WARNING: This review contains mild spoilers for the anime
Everyone in the anime world has heard about One Punch Man at this point, and if you haven’t, you must be living under a rock. The series about a bald man who can defeat anyone with just one punch has been the most talked about anime of the season, and probably of the year as a whole. I have already praised One Punch Man as an anime that has come to revolutionize mainstream anime, which is why I decided that, for this review, I would take a different approach to it (perhaps a dangerous one considering how many fanboys and fangirls this series has earned lately): did it live up to the hype or is it overrated?
First things first, this anime consists of only 12 episodes. I have always thought that you can’t really judge an on-going series with just 12 episodes. I have not read the manga, nor the web comic, but I have done my research and it appears that, even though the story progresses, there’s never any major plot going on and that the formula pretty much always stays the same: Saitama single punches everything. That’s why, while I’m aware that I can’t judge the entire series based on 12 anime episodes, I’m going to take the anime as a representation of what the series is about.
Let’s talk hype. As I’m writing this, One Punch Man is #10 on MyAnimeList with a rating of 9.08. This places the anime above other well-known series such as Cowboy Bebop, Death Note and different seasons of Gintama, Code Geass and Fate/Zero. There’s not a single anime reviewer on Youtube who isn’t talking about OPM, and the manga sales have boosted both in Japan and the USA because of the anime release. While still far from the mainstream recognition Attack on Titan has achieved, One Punch Man and Saitama have quickly become a meme on the Internet, especially on Tumblr.
What is it about One Punch Man that has attracted so many people? As I argued in my previous OPM article, the biggest quality of the series is the fact that it feels fresh and new. It’s a seinen that makes fun of shounen. Even though the shounen genre is still very loved in the anime community, it’s also a genre full of clichés and repeated storylines, and that has sadly gone downhill in the latest years due to lack of originality. One Punch Man takes advantage of this and laughs at the usual shounen tropes (fighting for your dreams, believing in your friends, training to be the strongest…), while placing its main character, Saitama, as a person who is already as strong as he can be and who is already living his dream/hobby while being frustrated that he’s SO STRONG.
If you add the fact that the series also has amazing animation courtesy of Madhouse and their passion for their job, golden comedic moments and very cool character designs, you’ve got yourself a hit series.
But… is that enough to deserve the hype that the series has gotten? While I enjoyed the first half of the season a lot, I didn’t have such a good time with the second half of it. That is due to two facts: 1) the first half focused on Saitama and Genos, probably the best anime duo of the year (SENSEI!), 2) the battles became predictable, and therefore, not that exciting.
The first aspect is not that so much a weakness, but more of a personal preference, and I understand that the anime has to focus on other character as well. But the second aspect is a bit more problematic. The thing about One Punch Man is that its biggest quality can also be its biggest weakness. Saitama being becoming frustrated that he can never have a proper fight is funny, but there’s also the risk of it becoming repetitive. In that sense, the series is not that much about the outcome of the battle as we know that Saitama is always going to win, but about the battle itself. And, in a season that had at least one battle per episode, we have only seen Saitama get serious and make an effort in one of them (and he wasn’t even giving his all). Saitama wishes that he can one day find an opponent strong enough for him, but the story won’t let him have that. The only difference with mainstream shounen is that whether or not he achieves his “goal” is not up to him. Sure, a character fighting to achieve his goal is something that we see in all shounen, but there’s a reason why: it works, and it keeps the story going.
One of the additions that seem to be there to spike things up was the Hero Association with its ranking system. However, that also turned out to be a bit of a disappointment for me. We never really got to know that much about the heroes until the last two episodes and they all seemed to be hopeless without Saitama being there to save the day, which poses the following question: how exactly did the planet survive until Saitama got that strong? And how are civilians able to have a normal life when cities are being completely destroyed in every episode? I know, I know… it’s anime and you can’t really expect it to be 100% realistic, but some more explanation and world building would be nice. But then again, we were restricted to only 5-6 episodes from the Hero Association, so I’m not going to be too harsh with this one.
Ironically, another problem with the series is that it falls under a shounen cliché: everything seems to be built so that the main character can save the day. Isn’t Dragon Ball always planned so that Goku can prove that he’s the strongest in the universe? Isn’t One Piece all about Luffy being the only hope and defeating the big bad in every arc? The big difference is that One Piece and Dragon Ball also include a lot of world building, something that One Punch Man doesn’t seem to have. This is probably why the series became a bit repetitive to me towards the second half of the season, where I expected to see some more explanation on the world, the aliens, the Hero Association (Tatsumakis’ telekinesis), and perhaps even an important battle for Genos or Sonic.
One Punch Man deserves to have a lot of popularity and praise for what it has accomplished, and I would honestly place it in the Top 5 animes of 2015. It is an excellent parody and action series, but not so much a great battle series with an original story. The anime is entertaining, original and definitely a fun watch. I could argue with it being the best anime of the year (let’s face it, this anime year has been a bit weak), but it’s definitely not the in the Top 10 animes of all time, nor the best anime to come out in the last 5 years as many argue. We’ll have to pick up the discussion if/when a second season comes out.