One Punch Man: An Anime That Works as Its Own Abridged Series

Copyright © 2015 by Madhouse
Copyright © 2015 by Madhouse

I’ve been on record of saying how bored or unsatisfied I am with so much superhero media hype these days. It’s rare to find a superhero who is himself bored with the whole affair, too.

One Punch Man is one of those concepts in anime that sounds so stupid that it’s actually brilliant. In a world where costumed fighters are common and licensed under the Hero Association, there’s only one known fighter who’s a self-stated “hero for fun.” Here we meet Saitama, a young man who trained so hard that he went bald, but whose punches can destroy towering monsters and demons in a single blow. Much to his disappointment.

Of course, Saitama isn’t alone in his crimefighting business. He has help from the cyborg Genos and the martial arts master Silver Fang, who are the only ones in the show who seem to get just how scary and powerful he really is. They’re also a much-needed contrast, being heroic and noble to Saitama’s selfish, unconcerned style.

I love Saitama’s facial expressions and overall attitude. He’s so unlike your average superhero or shonen protagonist, being rather bored or more interested in smaller, stupid things. But that’s the point, isn’t it? When you can destroy enemies with a single punch, you don’t see challenges the way other people do. Instead, we get a guy who dresses like a superhero, but who’s more concerned with swatting a pesky mosquito or making it on time to Bargain Day at the market. He looks a hero, but he talks and sounds like us, the Average Joes of the audience.

The show plays with nihilism much like another animated series, Rick and Morty, does. For all the villains and arcs that Saitama faces, there’s no overarching point. He breaks everyone’s expectations, and he himself has few expectations about the world. Even the origins of his powers are treated as one big anticlimactic joke early on. Much like the mad scientist Rick Sanchez, our anime hero is just in the superhero business for fun and to get some perks out of his adventures. All the ideals of justice and law don’t matter in the slightest to him, even with more earnest heroes like Genos and Mumen Rider standing up for them.

None of this, however, takes away from the anime’s overall quality. The fights in this show (when they aren’t hilariously one-sided) are about as long and clever as any shonen fighting series. It’s as much a joy for Saitama as it is for the audience to see him take on an opponent who actually proves to be a challenge. And the show itself has so many superheroes to choose from, from cyborgs to martial arts warriors to deadly psychics, all bringing a different flavor to each episode.

At 12 episodes for a single season, One Punch Man is an absolute treat. If you’re looking for something that takes the piss out of the superhero genre, or perhaps an intro to the shonen genre, then this anime is for you.

The English dub of One Punch Man is available through Adult Swim. At the time of this writing, its second season is still in production.


Bibliography: One Punch Man (anime). Directed by Shingo Natsume. Produced by Chinatsu Matsui, Nobuyuki Hosoya, Keita Kodama, and Ayuri Taguchi. Written by Tomohiro Suzuki. Based on the manga by One. Madhouse (studio). Viz Media (North American licensing). Adult Swim (Toonami). Original run: October 5, 2015 – present.

Flash Fiction: “Foghorn Man”

I don’t write much horror fiction, so I wanted to come at this idea for a story from a different angle than I’d originally planned. And yes, I’ve been listening to a lot of creepy podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn’t Dead. See if you can spot the points of reference!

Enjoy.


Foghorn Man, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 1,496

The call came into the station late on a muggy Friday night. Deputy Nate Rogers had been sitting in his chair, staring into the rotating fan, zoned out on the constant rush of cool air and the zany fistfights of a Jackie Chan movie on TV. As soon as the phone rang, he swung his legs off the desk and snatched the receiver to his ear on a awkward jolt. He’d tried to pull it off so many times, yet he never looked as smooth as Jackie did in the movies.

“Shimiya County Sheriff’s Office,” said Nate, “how may we help you?”

Only static answered him.

With a shake of his head, Nate lowered the phone. Another prank call, another slow Friday night in the town of Odyssey.

He was mere seconds away from hanging up when he heard a hiss from the other end. When Nate lifted the phone again, he listened carefully.

“Hello?” he said after a moment.

This time, someone did answer. There were no words. Instead, what he heard was a faint, unmistakable growl.

Nate went completely still.

“Sir?” he asked.

The voice on the other end growled again. Meaning trickled directly into his brain. Images of a chain-link fence being cut. Rapid footsteps scurrying behind the beam of a flashlight in the dark.

Nate shivered. “Yes, sir. I-I’ll be right there.”

When the line went dead, Nate slammed the phone down. He grabbed his jacket off the chair and raced for the door, late August heat be damned.


