The Fall 2015 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
One Punch Man ?
It sure is nice to see a beautiful show having a great time. Based on a beloved manga with truly stunning art, and baited with some lovingly animated trailers, One-Punch Man arrives carrying heavy expectations - and swiftly punches them to oblivion. In this very strange superhero story, the titular One-Punch Man is Saitama, a man who wanted to become a hero and thus trained so hard he grew bald. And what was his reward for this training? Way Too Much Power. Now, in spite of Saitama only really wanting an exciting battle, he's just too strong - every potential villain is dispatched with a single punch, every enemy folds to the slightest flexing of his might. And so he wanders through his days, doing chores and buying groceries and hoping he'll run into a foe who can bring spirit to his life again.
You'd think a story built on that one single joke wouldn't have legs, but One-Punch Man manages to ride on it admirably. It helps that the show is absolutely gorgeous. Taking advantage of a dream team of talented animators, One-Punch Man comes to life through a mix of crisp fundamental art design and jaw-dropping animation setpieces. The everyday scenes are full of bold colors and dynamic camera angles, and when it comes time for a fight scene, the show cuts loose with evocative smears, spinning cameras, and wild linework. The various fight scenes are distinctive enough in their animation that this episode essentially comes off like the animation version of a rock medley full of guitar solos, with one animator lending exaggerated, smear-heavy energy to the fight with the colossus and the next bringing the subterraneans to life through wild camerawork and dramatic impact frames. Even the less frantic scenes feature beautiful visual composition - one that stuck out to me was the lead-in to the colossus fight, where Saitama's grocery shopping was deliberately framed in small terms (there was even a nicely animated shot of him fishing for loose change) in order to strike a greater contrast when the monster arrived.
That scene was also a great example of how well One-Punch Man creates a sense of scale. This show is a very deliberate takeoff of western superheroes, with an emphasis on the “super” - battles here feel huge, and fights are staged in such a way that even the still frames feel appropriate to the aesthetic. One-Punch Man is filled with tongue-in-cheek gags reflective of its “superheroes exist, but eh, whatever” tone, exemplified in both Saitama's boredom and the silliness of the villains he fights. The first monster mocks him for his crappy origin story, while the second apparently became a giant crab-man simply because he ate too much seafood. Because of course that happens, this is a world with superheroes, how else do people become monsters?
One-Punch Man's humor is much more incidental and understated than most anime comedies, and thus much more successful. Instead of beating you over the head with silliness, it's simply silly. Instead of Saitama cracking jokes about how apathetic he is, he is simply apathetic. The humor inherent in Saitama making an offhand “oh” as a monster he defeated collapses and kills millions is stronger for the show's refusal to dramatize it. Like with the animation and direction, the humor here has nothing to prove - it is excellent, you can appreciate that or not.
One-Punch Man is easily the best-executed show of the season, its technical merits far outstripping the competition. On top of that, it's also very funny, and even manages to tuck in a little emotional resonance through its close exploration of Saitama's ennui. Altogether, it's a pretty stunning package - not the most thematically or emotionally rich experience, but certainly an extremely good time.
One-Punch Man must get really tired of seeing everyone's scrotums all the time.
Seriously, in a world where supervillains just pop out of the ground like dandelions at the slightest provocation (a guy ate too much crab every day so he became CRAB MAN, a musclehead took a strawberry-flavored steroid that turned him into THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD, and even a fan of classic cars accidentally became CAR MAN for some reason), not one of these giant monsters bothers to tuck their balls away. Fortunately, One-Punch Man is the world's greatest hero, so he doesn't have to look at these mutant-privates for very long. Once upon a time, he was a salaryman, filled with languor over the pointless nature of his passionless career, so he dropped everything and decided to become a superhero. Now he's trained so hard that he can defeat every new baddie and kaiju, no matter how strong, with just one firm punch (hence the name). Once again, he finds himself wondering if there's more to life, now that he's stuck in a different dead-end occupation that he thought would bring him happiness.
