One Punch Man – 09

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What a waste of a great voice actor…

It strikes me, not for the first time, that there’s a fundamental contradiction at the heart of One Punch Man.  Every time the protagonist gets into a fight it’s an anti-climax, which would normally be a huge narrative problem – but that anti-climax is effectively the central pillar of the premise.  It’s a very clever device around which to build a series, a chance to defy expectations in quite a novel way – and it once again makes me respect the creativity and daring of ONE.

But does it work?  Is it a huge narrative problem?  I suppose that’s a question every viewer (or reader) has to answer for themselves.  For me, the best I can say it that sometimes I’m bothered by it and sometimes I’m not, and this was an instance where I kind of was.  I really liked the buildup with the Deep Sea King – part of it was Koyama Rikiya’s spectacularly histrionic performance, no doubt, but for me he was the best villain of the series so far.  And his face-off – and subsequent beatdown – of Genos was a cracker in every way.

But then, just like that, it was over.  Because that’s just what Saitama does – it’s the whole point.  I get that what really matters isn’t the punch but rather the aftermath, but I still felt a little let down.  Seeing Genos brutalized the way the DSK did was powerful stuff – and it raised some hopes.  But Saitama is so ridiculously overpowered that any normal rules, narrative or superhero, seem to apply.  He’s apparently incapable of taking damage, and unable to impart anything less than a fatal blow if he has killing intent.  RIP, Deep-Sea King.

None of that is to take anything away from that aftermath, which was fully up to OPM’s very high standard.  Genos fulfilled his role beautifully, even taking a spitwad of acid to save a little girl.  Mumen Rider had his glory moment at last, arriving just in time to save Genos.  And the point here, folks, is that he did save Genos, even though he wasn’t remotely able to worry the DSK in any way.  Just by being a distraction – buying a few minutes by becoming the Sea King’s punching bag – he kept Genos alive long enough for Saitama to arrive and save the day.

I wasn’t sure just how ironically ONE intended us to take Mumen Rider’s bonding moment with the crowd, complete with sentimental strings – at least a little, for sure – but there’s no question the guy truly is admirable in his steadfastness despite having no apparent powers whatsoever.  I think the point is that integrity and courage is a power in its own right, and has value in battle (though not as much as Saitama’s punch).  But the ultimate bro moment in the episode is reserved for Saitama himself.  Surely, we think, the charade is over – with hundreds of witnesses to what’s happened, Saitama is finally going to get the recognition he so richly deserves (maybe this is even the moment when we see the birth of his hero name).

But in One Punch Man, things aren’t ever that straightforward.  The capacity of the masses for stupidity is seemingly limitless, and ultimately one jackass is able to convince most of the survivors that the true meaning of Saitama’s success is that all the other heroes are weak (interesting revelation – the Hero Association is funded by donations).  Rather than allow that perception to stand, Saitama sets himself up as the caricature that’s been painted of him – a cheat, a credit-stealer.  It’s irritating as hell for the audience, but it seems that Saitama truly is a guy who doesn’t do this for the credit – he just wants to do what only he can do.

It’s a pretty ugly world ONE has created here.  Miyano Mamoru’s Amai Mask is an image-obsessed pretty boy who’s the anti-Saitama – he’s mastered the art of manipulating public opinion, and it’s his top priority.  The public are ungrateful sheep, eager to be lied to and demanding to be protected.  But there are always moments of clarity, of nobility – Saitama’s act here, Genos’ relentless loyalty.  And the fact that Saitama did get one kind letter among the stack of Genos’ fawning and hate mail – a simple “Thanks”.  And it came from Mumen Rider, who was clearly conscious even after his beating by DSK.  It takes a bit of the sting away knowing that at the very least, there are a few out there who know the truth about Saitama – and the Association itself is learning it too, albeit slowly.

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  1. w

    The social commentary continues… it's like ONE based these characters off people in a competitive work environment.

    Genos is popular, well-meaning and competent, but he always ends up failing due to carelessness or the odds just being stacked against him. And now we have License-less Rider, who represents everything that a hero should be, and people even appreciate his noble efforts… but all he has is his ideals–he's utterly powerless to accomplish anything meaningful (well, save for distracting DSK until Saitama showed up. …okay that is pretty meaningful, so never mind.)

    Despite this show's cynicism, though, some stuff still works out. Saitama got promoted, after all~

  2. R

    You are right in focusing in the anti-climatic aspect of the show/manga. At the end of the day you really have to decide whether this is deal-breaker for you or not. I don't really mind too much since it shows us that even if Saitama is the Strongest creature on Earth, at his core the real power is that he will always do the right thing and not abuse his powers even if it means getting ahead in life, that is not what he considers the most important thing. Maybe he can't find joy in his fights, and neither can we, but at least those lives he saves and those acts of kindness are more meaningful than a dragged-out brutal fight. That can be what he values most, and might be what we could appreciate from the show.

