One Punch Man Episode 1: Heroism is a Hobby

Any anime fan worth their mettle would be able to tell you about the tropes of the shonen genre. The famous action-series; Dragon Ball, Bleach, Naruto, Fairy Tail, One Piece etc, they all share common traits and themes. They emphasis the importance of friendship, the need to protect those who you love and almost always feature a main character whose goal in life is to become the best, like no one ever was. We, of course, love these shows, but its often hard to deal with some of the cornier aspects. What if if I told you there existed a series that’s sole focus is to parody the absurdities of the shonen genre? Meet One Punch Man.
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One Punch Man has an interesting history behind it. Starting off as a webcomic by the mysterious author known only as “One”, it gained mainstream popularity internationally with the release of a digital remake series illustrated by Yusuke Murata for Young Jump Web Comics. Although I haven’t read the manga (which is available both in print and digital through Viz Media) in quite some time, I’ve always held a soft spot for One Punch Man, but does the anime live up to the pedigree?

Before becoming the titular hero, Saitama was a salaryman, discontent with his menial boring life. Following an incident with a mutant crab (just go with it), our hero is inspired to become the strongest there is and, unlike many shonen, heroes he succeeds. Saitama trains so hard that his hair falls out, but with such a loss comes great power. As his name implies, One Punch Man is so strong that he is capable of defeating any enemy with a single punch. Good for the Earth, which is constantly under threat from various arch-typical shonen baddies, but bad for Saitama as the cohort of disposable would-be villains pose little challenge to him. The first such villain we encounter; Vaccine Man talks at length about his complicated origin story (see any shonen anime ever) and sports a design that would put Akira Toriyama’s lawyers on notice. The Piccolo Daimao parody is swiftly dispatched of much to Saitama’s despair.


One Punch man 2

One Punch Man
is a subversive take on the quintessential shonen character arc; the quest to become the strongest. Instead Saitama’s goal is to merely find a worthy opponent. He doesn’t fight for justice out of a sense of righteousness, but rather for fun. It’s a hobby and like any hobby, for Saitama, it’s only worth doing if its still fun. The show is talks at length about how becoming the world’s strongest man has left Saitama quite melancholic. He knows that his actions haven’t made a huge difference,they haven’t stopped the Earth from being attacked, but that doesn’t trouble him as much as it should. It’s a character trait that is demonstrated through lengthy monologues which poke fun at the melodramatic tendencies of shonen characters. Saitama is an endearing protagonist, even if his motives for being a hero are quite selfish. We feel his frustration and that makes each disappointment all the funnier. The dialogue as a whole is quite witty and illustrates an appropriate degree of self-awareness. It’s meta-humour at its finest, but it does require you to be a least somewhat aware of the tropes in order to fully appreciate the jokes. The episode acted as a comedic character study of Saitama and funny as may have been, I am looking forward to seeing how Saitama interacts with his soon-to-be apprentice; Genos in the coming weeks.

While the animation is fantastic throughout most of the episode, this is studio Madhouse afterall. While Saitama’s fight against the Subterraneans is a particular highlight, there are moments where it lags. This occurs mainly in a section in which Saitama fights what appears to be a parody of the Colossal Titan. There a moments during this fight that the anime just isn’t as smooth as it is in other places. One could argue that some of the choppy found in this particular fight scene is a parody of some of the poorer animation found in a lot of classic shonen shows, but I’m not buying it. There is a nice detail found within Saitama’s appartement; a manga shelf full of tankobon and issues of Jump. It subtlety reminds the viewer and Saitama about why he chose to become a hero in the first place.

One Punch Man’s music is a lesson for future series in both its vocal themes and score. The background music provides the right level of energy for the fight scenes adding to their fast pace and brutal nature. In the moments which mimic the tense melodrama of the shonen genre, the score provides the suitable dramatic buildup as hero and villain stare each other down before the clash.  The opening theme, however, is where the music really shines. “The Hero!! Set Fire to the Furious Fist” by Jam Project is one of the catchiest themes that I’ve heard in the last few years with a heavily rock beat and high tempo. It is highly reminiscent of Hironobu Kageyama‘s work on Dragon Ball Z with a bit of metal thrown to keep it in line with modern opening theme sensibilities (see Death Note, Parasyte etc).  In contrast he ending theme;”I’ll Find It Before the Stars for You” by Hiroko Moriguichi is very subdued and is reflective of the emptiness that Saitama sometimes feels.

One Punch Man is a welcome edition to the Fall anime season and everyone, especially those who aren’t shonen fans should definitely give this one a shot. It’s something new, an approach to anime that we haven’t really seen since  Cromartie High School. 

Gary Moloney
Gary Moloney
Some would say that he is a mine of information, too bad most of it is useless. You can read his own comic work over on Follow him on Twitter @m_gearoid.