Anime is a bit of a two-edged sword for me.
On the one hand, I am so proud, and so relieved, that there is a popular entertainment medium that allows itself so much freedom and creativity. I am attracted to the freespirited, take-chances-and-don't-be-afraid-to-go-there philosophy of most Japanese animation studios, as I have pointed out previously.
On the other hand, it frustrates me that anime pulls this off when so many other forms of popular media don't even attempt it. A lot of western-tooled TV, cinema, animation, and video games are petrified by their fear of the unknown. They throw up their hands and scream, "It's never been done before!"
Except that it has been done before, because---no matter what "it" is---anime is already doing it. Anime studios' no-holds-barred approach has made them the only innovators in the field (almost: you can find fresh and powerful examples in western media, if you hunt voraciously for them).
Naturally, today's subject is One-Punch Man.
The Superman Problem
Here in the west, there are often discussions (in the same way that the nuclear threats of the Cold War were just "discussions") about the Superman problem.
These discussions often center on Superman himself, but they can equally be applied to any character who is deemed "overpowered" by the community. Many people jump to the conclusion that being overpowered is simply a kiss of death, removing all hope that the character in question can be redeemed. "There's just no way to make Superman interesting," they conclude, then wash their hands of him.
But they're wrong: the only real "kiss of death" is their own self-defeatist attitude. For what is a writer's job, if not to take the thing that absolutely should not work, and then make it shine?
These are the stories that never lose their luster.
But, to be fair, there are some difficulties that arise with an overpowered character. To begin with, you find yourself unable to put them in situations that endanger their own well being. Which is hard, because putting your characters in danger is the classic writer's fall-back option to make those characters grow and develop.
But it's not that hard to get around this issue. Too many people won't give overpowered, godly characters a chance because they'd rather give their attention to characters who have problems. To which the question must be asked: "What makes you think gods don't have problems?"
Enter One-Punch Man.
This show cuts right through the Superman problem, disproving it entirely, all by adhering to one uncomplicated premise:
You have a character who is absolutely invincible, and he has IMMENSE problems.
In a world where humanity is frequently threatened by monsters, natural disasters, and supercriminals of all shapes and sizes, the people need heroes for protection. Some of these are gifted with extraordinary abilities. Others are just courageous enough to confront the danger and fight in whatever way they can.
But there is one hero who outmatches all the rest, and is overpowered to ridiculous levels. This is Saitama, the man who can defeat any enemy and destroy any obstacle with just one punch. A fact which he doesn't seem to find extraordinary.
But despite his unmatched strength and speed, Saitama is troubled by his lot in life. Forever denied of any challenge worthy of him, he has to endure constant ennui and dreams of a day when he can finally do something that feels like an accomplishment.
He also struggles with society-wide ostracism, as people are more inclined to believe that he is a fraud than that he is as powerful as he seems to be. Other heroes also have a hard time living in his shadow, and the people who most ought to be his friends are usually the first to spurn him.
But Saitama is strong in other ways, too, and manages to muddle through his problems without burdening others with his grievances, even trying to hide the fact that he his genuinely grateful for those few moments when people do show him kindness.
The Supporting Cast
There aren't a lot of supporting characters in One-Punch Man who are worthy of note, but there are a few that must be mentioned.
A cyborg who seeks to avenge his slain family. After witnessing Saitama's power, he dedicates himself to becoming Saitama's "disciple", and stands by him through thick and thin.
Genos is a legend in his own right, possessing powers that most other heroes can't match. But he is far more popular and gets a lot more credit than Saitama, despite being the weaker than the two. He is given every reason to forsake his master, but chooses not to do so.
A powerless hero who is known as the "Cyclist for Justice". Whenever danger appears he bravely (and uselessly) throws himself at the threat, often to comic effect. He does not hesitate to sacrifice himself in an attempt to make a difference, even if all he does is buy the other heroes a few seconds of precious time.
He is one of the best parts of the show.
A ninja who often finds himself in the employ of criminals. He is no hero, though he is faster than almost anything and will fight evil if it happens to be in his way. Suffers his first ever defeat at the hands of Saitama and is now determined to kill him, even though all his attempts are easily swept aside by his target.
The biggest comic relief character in One-Punch Man is Saitama himself.
Unable to understand what the big deal is, Saitama is oblivious to the miracle that is himself. Believing himself to be a hero "just for fun," he can't understand why other people are so impressed with him. And while he is occasionally stirred out of his constantly bored reverie by something unexpected, he usually hides his ennui behind his characteristic "stupid face", with unfocused eyes that seem to stare through everything.
Until he lets himself hope that this next monster will truly challenge him, and he suddenly gets serious.
It does a lot to show how even the most overpowered heroes can still be many-layered human beings.
A Caveat - Subtitles vs. Dubbing and Technical Issues
On Saturday, March 25th, all the episodes of One-Punch Man were available on Netflix. Then, on Sunday the 26th, I noticed that episode 5 had been removed from the lineup.
I got in touch with Netflix customer service, and was informed that episode 5 was pulled due to technical issues. Apparently, the subtitles for episode 5 were glitching in a bad way for some viewers. As of this writing, episode 5 still has not been restored (though I was assured that it would be, in time).
As such, I was left with little choice but to watch episode 5 on YouTube. And this was eye-opening, because on YouTube the episodes have the same English dub that Adult Swim used for the series; whereas on Netflix, subtitles are the only English option.
I was blown away by how good the Adult Swim dub was for this show. I normally never bother with English dubs, but this one sounded amazing. And I was so disappointed that the Netflix release didn't have this dubbing, because I now wanted to watch the rest of the series with the English voice actors.
One-Punch Man is one of the best animes of the last decade. It is an essential watch for anyone who appreciates superheroes, Japanese animation, animation in general, or just plain old good writing.
Netflix has all the current made-for-TV episodes (except episode 5, for reasons listed above). The show also has an OVA series, which mostly tells a few side stories that take place between episodes.
Only one season currently exists, and since that season premiered in Japan in 2015, this has left in question whether the show will ever be renewed.
However, less than a day before this review was released, we received word that the second season has entered production.
This is excellent news for anime fans. If you're not already familiar with this series, the Netflix is a good place to get started.
- No face, no shoes, no service. Source: Spirited Away
- Saitama. Source: One-Punch Man
- "Look up in the sky." Source: Superman
- Saitama on edge. Source: One-Punch Man
- Saitama the strong. Source: One-Punch Man
- Genos detail. Source: One-Punch Man
- The Cyclist for Justice. Source: One-Punch Man
- Sonic gets scared. Source: One-Punch Man
- I wouldn't go that far. Source: Geek and Sundry
- Saitama gets serious. Source: One-Punch Man
Previous entries in the Netflixing series: