One Punch Man continues to be one of the most fun shows of the season, though I keep searching for that other layer I thought I was picking up in the manga chapters I read. I see it sometimes, but I wonder if there’s a little bit of projection involved since I want so badly to find it. Mind you, it would be enough for OPM to simply be a very funny superhero spoof – that’s certainly nothing to hang your head about. But expectations are what they are.
My biggest problem with One Punch Man as a straight farce is that the comedy does tend to recycle itself quite a lot. I still find myself laughing at it, but I worry that won’t be true forever. That’s why when I see the sort of theme we had this week it encourages me, because it does support the idea that ONE’s ultimate purpose is broadly commenting on the malaise that obsesses modern Japan.
Hammerhead (the wonderful Takagi Wataru, who stole almost every scene he was in as Knuckle Bine in HxH) is certainly a character who screams satire. Imagine if a NEET actually had the gumption to get out and organize a terrorist force – stealing battle suits, blowing up buildings (albeit the wrong ones). There’s irony there, certainly, but he does get to a deeper issue in Japan, which is a growing sense among the young that Japan’s religious faith in hard work for its own sake might just be a hollow pursuit.
More specifically, as Saitama points out, Hammerhead hits dangerously close to home for the protagonist. Even setting aside the baldness (Saitama’s concern over this is understandable in its own right) Saitama’s motivations don’t look all that different than Hammerhead’s – he’s just chosen a non-psychopathic outlet for them. There are some nobler elements to Saitama’s reasons for becoming One Punch Man, but ultimately he’s a NEET who felt disillusioned by life and opted out of the rat race. And Japan is full of millions of young men (and no small amount of women, too) who did the same.
One of the comedic lynchpins of OPM is that you almost always end up feeling sorry for the bad guys, and this ep is certainly no exception. When Onsoku no Sonic (Kaji Yuuki, less irritating than usual) arrives on the scene, he systematically beheads every one of Hammerhead’s lackeys. A ninja in the employ of one of the corrupt industrialists Hammerhead was targeting (let it be known there really is a “Golden Turd” building in Tokyo, near Asakusa), Sonic is far more menacing than the hapless Hammerhead, who only escapes him (and indeed, becomes the rare villain to survive the episode) because of his abnormally thick skull.
The funniest moment here, certainly, comes when Saitama’s fist makes landfall in a most uncomfortable place for Sonic (who really had it coming, to be honest). But it’s also pretty amusing that Saitama only now starts to realize that he’s getting no credit for his exploits. In fact, he loses out this time to Mumen Raidaa (“License-less Rider”) who may be the lamest superhero ever (it would be exquisite if he turns out to be the top boss). The solution? Register officially as with the Hero Department at the local government office – an outing which seems rife with comic possibilities…