In Oct. 2015, the anime One-Punch Man treated viewers to incredible visuals, outrageous action and hilarious characters. Chief among them is Saitama, a laid back man with a gleaming bald head who, three years prior, decided that he wanted to be a hero.
Over the course of its 12 episodes, he fights all manner of absurd monsters and villains, from a tighty-whitey clad lobster-man to a hypersexualized mosquito woman and aliens intent on conquering the Earth. As the name One-Punch Man suggests, Saitama has the ability to defeat any opponent with a single punch. And this is no simple knock-out – usually, a strike results in the target exploding into a red splatter on any nearby surface.
One might think this overwhelming strength would make for a boring show – that it’s a gimmick that would grow tiresome after a couple episodes. However, the show stays fresh with interesting characters and self-aware humor. One-Punch Man is an anime that understands the eccentricities of its medium. Nearly every episode skewers the tropes that have begun to seem ever-present in similar but less cognizant action anime.
Speaking of tropes, to understand why One-Punch Man was such a breath of fresh air to many anime fans, one needs to know a little bit about the history of the medium. For many people, their first introduction to anime came in the form of Dragon Ball Z. Airing in America beginning in 1995. The show became an instant hit, giving its audience memorable characters, over-the-top action and a sprawling story.
Many anime and manga since then have attempted to use the same formula with various levels of success. After decades of reusing, reinventing and reimaging concepts, modern anime can feel burdened with some unfortunate clichés. This can especially be true in the portrayal of women, people of minorities and sexualities, and masculinity as a whole.
Enter One-Punch Man, an anime that makes the same moves as many of its comrades, but does so with a knowing wink and a nod. The characters and situations are ridiculous and the creators understand. This recognition can be drawn back to the show’s origin.
Initially, One-Punch Man began as a webcomic produced by a man that refers to himself publicly as ONE. For the webcomic, ONE worked as both writer and artist. This arrangement oftentimes left the art feeling unpolished by anime industry standards. Still, it perfectly communicated the comedic tone ONE was using to satirize superhero and action genres. After the project proved successful, established manga artist, Yusuke Murata, contacted ONE with a proposal to redraw the series for publication in Young Jump Web Comics, and then later, Weekly Shonen Jump.
With the creators and audience acknowledging the premise’s absurdity, it might be reasonable to think that the animation would take a back seat to the humor, similar to the more simple animation style of an Adult Swim cartoon. However One-Punch Man was produced by Madhouse, a studio that is well-known in the industry for its beautifully animated shows and movies. The show’s colors are vibrant, and the fighting is incredibly fluid, going from boldly drawn figures when at rest to a more pencil-sketch, frenetic drawing style when the action picks up. The end result is even a match of more straightforward action-based anime.
So whether you are an old-school otaku or someone that is just curious to check out something a little different, give One-Punch Man a shot. It is an exciting, entertaining and often hysterical anime that challenges the medium to not take itself too seriously.