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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

One Punch Man

One Punch Man

Social networking can sometimes be the best advertising possible, and that is no more true than in my decision to watch One Punch Man. I'd seen the posters for it, but since it looked like a fairly typical, slightly naff shounen anime, I'd decided to give it a miss, along with - to be honest, along with most of the anime airing this past season. It was only when I saw gifs of it online, and was urged by friends to watch it, that I actually considered watching and reviewing it. Then, in the past three days, I mainlined the entire series in time to get this review out.

A satirical take on the shounen anime formula, One Punch Man follows Saitama, a former salaryman and now amateur superhero who is so strong that he kills everything he fights in a single punch. Desperate for a satisfying fight, Saitama, a lazy and absent-minded sort, seeks out the strongest monsters he can. He is quickly joined by Genos, a cyborg who wishes to grow stronger and believes that he can do so by studying under Saitama, not realising that Saitama has absolutely nothing to teach him.

(In a slightly odd turn, this anime is adapted from a manga which was in turn adapted from a webcomic, which in and of itself kind of pushes at the edge of parodying adaptation culture already.)


That's a synopsis that doesn't quite do the show justice, as it is - more or less from start to finish - a warm, funny comedy full of likable characters and well-pitched humour. It gleefully, but fairly good-naturedly, satirises shounen anime (along with some jabs at the wider superhero genre and tokusatsu) with the kind of joy and detail that you could only get from someone who genuinely enjoys the genre. The humour is sharp, on-point, and relatively varied, ranging from fairly crude jokes to joking references to other media to some surprisingly detailed, involved jokes.

Where the show really excels, though, is visual humour, setting up some truly wonderful visual gags. Saitama himself is a running visual joke, often drawn from the neck up in a much more simplistic style to everything around him, even in dramatic scenes, and that's a joke that never gets old

Part of why it works so well is that this show is just beautiful. It's one of the best animated animes of the year (it probably just barely loses out to Digimon Adventure Tri), particularly excelling whenever it has an action scene, which are frenetic, awe-inspiring, gorgeous to look at, extremely dramatic and, usually at the same time, deeply, deeply silly.

Saitama was remarkably good looking pre-baldness.

The characters are also all pretty fun. Most of them are fairly one note - fan favourite Licenseless Rider and the gaggle of S-ranked heroes introduced at the end are a joy to watch, but none of them are deep, layered characters, and they're not really meant to be - but Saitama has a fair amount of depth to him, his comical and lazy exterior hiding a warm, and fairly canny, personality. The King of the Deep arc, not quite at the end of the series, has a great moment demonstrating this, but you see bits and pieces of it throughout the series.

To be honest, this is very much the kind of series that I usually wouldn't like. It's very episodic and arc-based, while I prefer more serialised stories; it's predominantly comedy with some action thrown in, whereas I prefer serious stories with comedy added in; it draws large chunks of its inspiration from Dragonball Z, which I have never been tremendously fond of.

But it works. There's genuinely intelligent, hilarious writing behind this, skillful balancing (and contrasts between) humour and action, excellent pacing, good voice acting, an earworm-heavy soundtrack, an interesting cast, and, as mentioned before, some astoundingly good animation. Probably the only things keeping it from being my anime of the year are the fact that it is so far outside what I usually like, and the fact that it's come in a year where, while good anime have been thin on the ground, what few good anime we have had have been excellent.

Genos is adorable.

The story ends on - quite possibly the best line in the series ("A man who is a hero for fun ... and profit," delivered as dramatically as you can deliver what is essentially a reference to memes), and on several sequel hooks, such as Genos learning that S-ranked hero Metal Knight, a cyborg like him, is his 'enemy' and possibly responsible for the death of his family, and equally evil A-ranked hero Amai Mask plotting terrible things. I don't know if One Punch Man will be getting a sequel, and this being an anime we may well not know for a year or two yet, but I hope it does. It's a story with plenty of life in it, and the manga has many storylines not yet covered by the anime.

Also, I found out that apparently there are people who don't realise it's satire, and that's just beautiful. That's just so beautiful.

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