Review/discussion about: One Punch Man
I thank my father every day for strong hair genes.
Many of the men in my family, especially my father’s brothers (my uncles), have lost their hair quite early on. But not my father. He’s beginning to get streaks of grey, but it’s still (almost) all there.
I myself like to keep my hair short – “five on top, two on the sides” or some such hairdo lingo – but I also only get a haircut once every five months or so. It doesn’t get long, but it gets messy. Messy enough for my father to nickname me “Shaggy.”
I wait so long mostly out of laziness and partially to relish in my genetics. Saitama of One Punch Man does not have the same luxury, but what he does have is an anime that, like a fist hitting a face, leaves its mark.
As was said, One Punch Man stars Saitama, a man who can take out any foe with just a single punch. After “recruiting” his “apprentice” Genos, the flame-wielding cyborg, the anime proceeds to make due on the title’s promise.
Technically speaking, One Punch Man is a comedy. That means lots of jokes and gaffs are had. But that doesn’t do the narrative justice. Hidden behind Saitama’s huge head rests some rather clever writing.
To see this cleverness, it’s best to start from a surface level and work upwards.
Initially, the anime is about an unbelievably powerful hero. He takes down giants, flies around the city, and crushes mosquito monsters with simply a slap. Standard stuff for a superhero anime.
At this point, One Punch Man gets interesting. Instead of just being about an unbelievably powerful hero, it’s about an unbelievably powerful hero who has become so strong that he is bored with it all. Literally nobody can match him. As such, he cares more about getting to a supermarket sale than he does facing the behemoth before him.
Then the anime really starts to shine. Now it’s about an unbelievably powerful hero who has become bored with his profession and goes unnoticed. Due to his first-unregistered-then-Class-C rank, his actions are often credited to other heroes nearby. Other times, nobody even sees what he does to save them all – the final fight against Lord Boros, despite involving the moon and the separation of the atmosphere, silently drifts away like hair from a balding head.
Despite reaching this height, One Punch Man takes its narrative up one more level. When everything comes together, it’s about an unbelievably powerful hero who has become bored with his profession, gone unnoticed, and has adopted a self-imposed, anti-hero persona.
Rather than denying the claims of society deeming him a cheat or giving into their taunts or trying to convince people of his impossible strength, he pretends. He pretends to be the “bad guy.” By lying, he supports the other heroes and maintains society’s morale for the system in place.
That’s the cleverness of One Punch Man: It’s not a zero-to-hero tale but a “hero-to-zero” one. Obviously Saitama’s not an actual zero – he is literally the strongest man in the universe, and his “evil” persona is used for positive purposes. But the structure of the narrative makes it appear this way. It builds and builds and builds away from the comedy-oriented side to the more dramatic, realistic side the more the anime twists that cliché.
The big question, of course, is why? Well, the answer to this question comes from the answer to an age-old question: What makes a hero, a hero? Sacrificing one’s self for the greater good, doing what is “right” over what is right, and so on. In other words, being a hero is more than just the power, the speed, and the abilities.
And One Punch Man shows this answer through reversing the cliché. Saitama can defeat anybody with a single punch. But what makes him a hero is his willingness to carry every single negative that comes from him being, well, unbelievably powerful.
Stepping down from these thematic heights and back to that surface level, One Punch Man sees highs and lows in its comedy.
On the high end, the anime does well with small or witty jokes, like when Saitama misinterprets a sentence as a homosexual advance or when he responds with a monotone “OK.” On the low end, some jokes can carry on for a bit too long – Genos providing his background and Saitama explaining the “secret” to his power come to mind.
Furthermore, the narrative itself does have a few negatives worth noting. Some of the dramatic moments, such as the guy who calls out Saitama after he defeats Deep Sea King or the two (younger) tank-top brothers trying to humiliate him, fall flat due to their overt nature.
Even so, the narrative earns points for the way it ends. The final fight between Saitama and Lord Boros sees Saitama winning. The fight is (obviously) cool, but it is Lord Boros’s words to Saitama that are the coolest.
Their exchange indicates an intriguing detail: Lord Boros was still too weak of an enemy for Saitama. The anime could’ve made the two men equally matched (and, to be fair, the battle made it appear that way for a time). Yet, after an entire season of indestructible enemies, topping off with this literal conqueror of the universe, the anime says that Saitama’s full power has still yet to be matched.
