One Punch Man – 07

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At least once a season I have the urge to open with the words of Jerry Seinfeld – “It’s so nice when it happens good.”

Predictably, Wanpanman is quickly rising in the Stalker rankings, starting to take on the air of the commercial success so many (including me) assumed it was going to be (tellingly, all of the back issues of the manga have re-entered the charts too).  Things are falling into place, the series becoming the one I was hoping we were getting based on my limited reading going in.  It was never less than good, but it’s as if the first few episodes were only revealing a small slice of the pie – it’s only now that we’re beginning to see what this show is really all about.

I don’t want to overstate the case, but I truly believe ONE is playing at a pretty high level with One Punch Man.  He’s clearly a very thoughtful writer and a keen observer of the culture in which he lives (and of human nature in general).  The plot of OPM is a clever construct, but it’s really a cover – a way for ONE to stealthily comment on the state of Japanese society today (especially for young adults) in entertaining fashion.  And it’s not an especially flattering picture he’s painting.

This week’s episode continues the trend of the comedy sliding into a supporting role, and as funny as this series is, I think this is more the true face of OPM.  Collateral damage was played for humor early on, but now it’s a deadly serious and integral part of the story.  A meteor is headed for City Z (I can’t help but wonder if the offhand explanation that it “suddenly changed direction” is significant) and the Hero Association has sent out an SOS to all its S-Class members, begging them to help.  It says a lot about the folks calling themselves “heroes” that only two of them show up – and about Saitama’s ironic place in their hierarchy that the Association doesn’t call the one hero who could actually do some good.

One of the heroes who answers the call is Genos of course – he’s as loyal as Old Yeller.  The other is Bang (Yamaji Kazuhiro), a noble old martial artist who refuses to leave his city and his dojo behind, even though he knows he can do nothing to help.  Bang’s cynicism is an intentional contrast to Genos, of course, but also one of the most striking things in the episode generally.  He’s under no illusions about the true nature of his colleagues (or anything else) but remains true to his ideals even so.  There is one other “hero” who shows up – Metal Knight, real name Bofoy (the always great Tessyo Genda), but he’s not interested in helping – he just wants to test his new weapon.  And he does it from a safe distance, using a drone to actually put itself in harm’s way.

What happens in trying to stop the meteor is important, but it’s what comes after that’s the real story of the episode.  Both Bofoy and Genos are helpless against it (though one of the rare comic moments of the ep is Bang momentarily imagining Genos is doing some good) but fortunately Saitama shows up at the last moment.  He truly is overpowered, but it’s okay because that’s all part of the joke – it’s only the most basic level on which the character operates, but he is a spoof of overpowered DBZ-styled protagonists.  Even a meteor is no match for One Punch (and Madhouse’s relentless sakuga), but with only a few seconds until impact not even Saitama can prevent the fragments of the meteor from causing catastrophic damage to City Z.

It’s easy to see where this is headed, but the genius is in the way it plays out.  The S-Class heroes get much of the credit, but Saitama does rise all the way from 342nd to 5th-place in the C-Class rankings.  But the mood of the public is sour, because they can’t see the forest for the trees – they only know that after OPM got involved, much of their city was wiped out, and don’t care to accept that it would have been annihilated (and them with it) if he hadn’t done what he did.  And it’s clear in ONE’s writing that they actually know the truth – it’s just human nature to want to blame someone for what’s happened.  They’ve had their lives wrecked (though to be fair, I would have bailed on City Z long before this), and they want to lash out.

There to take advantage of this are the buttmonkey Tank Top Tiger and his (slightly) cleverer and stronger B-Class “aniki” Tank Top Black Hole.  They’re pissed that Saitama “cheated” and jumped the rankings so quickly, and Black Hole sees an opportunity to incite the mob against Saitama and both wreck his pride and reputation and goad him into a fight he assumes is a sure win.  These zaku are detestable, but they’re an essential element of Wanpanman – they’re what the bulk of the Hero Association is.  Of course they’re no match for Saitama in any sense, as he quickly proves, but that’s not what’s important about this exchange.  What is important is the way everyone reacts.

