One-Punch Man – Anime Review

Japanese Title: One-Punch Man

 

Similar: Overlord

Tiger & Bunny

Inferno Cop

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Superhero Action Comedy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Action animation.
  • Several good jokes and a funny premise.

Negatives:

  • Shallow characters.
  • Repetitive action structure like every shounen, albeit faster paced.
  • Jokes grow stale from repetition.
  • No tension.

When I first heard of One-Punch Man, long before an anime adaptation was in consideration, it sounded sidesplittingly funny. A superhero, so strong he defeats all enemies in a single punch, is depressed at the lack of challenge. A brilliant idea. Shame then they used it to create an anime the same as the rest of its genre. One-Punch Man tries to be The Incredibles of shounen anime, but fails.

Given that premise, I expected the focus to be on the non-action parts of the hero’s life – maybe he goes into therapy or finds ways to create tougher villains (see Mystery Men). What I didn’t expect was to have the action dominate. Some claim it isn’t about the action, yet why does it take nearly three quarters of the screen time? With a protagonist who wins in a single punch (no exaggeration), there is no tension or conflict.

The writers try to fake tension by having a side character fight, where the matchup is more even, but we know Saitama will show up at the final second, wasting a dozen-plus minutes of our time. This happens every fight. So desperate are these writers to remove Saitama, they often pretend he doesn’t exist. In any fight, a simple call to Saitama would solve everything without effort; however, for several fights, the heroes magically forget him, even when the world faces destruction. Of course, he still shows up right after a side hero gets a useless bravery moment.

Even the attempts at drama are forced. After Saitama saves a city, some random guy in the crowd says, “He saved us, but our city’s still damaged, so he’s a scumbag!” Then everyone who had been cheering for Saitama says, “Yeah, he saved our lives, what a scumbag!” Did the team think anything through, put some effort during planning? Hell, even his backstory is lazy. He became strong by doing 100 push-ups, sit-ups and squats with a 10 km run every day – that’s not even impressive for a human athlete.

If it isn’t about the action, then what are we supposed to focus on? The flat cast of characters? No character has more than surface characterisation, with the exception of Saitama’s sidekick Genos, who shows the beginnings of development. Frankly, the story is better when it focuses on him. Instead of exploring the established characters, they introduce new ones to distract everyone like a pack of seals from the last characters’ flatness. Furthermore, the side cast is pointless with Saitama around; this would be fine if it worked at the humour’s core, but instead, we are supposed to see these characters as contenders of real importance, somehow care for them.

Humour’s focus rarely deviates from the One-Joke Man. See enemy – wait for trouncing of useless side characters – win in one punch – Saitama annoyed (‘HAHAHAHAHA’ cue card for audience) – repeat. At times, however, the jokes are great. Good strategic censorship always makes me laugh, that angel guy going Super Saiyan brought pain, Saitama getting no credit for kills and the first couple of one-punch jokes were funny. Once you realise they didn’t think of much beyond that, One-Punch Man becomes boring. For expert execution of the same joke used several times, see Fawlty Towers’ episode ‘The Germans.’

Their one attempt at a story is the introduction of a superhero league, which pays heroes with public donations and ranks them by class. Unfortunately, this aspect has no impact on the plot. Similar to not calling Saitama every fight, they use the most convoluted reasons to keep Saitama from the top. Remove the league and nothing changes but the loss of several characters in this bloated cast.

One-Punch Man would have been far more interesting with the removal of Saitama. Instead, have him become a legend, a myth. He would represent the retired shounen hero after beating every villain, become so bored with fighting that he hid from the world. Focus on Genos in his search of the legend – battle villains along the way – hoping to become apprentice and rise as the next shounen hero. Justify Saitama’s absence by having him not care whatsoever about the world’s end – that’s how boring combat should be to him. This would allow for conflict with Genos and still have the occasional one-punch win.

Despite all I have said, One-Punch Man isn’t a bad anime – simply average. It doesn’t bring anything new or a spin to the table; however, it isn’t bad either, even when it bores. One-Punch Man is OK.

Art – High

For a few action minutes every episode, the animation is spectacular, a magnificent spectacle of colour and fluidity – the animators better have received above the appalling industry rates. However, outside these sequences, scenes return to slow pans and static characters (‘let the mouth take the budget’). Applying the manga-like art style from those action sequences to the whole series would have been nice. Some character designs are hilarious.

Sound – Medium

Fine all around in the sound department. The music doesn’t hype as much as I would have expected for the genre. The actors don’t have room to flex in this script. Nothing bad, though nothing stands out either.

Story – Medium

The funny premise of a one-punch superhero grows repetitive before long. The protagonist saps all tension and conflict from proceedings, leaving a generic battle storyline.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of the genre. One-Punch Man is enjoyable in parts, though unmemorable outside the action animation.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative:

DissapointingLacks ConflictUseless Side Cast

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4 thoughts on “One-Punch Man – Anime Review”

  1. This really is spot on. I did a review of volume 1 of the manga. Such high hopes and it really was a big disappointment. I think it got hyped way too much. People were doing reviews and top ten list when the anime came out, but I just do not see the hype. I agree it just feels like they had an idea and just missed the mark. I think the satire and deconstruction of the genre is a great idea, but this was the wrong approach..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Perhaps trying for a coherent story was the mistake. It might have been better to stick to a comic strip style, like Calvin & Hobbes or Garfield – short, quick jokes, small problems in Saitama’s life and such. That doesn’t really work for an anime though. The answer is a tough one.

    Like

  3. “Hell, even his backstory is lazy. He became strong by doing 100 push-ups, sit-ups and squats with a 10 km run every day – that’s not even impressive for a human athlete.”

    Just to point out, (not to be that guy…as in all honesty I don’t care) however, even the characters in the show said it was impossible to get this strong doing that alone. It is hinted that his powers come from another source. The back story he does have is however non existent.

    I for one thoroughly enjoyed one punch man. It was pretty funny when it took cheap shots at others in the battle anime genre. Now that I read your review, I do agree with some of the comments, about the lack of tension, but then, considering it’s short length, it’s good for a chuckle, its also very good for the casual anime fan (myself included in this genre). I managed to get some non anime fans to enjoy watching this with me, which is something I always enjoy in an anime. Its more approachable than some. (I remember trying to show people gundam wing, it did not go well).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not at all, not at all – if you see an inaccuracy in my writing, please point it out. I did notice them mention there was more to his backstory, but they give it so little attention (even the mystery of it) that it feels like they don’t care enough to have thought it through.

      Ooo, yeah…Gundam Wing, not the best introduction to anime. If you want to show mecha, go for something like Evangelion (if they like heavy drama) or if you prefer Gundam, start with Gundam SEED instead, as it doesn’t require prior knowledge like in Wing. Better yet, Cowboy Bebop never fails to impress casual and newer anime viewers.

      Like

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