Anime Reviews: One Punch Man
Breathtaking animation, high-octane action, and quirky characters are One Punch Man's specialty, giving us one of the most important and popular anime of 2015.
Title: One Punch Man
Production: Studio Madhouse
Series Length: 12 episodes
Air Dates: 10/5/2015 to 12/21/2015
Age Rating: 13+ (strong comic violence, mild language)
Summary: In the metropolis of City Z, monsters, criminals, and other such threats are an almost-daily occurrence, but there exists a hero who saves the city time and time again: Saitama, a powerful and dashing man who possesses the incredible power of being able to defeat any enemy in a single punch! However, because thwarting evil has become so easy, Saitama finds crime-fighting to be exceptionally boring, and only does it in order to find strong enemies with whom to do battle. Unknown to the public and operating outside the walls of the Hero Association, will Saitama ever be able to find a villain who can put up a decent fight? Will he be cursed to forever walk the lonesome path of the unknown hero? And will he be able to defeat evil in time to catch the latest deals at the convenience store? These trials, and many more, await our valorous hero on his journey to becoming the strongest hero!
The Good: Eye-popping spectacle action; hilarious and quirky cast of characters
The Bad: Vague and uninteresting setting
The Ugly: Puri-Puri Prisoner and his terrifying powers
I know what you're thinking, and I'm going to agree with you--I am, indeed, very handsome and the very picture of the masculine ideal. And I also know what you're thinking about One Punch Man--"A hero who can defeat any bad guy in one punch? How can that possibly be exciting and how can you frame entire action sequences around that?" A wonderful, bizarrely-specific question, my hypothetical readers! I, too, was asking that very still-bizarrely-specific question before watching the series. Actually, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from One Punch Man aside from a few funny jokes, but boy did I get that and a whole lot more. Let's stop wasting time and get right to it, then!
To get things started, as should be abundantly clear from the series' ultra-masculine opening theme, this is a very stylish and bombastic anime with excellent artwork and fist-pumping action. While the opening animation sports its own aesthetic (hyper-detailed and full of straight-black shadows), the show itself is more than capable of standing tall in the animation department, with its bright colors and excellent use of lighting. The character designs, in particular, deserve special mention, as they are a combination of the manga artist coming up with the coolest hero and villain designs he could think of and the original art style of ONE, the guy who conceived the whole idea and whose artwork, while very...not polished, oozes with style and humor. Yusuke Murata's version of the manga was already mind-bogglingly detailed, and seeing that very same detail come to life on-screen in a TV anime is, more often than not, nothing short of breathtaking. In sheer visual oomph, One Punch Man can effortlessly stand alongside other phenomenal-looking TV anime like Unlimited Blade Works and anything KyoAni has ever made.
But where the visuals truly shine is during the series' many, many action sequences. Studio Madhouse have gone all-out in recreating the manga's incredibly cinematic fight scenes, and then some--crazy camera angles, wild and unhinged choreography, and outlandish abilities come flying at the screen in droves, and yet the geniuses behind it all make sure you're never once lost even for a second. As for the question of how the action can stay interesting despite Saitama's distinctive "defeat any enemy in one punch" gimmick, the series utilizes two simple tricks: Saitama must fend off a bunch of dudes at once and horrifying monstrosities are attacking but Saitama is nowhere nearby. This creates a dynamic of "Saitama will show up and defeat this nasty enemy, but the question is...how long will our heroes have to hold out before that happens?" for many scenes, and other scenes must simply rely on the other characters picking themselves up and solving the issue themselves. So no, the series never gets boring because the writers know precisely how NOT to make it boring.
Aside from the tricks I mentioned earlier, the other main tool the writers use to keep the show fresh and interesting is the series' wonderfully wacky cast of characters. ONE has a knack for writing characters that have outlandish personalities, yet are immensely relatable, which seems like it would be a paradox but it really isn't. Saitama may be all-powerful, but he's very laid-back and unassuming and, well, boring; he's become so tired of how easily he defeats enemies, and, because being a hero is what he loves doing, he's become so dispassionate at how dull and simple it is. Again, no one in the history of ever can relate to being essentially a god among men, but nearly everyone can relate to having some ability that comes so naturally that there's no challenge to be found anymore, and that's the genius of Saitama's character--someone who should be alien to us is, instead, anything but.
Genos is a hilarious character, because, in any other show, he'd be the main character--he's got the cool design, the tragic backstory, the easy-to-get-behind motivation, the cool cyborg powers--but he gets relegated to second fiddle by Saitama, and his eagerness to better himself by acting as Saitama's disciple gets a lot of laughs. And to be honest, Genos is just really, really cool. Rule of cool is a thing for a reason, and Genos is seemingly fueled by it. Other great recurring characters include Speed-of-Sound Sonic, a ninja who can move (as you may have guessed) faster than the speed of sound and sees Saitama as his rival, and Mumen Rider, a completely normal guy who fights crime on a bicycle and even gets his own crowning moment of awesome during one of the later episodes. This is, of course, not counting the myriad of other quirky heroes from the Hero Association or the many strange and bizarre monsters that are always attacking, because the list is just too long. In short, the action and the characters are the series' two main strengths, but they're both executed so well that it basically needs nothing else.
...But that doesn't necessarily mean everything's all sunshine and roses in the world of One Punch Man, though. Namely, the world itself. Does it have a name? Is it just Earth? Well, it clearly CAN'T be Earth, because we see shots of the planet from space, and there's a huge supercontinent in the shape of Japan's Saitama prefecture (which IS a funny touch), so that rules out the possibility of it being Earth. Ah well, who cares about that if the setting is interesting, right? Well, unfortunately, it isn't. The main city doesn't have a name, as far as I can tell, and is divided up into sections City A through City Z. Really, guys? Those're the best city names you could come up with? Everything about the setting is generic as hell--generic suburbs, generic metropolises, generic ports, generic futuristic government buildings, generic mountainsides...ugggghhhhh. If only the same amount of love and detail went into the setting as did into the characters, it would be a wondrous and goofy place I would never forget and would spend hours imagining all kinds of ways mundane things would be entirely different there, but nope. In stark contrast to everything else in the show, the setting is so flavorless and boring that Sword Art Online's dreadfully imagination-free MMO world seems downright spicy in comparison.
In the end, while having a bland setting is a miserable damp blanket on the whole experience, it nonetheless does very little to invalidate just how much fun One Punch Man is. It basically stands as one of the major tent-pole anime of 2015, and while I wouldn't say it's the best anime to come out that year, it nevertheless stands out as the biggest and most likely to draw the largest crowd, and for good reason. Action-comedy is, sadly, a genre that has been lacking recently in anime, and with the combined efforts of One Punch Man and other titles like Blood Blockade Battlefront, it will hopefully see a resurgence and make this series not only popular, but also as influential as it deserves to be.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10. One Punch Man contains some of the wildest and most well-animated action scenes in recent memory, while also boasting an immensely colorful and quirky cast of characters that take a premise that should have died in the water and make it a consistent comedy machine, even if the world it takes place in is far less inspired than the people that populate it.