‘One Punch Man’ – if you read that and think “How can that possibly be interesting?” then you’re right on track with understanding the basic needs of an interesting story. I myself would not have given this a try unless I had seen images of the protagonist and realized these people clearly have a sense of humour.
And that theory was reinforced before even the opening song (which is now stuck in my head).
This show combines the most engaging elements of the super-hero genre and anime styling while taking them both beyond the unspoken boundaries of reason to just tell a great action story while having as much fun with it as possible. The main character (Saitama) is far from the only interesting character on the show. Whether your thing is Super Man, Iron Man, Ninjas, Guyver, The Force, you are likely to find at least one character that appeals to you. I found several.
So what’s the premise?
This one guy becomes so strong that he can take out any threat with a single punch.
Isn’t that boring?
So… So why are you raving about it?
That’s why this is worth analyzing. I was just as surprised as you are. If you read my Storytelling blog post about Tension Killers, you’ll notice I warn writers not to make their heroes so strong that there is no perceived threat.
“The best way to understand tension (and equally important, to understand tension-killers) is to think of it as a game… … A game is only a game as long as there is a chance that you can win, and a chance that you can lose. If there is no chance of winning, then you check out. If there is no chance of losing, then there’s no excitement. The tension only exists as long as the Protagonist has both a chance of winning and a chance of losing.”
You might ask, “Then how does this show get away with it?”
It doesn’t. Saitama’s life is incredibly boring. He’s lost all passion. And the audience feels that about him.
The thing is, in Saitama’s case, the antagonist is not his enemy – the antagonist is boredom. In a weird way, we as the audience end up wanting the villains to be incredibly strong, just so that Saitama can have some excitement in his life.
There are other points of tension as well. His friends are not invulnerable, and he notes early on that he has a habit of never arriving on time, as well as other issues he has to deal with. But the usual primary point of tension is thrown out in this show, which makes for a very challenging premise to write with. I keep wondering how they can possibly keep the show interesting, and they keep finding a way. I even have my doubts about a second season, but I’ve come to enjoy them proving me wrong.
This show was brought to my attention at the perfect time. I’d been struggling with writer’s block for a while. A lot of the entertainment I used to get excited about has not been as interesting to me lately – that includes various anime and super-hero titles. So a show that takes both of those genres, mashes them into one, takes them to the extreme level of absurdity and shoots it into my face with a bazooka is the kind of wake up I needed right now.
The action is stylistically over the top and very well choreographed, and the art design is fantastic (in the right places). The combination of themes from western and Japanese pop cultures makes this show an easy transition for sci-fi fans who are new to anime and want to be introduced to the genre, while the diversity in the characters serves as a showcase of what makes anime character designs so awesome. Many of these villains are so well thought out, detailed and executed that it makes you feel as if they could have been very significant characters if they didn’t have the misfortune of existing in the same world as Saitama. A lot of inspirational material here for fellow writers.
One complaint I have is that the intro song keeps putting me in the mood for a video game, but as the show is still fairly new there aren’t yet any games based on it, nor any that comes close to the feel of the show.
I wanna do some analysis now and explain some more why this show impresses me so much. As of yet, we have not been given an explanation of Saitama’s power. Although it feels as though the show may be riddled with clues, a definitive explanation has not been given. We know where Saitama thinks his power came from, which is a rigorous exercise regime, but it doesn’t logically follow for physical workouts alone to cause that much difference. This created an interesting response in me as a viewer though, because even though I don’t know how he got his power, his level of intensity in training makes me feel that he’s earned it; and that actually feels more important than the how. How many times have we seen heroes with supreme power that they didn’t seem to do anything to earn? They tend to feel like dooshes to me. But because Saitama’s power is addressed the way that it is I end up not giving credit for his power to science or magic or fate or anything else like that – I end up associating his power with just how hard he worked to get it – and that makes it even more impressive whenever I see a demonstration of his power. This is what makes Saitama better than Super Man.
Here’s my problem with Super Man. He’s not a man – he’s an alien. That disqualifies him from being a representative of how ‘Super’ a ‘Man’ can be. But that’s how writers want to use him. Writers keep holding him up as a symbol of greatness and justice that men can achieve if they stand up for what they believe in and all that, but his powers are not accessible to humans. You have to be born a Kryptonian in order to even have access to those kinds of powers.
Dragon Ball Z was very upfront about this. You can’t be as powerful as Goku unless you have Saiyan DNA, no matter how much training a human does. At BEST you’re Krillin.
But Saitama is human. We don’t know where his powers came from. They may even be alien in origin. But if Saitama himself is human, then whatever power he gained and how, it is something accessible to humans. And even though we don’t know what he needed to do to access it, we know that he worked hard in the meantime. This makes him a far better representative of a ‘Super’ ‘Man’ than actual ‘Super Man’.
And now for the Parental Cautions part of the review. I would certainly say it’s not for young kids. Teens maybe, but there are some things to be aware of as a parent.
Though cartoon, animes are known for being horrifically graphic, and this show is no exception. Most enemies pretty much explode when Saitama punches them. Though I find the violence in this show significantly less oppressive in the humourous, hyperbolic context in which it’s used. Kind of like Mortal Kombat if everyone had ten times as much innards.
Occasional guy butt. There are definitely more naked men in this show than I would normally agree to watch. And though there are some shots of naked guys from the front, their frontal matters are generally hidden by shadow or carefully placed wreckage.
There is also a mosquito girl that is naked but doesn’t seem to have the expected parts. As with many naked female creatures in sci-fi or fantasy fiction, she has bosom bumps instead of nipples.
There are some T-shirts going around in the show that say “Oppai” which means “Breasts” and that have a symbol resembling a curvy ‘W’ with dots for nipples. So, not very graphic artwork.
Practically nothing. It really impressed me. The mosquito girl makes satisfied noises when her minions drain their blood into her, and there are some phrases that could be taken as innuendo, but she is only around for half an episode. After that, the only other mildly sexual comments come from Purri Purri Prisoner, who talks about not being able to control himself around cute men.
As is common with anime, the writers and artists employ a lot of tactics like gnarly, monstrous faces and pseudo-sexuality in the behaviour of some of the villains in order to make the audience more uncomfortable with them. It’s the only explanation I have for why the Deep Sea King wears a speedo. For me, the monstrous mutant effects are not quite nightmare inducing, but it’s another reason the show is not really suitable for young children.
There is Mild Language throughout, with brief Profanity.
There doesn’t seem to be much, at least not that caused me any concern personally, and I’m pretty uptight about that stuff. I’ll just mention a few things that come to mind that might concern others. As usual, when I do these reviews I’m thinking primarily of what might be concerns to Christian audiences.
The villain Vaccine Man calls himself “Mother Earth’s Apostle.”
The villain Beast King calls himself “Almighty”.
In episode 7 Saitama wears a shirt with a cartoon devil face. I do not know what the shirt says.
Purri Purri Prisoner’s special attacks are called ‘Angel Mode’, ‘Angel Rush’ and ‘Arc Angel Flash’.
There is mention of a couple of fortune tellers and it shows them looking into crystal balls, but I recall no chanting or use of common occult symbols.
Tornado is described as having E.S.P.
There is a super hero called “Pig God”.
There is the brief appearance of winged creatures that to me resembled Japanese bird demons. They were not around for long.
As is explained in the show, there is a rating system for threat levels that goes (in ascending order) from “Tiger” to “Demon” to “Dragon” to “God”. Now since it’s a Japanese show I assume they don’t mean “Threat Level Jesus”. They are likely using a generic term, but it’ll sound weird when someone on the show looks at a particular threat and says “This is ‘God’”, unless you know the context.