Baldies are cool! I’ve always thought that. Some of my favorite people, actors and fictional characters are bald. George Washington, Telly Savalas, Yul Brynner, Charlie Brown, to name a few. And the latest hairless hero to take the world by storm is Saitama—the star of the smash hit anime One-Punch Man whose biggest problem is he’s too strong. Literally.
Life’s a bore when you’re too strong. No doubt you’ve played a video game where your character is overpowered and you just mow down anything that attacks you without a thought. It’s fun for a little bit, but without a challenge, it grows tiresome. And that’s Saitama’s dilemma: he literally beats opponents in one punch, thus the name. But Saitama does have a weakness—he’s totally clueless about the rules of being a superhero. And there are a lot of rules for being a superhero.
The rules are put in place by the Hero Association, a massive bureaucratic agency that monitors and ranks all the heroes of the world. It also monitors monsters and villains and dispatches heroes to fight them when necessary. Luckily, when Saitama saves a young up-and-coming cyborg hero named Genos, he gains a student and someone to help him navigate the complicated rules.
The relationship between these two forms the nexus of the series and is where much of the comedy comes from. Saitama is ridiculously strong, perhaps the very strongest hero of them all, but nobody knows him and thus he’s a lower-level hero. Genos is strong, nowhere near the level of Saitama, but has a better understanding of the system, so he's ranked higher. The dynamic between the two is hilarious as Genos seems to be the only one who understands Saitama’s true power level. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, much like Rodney Dangerfield, he gets no respect.
Watching Saitama bumble his way through the complex hero-level system while Genos easily climbs the ranks and becomes more popular is a crack up considering Saitama dwarves Genos in power. Genos is constantly embarrassed by his overshadowing of his teacher, and Saitama is frustrated by the seemingly impossible-to-understand system.
Another aspect of the show that’s a great source for laughs is Saitama’s ridiculous strength. His power level is far beyond anyone else’s, but he’s a virtually unknown hero. So time after time, a monster or villain will pound their chest, threaten him, make long winded dramatic speeches about what they’re going to do to him, only to be punched so hard that they literally burst into pieces. Guts, brains, eyeballs, bones flying in every direction after one single punch!
Add to that a whole world of wacky heroes and monsters, and it just gets funnier. It’s clear that ONE, the writer of the manga, has a wicked sense of humor and delights in coming up with ridiculous heroes and villains. And he’s damn good at it. The sheer amount of funny characters is overwhelming. They run the gamut from obviously funny stuff to more serious types. One of the fan favorites is Puri-puri Prisoner, a ridiculously buff and totally gay prisoner superhero whose special move transforms him into a big naked sparkly angel. But there are more traditional types like Silverfang, the classic wise old martial artist that is insanely strong. But even the traditional ones often end up being funny as ONE’s comedic storytelling is multidimensional. A lot of the humor in One-Punch Man is wacky for wacky's sake, but there’s much more to it than that. There are genuinely funny comedic scenarios operating on multiple levels throughout the story. Stuff that even non-anime fans, or as I like to call them “Regular Folk,” would laugh at.
While the focus of the series is comedy, there’s some heartfelt drama and heroics sprinkled into the story as well. The relationship between Saitama and Genos starts as a gag but develops into a real friendship as the series goes on. Although Saitama seems mostly inconvenienced by his “hanger on,” there are brief moments where he shows his affection. And some of the weaker heroes get their moments to shine when they risk it all save others from monsters far beyond their power levels.
And all of this is wrapped up in some of the best animation you’ll see in your life. That may sound like hyperbole. And I don’t blame you for being suspicious in this era where we’re being bombarded by advertisers and fanboys proclaiming something is the “GREATEST THING EVAR!” every day. But trust me, the animation in this show pushes the boundaries of super powered combat in a way I have never seen. Some of the fights between the most powerful characters get so crazy it becomes surreal, almost abstract. It takes a lot of creativity and even more cojones to push a fight to such extremes that you risk losing the viewer, but they do. And it’s great. It feels like you’re not so much just watching a fight, but experiencing it.
Another interesting facet of the animation, and one that makes watching it worthwhile, even if you’ve read the manga (which has some of the best comic art you’ll see in your life, and that’s not hyperbole, either!), is the way they’ve animated the Genos' movements. One thing about mecha anime that’s often puzzled me is they often give the mechs the same restrictions of movements humans have. Why? A mech doesn't have a skeleton. It could spin any part of its body 360 degrees which would be a great advantage in combat. The animators seem to understand this concept and seeing the way Genos manipulates his cyborg body in inhuman ways is fascinating. Also watching the way he utilizes his jet-powered flight in clever and creative ways is equally compelling.
When watching the numerous action scenes in the anime, I’m prone to muttering, “Damn, that was cool” over and over. I don't personally know anybody involved with the creation of the anime, but I get the feeling they were very inspired when making this. To me, it seems like they went above and beyond the usual level of animation for a popular Shonen Jump series. It’s really something.
The Blu-ray comes with six short OVAs that are not to be missed! They focus on some of the characters that only have brief moments in the main story. And more than that, they give you a wonderful look into these characters’ lives that make them seem more human and may change the way you think about them. And they don’t cheap out! The animation on the OVAs is on par with the regular show.
An anime that is this good on so many levels only comes around once in a while. This is a great title to show people who don’t like anime why you love it. It demonstrates many of the strengths of the medium without many of the tropes that alienate non-fans. And above all, it's funny…like, funny funny.
You can watch the adventures of the "Caped Baldy" by picking up the Blu-ray/DVD right here!
English & Japanese with English Subtitles
Special Features: Clean Openings / Clean Endings, English Credits
Blu-ray Exclusive: Six never-before-seen Original Video Animations, Interview with English and Japanese Cast & Crew
Limited Edition Blu-ray: Six never-before-seen Original Video Animations, Interview with the English and Japanese Cast & Crew, 96-page full-color Booklet including Chapter 1 of the manga, 6 Art Cards
by Urian Brown
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