For almost ten years now, our screens have been dominated by a renaissance of super heroics; tales of unexpected transformations and battles to protect loved ones, the world and even egos. While cinema and television alike are dominated by the creations of US-based Marvel and DC, Japan has crafted its own notable caped crusaders in Tiger & Bunny (Sunrise), My Hero Academia (Studio Bones) and the focus of today’s review, Kaze’s release of Madhouse’s One Punch Man (distributed by Manga Entertainment).
Upon its première in 2015, anime fans were quick to declare the series a saviour of the medium, noting its ability to confront genre tropes not with a devil-may-care attitude, but more, an amusingly apathetic smirk. However, were those early judgements on the mark, or does the series blow through its premise with just one punch?
Bruce Wayne lurks in the shadows of Gotham to route the crime responsible for his parents’ deaths. Spider-Man grapples with the balance of power and responsibility that claimed the life of his Uncle Ben. A lot of heroes have a particular moment or desire that spurred their crime-fighting future, yet One Punch Man‘s Saitama carries an origin story so simple even an episode villain derides it – the follically challenged man in a yellow jumpsuit simply wants to be a hero for fun.
However, Saitama is bored. Every foe he faces, no matter how big or nasty looking, is felled in a single punch. Every time he hears of a terrible new foe on the news, he charges out in hopes of a challenge – but is continually disappointed by his own strength. This concept serves as a double-edged sword for the series. It’s a unique and snappy selling point that will no doubt draw people in, but the lack of any real threat makes it hard for me get invested in any situation. Constant scenes of city-wide destruction and giant monsters may make great entertainment in the short-term, but when I know Saitama is a mere punch away from total victory, I find it hard to care about the multiple, supposedly world-ending stakes in the long-term.
This arguably isn’t helped by Saitama being a mundane person by design; both in terms of his simple, rounded bald appearance to his more emotional moments involving nearly missing a supermarket sale. However, that ironically helps Saitama stand out amongst the more creatively diverse, larger-than-life heroes that populate the series. Case in point: Genos, Saitama’s overeager understudy, is a cyborg who can shoot fire from his palms. You may ask why a character like that isn’t our protagonist instead, but with so many others having such distinct designs, the mundane, plain-faced Saitama is hilariously the one who stands out the most.
Where One Punch Man excels is in its technical side, being Madhouse’s most aesthetically pleasing production in a very long time. Everything about the animation feels neat and polished, with no obvious short-cuts or awkward looking shots coming to mind and the creative vibrancy of both monster and character designs is wonderful. In particular, I love the varied designs amongst the series’ cast, including the traditional-themed Atomic Samurai, the delightfully manic Speed-o’-Sound Sonic and the green-haired, deceptively young looking esper Terrible Tornado.
There is one character I did find issue with though – a beefy, flamboyant homosexual stereotype called Puri Puri Prisoner, who casually notes his conviction as being a result of assaulting attractive male criminals. Why exactly I find Puri Puri Prisoner so questionable, should hopefully be obvious.
On the other end of the scale however, the bratty character of Terrible Tornado was an unexpected delight that caught my attention in a big way – especially as we learn more about her in some of the six OVAs generously included in this release.
While my preferred language track for One Punch Man is the original Japanese, the English dub is one of the better seen in the anime scene of late. While I’m not entirely sold on Max Mittelman as Saitama, Marieve Herington deserves a shout-out for nailing the character of Terrible Tornado, delivering a performance on par with the popular and distinctive Aoi Yūki.
In conclusion, One Punch Man boasts impressive technical prowess and a striking, appealing supporting cast that are unfortunately held back by the centre stage performance and a premise that struggles with the full series length.One Punch Man is an enjoyable action series with occasional seasonings of satire, but unfortunately isn’t quiet the saviour of anime as others have claimed.
Title: One Punch Man
Distributor: Kaze (c/o Manga Entertainment)
Platform(s): DVD / Blu-ray
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray
Released: Out Now!
Disclosure: A copy of One Punch Man was supplied by Manga Entertainment, the distributor, for the purposes of this review.