Okay, so there's a lot in that last sentence to unpack, but first we have to talk about the animation. Oh my god, the animation. Basically no other anime looks this incredible from an artistic standpoint. Of course, there's a wide breadth of styles represented in anime, and if you're not a fan of the more loose, kinetic, "runny eggs" style of Gainax-imation, this might not turn your crank, but that is a mighty big "might." This show looks drop-dead amazing, and unless you are exclusively a fan of the Kyoto Animation style where everything is pristinely on model with no style variation whatsoever, this episode will absolutely blow you away visually. Every action has weight, energy, and tension. Wild gore, character acting, and detailed backgrounds alike are detailed lovingly, and there are like four or five setpieces inside this first episode alone. Shingo Natsume was the animation director for Space Dandy, so you can expect that level of visual finesse and creativity, except now it's attached to a story that people have already fallen in love with through a hit manga.
So let's get back to that story! The truly remarkable thing about One-Punch Man is that it's already put a ton of powerful emotions behind its silly premise. One-Punch Man's boredom with life isn't just meant to be a punchline. The audience is forced to see things from his perspective and join him in his deep well of worries. That car-themed supervillain I mentioned is barely even regarded by our hero because he spends the entire seconds-long fight in his own head, wondering about the point of it all. This used to mean something to him! This used to be everything he ever wanted! Things become even more heart-rending when One-Punch Man dreams of fighting a truly difficult opponent with the fate of the world at stake, and the most stunningly animated setpiece of the episode bursts forth to illustrate his profound joy at being able to love what he does again. Unfortunately, he just wakes up into underwhelming reality when his alarm clock rings. It's funny, but I also felt really bad for him. Dang.
I don't know what I was expecting from One-Punch Man, but I definitely wasn't expecting an immaculately animated action comedy about inescapable existential ennui. Hot damn! This is easily the best anime of the season so far, and I can't wait to see where it goes. Even if OPM defeats all his enemies with one hit, there's still a huge wealth of possibility to be mined here, and that's really incredible all on its own.
Being a superhero can be a real drag. Saitama knows this intimately. His One-Punch Man alter ego destroys each and every threat to humanity with a tepid expression. There's no thrill or challenge to be found for him when every villain explodes as soon as his fist makes contact with their face.
What Madhouse does with this simple concept over the course of this 25-minute comedy-action show is nothing short of amazing. With a tongue firmly planted in its cheek, One-Punch Man destroys a crab-man in his underwear with a business tie, goes head to head with a super-sized, steroid-doping bodybuilder, and smashes literal mole men in a fervent rollercoaster of animation. The studio abandons the polish of the show's art midway through in favor of an action-packed whirlwind of muscles, exploding buildings, punches, and kicks. I was both awestruck to see Yūsuke Murata's art captured faithfully and even improved upon with the addition of motion.
The episode itself covers the first half of the manga's first volume, stopping right before the introduction of Genos. It does feel like three self-contained stories put together, but the episode's overarching point is establishing Saitama's apathy. He begins as a detached, unemployed salaryman and finds that living his dream as a superhero hasn't absolved him of his indifference, he just has less hair now. This culminates in the last battle where he literally dreams of a subterranean race destroying 70% of humanity and putting up a decent fight to stave off his boredom.
His attitude further feeds into the show's humor when every newly-minted monster has a lame backstory like “I ate too much crab” or “I obsessed over too many cars” and is quickly disposed of by Saitama, who just wants to finish his grocery shopping. The lame backstories aren't a criticism of the show. It's intentionally poking fun at itself. There's also a kid with a giant butt-chin that I probably laughed harder at than it deserved.
Shows animated this adeptly don't happen every season. One-Punch Man is a rare treat where the staff put every ounce of their love for this work in for all of us to see. It would be a disservice to not watch it.
Down on the street! It's a car! It's a bike! It's...One-Punch Man!! Well, actually, his name is Saitama (although at this point you'll only know that if you've read the manga), and he's just an everyday guy who decided to screw getting a job as a salaryman and decided to become a hero. You know, for fun. After confronting a (frankly terrifying) crab monster three years ago, he trained so hard that he lost all of his hair but became able to fell a villain in a single punch. Now he's living his childhood hero dream, but sadly there's not a lot of fun in it – after all, how exciting is a fight if you end it with the first punch you throw?