Breaking the chain-link fence had been easy. All he needed was a pair of side cutters from the local hardware store, where he’d bought the flashlight and the duffel bag. Smuggling several hundred dollars’ worth of equipment out of the weather station had been not so easy. Especially when Sidney was begging all his coworkers to leave early and join him for karaoke at the Indigo. Fortunately, old Sid’s watery eyes passed right over Kevin Lamarque’s head. He’d shoved a book of litmus paper and other office supplies into the duffel bag below his desk, then strolled out with the rest of the research staff.

No one even noticed that Kevin turned the other way when they all left the building.

He knelt down beside a massive concrete structure, squat and gray like another brick in the wall. Four massive flue gas pipes stretched out like the fingers of a hand, grasping for the night sky in vain. Kevin had been quick to don a breath mask the moment he snuck onto the premises. Despite what the auto plant’s owners claimed, he’d recorded an absurdly high level of sulfur dioxide being pumped out of the factory. Even with his flashlight, Kevin could barely see more than a few feet ahead of them. He swam through a brown haze, his skin prickling even with the protective layers he wore.

No lights were visible in the windows of the factory, nor could he hear anything moving within. Even the background hum of electrical generators had vanished, leaving only an eerie silence.

“No sign of night patrols by local security,” Kevin muttered into his tape recorder. “It’s a miracle that the EPA or the FBI haven’t already shut this place down.”

He extracted a strip of litmus paper from his bag. A quick rub against the concrete wall left the red paper with a viscuous blue stain. Kevin frowned. There were clear signs of ammonia—and some other fluids that made his stomach churn. He’d been smart to wear a breath mask tonight. But what did it mean?

He was about to stand up when he heard the growl.

Kevin’s eyes bulged. His hand fell to the Taser on his belt.

The growl came again, louder and closer than before. And now he could hear footsteps padding over the asphalt-covered ground.

Wet footsteps.

“St-stay back,” Kevin whispered. “I mean it.”

The creature behind him stopped moving. Its growl became a low, suspicious rumble.

White light flared from behind him. Kevin turned around, drawing his Taser. Ready or not, he would strike. He would kill this thing. This monster that had ruined the town—

“Kevin, I told you not to get involved.”

When he turned around, Kevin saw that he wasn’t alone with the creature. Nate stood beside it, pointing his own flashlight into his boyfriend’s face. He wore his ten-gallon hat and his jacket, the glare obscuring his expression. Yet Kevin didn’t hear any terror or apprehension in his voice. Even when Nate stood not five feet away from the monster.

It was everything that Kevin had feared. From a distance, it looked like a man. But upon closer inspection—when he got too close one fateful night—he saw the truth. The baseball cap and red flannel shirt couldn’t cover up the unnatural gray leathery skin, the ridged brow, the slack, saliva-dripping jaw. And those teeth—dear God, those teeth. Numerous, yellow, and sharp, like a shark who was also a chronic smoker. Nothing about the beast moved right either. It didn’t walk or run, but shuffled around in a constant lurch.

The monster let out another growl, low and long like the blare of a fog horn. Fresh puffs of ammonia drifted out of its open mouth. Kevin winced, but Nate didn’t react. He seemed almost bored by the whole scenario. Irritated. Kevin literally could not believe it.

“You knew,” he snarled. Waving the litmus paper in Nate’s face, he added, “You could’ve stopped this from the beginning, Nathan!”

“Could’ve done lots of things, sure,” Nate replied. He shrugged. “Could’ve gotten myself dead. Could’ve gotten you dead. But I didn’t, so you ain’t.”

“I don’t need your protection—”

“It’s ain’t just you, Kevin.” Nate lowered the flashlight, and Kevin finally saw his face. He saw faint, glistening streaks racing down the deputy’s cheeks. His whole face was scrunched up, even when his voice came out nice and smooth. “It’s the town. I swore an oath. I swore an oath to protect the town, and that’s what I’m goddamn gonna do.”

Kevin pointed at the creature standing between them. “You’re not protecting it from that thing!”

“I don’t have to,” Nate insisted. He gave the gray-skinned beast a brief look before continuing. “You’re not from around here, okay? It’s different here. Always has been. We got ourselves a deal. And if we give him what he needs to live, then the Foghorn Man’s gonna take care of us.

“It’s a deal with the devil,” Kevin challenged. He waved the stained litmus paper again. “And I will expose it—”

Nate cut him off with a single step forward. He snatched the litmus paper from Kevin’s hand and crumpled it into his fist. Letting the paper fall to the ground, he stared down the shorter man until Kevin swallowed and backed up a few paces. He didn’t stop until his back was to the wall of the factory. His eyes stung with tears, and they weren’t just because of the sulfur dioxide in the air.

