The Spring 2019 Anime Preview Guide
One-Punch Man season 2
How would you rate episode 1 of
One Punch Man (TV 2) ?
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How was the first episode?
It felt strangely appropriate that One Punch Man's second season began by introducing a man with no real strength or powers at all, who'd somehow found himself in the position of being known as the strongest hero in the world. This production itself is essentially a character like King; while One Punch Man's first season was blessed with a brilliantly talented director and an incredible array of star animators, its second season doesn't have any of those resources, and it spends most of this episode attempting to downplay its lack of impressive animation. Unfortunately, that oddly appropriate meta commentary is probably the cleverest thing about this episode; in my opinion, One Punch Man isn't very good without its animation.
I was well aware of how disastrous this production's shift in staff and studio were going to be, but I still found myself sad to see One Punch Man in such a state. This premiere only features one actual fight, between Genos and some random robot, and that fight mostly served as a wincing demonstration of season two's deficiencies. Gone are the dynamic direction and wide shots designed to emphasize the full physicality of superheroes in motion; instead, this fight uses persistent closeups to try and mask its lack of fluidity, which ultimately results in confusion over what the characters are actually doing. Gone are the clever cinematography and animator-driven composites that made the original's fights feel so grounded and energetic; instead, characters seem untethered from their surroundings, still frames abound, and all the robots are drenched in a silvery filter that puts them at visual war with their surroundings. From a series defined by some of the most impressive fight sequences in modern anime, One Punch Man has descended to the point where both Fairy gone and Demon Slayer offer stronger action premieres this season.
Lacking in the visual spectacle that made the original so special, this premiere instead leans heavily on catch-up exposition, along with an extended introduction to the fake hero, King. While I enjoyed some of the deadpan interactions between Saitama and King, their material also demonstrated one of my biggest issues with the first season—ONE just isn't that great of a comedian. The first season leaned extremely heavily on one specific joke, and King is basically another single joke. Absent its stellar aesthetic execution, One Punch Man becomes an underwritten superhero parody, with both its comedy and its world-building feeling pretty lackluster.
If not for the heavy expectations set by the first season, One Punch Man's second season premiere would just be another middling action show hampered by some deeply misguided visual choices. Given those expectations, this premiere felt more like a requiem than a reunion. Here's to remembering the good times, One Punch Man.
A lackluster promotional video for One Punch Man's second season left a lot of fans nervous about what the staff change would mean for the deadpan comedy-action hybrid. The first season's debut episode was one the best premieres of its respective season and still holds up as a great introduction for new fans. This second season's premiere did not implode, but it's still far from the vibe that made the original so amazing.
Looking just at the action sequences, I'd put them squarely between nonexistent and serviceable. The staff are employing a lot of cutaways to avoid showing the combat on screen, and the few scenes we get of Genos versus a giant robot have none of the flourish we might expect from the first season. The staff are using a mix of 3D and 2D elements to make Genos' mechanical parts work, and it's not as bad as it could be; I've seen some pretty questionable CGI in anime before, but it's still not a smooth transition from his shoulder to his arm, especially when the lasers get working. Saitama himself only got one punch in the opener, presumably. This was another scene where the staff chose to cut away and then cut back, showing the enemy now defeated. The only logical conclusion is that Saitama did something, but it's not explained. Color me disappointed.
One Punch Man's first season was a perfect mix of deadpan humor, heart-pounding action sequences, and an emotional core exploring the ennui of adulthood. Some of that emotional resonance is still present as we see Saitama attempt to bond with another hero who he thinks is suffering from the same boredom as himself. Saitama struggled with no longer finding a challenge (and thus a valuable reward) from life, and he thinks he's found a kindred spirit in King. Unfortunately, King's shtick is a sham built on misunderstandings and cowardice. The narrative seems to be blending hero politics alongside Saitama's search of meaning.
If the animation skill on display in the first season is truly gone in favor of standard shortcuts, this second season will quickly find much of its good will cut off at the knees. It'll have to tighten its comedic timing and amp up the emotional stakes to at least deliver a worthwhile dramedy to make up for the downgrade in visuals.
If you've been keeping up with The Discourse online, then it's been near impossible to avoid the doom and gloom surrounding One Punch Man's second season. Most of the staff responsible for the explosive spectacle and pristine direction of those first episodes have flown the coop, there have been endless rumors about tortured production cycles, and the long wait between seasons has deflated much of the hype the show garnered in the first place. I always try to go into a series with as open a mind as possible, but I really enjoyed One Punch Man back in 2015, so I will admit that I was worried about the prospects of OPM Season 2. Unfortunately, all of those worries played out fully in this premiere. The first episode of One Punch Man Season 2 is not a complete trainwreck, but it fails to live up to its predecessor's standards on almost every level.