Manga readers will know why this was one of the most eagerly anticipated titles this season, and I'm pleased to say that it mostly lives up to it. It's hard to fault the visual adaptation, with monsters like Vaccine and the giant body builder living up to their original depictions and Saitama's deadpan speech patterns as he fights them. Of necessity some of the original detail from the artwork is lost, but the old-school-style fight scenes more than make up for that, with dynamic movement, clearly visible speed lines, and plenty of monster viscera. (Plus, you know, butt-chin kid.) Where the art falters is in its desperate attempt to keep the male villains naked without showing that they are male, and in the bid to avoid drawing penises, it looks like at least two of the bad guys have vulvas, which may be its own special problem. More of an issue, however, is the way this first episode crams in the entire first manga volume. Granted, that book is very episodic and it would have been a drag on the animated version to keep each chapter as its own episode. On the down side, however, it does make this feel far too crowded and doesn't fully allow us to relish the goofiness of each bad guy and to see Saitama mope around in his supersuit, which can be very funny. If the show keeps up this breakneck adaptation style, the show could begin to suffer, so we'll have to hope things slow down a little with episode two, which should be digging into volume two's plot.
There's still plenty of fun to be had here, however. The subterraneans' reaction to Saitama's power is great, and there's something about seeing a guy scrabbling for change while buying dinner in a red and yellow superhero costume that's just inherently funny. It feels less zingy than the manga; where I did laugh out loud a few times reading, I didn't quite get there watching. But manga fans shouldn't shy away from the show, and if you've never read it, I suspect you'll enjoy it even more. There really is a lot of fun to be had with One-Punch Man, and in this age of gritty superheroes in the movie theater, isn't about time we had one who isn't in it because of his destiny?
That's One-Punch Man. He's just here for fun.
Review: As possibly the most anticipated new franchise of the season, expectations for this one were pretty high. I am happy to say that the first episode does not disappoint those expectations and may even exceed them. It hits with all of the impact of the titular hero's punch, though it is definitely not for the gore-averse.
The basic premise is that the now-bald title character (I don't think he is ever named in this episode?) was once an unemployed job-seeker when he encounters an underwear-sporting crab-man called Crablante, who was seeking a “big-chinned” boy. (And boy, does he have a big chin!). He lets the protagonist go because they share that same dead look in their eyes, but the protagonist eventually decides that he cannot allow Crablante to just slaughter the boy, so he finds his purpose in defeating evil monsters and does exactly that. Three years later and his intense training has left him bald but also having achieved his goal of becoming strong enough to take foes out with a single punch. The problem is that he is now so good, so strong, that it's boring. He feels his emotions receding and has trouble working up enthusiasm for anything; even a man hundreds of feet tall who sought to be the “strongest man in the world” ultimately poses no challenge. When he does finally get one, involving a race of powerful subterranean beings invading the surface, it turns out to be merely a dream. But a new cyborg foe seems headed his way.
An opening theme which sounds like a hold-over from ‘80s metal bands sets the tone for this fun, if also quite graphic, ride. Wanton destruction and mayhem is the order of the day in a setting where cities are named by letters, where super-powered bad guys are not that unusual, and where some kind of organization which can dispatch super-heroes exists. The protagonist seems to stand apart from that – he repeatedly stresses that being a hero is just a hobby for him – but what kind of relationship he might have with them is unclear since almost the entire first episode is fixed solely on him. It certainly seems like being concerned about the damage being wreaked is not going to be a part of this, but that's fine because everything about the production practically screams “camp.” The hero is also easy to sympathize with, too; despite his overwhelming power, his dissatisfaction with life is readily relatable.
The technical merits are also pretty impressive. Although it has a bit of old-school look and feel to it, the animation in the dream sequence fight in particular is vibrant, ambitious, and stylish, and the way the hero's appearance varies according to his enthusiasm level is a nice touch. (But is anyone else reminded of a certain bald-headed character from Bleach?) The one knock is that the initially-appearing villain looks like a Dragon Ball reject, but fortunately he gets annihilated quickly.
If you're a fan of action anime and don't mind some gore, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
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