By now you’re probably well versed with protagonist Saitama’s backstory. Only a few years before, he was unemployed with ambitions of being a businessman. Inspired to make good on his boyhood dreams to be a superhero, he trains so hard he goes bald and is able to defeat any enemy with a single punch. It’s all well and good being so powerful, but it hardly makes for good sport. Needless to say, Saitama is pretty bummed out and it’s easy to see why – can you imagine how disheartened Goku would be if he could defeat every baddie with one punch? Here’s where we meet our hero, in amongst his depression and existential crisis in search of an adversary that’ll give him a run for his money.
Although the character’s psychology underpins much of these twelve episodes, its ostensibly action orientated, pitting Saitama and his fellow heroes against a rogue’s gallery of kooky over-the-top enemies, any of which could have hopped over from One Piece. Even the heroes themselves run the gamut from the ridiculous to the ridiculously ordinary, many of whom could easily have fronted their own show. Who doesn’t want to see a Mumen Rider series? Given it’s all about the action, it’s a relief that the fight scenes are some of the best modern shonen has to offer. These brief stylish confrontations are chaotic, abstract even, as characters and environments are reduced to just fluid pencil strokes. It perfectly captures the kinetic energy and massive scope of the combat and proves why animation trumps anything a live action superhero story can offer.
Though the quality of this animation is undoubtedly down to Madhouse and director Shingo Natsume (whose credits include Space Dandy and, interestingly, Iron Man: Rise of Technovore), the style itself is down the source material. Starting life in 2009 as a web comic by enigmatic artist ONE, it was adapted into manga a few years later and then into anime in 2015. That’s one third of the formula, the second being the meme-inspiring comedy and, lastly, the music. The opening theme captures the overblown intensity of the action, while the series itself is suffused with an infectious soundtrack moving from metal to EDM.
If One Punch Man ended after its first three or so episodes, perhaps if it was instead a two-hour movie, there’d be little criticism. Early on, it’s clear that the series is a superhero satire, skewering not only the genre’s tropes, but upending its entire mythology. As it progresses, and Saitaima finally finds a worthy adversary, the series becomes just another generic shonen series and falls prey to the same clichés it ridiculed earlier on. After that climatic battle, Saitama finds he can still defeat any enemy with a single punch and we’re right back where we started, leaving any character development piecemeal.
Ignoring character development, or rather the lack of it, and some of the more irritating heroes and villains, One Punch Man remains a firm favourite for its mix of exaggerated action, rib-tickling comedy and a great voice cast matched only by the music.
Distributor: Manga Entertainment
Extras: English dub; 6 OVAs; interviews; trailers; textless opening & closing animation