Overall, the narrative is smart, funny, and cool. Not perfect, but executed nicely nonetheless.
It almost does not need to be said; One Punch Man excels at actual animation.
The fights alone are enough to make this obvious. Huge explosions, choreographed sequences, and detailed abilities dance across the screen in a flurry of movement. But if that weren’t enough, downtime fills itself with fluid scenes, like when Saitama taps Genos on the head after taking their tiny skirmish seriously or when Saitama tries to get exact change out of his coin purse.
And while the various backgrounds are not that impressive – a dilapidated city, the inside of a dojo, etc. – the artistic direction nails it elsewhere. Fights take on many forms, from spanning entire canyons to including slow-motion segments, that increase intensity. Saitama switching between super relaxed and super serious boosts the comedy. And both the lighting and perspective are played with over the course of the season.
As for the character designs, both the heroes and the villains hold some combination of detailed, interesting, and fitting. There are too many designs to go through, but examples always help. Saitama’s unassuming garb fits both his laidback nature and hidden powers. Lord Boros’s singular eye, spikey hair, and golden armor turn him into the universe-wrecking ruler that he is. And the Deep Sea King, with his regal, jester look and his larger, aquatic look, make for quite the intimidating antagonist.
The cast of One Punch Man is not the best in the world, but they are by no means horrible. They simply rest somewhere in-between.
Saitama is the obvious person to start with. While he never officially gets nicknamed “One Punch Man” in the anime, that really is what he does. No matter who or what, he can defeat his enemy with a singular punch.
While not dumb, Saitama is not the smartest dude out there. He has difficulty remembering or recognizing people, he failed the written portion of the hero-registration exam, and he walks through life with impressive nonchalance. This last detail helps to make his actions comedic or dramatic when required. Comedy with his hidden technique “Consecutive Normal Punches” and drama when he decides to take the situation a little more seriously.
Saitama was not always the strongest entity in existence, though. He had humble beginnings; he wanted to be a superhero and not a businessman. So he trained and fought and won. Only to find that he trained and fought and won too much. So much so that being a hero had lost its charm after three short years.
This lost charm does not affect his fighting prowess. Far from it. In fact, it may have helped since his carefree attitude tends to give him an element of surprise against his foes. Nevertheless, it makes him question what he has given up personally to get to this point. Sadly, this question never truly gets explored.
What defines Saitama, however, is not his powerfulness or his silliness – it’s his willingness. His willingness to be the hero he needs for everyone else, sacrificing fame, pride, and glory in the process. That is, he becomes the “bad guy” not because he wants to but because he should. That turns Saitama from just a strong hero and into a strong person.
After Saitama comes Genos. Genos joins the fray early on, quickly flocking to Saitama’s side when he witnesses his immeasurable strength. His character serves two purposes: to remind and to support. He reminds the audience of Saitama’s power, acting as a reference given his Class-S distinction. And he supports Saitama by not just looking up to him as a mentor but also being a close friend.
Genos also has a peculiar backstory, a motive that drives him forward besides learning the secret to Saitama’s strength. In the past, a fellow robot-related enemy wronged him, and, ever since, he has been seeking to return the favor. Unfortunately, the anime puts this conflict in the back of its mind for a vast majority of the season, resurfacing only briefly near the end.
Three other characters are worth discussing: Amai Mask, Sonic, and Mumen Rider.
Amai Mask is a side character that first introduces himself to Genos following the hero registration exams. Strangely, he focuses most on the image that heroes inadvertently give off. He visits talk-shows, he complains about the failures of the higher-ranked heroes, and so on. However, his most interesting contribution to his cause stems from his refusal to move up in the ranks when he apparently can. The reason? He can weed out or prevent weaker heroes from ascending to the top tier, thereby maintaining a more polished image of heroes in general.
Sonic is also a side character, but he’s not around all that much. Not just because of his smaller status or even his speed, but because the anime did not have a place for him within the narrative. Regardless, he reveals a darker side to heroes, a more morally ambiguous one: Not all heroes want to be good. Sonic is not obligated to aid others just because he has super-sonic speed, and him caring more about proving his power (be it for money, himself, or any other “sinful” reason) proves this.
Mumen Rider is yet another side character, but he’s on the opposite end of the Class-system spectrum. As the number one Class-C hero, the people expect him to help but not a level comparable to the other, stronger heroes. He demonstrates this himself: He loses to lesser villains, he doesn’t have any special abilities, and he rides around on a bicycle.
