Imagine if you will that you’re the strongest person in the world. You got there by rigorous training regimens that pushed you to your limits. The raw power of your attacks against the forces of evil put everybody into shock and awe, and you even have the magisterial JAM Project singing your opening theme before each big adventure. You should be somebody who’s living on Cloud 9…
…But then again you’re so bald as a result of the training and every enemy you fight can be ended with a well-placed fist. Worse, that really REALLY irks you. Even worse, nobody don’t give you no respect. C’est le One Punch Man, the latest anime adaptation of a popular manga that hits its stride without missing any beats before it stumbles at the finish line. Even so, it brings in enough to enjoy that one can briskly watch all twelve episodes and be endeared the way through.
One would think with a plain protagonist like Saitama, especially one who maintains a rather disenchanted view of life due to his raw power, that the series would be a ‘one note’ affair. Bad guys come and face Saitama; he destroys them in a comically brutal fashion, end scene. With that kind of premise, the original manga ought to have been relegated to amusing 4-koma strips. However, the strength of the show (and perhaps by extension the manga, something I’ve yet to read) is how much effort is given to make it as interesting as all get out, and succeeding. OPM can be considered the epitome of what it means to be a 12-episode thrill ride for an anime, for each episode looks like the result of inhuman labour by the madmen of Mad House. The ironic part? It’s all for the purpose of telling the story of a hero who ends his fight with ease.
This pays off, for each fight in the anime is rife with great intensity and never the same one twice. The efforts of not just the villains against Saitama, but also other heroes against said villains, are incredible spectacles from the easy (Saitama’s fights) to the ones mired in hardship (a menagerie of heroes vs. the Sea King). The feeling that animation is wasted never comes to mind, as each frame goes toward something great. Couple that with a great soundtrack by Makoto Miyazaki and some superlative voice work and one could say the anime is a perfect package in visuals and audio.
Even so, aesthetics do not mean anything without a great protagonist. Sure, initially Saitama doesn’t seem much, especially with how disenchanted he usually is. However, the strength of him is his indefatigable morality even in the face of his boredom. Sure his lackadaisical musings about his non-hero life, never mind the frustration after killing another villain with one punch is humourous, but his better nature is what sells it. The man will give up fame and fortune to save other heroes’ face and even stand up to ungrateful citizens of his town. The strange dichotomy between these Saitamas helps in his appeal, and makes this all-powerful hero an underdog in every sense of the word. By the end, it would not be much of a surprise that all are sold on him, hoping one day he’ll have recognition and that worthy fight, even if they chuckle with amusement to the follies he has to endure.
The supporting cast is also a solid affair, especially Saitama’s eager disciple, the cyborg Genos. He provides a great foil to Saitama, with his eagerness to learn from him never mind an iron-willed desire to always push himself to the limits. The rest make for an eccentric cavalcade of heroes that bring to mind the weird and wacky world of The Tick, and that’s a good thing. No matter the social status of the hero, there is always a memorable somebody to take note of, whether it’s the ever eager but underpowered Mumen Rider, the indomitable old master Silverfang, to even the elite effeteness of Puri Puri Princess. On the flip side that also leaves room for a number of unsavoury heroes (and heroine), including the vain Amai Mask, the advantageous (and perhaps lazy) Metal Knight, and the obnoxious brat Tornado. Even so, credit must be given at how the show effectively generates such feelings with those kinds of characters. It’ll make the catharsis that will hopefully occur in the future when Saitama inadvertently outwits them all the more delicious…
…But do not expect it in this series. Like the body of its hero, and despite the amount of exceptional content each episode is filled to the gills with, the show is a very lean affair. It begins and ends, never wasting any time getting to the certain juncture of the manga the show decided to end on. As a result, the final arc leaves a lot to be desired in a way. Sure the fights are exceptional, and it was great to see so many heroes fighting against a malevolent foe, but as was mentioned earlier, the end did stumble. There are a bit too many characters (and the unsavoury ones are especially such at this endpoint), so there is not enough time to showcase the lot of them. This is made more irksome at how the plot involves the legendary S-Class of heroes, and some like Genos don’t even do much for the final battle. Then there’s the inclusion of Amai Mask, who reveals how unsavoury he is too. There’s a lot of friction and bad blood amongst the heroes, and if one wants to see it animated they will either have to wait until the second season (which has yet to be confirmed despite the remake creator saying he’s working on it), or continue with the manga. The epic final battle will not leave anybody unfulfilled, but that unresolved tension may give some a bad case of narrative blue balls. How far does that go? When will the heroes come to blows with one another?
Whatever the case (since again, one can read the manga or cross fingers for a second season), One Punch Man is a topflight product. A visual feast in a great universe with an enjoyable protagonist makes for one of, if not THE, most entertaining television anime in 2015. Sure some story elements are not expanded upon, and depending on personal tastes may not be one’s cup of tea, but one cannot deny the amount of inhuman effort poured into the show, and it must be seen to be believed. Here’s to hoping there will be a second season announcement fairly soon.
Now to get back to theoretical matchups on who would win against Saitama… Has anybody tried to pit him against the Tick just yet?