No Complaints Here: One Punch Man

Since I’ve been talking a lot about media I wasn’t that fond of, I figure I might as well go ahead and recommend something unreservedly: One Punch Man.

Stories of heroes and legends are as old as man. And every hero has their nemeses. Batman has his Joker, Superman his Doomsday and Lex Luthor and Darkseid and so forth. Even Hercules, the original superhero, had Hera to torment and vex him, and drive the story of his Labors forward, and mix things up when things got too complicated.

But what if they didn’t? The universe is not fair, and it is not symmetrical. It is not driven by the constraints of narrative to produce exciting battles between plausibly-equal agents. Some times, battles come up in which one side is unmistakably superior.

One Punch Man is such a universe. The hero, Saitama, is a man who sets to be a superhero, ends up gaining superpowers…and in getting them, becomes the absolute strongest thing in his vicinity. He is fast enough to dodge any blow, strong enough to endure any blow he doesn’t feel like dodging (if he’s worrying about his grocery list, for example), and strong enough that every fight, against every foe he faces, ends with one punch. (This is excepting the case in which he uses his deadly ultimate combo attack Sequential Normal Punches.)

This is a story that can only exist in the rich narrative ecosystem of superhero and fighting shounen anime. It takes the piss out of a great deal of them, but it doesn’t ever come across as ironic or winking at the audience. The universe is frequently ridiculous, but the characters of the universe are forced to confront it head-on, and laughable villains can have very serious body counts, if not stopped.

The story is not yet done, and it’s already raised a bunch of interesting questions about the nature of power, heroism, courage, and stories themselves. We know that the hero will triumph, that courage will prevail, that even if the villain has the hero on the ropes and all seems lost, the hero will pull a win out of their back pocket somehow. This is how stories work. What happens, then, in a story where the author dispenses with the premise that the hero might lose, and makes the story not about whether or not the hero will win or lose, but what happens as a result of the hero’s ever-increasing string of victories? What, ultimately, are the limits of the good that can be achieved with punching, even irresistible punching?

The series is well-written, well-animated, well-voiced, with one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard to date in any media. If you have any interest in superheros or anime, check this series out.


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