How can anyone even begin to talk about One-Punch Man? If there’s one definite thing to say about the 2015 series that –finally- shook up the anime industry and laid some heavy criticism on the standards and tropes to which action anime and manga operate, is that you should only watch it if you’ve watched quite a bit of anime in your life. It’s not that the series doesn’t have things that can make it interesting and compelling on its own; in fact, it negates most of the theory that is considered fundamental to make any sort of film (and that is part of what makes it so amazing), but if you’re an experienced anime viewer, through Saitama’s adventures you will find yourself picking up on some references that will get you questioning the very reason you watch anime.
Starting from the very title, One-Punch Man is, well, exactly what it is. There is no plot or intricate story to be discovered; it’s a series about a man who only punches once. That is the theme of the entire show. The exact same thing happens in every episode, until the very last one where he – guess what – gives one last punch and finalizes the show. There is little character development for the protagonist: in fact, he is the character the least attention is being paid to. He goes about his day being bored, destroying villains for fun, going to buy groceries, and then waking up the next day to do exactly the same thing. And that’s pretty much everything.
© 2012 by ONE, Yusuke Murata/SHUEISHA Inc.
Plot & Story
There are so many things wrong about this show that make it feel so right. I could go on for hours but I’ll try and stick to a few of the things that make it so plain, that it’s actually genius.
References: One-Punch Man references battle-style action based anime. From Sailor Moon to Ghost in the Shell, the enemies and noble heroes that pop up in each episode have somehow been seen again in another anime. Mobs of angry people with suits, insane scientists, tsundere ninjas, and gigantic beasts, it has all been done before. Even the way heroes’ skills are being ranked is a standard anime element of defining the hero’s value, just like the damn Pokemon badges you get from various gyms.
Cynicism: Saitama’s existence and ‘hero work’ is mundane and uninteresting. He is not trying to impress anyone with his skills; he hardly cares about being called a hero. His face is always blank and unimpressed, and he is obviously depressed, having no real challenge to face in his everyday life. He is bored and finds no completion, passion, or vision in his work, to the point the viewer gets to wonder why he does this anyway.
Anticlimactic normality: Saitama is incredibly normal. He has no hidden fears or dark demons haunting him from his past. When there is a mission taking place, he carries it out within minutes, not episodes; he doesn’t allow any drama or tension develop around what he does – he just gets on with it, and there is never, ever, any hint that he is going to lose.
Juxtaposing side-characters: Surrounding the protagonist are numerous heroes and villains, each as extravagant and ridiculous as all the anime characters you’ve ever seen in your life combined. Especially looking at the heroes, they all dress and act way too flashy and can achieve very little compared to Saitama. Genos, his side-kick apprentice, is the exact opposite of his master. He trains very hard and is full of ideals about his work that are deeply rooted in his dark and horrifying life story, only to intensify how regular and boring Saitama is. Even his outfit is lame.
God: There are several theories about how Saitama portrays the contemporary human: apathetic and bored due to the ease and lack of (especially physical) struggle in their everyday lives. However, if examined in another way, Saitama can be seen as an enlightened God-like figure, one that has ultimate knowledge and skill that has come in perfect terms with the mundane nature of existence and does not seek pleasure or power, a perfectly functional impartial being that observes and acts very little.
‘One-Punch Man’: Why is Saitama So Cool?
Art & Music
The art of the show varies between awe-aspiring action animation and blank inanimate shots of Saitama’s emotionless face and typical blank stare, adding to the contrast between himself and everything else. It demonstrates that the reason why he moves and acts so little is a choice, not a limitation. The opening theme ‘THE HERO!!’ by JAM PROJECT is intense and memorable, building up an expectation that is about to be destroyed upon watching the very first minute of each episode. I particularly like the Led Zeppelin-like high pitch vocals near the end. The voice acting follows the style of the art, jumping from ultimate to zero intensity and destroying any sort of potential climax. All these choices make One-Punch Man much more conceptual rather than aesthetic; an unconventional style that is not very often seen in anime.
Themes & Trivia
As I mentioned earlier, One-Punch Man’s content heavily relies on referencing famous anime shows. Here’s just a few:
- Anpanman (you need to be pretty damn old to get this…)
- Attack on Titan
- Dragonball Z
- Ghost in the Shell
- Naruto (ughhh)
- Sailor Moon
And there’s a whole lot more. That said, you could say that the whole show is an accurate inversion of everything the action anime genre holds dear. Time goes by extremely quickly and battle takes place in seconds rather than entire episodes. His transformation sequence is him changing clothes. Instead of travelling or hiding in a secret lair, he lives in a small apartment. Worrying about his destiny or safety is overshadowed by worrying about saving money on food and getting to the grocery store in time. Instead of some sort of exhausting inhuman training sequences, he just does push-ups and squats in the local park. The list goes on forever.
One-Punch Man is the anime you need to watch if you’re tired of watching anime. It’s revolutionary, refreshing, and original. It’s like nothing that has ever been made before. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in anime culture, especially if you feel like you need something that will shake you up a bit and make you wonder ‘What if anime changed from what we are used to look at into something completely different?’
One-Punch Man: Saitama And Genos’s Relationship Resembles That of Their Creators
It Only Takes One Punch
- Critic and satire much needed in the industry
- Multiple referencing
- Very meta content
- Excellent realization and production
- That scene where Genos ponders about going on a quest and Saitama’s is like ‘Let’s go now, I need to go to the shop later’.
- Possibly, by getting itself so many episodes (and a second season), the show is in risk of becoming a parody of itself… but let’s leave that for later.
Definitely one of the best anime shows of this last decade. Let us know what you think about One-Punch Man in the comment section below! Do you find it exciting or mundane? Do you believe it actually serves a purpose that might eventually change anime? And don’t forget to check out the One-Punch Man: Season 2 Predictions on MANGA.TOKYO!
Manga Review: ‘One-Punch Man’ Vol.1