Wednesday 2 August 2017

Anime REVIEW: One Punch Man

One Punch Man

Every so often there comes an anime series that you just can’t escape from even if you aren’t watching. In 2015, that series was undoubtedly One Punch Man. ONE’s webcomic turned manga turned anime series was a worldwide hit, prompting all sorts of discussion, images and debate about whether its hero could beat up Goku in a fight. With studio Madhouse now confirming that a second season will be arriving in 2018, now is the time for the uninitiated (i.e. myself) to catch up and experience one of the most talked-about shows of the past few years.

SaitamaSaitama vs Carnage Kabuto

Saitama is a superhero for fun with a huge problem. He’s trained his body so hard that every monster or villain he fights he’s able to defeat with a single punch. Now bored of his power, Saitama lives his daily life in Z-city longing for the day he’ll find a strong opponent who can truly challenge him. When his incredible strength is witnessed by the cyborg hero Genos, Saitama suddenly finds himself with a willing disciple.

Along with Genos Saitama continues his quest to find a strong opponent, joining the Hero Association to be officially recognised for his deeds. But while Genos may be fully aware of Saitama’s abilities, both the general public and top-ranked heroes aren’t convinced there’s a no-name hero out there who happens to be the strongest of them all.

GenosThe Deep Sea King

Arguably one of the biggest misconceptions about One Punch Man is the idea that it’s some sort of high-stakes superhero action series. While the show undeniably has elements of this, One Punch Man is and always will be at its core a gag series. It’s a parody series that takes superheroics and all the grandstanding we love to mock in shows like Dragon Ball Z and centres it into one simple joke – that there’s this hero so strong it only ever takes him one hit to get the job done. The punch line doesn’t change, so the comedy lies in reaching that lead up to that moment rather than the delivery. Whether it’s the sheer absurdity of Saitama’s three-year training regime or that sudden realisation of why he needs to cut his fight with the giant mutant Carnage Kabuto short, One Punch Man revels in playing these situations out in the most ridiculous of ways.

It would be unfair to write One Punch Man off as a show that’s merely good at repeating the same joke over and over though, as there’s still so much to appreciate beyond this premise. Saitama seems like a simple man with simple pleasures, but is he truly a hero? He freely admits he’s now only in it for fun, and the collateral damage left from his battles suggests the safety of the people isn’t a top priority. But he meets Genos and is eventually inducted into the Hero Association his positive qualities begin to shine through. Heroes are categorised into four tiers depending on their test scores, with the rankings shifting based on their popularity and the feats they perform. At the bottom of the rankings are low-level heroes with silly names and even sillier costumes, with the S rank reserved for those with unbelievable powers that have saved the planet time and time again. But success as made these heroes even more jaded then Saitama – second-ranked hero and gifted psychic Terrible Tornado is a petulant child, while tech-based hero Metal Knight intentions are dubious at best. Compared to the C-list Mumen Rider – a man capable of little more than helping a cat out of tree but still willing to face a monster head on, they feel like anything but heroes. When placed alongside these people we get to see what kind of hero Saitama really is, as well as the path he walks when the world is in disbelief of his abilities.

Terrible TornadoMumen Rider

Story isn’t the only thing One Punch Man has more to offer either, as the visuals also pack a wallop worthy of the show’s name. Saitama’s design couldn’t be any more fitting, able to effortlessly flicker between oblivious innocence and fist-pounding badassery at a moment’s notice. The simplicity of his design in turn works wonderfully against the more elaborate Genos, whose initial path of revenge is reflected in his edgier shonen-esque design. The same high quality character design can be said for the rest of the cast, from the varying quality of hero to the various aliens, mutants and monstrosities Saitama goes up against. When One Punch Man made the leap from webcomic to manga, illustrator Yusuke Murata brought along some of the most impressive fight illustrations put to page. Madhouse had a task ahead of them to properly do them justice, but tackled it head on and the results are wonderful. As well as characters with different abilities to show off each fight scene manages to bring something new to the table, whether that be demonstrating explosive firepower, using the scenery to full effect or just bringing it down to a good old fashioned fist fight. Much like Saitama’s character design the fight sequences bring with them a distinct shift in aesthetic, bursting with energy and stylisation.

It’s worth noting however that these fight sequences are less a trading of blows between two equal opponents, and more a display of a single participant’s power. The emphasis is all on the grandstanding – not in a way to draw out the fight but instead to just emphasise that despite how powerful an enemy may seem they’re still nothing compared to Saitama. As such the fights are almost always one-sided, either featuring Saitama simply dodging an enemy’s onslaught of attacks or lesser heroes getting pummelled in his absence. It isn’t until the last episode that we finally get to see Saitama find what he’s been looking for all along, at which point the show goes all in on a spectacle that’s well worth the wait.

"What's With This Sassy Lost Child?"Boros

When a series becomes so exposed online there’s always the possibility that it may not live up to the relentless hype. True to its name, One Punch Man is a show that’s able to deliver the goods in a single blow. It’s a simple show with a simple idea, but that idea is executed so flawlessly that you don’t even care that almost every move the show makes is completely predictable. Surrounding that idea is a host of memorable characters, beautiful animation and moments sure to stir the wannabe-superhero in all of us. One Punch Man is a joy from start to finish, and when the second season debuts next year that hype is going to roll around all over again – and deservedly so too.


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