One Punch Man Season 2
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 10 of
One Punch Man (TV 2) ?
Heroes be gaming. After his short stint in the spotlight, our titular One Punch Man has once again been sequestered away from the plot, as the war between monsters and heroes continues heating up. At least Saitama playing video games with King is much less convoluted than constructing an entire martial arts tournament for him to yawn his way through. And if I'm being honest, I'd love to get an entire episode that's nothing but the two of them hanging out in King's apartment, with no idea what's going on outside. I feel like that's a structural joke that could work well for One Punch Man's wheelhouse, and it'd also be a good place for ONE to focus on the smaller-stakes character writing that makes Mob Psycho 100 so endearing.
Unfortunately for me, the plot must continue, and the Monster Association begins its “negotiations” with the Hero Association with by opening with a peace offering. Predictably, this ends up being a ruse, and I'm glad we're not going all-in on the monsters as an oppressed class. That would require a level of care and gravitas that I don't trust One Punch Man to pull off. Instead, we're going down another classic route of blurring the lines between hero and villain. The Monster Association's attempt at deceit is easily matched by the Hero Association's immediate reaction to exterminate them regardless of any white flag being raised. Truly, these two sides are made for each other. However, various heroes and monster grunts will be caught in the crossfire, beholden to their employers and powerless to call the shots. To be fair to the Hero Association, they probably won't eat the servants who fail.
As much as I would have liked more focus on these monster-human politics, the sudden appearance of Blackluster threw me for a loop. Last week I briefly remarked that ONE's characters sometimes fall into offensive stereotypes, as with Puri Puri Prisoner, but I wasn't prepared for a character design straight-up lifted from racist caricature. The history of animation can unfortunately be pretty bigoted, and it's disappointing to see that ugly legacy carry through to the modern day, but that's the world we live in. Regardless of ONE's intentions, it's not acceptable to keep raising the specter of blackface in a world where racism still haunts and hurts people. We should demand better from our artists.
Moving on to better things, my boy Garou is back in the spotlight again! He's looking worse for wear after getting Saitama'd through a wall last week, and all he wants to do now is lie down and nap. Relatable. By coincidence, this lands him in the same secret hideout used by his friend from the park bench, and it's a good thing that happenstance keeps uniting these two. Garou remains charming as he gently teases Tareo, but he still feels a sense of responsibility for the kid. He balks at the other kids throwing him into what could have been an altercation with a dangerous stranger, and he dispenses some sage if obvious advice about solving your problems by getting stronger. Taken at face value this may seem trite, but it's the core of ONE's philosophy that you can only become a better person by working on yourself a little bit at a time. It's also just cute to see Garou acting so vulnerable, through little moments like him cringing from his injuries after laughing.
Additionally, it's amusing how much Garou is framed like a hero in this episode's final act. He's surrounded by enemies on all sides, trying to protect a child while injured and hopelessly outmatched, but at no point does he consider giving up the fight. Like the villains in the old Saturday morning serials he used to follow, he's every bit the plucky underdog, so it's hard not to root for him. While we only see the beginning of this battle, it actually looks pretty good! The action is clean and easy to follow for once, even if that's an admittedly backhanded compliment. Garou bobs and weaves his way out of arrow volleys while dodging other blows and punishing where he can. It's a fun scene with no obnoxious screen-shaking or blurring, and it's gotten me sufficiently hyped up for the continuation next week. I haven't really been looking forward to new episodes of One Punch Man this season, but Garou's story has emerged as the anchor that keeps me invested, and I'm excited to see him pull through in his darkest hour yet.
Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the rest of this show at the moment. The incoming clash between the Hero and Monster Associations doesn't feel like it has any stakes, and I can't see how it will be markedly different from the arc we just saw: a bunch of small proxy battles fought on behalf of more powerful leaders who couldn't care less. I'm interested in what the fallout will be, but for the foreseeable future, I'm clamoring for more Garou content first and foremost.
One Punch Man Season 2 is currently streaming on Hulu.
Steve does 100 push-ups, 100 crunches, 100 squats, runs 10km, and watches 1,000 hours of anime every day. You can read all about it on his Twitter.
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