One Punch Man Season 2
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
One Punch Man (TV 2) ?
As the biggest Garou fan currently reviewing One Punch Man for Anime News Network, I could not have been more pleased with this episode's focus. The most compelling character to come out of OPM's new cast takes center stage in the best-looking, hardest-hitting, and all around tightest episode of its second season. This is the closest the new production team has come to emulating the raw kinetic mayhem of the first season's animation, and while it's still boxing above its weight class, it's clear the staff devoted a lot of effort to making these fight scenes look as good as they do.
Garou's tussle against the eight heroes surrounding him is far and away the best fight he's gotten so far. We pick up right where last week left off, with Garou already having been injured by Watchdog Man, and now he's been poisoned on top of that. He's in rough shape—barely able to stand—yet he still refuses to back down. This persists throughout the episode, and even within the realm of shonen extreme, it starts to strain the emotional reality of the scene. Fights like this are all about the balance between the hero struggling, failing, and then succeeding, but going too far in either direction can destroy that tension. Thankfully, Garou's punch-drunk swagger and cocksure grin remain compelling in that classic underdog way. The heroes' collective frustration is palpable as Garou refuses to go down out of sheer willpower, and I can understand that being frustrating to audiences as well, but Garou is my hero, so I'm happy rooting for my boy.
It's extra easy to root for Garou when Death Gatling and the others reveal their whole motivation is to make a name for themselves. I've previously mentioned the arbitrary nature of how the Hero Association ranks their members, and it turns out these guys agree with me! The hierarchy allows Class S enough disproportionate perks and adoration to make the lower classes jealous, and these guys are out to prove that they're just as good, if not better than their supposed superiors. It's an understandable motivation, but it's far from the heroic ideals of justice and protecting the weak. Not to mention that the end result they're all seeking still plays into the system the Hero Association has created—they just want to be the ones on top. Their bog standard selfishness even drives Death Gatling to put a child in danger, so it's really difficult to feel sorry for any of them when Garou cleans their clocks.
Garou's motivations are also pretty selfish, but their origins are noble enough. We get another short flashback to his childhood, where some mean kid blobs talk about how awesome their heroes are while Garou meekly laments the passing of Crab Demon, who only wanted to stop pollution. With few exceptions, superheroes tend to be characterized as superpowered cops whose goal is to uphold the status quo, whatever that may be. Unfortunately, environmentalist crabs didn't fit into their society, but Garou seems to be beholden to a sense of justice outside of the hero/monster binary. He says his goal is to become a monster, but he has as little interest in the Monster Association as he does in the Hero Association. He's really been defined as following his own path, much like Saitama, only we get to witness Garou's growth as it's happening. It's been a fun journey for him, but it's also been interspersed with the pain of being misunderstood. Despite saving Tareo's life, Garou loses the one real friend he's had this season, which breaks my heart. On the upside, there's nothing I love more than hearing this wannabe monsterboy test the waters with amazing one-liners like “You proved I can't be defeated by guns.”
Garou's fight with Genos maintains some of the energy from his previous battle, but for the most part it looks worse and ends up being harder to follow, emphasizing quick cuts over dynamic storyboarding. It's still leagues above the rest of OPM's offerings this season, both in terms of animation and emotional engagement. I don't find Genos nearly as compelling as Garou, but I still like him and don't want to see either of these guys put out of commission. It's extremely likely that Genos would have put Garou on ice for good, if Silverfang hadn't stepped in to claim his disciple as his own responsibility. Depending on where this ends up, this might be another example of the Hero Association's hierarchy getting in the way of actual results, but from a narrative standpoint, Garou and Silverfang share a history that will be more interesting to explore through combat. I don't know how I feel about carrot top Garou yet, but if Tokyo Ghoul has taught me anything, it's that stress-induced hair color changes are not to be taken lightly.
Since he's still technically the main character, this episode briefly takes a break to check in on Saitama's gaming time with King, who lets him taste the frustration of getting whooped by an opponent who only needed one more tap to fall down. As someone who is also hopeless at fighting games, I know that feeling all too well, although in this case it's deliciously ironic considering Saitama's whole gimmick. If he's really that bored of defeating all his real life opponents, it seems like becoming a full-time gamer would be one way to spice up his life with some losses. Get this bald man into Fortnite.
With only one episode to go, this penultimate entry may well be the high point of One Punch Man's second season. At least it's definitely the high point for anybody who wanted to see almost twenty minutes of shirtless and bloodied Garou. With a one-on-one match against his former mentor beginning, and the strongest hero in the world heading his way, Garou is sure to have an interesting time in next week's finale. I don't know if the production team can put together another episode like this one, but at least it seems like we'll be leaving this season on a higher note than we started out.
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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