I have to feel bad for J.C. Staff. From everything I've heard, the studio has been overworked and stretched thin for years, and I can't imagine the pressure of trying to live up to the ridiculously high expectations set by Shingo Natsume and Studio Madhouse. I know some people who've really taken to One Punch Man's world-building and general storytelling, but to me those elements were always supplementary to the bombastic emotional beats and sheer spectacle that the first season was able to pull off. That pure revelry in excess was what made One Punch Man special. It was this sense of unfettered energy and joy that was needed to make Saitama's story work in animation.
This premiere was positively drained of anything resembling fun. The color palette is muddy and dark, like we're watching a 2D movie with 3D glasses on. The story, which follows a wannabe hero named King who's been stealing the credit for Saitama's victories, sidelines the show's main characters in order to follow an unlikable and unfunny man whose sole purpose is to be a pathetic foil to Saitama's greatness. The joke is funny in theory; nobody on Earth ever believes that Saitama is capable of being so impossibly strong, in large part because he looks so ridiculous, but the public takes to King because his chiseled looks and scarred face fit the bill of a “traditional hero”. The execution of this premise is terrible though – instead of using King as a lens through which to reintroduce the status quo of One Punch Man, OPM Season 2 instead treats us to extended scenes of King retching in a public toilet and pissing his pants in fear.
Then there's the animation and direction, which is sloppy in a way that might not be easy to notice at first. The characters do remain mostly on model, and many shots have an appropriately cinematic feel to them. Then you start noticing how often speaking characters are framed so that their backs are to the camera, or how the choppy editing fails to stitch together the brief unremarkable cuts of action animation with much grace. If you want to make it a drinking game, try taking a shot every time a dialogue scene is interrupted with cuts to random body parts or aimless shots of nearby scenery. You'll be drunk as a skunk before the episode is even halfway done.
None of these choices feel like the result of stylistic or thematic intent, and that lack of confidence is what kills this premiere for me. When you watch the first season of One Punch Man, you can tell that every artist behind the scenes knew they were creating something impressive, like the athlete who makes the game-winning goal and barely even breaks a sweat. One Punch Man used to have swagger. Every frame of this new show seems painfully aware of how cool it used to be, and now OPM is going to great lengths to pretend that nothing has changed even though the result feels undeniably different.
Much has been made about the move of this series from Madhouse to J.C. Staff under a director whose sole other lead directing credit is a nondescript ecchi series from a few years ago. There have been many predictions that the second season is going to be crap because of that. Based on the first episode of this second season, I find those concerns to be overblown. Yes, there is a noticeable difference, but it's not an apocalyptic downfall.
After watching this episode, I went back and watched some of the first season's premiere. J.C. Staff's fight animation is definitely taking more shortcuts and doesn't have the knock-your-socks-off grandiosity of Madhouse's rendition, but it's still better than average, and the opponents and situations not being so epic at first helps the more restrained fights. The rest of the animation and visual quality is pretty standard for TV anime. To use the vernacular of the hero rankings in the series, we're talking about a downgrade from S-class to no worse than a B+, which is hardly worthy of the doom-and-gloom forecast.
What the episode does do well is establish a number of interesting hooks for the season. The notion of a hero becoming highly-ranked simply through coincidence is interesting and reasonably believable, as the first season proved that people will see what they want to see when it comes to heroes. While the heavy emphasis on King's situation may have been overplayed, the mystery of “The Organization” and why King is being targeted specifically is afoot, and the Sonic guy still wants a rematch against Saitama for past slights; clearly he still doesn't realize that he's out of his league. Meanwhile a new character who looks suspiciously similar to S-Class Rank 2 Tsumaki has come on the scene with her own mysterious plans for Saitama. The prophecy of doom from the first season still persists, and it's getting serious enough that villains are being sought as recruits. I can't think that will go well. Genos also apparently hasn't forgotten that he's supposed to be searching for the cyborg who destroyed his home, so maybe that will finally come up again?
For any other faults it may have, this new episode captures enough of first season's flavor to be satisfying. Saitama still alternates between goofy and menacing, and the content still has the franchise's distinctive version of superhero flair. In other words, while it may not be the stellar effort of the first season's premiere, it's good enough.
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