The first season of One Punch Man draws to a close with without a question its most emphatic battle sequence yet – though the results certainly come as no surprise. In a series built around anti-climaxes stopping in the middle of an ongoing manga, the anime did a nice job of finding a balance that actually felt something like a climax. In the end, this series was every bit the game-changer I’d expected it to be.
I feel confident in saying “first season” now, because there not a snowball’s chance in hell we won’t see more OPM anime. We don’t have sales numbers on the first disc volume yet, of course (it releases Wednesday) but the Stalker has done exactly what it should – spike dramatically as the series has soared in quality. It’s going to sell well, almost surely five figures – and on top of that, the Murata manga adaptation has seen huge sales spikes both on the new volume and back-issues. The only question is timing – whether the production committee will allow the Murata version on ONE’s original to build a lead. They don’t have to – they have ONE’s story in plenty – but they may want to wait until they have more of Murata’s manga volumes to sell.
Make no mistake, this success is deserved – ONE’s writing is excellent, and Madhouse has done a stellar job of adapting it (and Murata’s art style) after a slightly underwhelming beginning. But funnily enough this finale, beautifully animated though it was, felt like watching vintage Gainax as much as anything this season has. Animation Director Se Jun Kim is known primarily as a mecha legend and never worked at Gainax as far as I know, but the Genos-Boros battle especially was spectacularly Gainax-y.
If commercial considerations alone weren’t enough to convince you, there was certainly plenty of foreshadowing in the finale. A warning for Genos from Drive Knight that Metal Knight is his enemy, for starters – and indeed, Metal Knight showing up after the battle to scavenge Boros’ ship for alien technology was pretty ominous. Then there was Amai Mask, who likewise shows up when it’s all over but the shouting (literally) and proceeds to rip into the assembled S-Class heroes for a sloppy job. Amai strikes one as a very dangerous figure – hot-tempered and preposterously vain, he claims he’s sandbagging it as the top-ranked Class A intentionally in order to keep any unworthy heroes from moving up to Class S.
As for Saitama, there’s no question this is his most serious battle so far – though in context, that doesn’t mean so much. He does have to do more than simply give Boros one punch – the alien leader has considerable regenerative ability and no small amount of power in his own right. He’s strong enough in fact to pull a Ralph Kramden and send Saitama to the moon – where the latter simply holds his breath, muses at the relative lack of gravity and leaps back to Earth. He unleashes a series of “normal” punches against Boros before finally turning to a “serious” one when the alien trots out what he calls his finishing move.
The best part about this fight was the way it was choreographed, drawn and animated – it really reminded me of one of the big dustups with the Spiral King (especially in the movie version) from Tengn Toppa Gurren Lagann. It was even set to the OP theme music (also a very Gainax move). It was a great set piece, one of the best of 2015 (I especially loved it when Saitama’s final blow was so powerful it parted the clouds in the entire Eastern Hemisphere) – though the result is never really in doubt. In the end, in fact, the dying Boros is well aware that Saitama is lying about how tough the fight was to allow him to expire with a little feeling of satisfaction. But that said, Boros was unquestionably Saitama’s toughest opponent so far (though I suspect that would change soon enough if he had to take on certain members of the S-Class club).
Who’s the strongest hero not named Saitama in this series? Commando Tatsumaki is certainly the flashiest, but we’ve seen plenty of hints from the others (I think it’s notable that we’ve gotten no direct clues about Child Emperor’s powers). This is a dangerous, erratic group of superheroes – arrogant, jealous, viciously competitive with each other. And while there wasn’t much they could have done in this instance Amai Mask is right about the fact that when they “win” their battles they tend to leave a swathe of destruction behind them. Nothing much that happens in this series (and it certainly applies to Saitama, too) is neat and tidy.
In the end, One Punch Man was the sum of its parts, and more. No question it’s a gorgeously produced piece of work from Madhouse, and it’s often one of the funniest shows of the season. But it’s also deceptively smart and deceptively subversive, setting its sights both on the superhero genre and on the malaise gripping the young in today’s Japan. OPM is one of these shows that can be enjoyed perfectly well on a superficial level, as the funny and epic thrill-ride it is, but if one chooses to embrace the social satire this show elevates to another level altogether.
I started out believing that One Punch Man had a chance to be the next big thing commercially, and while it may not end up being a true mega-hit, I think it can be a monster. There’s no reason this series can’t be highly successful in the overseas market (it would be huge on Adult Swim, surely) and my suspicion is that it may be on of those series that exceeds the Stalker estimates (good as they are) by a big margin. It speaks to many kinds of fans on many levels, and comes at the audience from a very smart and intellectually challenging place. This is the kind of shounen and the kind of hero fiction that can cross demographic and cultural lines and international borders and connect with the masses – and it’s a series that’s going to have a long life both as a manga and as an anime.