More importantly, he knows this, too. He does not move to Class B because he understands his limitations as a hero. That’s what makes his stand against Deep Sea King so noteworthy. There’s powerful symbolism in him getting off his bike and standing up for himself, but it’s him trying and failing – highlighting that, like people, even heroes have limits – that means the most.
Now, none of these five develop over the course of the season, but that may arguably be the point. I.e., as heroes do, they each have a role to serve. Saitama sacrifices, Genos supports, Amai Mask prevents, Sonic proves, and Mumen Rider highlights. To be fair, they perform their roles well. Even so, such a theme does not get explored to any high degree.
And that’s the extent of One Punch Man’s characters. More exist, such as the evil scientist, Lord Boros, and the myriad of other heroes, but they are not looked at enough or not around long enough to be considered important to the story at hand.
One Punch Man’s opening track designed itself to get its audience pumped up for the coming attractions, and it accomplished that goal handily enough. Each part of the piece comes together: the hard rock, the changing pace for the lyrics and tempo, and that final, stellar note sung by the singer. It’s an awesome OP that is both fitting and fun to listen to.
The ending track realizes that the OP and the anime itself may saturate the audience with adrenaline, so it chooses to go down the contrasting route. The ED is soft, starting and ending in a gentle manner while the middle gets filled with dainty tunes and instruments. In other words, the ED is meant to calm the audience down, and it works. (The OP is still better, though.)
The rest of the music and sound-effects hit their mark as well. The OST contains, like the OP and ED, both sides: hard-and-heavy plus techno tracks for the battle sequences, and laid-back plus sadder tracks for those more grounded moments. Furthermore, One Punch Man includes many different sound-effects for punching, telekinesis, lasers, swords, explosions…. Too many to list – which is certainly a positive. And as a small, extra treat, the tiny guitar riff between the A and B parts of each episode added even more coolness to the overall package.
As for the voice acting, while no impressive performances are found, a couple of people deserve a shout-out. Makoto Furukawa as Saitama sits on top, bringing to life the all-powerful, happy-go-lucky hero. And Aoi Yuuki as Tatsumaki “Terrible Tornado” annoys everybody without grating the audience’s nerves. Everyone else voiced their parts nicely but not notably.
I can’t say I adored this one, but I liked it.
One of the obvious reasons was Saitama. One second he has that dopey look on his face, and then the next second he exudes extreme focus. This constant dichotomy of nonchalance and seriousness, like when he says he has “nothing to do” so he tags along to the Class-S meeting or when punches the praying-mantis monster’s head off while asking him to pay for his ceiling, made me laugh.
The anime also had other funny jokes. Sonic lightly getting tapped in the junk by Saitama caused the anime to go to a short “intermission” and made me chuckle out loud. Or people thinking that some evil monster lived in Saitama’s part of the city when it was actually all his (accidental) fault got a nod out of me for its cleverness.
Thinking about the characters more, one of my favorites was Tornado. She did nothing else but whine and complain, yet she was hilarious whenever she happened to be doing so. Especially because the anime changed her design from a normal one to a goofy one whenever she took her rants a bit too far.
As for the battles, I was actually not all that into any of the fights. The final fight was at least cool because Saitama finally did more than usual – which is why I am most partial to the tiny skirmish between Saitama and Genos. Even then, just the last thirty seconds of it. Saitama chooses to listen to Genos’s rules for the fight, and death follows. Okay, not quite, but the single-worded frame and Saitama’s ginormous fist made that conclusion imminent.
One Punch Man has, similar to Saitama, a lot of strength. An interesting theme for its narrative, awesome animation, and hardcore music coalesce to bring about quite the intriguing show. Some problems exist – a lack of depth to the characters, comedy troubles, etc. – but they do not fully ruin the experience. Genetically speaking, the anime won a small lottery.
Story: Good, faux hero-to-zero theme creates a strong structure that is hurt slightly by some mistimed comedy and overt sequences
Animation: Great, awesome actual animation, cool artistic direction, and nice character designs
Characters: Fine, Saitama, Genos, and a few others serve their roles well but lack further depth or development
Sound: Good, great OP, good ED, nice OST, and okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Good, a nice amount of laughs and some cool moments
Final Score: 7/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3