It would be easy to label OPM as a pretty misanthropic and bleak affair, and there’s no question ONE pulls no (one) punches,  Bang reflects that he hates to see Saitama “waste away” in the Hero Association, which is clearly not good enough for him.  But in spite of his jaded perspective Bang is still here, and still fighting.  Genos remains steadfastly loyal to Saitama through everything, seeing the truth of what his master is.  And most telling of all is the response of Saitama himself – he doesn’t defend himself from these spurious charges with righteous indignation.  He simply calls out the mob for the easily-led sheep they’re acting like, and declares that he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about their approval – he just does what he does because someone has to do it.  I think it’s Saitama’s finest moment so far, and this whole sequence is a curiously hopeful one somehow – in the midst of infuriating injustice and stupidity, OPM feels like a series that believes something better exists.

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  1. G

    Of course if they had called him right away with the S class cowards… I mean heroes he could have destroyed it much higher in the sky and perhaps there would not have been so much damage.

  2. T

    Its sad to think that even though Saitama is the reason that the Hero Association was created the organization was not built to reflect Heroes like Saitama and as a result you get entire system that is not only corrupt, but you also have a system where so-called Heroes are entitled jerks that choose which incidents to get involved in or not.

    On top of it you also have a mass population while its understandable they are upset they lost their homes, etc, but ultimately are extremely ungrateful to the very person who saved their lives. Its an extremely unfair world and I like that OPM is making critics about the state of world in this matter. Despite it all I love that there are people like Bang, Genos, and Saitama that actively display that something better exists in this world regardless of the hypocrisy &the unfairness this world has against those whom are genuinely trying to get a fair shake in life.

  3. P

    Can we speak of Genos kun for a moment?

    *daps forehead*

    He is a pretty sexy character (Cyborg Ouji!) and when I speak of sexy I really mean animation wise, anytime he has a set piece it is sure to remind any anime fan why they got into anime to begin with.

    Also, on point review for this series as always. Your reviews of certain shows help punctuate aspects of Japanese culture for me.

  4. m

    As usual, your puns are great Enzo-san.
    I love how Saitama can be so (oddly) humble, when he exclaimed that his act of destroying the meteor shouldn't have been enough to make him jump from 342nd to 5th in C class.
    Also, Saitama's small smile at the end when Genos said that he will always follow him no matter what the public thinks, is so sweet. You aren't being very honest, are you Saitama? Even as he says he doesn't give a rat's ass about what the public thinks, and in truth, maybe he does think that (mostly), he is still a regular guy who cares about fans and popularity. It gives some hope that there are still some people out there who gives him the credit he deserves.

  5. S

    His humility is probably also the consequence of how strong he is. He just didn't see it as a big deal; it was such a tiny meteor, it shattered with a single love tap :D.

  6. m

    Just wanna add on:
    a note out to all heroes, if you want saitama to remember you even existed, just call him out on his bald head X'D #egg-man-banzai

  7. B

    Am I the only one who saw Bang and was reminded of Zeno Zoldyck?

  8. S

    Not at all, they're peas in a pods.

  9. We can definitely see that ONE was influenced by H x H, not to mention these are both Madhouse series.

    It's interesting having three (effectively) Madhouse shounen spanning three generations airing simultaneously. You can really trace the bloodlines.

  10. S

    Wait, the other is Ushio to Tora, but what's the third…?

  11. h

    there is a cover page where saitama is reading hxh and commenting on how interesting it is,that was a nice homage

  12. That's nice to know – I was not aware of that.

  13. Well, of course you're right – in my mind they are as I'm in the midst of a H x H rewatch, but that was a misstatement on my part.

  14. S

    Ah, I see :D. Well, good for you! I should goad my gf into watching HXH, so I can enjoy a rewatch as well…

  15. m

    The Zoldyck grandpa was the first thing that came to my mind, and when he showed his skills, that pose, even more so XD

  16. S

    To top it off, that manga cover-page appeared RIGHT during the events of this episode with Shiruba Fangu looking as he does. Here it is:

    (You can even see Pitou! *fangasm*)

  17. C

    – Rock-Smashing Water Stream Fist

    Yet he couldn't smash that big rock! Is he a fraud or what?!

    Haha, I'm just kidding. You'll soon see how much a badass that old man is…

  18. g

    It's nice to see reviews like this. Yes One Punch Man is a very entertaining show but there's actually a lesson to be told despite its serious premise.

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