It sounds funny to say about a show I’ve been enjoying as much as One Punch Man, but the last two episodes have felt like a real turning point. For the first month that enjoyment was mostly superficial – laughing at the comedy, marvelling at the sakuga. But there’s been a change in the vibe now that the Hero Association has become a major factor in the story, and the specialness that OPM always seemed to promise has started to come to fruition.
In a sense, I think OPM is something like the Haikyuu of hero shounen – an impeccably produced series that deserves great admiration for the care and skill on display in every frame of the production. But there is more here than just flash (as there is with Haikyuu too, don’t misunderstand me) – there’s some very smart satire taking place, starting with the name of the protagonist (and by the way, it seems the entire universe in OPM is represented in a map the shape of Saitama) and building from there. This was the first time the salaryman connection was openly acknowledged in the dialogue, but it’s always been an unmistakable presence.
The secret of success here is that the joke at the heart of One Punch Man works, and works on multiple levels. Saitama is exceptional to a ridiculous degree, seemingly a truly omnipotent figure, yet he’s hopelessly mired in the morass of mundane existence. He routinely destroys monsters that would make S-Class heroes cower in terror, yet he must go out and scrounge for small fry in order to keep from being de-listed as a lowly C-Class hero. He has strength beyond comprehension, but in truth he has no real idea how he got it – which makes him pretty much useless as a mentor for Genos. He’s just a young guy drifting through life and trying to get by, except that he’s the most powerful being in the known universe.
In practice, it seems that Saitama’s influence has turned City Z into the epicentre of the hero universe, though he has no idea of that fact. His presence draws monsters who want to see what’s going on (assuming no doubt that he’s the top monster in town), their presence scares off humans, and when Saitama kills the monsters it scares them while at the same time building a mystique. In this episode it’s a kombu (seaweed) monster whose come based on rumors of a gathering of monsters in City Z, and whose presence prompts the Association to send two Class A heroes (Golden Ball and Spring Mustachio) to investigate.
I quite liked these two, especially Moustache – he’s a thoroughly competent guy with real skill, but no match for the monster. But when Saitama shows up he disposes of the beast literally as an afterthought (the forethought being that he forgot to buy seaweed) and ends up using him for the larder. And of course, the mystique of City Z grows as a result. And Saitama has no idea about any of that. All he knows is that he’s managed to avoid de-listing – though for reasons completely
unrelated to the kombu beast.
And how did Saitama dodge that bullet? It’s all thanks to Speed of Sound Sonic, whose arrival in City Z is a gift-wrapped present for Saitama. Sonic is looking to pick a fight with Saitama – apparently he’s not nearly as swift above the neck as below – and when he takes down another small fry, Tank-top Tiger (apparently 3-word alliterative superheroes are the butt-monkeys of the OPM universe) to bait Saitama, Saitama actually earns a few hero points for taking him down.
There are a couple of other debuts this week that seem to be important (and by the way, was that a Titan cameo I saw?) starting with Tornado (Yuuki Aoi) an S-Class hero whose temper matches her name. There’s also the beautiful and sultry Blizzard (Sayami Haori) and the thus-far silent Watchdog Man. And it seems that Geneos is emerging as one of the new stars of the hero world despite not actually doing anything yet – he’s attracting his own otaku based on his boyish good looks and dignified silence. As such, he represents yet another obstacle to Saitama drawing attention onto himself – a problem which figures to be a big part of the story going forward.