[Synopsis]: Saitama (Furukawa, Makoto), though bald and unassuming, is an immensely powerful Superhero capable of dispatching any foe he encounters in a single punch, however this dilemma makes him wonder if being a hero is all the fun he once imagined it would be. Along with Genos (Ishikawa, Kaito), a cyborg on a quest for revenge and his self-proclaimed pupil, Saitama goes about his daily life as a ‘Hero for Fun’ hoping to one day encounter an enemy that can truly test him and discover what it means to be a hero.
Because of how central he is to the story and design of the show I want to first address Saitama as a character because understanding his personality and construction is integral to the context of the show. The first episode does an amazing job introducing him and establishes his motivations for being a Superhero as well as his introspective nature. What is perhaps most important is his comically detached, blase attitude which, along with his short exchanges and inexpressive face, is the primary source of the show’s levity and Saitama’s own characterization. It is this blase attitude that stems from his inability to find worthwhile opponents that leads back into his introspection at his own existence and serves as the premise of the show. Moreover, these character traits closely mirror One Punch Man’s own self-awareness of its over-the-top deliveries and ridiculous nature. With all of that said, the question that comes to mind is how do you make a character without meaningful flaws compelling? How can you create an engaging story that focuses on a Superhero more mindful of local discounts and imminent supermarket sales than the titanic villain in front of him?
To answer briefly, it is by bringing out the human side of both Saitama and the cast around him. Though countless characters in One Punch Man’s universe are powerful, at the end of the day many of them are heroes – they have a desire to do good and act upon their individual brand of justice which is all too relatable and that grounds both Saitama and the story. Though the enemies he faces are of no threat to him, Saitama’s foes are catastrophic menaces in relation to other people and while the show allows him to conduct himself with a great deal of levity, he can still become serious and more importantly: care, despite his aloof personality.
Now knowing what kind of story One Punch Man is, it should come as no surprise just how ridiculously fun the cast becomes beyond Saitama. While only a short list of characters are recurring within the length of the show, they are anything but forgettable due to their outstanding character designs and amazing voice cast. While the show has numerous ways of coping with Saitama as an effectively all-powerful entity, one of the more effective and endearing ones is exploring the conflict through the eyes and the struggles of other heroes and it is in this approach that the rest of the cast becomes both enjoyable and compelling. Many heroes conduct themselves as though they were the main characters of their own story and this is where some of the legitimized drama and intensity of the narrative is derived all the while speaking to over-the-top parody. All in all, the cast of the show is immensely enjoyable with the villains just as fun to watch as the heroes that confront them.
As if it weren’t enough that One Punch Man’s creative characterization and chemistry succeeded to the point that it did, it truly exceeds all expectations in terms of art and animation. This much is obvious from the first episode as it does an excellent job establishing the absurd scale of the battles and the ludicrous strength of the show’s heroes and villains. This is a show where the villains can wipe out cities on a whim, blow through buildings like tissue paper, and survive the most lethal of heroic onslaughts, allowing for the show to capitalize on the extravagance of the setting to deliver some of the most extraordinary animation of the past few years. In many ways the show is nothing if not a clear exhibition of artistic prowess with the first episode sporting perhaps one of the most impressive animation sequences of all time and featuring some of the biggest names in the business.
One Punch Man is, for the most part, without problems in this area however at times it can become obvious that the scenes of lesser importance suffer a bit in terms of character design clarity and the like, primarily in the latter half of the show before the finale. I found these slight quality drops more than made up for however due to the fantastic fight sequences and otherwise great artwork and I would applaud Natsume Shingo for balancing the show as well as he did – putting the animation and effort right where it was deserved without letting things fall through in the interim. I’ll finish by saying that One Punch Man not only exceeded the expectations set by its secondary source material – the brilliantly drawn manga by Murata Yusuke, but made great use of the original manga to present amazingly detailed key frames while still finding a way to create something unique and separate from the manga, standing on its own.
The story, mostly due to the nature of One Punch Man’s premise doesn’t share the same extravagant success as its characters and animation however is by no means uninteresting or even lacking. The show unfolds in a somewhat episodic manner reminiscent of the age-old ‘Monster a day’ formula however the manner in which it does it is closer to parody than anything else and once the show gets rolling the villains tend to take up short arcs rather than single episodes, allowing for more character interaction and lengthier fight sequences.
From the get-go One Punch Man sets the tone for the story perfectly – striking a careful yet entertaining balance between the levity of the situation, the ridiculousness of the enemies, and the sheer scale of the battles. Practically every single fight sequence is great and executed in such a way that they support the attitude of the show – action packed and serious at times but never far from poking fun at something or undermining the situation by means of Saitama’s appearance. The comedic scenes are great as well and I can scarcely remember a joke or parody moment that fell flat.
The lack of an overarching narrative somewhat disallows the show from presenting a masterpiece of plot and storytelling however that was never the kind of story One Punch Man set out to tell and the daily life approach to Saitama and the world he lives in is highly entertaining in its own way – be it the show’s outstanding action sequences or its hilarious comedic scenes.
The soundtrack of One Punch Man was enjoyable but doesn’t rise to the same extravagant heights of success as its other elements. Surprisingly, despite the show’s near-parody nature, it didn’t make use of its more recognizable songs too often and instead only brought them out for key moments rather than having them punctually arrive each episode. I liked this approach for the show as I think only a few of its tracks were truly noteworthy and using them sparingly gave better gravity to the scenes where they appeared. The themes worked well for the heroic atmosphere of the show and I think felt right at home within the work.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
One Punch Man was great fun from beginning to end, delivered with nearly unparalleled visuals, a perfectly balanced atmosphere, and a set of great heroes and villains each sporting stellar designs and voice casting. Featuring one of the most memorable first episodes of all time, I think One Punch Man will quickly enter into the lexicon of staple shows and it will feel entirely deserved. Watching this show as it aired was like watching history being made each week.
I gave One Punch Man a 9 because of just how outstanding it was in all of the areas discussed above. Perhaps the only thing holding it back from a perfect rating is that it hasn’t yet had the time to address something substantial within the plot though it will inevitably do so if it is rewarded with a future installment.
I would recommend One Punch Man to any and all fans of great action sequences as it genuinely did present some of the best scenes I have ever watched and the entirety of the show is littered with them. The show has great comedy and is well worth checking out for that reason as well.