of the manga was announced this year, everyone questioned whether the anime could possibly live up to what we’ve already seen from Murata. Well, Madhouse studio is well known for its gorgeous action scenes and they definitely didn’t skimp here:
The animation is simply breathtaking.
What the One Punch Man anime ended up being was a incredibly ridiculous, fun series punctuated with intense, beautiful and often grotesque action scenes. There’s a lot of humor in the series, which comes mostly from poking fun at ridiculous action hero tropes, especially those most present in shonen (manga aimed towards young/teenage boys, often focusing on action ). You can laugh as Saitama gets bored by the overly long tragic backstory as his friend or interrupts villainous exposition to ask for them to get on with it.
Saitama is probably one of the chillest heroes in all existence and is always already over whatever ridiculousness that is thrown his way. The over-the-top level of power Saitama wields contrasts comically with his intensely laid-back attitude. He’s completely casual about all the spectacular things he does. His little egg-like face also makes for great reaction images.
Of course, as is typical for this kind of narrative, Saitama’s many accomplishments are completely unrecognized. But the way the anime handled this keeps it from getting too depressing- Saitama takes it in stride and he has the undying devotion and worship of his friend Genos at least. Genos’s adoration for Saitama and general attitude of being super intense and dramatic about pretty much everything in contrast to his more lackadaisical friend is both funny and adorable. There are other cute supporting characters as well, such as “Mumen Rider”, a hapless hero who has no power except for…riding his bike everywhere, but tries really hard anyway.
It’s definitely worth mentioning that the anime is really gory. I mean giant explosions of gore, eyeballs popping and flying body parts everywhere. In addition, there’s a ton of dark humor and endless destruction. The civilians of this world seem to die by the bucketload, mostly offscreen, and entire cities are destroyed constantly. Heroes get graphically beaten and there’s one rather horrifying part where a little girl witnesses a hero being seriously injured. If you can’t stomach body horror and gore, this definitely isn’t for you- I’m generally okay with it and even I was a little revolted sometimes.
There’s also some pretty unfortunate elements that might turn certain people off. Out of what seems like hundreds of heroes we see in the association, only two seem to be girls, which is an unbalanced gender ratio even by the standards of the shonen the series often parodies. At least one of these women is the second ranked most powerful hero in the world (in reality the third most powerful, counting Saitama), but the other one barely appears in the anime, though she appears later in the manga. It gets a little distracting at times, whenever there were crowd shots I found myself wondering why it seemed only men wanted to be heroes. The only female villain who shows up is “Mosquito Girl” and she’s super sexualized.
But most egregriously, there’s a character who’s nothing more than a giant, stale gay joke. It’s actually amazing how the writer apparently just decided to condense every harmful stereotype about gay people into one character- he’s apparently a sexual predator who put himself away for assaulting other men, he’s comically feminine, seems to only ever think about how much he wants to bang, all the other men are disgusted by him, he’s a big muscley guy with long eyelashes and he fights in the nude. Even if this kind of thing was somehow funny and didn’t somehow just perpetuate gross homophobic stuff, these “jokes” have been repeated so much and are so overdone at this point I don’t understand how people aren’t tired of them. It was just annoying whenever this character came on, plain and simple.
I felt like the show kind of lost some of its humor in general as it went on- there were less jokes that made me laugh and more typical dramatic shonen battles- but at least those battles were generally spectacular. Even at the end, it was still a really neat watch that delivered some punchy (forgive the pun) humor.
So yeah, don’t watch One Punch Man if what you’re looking for anything remotely progressive, or a deep anime that makes you think. But if you can ignore some tired stereotypes, it’s a good show for just relaxing, turning your brain off and enjoying a big, dumb fun and amazingly animated spectacle.