This is a poorly-drawn webcomic about a bald guy who’s so absurdly powerful that he can defeat all of his foes with a single punch, drawn by a guy who was merely testing out new digital art software instead of trying to create a good story.
It doesn’t sound promising, does it?
One Punch Man is, against all odds, really good.
Yusuke Murata, professional manga artist, picked up the webcomic and readapted it, converting the silly scribbles into a true manga. This means that the point about bad art that I mentioned earlier (in the teaser intro designed to get people to click ‘more’) is a complete non-issue.
It’s hard to imagine that something like One Punch Man could become so well-respected. One of its main strengths is that it knows exactly what it is. You may recognize the question “is this a parody?” from my fellow cynicscape bloggers every time we watch Akame ga Kill.
Now we ask this of One Punch Man, a story about an absolutely invincible superhero. A story with a protagonist who is incapable of losing any fight, where all of the violent conflicts come down to when the hero decides to end it.
Is this a parody? Yes. Yes it is.
One Punch Man is a parody of both superhero comics and Shonen manga. It mocks characters who live for the thrill of battle. It pokes fun at the invincible main character. Nearly every plot teases the classic Shonen trope of throwing useless side characters at the main threat while the hero is off somewhere else.
Basically, if you’re at all familiar with some of the sillier tropes and cliches of superhero stories and Shonen anime, and if you possess a sense of humour, you’ll love how One Punch Man dives into and mocks each one.
But there’s more! What makes One Punch Man so magnificent is that it’s not only enjoyable for its comedy.
For a parody, One Punch Man has exceptional characters. The titular character Saitama is much more complex than the Gary Stu anyone would expect. He’s a very human character. Despite being so powerful he could flick Earth halfway across the solar system, he gets annoyed at the normal frustrations of life. He obsesses over saving money. He makes mistakes. He has desires he can’t fulfill. He frets and worries.
Saitama is an absolutely brilliant example of a character who is overpowered in his Universe, but in terms of characterization, he’s imperfect. This keeps him relatable and entertaining.
The secondary character is Genos. He’s about as close to the opposite of Saitama as you could get. He’s a 19-year-old cyborg who’s insanely popular (both in-story and out). Genos is calm and collected, honourable and strong. Essentially, he has all the character traits you’d expect from a perfect hero.
In any other story, Genos would himself be a Gary Stu. Here, he has Saitama to keep him grounded. All the characters believe Genos to be a perfect hero; ideal in personality, appearance and power. In actuality, Genos can’t compare to Saitama, and he knows it.
Saitama and Genos are brilliant foils. Their dynamic is next to perfect.
As the series progresses, more and more characters are added. Most of them belong to the Hero Association – an organization of superheroes sworn to protect the world from various monsters that have barely any explanation.
These minor superheroes have silly gimmicks and powers, such as the crew of Tank Top heroes, just to remind everyone that this is a parody. However, they’re all well characterized. They act like real human beings with personality strengths and flaws. They make mistakes and learn from them, just as Saitama and Genos do.
It seems like simple stuff, but considering how many superheroes there are in One Punch Man, it’s crazy to see just how well-written each and every one is.
I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say “One Punch Man would be good even if it weren’t a parody”. The humour is one of its main strengths, after all. However, having well-written serious elements in a parody is rare and appreciated.
The final key strength of One Punch Man is the art. This is pretty funny when you consider One Punch Man’s origins and the art of the webcomic. However, the remastered manga has gorgeous artwork.
Characters and backgrounds have great details. That’s the normal expectation for a manga with gorgeous artwork. Yusuke Murata is willing to subvert that for comedy. Saitama is often drawn in a crude, simplistic style to represent his uncaring nature. It serves to emphasize the contrast between Saitama and the rest of the world, particularly crazily-detailed Genos.
Don’t take this as laziness on Yusuke’s part, though. Saitama is still drawn seriously when he’s acting serious.
The artist’s passion shines through in a truly unique way. Every now and then, the manga will launch into a scene that is clearly designed to be animated, with each page showing off a new frame. The results are incredible, especially when put into a gif.
The anime is no slouch either. The animation fits the art well and looks even better than the manga. The one artistic flaw with the anime is that it does not directly animate the manga’s animation sequences. It’s a terrible missed opportunity.
However, One Punch Man’s anime redeems itself pretty easily. It expands on and adds a few scenes. It really adds to the story, and never feels like padding or filler. The anime also adds in some small touches that really add to amazing moments – one of Saitama’s punches becomes so powerful that it changes the weather.
Now I have to spend some time talking about One Punch Man’s flaws. …This will be a short section.
First off, the length of the chapters are weird. Given that it started out as a webcomic, this isn’t exactly unexpected. It doesn’t affect the quality of the manga when you’re binging through every chapter at once, but to wait several weeks or months for a 7-page chapter that doesn’t advance the story is annoying.
The pacing also shows in the anime. At least one episode had an entire short story arc in the first ten minutes, and then spent the remainder on small single-chapter stories. Another result of this is that the first episode is made out of a couple short stories from before One Punch Man was intended to be a real series – the first episode isn’t as good of an introduction to the show as it could have been.
This is an odd case where the anime could have been better by deviating from the source. It’s not the only example of this.
Currently, the anime is only slated for 12 episodes. As of writing this, 11 have been released. About halfway through the anime, a character is introduced in an end-of-episode scene hinting at her role in the future.
People who have read the manga or webcomic know Fubuki’s importance. People who are only watching the anime will expect her to gain importance, to tell the story arc that was being hinted at in this scene.
And she won’t. Now it’s possible that the final episode will try to incorporate her and compress her story arc so that it will fit in and deliver the payoff for her foreshadowing, but I doubt it.
Something similar happened with a mid-episode scene devoted to foreshadowing a villain of a future arc. The anime doesn’t have enough episodes to reach that arc, let alone show it.
Of course, this ‘flaw’ will disappear if One Punch Man gets renewed for a second season. Since this hasn’t been confirmed yet, I need to express it as a flaw.
One other flaw, or at least something that irks me, is the single character Pri-Pri Prisoner. This is a hero whose motifs are based on prison rape.
This one likely won’t be a flaw for everyone, but personally, it rubs me the wrong way. (Phrasing.) Do you think an unrepentant rapist should/can be portrayed as a heroic character?
Even if you don’t, Pri-Pri Prisoner is just as well-written as his other superhero companions. In the 12 episodes of the anime, he’s actually the minor hero to get the most character development and focus. His arc is small, but meaningful. He also gets a well-animated special attack and transformation sequence.
As you can imagine, these aren’t too serious flaws. The first episode of the series is still good, and the oddly-paced middle episodes are still entertaining. Fubuki may not have any real importance yet, but her appearance doesn’t detract from the show. In fact, if One Punch Man is renewed for a Season Two, Fubuki’s appearance and the mention of Garou will make those two story arcs come full circle instead of appearing out of nowhere.
And Pri-Pri Prisoner? He’s one of the more popular minor superheroes. Perhaps I’m just easily-squicked out, or perhaps everyone was squicked out too and warmed up to Pri-Pri Prisoner after his other characterization took hold.
Overall, I highly recommend One Punch Man for any anime or superhero fan. No work of fiction is perfect, but One Punch Man is simply amazing and succeeds brilliantly at what it set out to do. It comes pretty darn close. I suggest watching the anime first, then switching over to the manga once the anime ends. You may also want to backtrack through the manga to find those beautiful animation sequences.
Both the anime and manga receive ONE out of ONE PUNCH.
Enough, you idiot! Shorten your review to 20 words or less!!