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.