The sheriff’s deputy lowered his voice. “You do anything like that, and we’re done.”

Kevin blinked. “You can’t be serious.”

“I sure as hell am, Kev.”

“This isn’t about us! It’s about the safety of the town!”

“You’re damn right it is. And you’re the one putting it at risk.”

Nate’s inflection left no further room for argument. Kevin stared. For the first time, he felt like he was truly seeing the other man. All those months together, curled up in front of the TV, taking long drives up and down the Interstate, sharing nachos and beer on holidays, were all dissolving in an instant. More smoke and mirrors in this stupid funhouse of a town.

Kevin said, “Nate… I can’t stop this. I just can’t.”

He didn’t try to hide the sob in his voice. Or the tears.

Nate stared. Behind him, the Foghorn Man said nothing. It never spoke. Instead, it tipped its cap at Kevin, revealing layers of blank gray flesh where there should have been a pair of eyes and a nose. The creature’s jaw still hung slack, but the corners of its mouth lifted in what could have passed for a friendly grin on a normal person.

Then it turned and lumbered off to some other end of the factory grounds, disappearing into the smog like another bad dream.


The next morning, Kevin sent Nate a single text message around 9 a.m. The message simply read, I’ll miss you.

Nate stared at the text for a moment or two. Then he hit DELETE and shoved the phone back into his pocket.

On the wall of the Sheriff’s office, the clock ticked. The American flag in the corner fluttered against the breeze coming in through an open window. It was muggy in the morning, and Nate had a pile of paperwork to finish up before he was due out on patrol with the rookie Emilio.

Just another happy Saturday in Odyssey.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

“Cowboy Bebop” and the Cold Open

Another great piece of writing about film from my good friend Dan McNaught. I highly recommend his take on this masterpiece of the cold open.

Naughty Looks

Generally, I created this blog as a way to share my thoughts on various entertainment-related topics, review films, etc. But once in a while I remember something I just want to gush about, and this is one of those.

I didn’t hop on the Cowboy Bebop hype train back when it was on Toonami during my high school years, though I was aware of the name from pop culture osmosis and ads on TV. My first actual exposure to the franchise came some time after, and it wasn’t of any of the original show. Instead, a close friend and I went out to the local Blockbuster (remember those?) and grabbed a few anime titles (like Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell) to binge on. One of those was the Cowboy Bebop movie, originally known as Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door in Japan.

bebopposter Copyright © 2001 by Sony Pictures Entertainment…

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Howl’s Moving Castle: When Colors Shift and Magic Happens

Copyright © 2004 by Studio Ghibli
Copyright © 2004 by Studio Ghibli

Welcome back to another round of me playing catch-up on some Hayao Miyazaki classics. Here’s my take on one I’ve heard acclaimed and adored for years on end: Howl’s Moving Castle, or “How I Love to Stop Worrying and Love the Transformations.”

Our story begins when a young hatmaker named Sophie makes the acquaintance of two powerful spellcasters on the same day: the enigmatic Howl and the devious Witch of the Waste. When the Witch curses her to become a 90-year-old woman, Sophie plucks up her courage and seeks a cure, which leads her back to Howl, whose castle is in disrepair. As she becomes his new cleaning lady, Sophie learns more about the world of magic through servants Markl and Calcifer. She even gets to see a different side to the Witch, her supposed antagonist, and into the politics of two countries on the brink of war, as fueled by other magical beings.

Our very first image is spot on, depicting Howl’s moving castle in all its wacky detail. And several shots of older-model planes, because Miyazaki is nothing if not an aerophile. The animation of Miyazaki’s movies is always fluid and lighthearted, and this one certainly has the same balance of wacky spirits (as in Spirited Away) and real-life detailing (as in Porco Rosso). I’d talk more about the animation, but this is a Miyazaki film and there’s a bar of quality that’s to be expected here.

Sophie is established as a bit of an introvert, more interested in making hats than in going out with the other girls at the shop. Like most Miyazaki heroines, she’s plucky when confronted with her strange circumstances, adapting to both old age and Howl’s magical way of life. As she herself puts it, “Oh, yes, I’m the worst kind of witch ever, the kind that cleans!” It sums up pretty well the kind of work she does and the courage she shows in overcoming every little obstacle thrown her way.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re pretty colorful and dynamic, too. Billy Crystal is pretty funny as Calcifer the fire spirit, adding some color and rapidfire dialogue much like Phil Hartmann did in Kiki’s Delivery Service. Markl (voiced by Josh Hutcherson) is a good example of how to make a kid sidekick who’s not annoying. I was blown away to learn that Lauren Bacall was herself the voice of the Witch of the Waste. And Howl himself is quite enigmatic, ranging from gentle and powerful to manic and surreal. But given he’s a wizard (voiced by Christian Bale, of all people), that’s to be expected.