  3. Y

    A very wise observation. ^_^

  4. o

    I understand your opinion, but I will have to disagree. Deep Sea King Punch is one of my favorite punches of the series. My favorite part about it is that DSK's death (as with every villain's death in this series) was a foregone conclusion once Saitama showed up. DSK really had it coming, and I savored the moment he received his comeuppance. Also, that punch was so powerful that its air pressure blew all the clouds away and made the rain disappear! It was awesome! I never tire of seeing Saitama do awesome feats of awesomeness, but that's just me. That's being said, DSK punch doesn't hold a candle to what's coming next (which is AWESOME).

  5. B

    The whole point of the first season can be summed up with Saitama's speech in the aftermath of the meteoroid strike. "If the Hero runs away, who's going to fight?" Licenseless Rider says pretty much the same thing, knowing full well that he's way out of his league taking on Deep Sea King. But since he is a hero, he must stay and fight. What does it means to be a hero.

    If Murata can draw fast enough, there is enough material for the next season, and it's an inversion of this season's story, what does it mean to be a villain.

  6. o

    This. This is so true.

  7. s

    damn…after seeing genos in that state, that little girl must be scarred for life; she must be having nightmares. Even though his an adroid, genos' slowly melting away had a bit of a dark edge to it. You could really see him suffering

  8. Y

    He's a cyborg, though; not an android. But you're right. I was kind if wondering if that was meant to represent the theme of sacrifice for the ignorant "small people" — having her see the state this person was literally demolished into for the sake of saving her life might very well frighten her, but it might also make her think in the future, about the value of life in general. That too is a message heroes sometimes strive to pass on.

  9. T

    As the audience we know how much Saitama wants to be acknowledge and I think this moment proved despite what he actually says his actions clearly differ. Everyone saw what he did it could have been so easy to gain the acknowledgement from public opinion, buts its clear more than anything Saitama is a true bro. While its true he ultimately saved the day it does not diminish the fact that the previous heroes worked really hard to try to save everyone, which should be acknowledged.

    Either way I'm annoyed of how ungrateful the public is and how despite that they keep demanding to saved regardless of their shitty asses. It worries me how corrupted the Hero Association is and what they are ultimately planning now that they are slowly acknowledging that Saitama is clearly a person to watch out for b/c if push comes to shove he will not follow the rules.

    Lastly I'm wondering if a truly worthy opponent will ever appear? I would love to see Saitama actually serious.

  10. J

    "Serious," you say? That's an oddly appropriate word to use for the next arc, whose antagonist may not be exactly what you hope for, but will be a massive step up from the Deep Sea King.

    Regarding public opinion and Saitama taking the PR hit, I think there's a parallel to be drawn to how the internet has allowed for very quick and easy spread of (mis-)information, particularly with the advent of Twitter and the need to reduce stories/concepts to eye-catching soundbites. It doesn't take much for some issue to pick up a head of steam precisely because it seems outrageous, but under scrutiny the complexities that muddy the water are revealed. But who is going to bother digging deeper if our favoured news outlets won't do it for us and we don't have the time or inclination to do it ourselves?

  11. C

    So, uhhh what happened to Sweet Mask's haircut? I was really digging it.

    This right here is the beauty of OPM. That you have a very OP character in a shounen-y setting and somehow it tells an amazing story with great, memorable characters. Anyone else and it would have ended up as a bad fanfic-tier work, but ONE made it work.

  12. S

    Personally I tend to expect the "climax" in an OPM arc to be not so much in a spectacular fight with Saitama (which will never happen) but in a punch that is as spectacularly animated and impressive as possible. In this sense however DSK kind of managed to work as an anticlimax too, because as powerful as that was, it really lasted the blink of an eye, even for OPM standards. You had to go frame by frame to appreciate it. But yeah, it's part of the experience – frustration included, imho. A show doesn't succeed only if it makes you feel good things – it simply has to make you feel what it WANTS you to feel.

    And OPM definitely is all about disappointing anticlimaxes, in a sense it deconstructs the aesthetic of the typical shonen or superhero story – when there's spectacular fights, it's also painful because it's always brutal beatdowns of good characters. When the moment of the pay off comes, it's solved in the blink of an eye. By all standards we should be happy – that is the best possible outcome, right? The enemy annihilated in an instant, collateral damage limited to a minimum. And yet, the public – both in- and out of universe – can't help but feel disappointed. Even the citizens after a moment of enthusiasm fall back – it didn't go as it played out in their heads (a desperate struggle between good and evil with the former emerging as victor only after enduring much pain and wounds) so there must be something wrong with it. Expectations on similar narratives apply to both of us, and it's the fact that Saitama breaks them all makes him an outcast.

  13. Y

    The number of perceptive individuals in this comment section keeps growing — and that in and of itself is a joy to behold; I really appreciate well-constructed opinions such as yours.

