I was considering waiting for more seasons of this show before writing my thoughts on it, but I don’t think it’s necessary. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a hit (pun intended, obviously). One Punch Man is a clever caricature of the superhero genre and one that knows how to have fun while poking the established traditions of heroes and villains.
It’s a simple subversion of a great many tropes that we’ve come to expect from superhero stories. In a usual superhero story, we commonly see our protagonist go through an arc of character and strength development in order to match up to the threat posed by the villain. No matter how strong the hero is, he/she still encounters a lethal weakness or goes through some conflict over how best to use his/her power. I think at some point, this became a formula because of the idea that the story would be boring without this sort of tension.
One Punch Man challenges this notion. Here we have a hero who is far superior to any villain. He doesn’t need power-ups, he doesn’t need a sidekick and he doesn’t even need a plan. Have you heard his theme music? That’s the only thing he actually needs.
He’s terrifyingly efficient as well, having reduced the art of villain-disposal to one good punch. There’s no sentiment-laden flashback detailing the origins of our hero or the usual subplot about his struggle to master his power. In fact, the process that morphed Saitama into the eponymous One Punch Man is so underwhelming that it’s laughable. And instead of the usual conflict about his purpose or place in the world, we have a hero who is jaded by his own superiority.
It works because it’s a satire. Saitama is the anomaly in the system and he exists to tease the traditions of this genre. In a typical superhero story, the protagonist would be someone like Genos – Saitama’s stern and severe cyborg disciple. He is designed to be taken seriously. He has a supposedly tragic origin story, he gained his powers after losing things that mattered to him and he often goes all out, using every trick he knows to defeat his enemy. And yet, in this show, he is relegated to being crushed or deconstructed by the baddie, only to be saved by the plain-looking “Caped Baldy” at the end. The plethora of other heroes in this show serve a similar purpose. We have an abundance of ostentatious and overconfident heroes who are methodically overwhelmed by forces that the simple Saitama easily overcomes. For the audience, the irony of the situation makes for a good laugh.
Saitama’s world is also constructed to parody the usual setting of superhero shows and comics. What we have is a hilarious exaggeration, aimed to highlight the absurdity of superhero stories. Everything, from the assortment of villains spouting the usual dialogues about world domination to the extinction level disasters that badger the world on daily basis, is so deliberately over the top. Watching this show, we are forced to concede that people won’t really thrive in a world with superheroes and supervillains. They won’t be building cities; I mean, the economic losses must be devastating and let’s not even talk about life expectancy.
Just to make it clear, I’m not disagreeing with Superhero stories and I don’t think that’s the purpose of One Punch Man either. I enjoy Superheroes as much as the average cinemagoer of this past decade, but I’m not above laughing at some of these clichés. Having said that, I do also concede that One Punch Man only works because it is unique. If every Superhero story were like this, then obviously the entire genre would have collapsed like City Z a long time ago.
One good thing about One Punch Man is that it goes beyond poking fun at Superheroes. There are some pretty interesting characters in this show and none, I think, are more interesting than Saitama himself. I’ve become very fond of Saitama’s worldview and he turned out to be enormously relatable. I like how he’s more flustered by the mundane affairs of day-to-day living than the monsters that plague his town. Saitama is borderline lazy, not very bright and gets annoyed at the most ludicrous things. He is completely clueless about the convoluted Superhero system in his world or even where he stands in the food chain but I guess the point is that these things don’t really matter – he is already better than the Final Boss.
Besides, Saitama’s heart is in the right place, and I think that’s what the point of being a ‘Hero’ really is. As bored as he may be by the villain, he never fails to show up to save the day and he doesn’t even brag about it. While I enjoyed watching him be a sheer idiot in the first few episodes, I was rather heartened by his humility as the show progressed. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s his real strength or anything, but he is absolutely unpretentious and that is really what I valued most in this show.
The rest of the characters, while not as entertaining as our main one, do enough to keep the story interesting and amusing. We have the severely serious, the depraved, the unflappable… well, anyway there’s a good assortment of personalities that complement Saitama’s “plainness”, so things are never boring.
Overall, One Punch Man exceeded my expectations on every level. I initially thought that a story about an overpowered hero would wind up being a lacklustre effort at a parody. I didn’t expect it to be so effective and I didn’t expect that I would like it as much as I did. It’s a light and easy story, notwithstanding the action and occasional gore, where we can rest easy with the knowledge that the villain is just one punch away from defeat. Satire or not, One Punch Man is a fresh, funny addition to the superhero stories out there and I hungrily await its next instalment.
You can find more of my reviews at: ennadune.wordpress.com