With not so much to discuss in animation, I guess I’ll say this much about thematic content. The movie does a fine job at portraying the rigors and strengths of old age (a rather progressive move in our global youth-centric entertainment). We see all the aches and pains that Sophie now has to deal with in her transformed state, and yet, it does nothing to dull her spirit or her compassion for others. The elderly are humanized in this movie, from Sophie’s loving-kindness to the witch’s selfishness. And they have as much agency as any young person in cinema would.

Another good theme scattered through the movie, and exemplified by its animation, is the horror of war. Howl and his entanglement with the bombing runs against both sides of a brewing conflict form the crux of the real plot (or at least the plot in Act 3). We also see a healthy contrast between the domestic, familial atmosphere that Sophie brings to Howl’s castle and the ruthless bombers flying overhead, as arranged by Suliman and the King’s military.

While the ending struck me as a little anticlimactic, it wasn’t terrible. I think the trick is that you have to look at many of Miyazaki’s movies as modern-day fairy tales. Especially in more fantastic films like Howl’s Moving Castle or Spirited Away. The style and the emotion overtakes the strict dramatic arc that other movies would require, but the end result of our heroes standing and smiling together as one journey ends and another begins is always guaranteed.

The English dub of Howl’s Moving Castle is available through Disney Movies.


Bibliography: Howl’s Moving Castle (film). Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Produced by Toshio Suzuki. Written by Hayao Miyazaki. Based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones. Perf. Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, Josh Hutcherson, Blythe Danner, Jena Malone, and Crispin Freeman. Studio Ghibli. Toho (Japanese distributor); Buena Vista (US distributor). Original release date: September 5, 2004.

LoanWolf: Monsters in the Office (And Romance, Too)

Image Credit: Team Rumblebee, 2016 (teamrumblebee.tumblr.com/)
Image Credit: Team Rumblebee, 2016 (teamrumblebee.tumblr.com)

Scream “Casual!” at me all you like, but I really do enjoy the art and play style of the visual novel genre more and more these days. There’s something sweet and simple about the medium, attacting both the gamer and the writer in me.

Thanks to Ren’Py and other open-source tools, indie devs making their own VNs has never been easier. I’ve already reviewed one such game, Love is Strange, by Team Rumblebee, and now they have a new VN out known as LoanWolf.

Our story takes place in a world populated by sentient monsters who live, love, and go to work just like human beings do. Laika, a werewolf who does Tech Support, has to contend with a terrible morning when she wakes up after going on another rampage induced by a full moon—and subsequently trashed her best friend Daphne’s greenhouse. From there, she has navigate the ins and outs of a weird day at the office, stressing out about the calls she takes and how she’ll ever pay off her student debt. Then everything changes when Laika makes the acquaintance of a succubus named Victoria, who shows an interest beyond mere issues with her computer.

As a romantic visual novel, LoanWolf is a story based on the player’s options. Essentially, you get to decide whether or not Laika ends up pursuing either her friend Daphne or her coworker Victoria as a love interest. And because it’s Team Rumblebee, this is an LGBT-only romance story, much like it was in Love is Strange. And because I enjoyed the heck out of their last game, I had to give this one a try.

By comparison, LoanWolf is much shorter, but no less creative. The devs did their research when it came to the different varieties of monsters populating the world; not just werewolves and nymphs, but kitsune and gorgons as well. Every character and backdrop has a certain organic flair that adds to the emotional weight of the dialogue, especially when you watch Laika’s sprite shift so quickly from a miserable frown to shocked with perked-up ears to a smooth grin. I also love how, both in Love is Strange and LoanWolf, the use of smartphones for sharing photos is a common mechanic. It’s a clever way in this game to show off more amazing artwork that isn’t simply another backdrop with two character sprites side-by-side.

If you’re a fan of the visual novel genre, LGBT romance, or just straight-up monsters acting like regular people, then there’s something to enjoy in LoanWolf. It has an endearing quality in its artwork and its dialogue, set in a world that we can all find a little too familiar.

The LoanWolf visual novel is free to play and available for download from Team Rumblebee’s official Tumblr page.