  14. I agree that a show has no obligation to make you feel good (I would hope that's obvious from my writing over the past five years). But I also think it's legitimate to sometimes feel unfulfilled with a show like this one. That's the conundrum of OPM – it absolutely is a deconstruction of the classic superhero myth, all about the anticlimax. It's extremely smart and subversive. But for me at least, that element occasionally frustrates.

  15. S

    Yeah, I know all too well. There's an Italian novel – "The Desert of the Tartars" that is basically entirely built upon this. It uses build-up as a literary device to highlight life's lack of sense. A dude enlists in a sort of foreign legion kind of corps and is assigned to a fort on the edge of a desert. In the desert, says the command, there are the tartars, and they could attack at any moment. So the fort's garrison has to stand guard. Time goes on, the guy gets promoted, no tartars show up. Occasionally something happens that makes it look like trouble is stirring – then it gets settled, and no tartars. The build up is extreme… and until the end, no tartars. Oh, they do attack finally. When the protagonist is locked in his room, dying of old age, and only gets to hear the noise of the battle before breathing his last breath.

    Good at conveying its intended meaning? Yes. Annoying as hell? Oh yeah.

  16. s

    the best way i can explain a conundrum like this is through the anime series texhnolyze (one of the best anime ive seen). It expertly crafts its narrative and sells its points masterfully. Do i think it's brilliant storytelling? yeah…will most feel happy and fulfilled about it's nihilistic viewpoint? probably not. As i grew older in my teenage years, i began to realize that feeling negatively about a certain aspect of a piece of fiction doesnt mean you dont appreciate/love the craft itself. Sometimes that's how things work; the human mind is weird

  17. S

    Yeah, but still makes for weird experiences. Do I think End of Evangelion is a beautifully crafted movie? Sure. Do I wish to rewatch it ever again after the first time gave me a massive bout of depression and generally made me feel like shit? Nope, thanks.

    It's like appreciating that Mike Tyson is a great pugilist because he is pounding you into a small puddle of blood and pain. Surely true but makes you wish he weren't (granted, OPM can just be "annoying", definitely not "painful", this is for more extreme cases).

  18. w

    It's surprising to me that Saitama did terribly in all the written hero association exams, given he seems to understand the hero ethos better than anyone else in the series (save MUMEN RIDAAHHHH).

    Unsurprising is that he doesn't seem very bothered about being labelled a cheat or a hack, after all he spent much of the series before this practicing unlicensed heroism. It has never been about the glory for Saitama. As you've said, he just does what needs to be done

  19. m

    I had the chance to meet Saitama's seiyuu Makoto Furukawa at Anime Festival Asia (Singapore) just a few days ago. Interestingly, as I was reading the discussions here, I got reminded of the comment he made, that he does get a little disappointed that he was not able to use a wider range in terms of voice acting because Saitama is always so nonchalant. In fact, his maxed performance was during the first episode, against the Aliens, and we all remember that was a dream.
    Epic, yet anticlimatic and sentimental is how I would describe the show.

  20. I would take no issue with those terms…

  21. A

    Seems that I'll be on the opposite side of the fence compared to most people here : I do not, at all, find the OPM fights anticlimactic. On the contrary !
    It's a foregone conclusion – scratch that, it's the DEFINING FEATURE of the show – that the bad will get beaten in one punch. Doh, that's the very title actually. So there is no anticlimax here, just a build-up leading to the final punch – just like a long, grueling fight is a build-up toward the final move which win the match.

    Also, for all the social commentary and the reflection on the nature of heroism, OPM is also, at its core, a parody of super-hero comics and shounen. I might be being a bit too meta, but a good part of what makes OPM-One-Punch-Fights climactic, is [i]precisely[/i] the fact that we know we aren't going to get yet another drawn-out fight which will last several episodes. The others heroes are here to do the "regular" fights, Saitama is here to end it quickly without it wearing out its welcome. It's a welcome refreshing change from the shounen formula, and I actually look forward to see such blink-and-you-miss it punch conclusion (or even offscreen conclusion, like with the algae-tentacled monster).

    I can't understand people saying they'd like to see Saitama having to fight seriously. It'd ruin the entire point of the serie ! It's like saying "I love this character for what he is, so I'd like to see go completely OOC" – it's just nonsensical and contradictory to me. The day OPM have fights where Saitama can't faceroll the opposition is the day it stops being a parody and becomes what it mocks. That would be probably the saddest thing which could happen.

    I'll continue to look forward to fun, climactic fights which ends up in seconds with a single punch in the face !

  22. G

    I thought for sure that asshat turning the crowd against him was a villian or plant of some kind. They drew him so ugly I thought for sure we are gonna see this villian again.

  23. s

    he needed to look repulsive so we as audience members could instinctively hate him; aaaahhh, human psychology 101

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