One Punch Man Season 2
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 12 of
One Punch Man (TV 2) ?
Admittedly, I didn't know what to expect from the finale of One Punch Man's second season, but after last week's penultimate episode got me surprisingly fired up, I wasn't expecting it to just end so bluntly. Of course there's more manga material to be covered, and I wouldn't consider this season enough of a disaster to negate the chances of it continuing into a third. I still had to laugh to when the credits rolled, though. Absolutely nothing is resolved, and given the way it's structured, you would have expected King's arc to have been the core storyline of the season—except for the fact that he barely showed up at all. Don't get me wrong, it's a satisfying moment for him, but it hardly feels like the right high note to leave the audience hanging on. With all the force of a soggy paper bag slapping against the pavement, this finale is unintentionally a perfect capstone for the unfocused narrative and struggling production values of One Punch Man's sequel series.
Garou remains the most compelling aspect of the show, even when he's locked into a battle he has no chance of winning. With Bang and Bomb teaming up on him, and Genos ready to provide backup, he spends the first couple minutes doing nothing but getting the absolute shit kicked out of him. I don't feel sorry for him—this comes part and parcel with kicking the shit out of other heroes—but I continue to be sympathetic to his motivations, which are even further detailed while his life flashes before his eyes. While it's nothing we couldn't have gleaned from the previous short flashbacks, this extended view spells out Garou as a reactive force rather than a proactive one. He's not a guy picking fights with heroes for the fun of it, nor is he an egomaniac seeking to prove himself as stronger than any hero. He's a kid who was bullied, and he's fighting back.
The parallel between the popular kids ganging up on him and this gaggle of Class S heroes doing the same is clear. There's no honor in fighting evil—only results. The same goes for evil fighting good. But the people who get to define “evil” and “good” are the people who hold enough political power to impose their ideals on others. Bullies frequently win because they can exercise this power, and their victims are blamed because they cannot. This above all else is what frustrates tiny Garou to the point of seeking out somebody (i.e. Silverfang) who can make him strong enough to fight outside of this imposed binary. In his own words, screw justice and screw evil—he's going to fight for the little guy. He's an anti-hero in a very literal sense, but he's also an anti-villain.
Rogue agents like Garou are certainly nothing new to superhero stories, and in fact his spirit of vigilantism is the genesis of many such stories. It's Garou's purity of heart that tugs at my own heartstrings, and there's no denying that despite his eschewing of “good” or “bad” labels, he's fundamentally a good guy. Big Bird even points out that he always leaves his victims breathing; contrast that with the way Bang was ready to kill his former disciple. Garou is just here to keep things in check, acting as another extension of ONE's continued interrogation of superhero tropes. ONE digs further into the contradiction that we want our heroes to win, but after a certain point, heroes doing nothing but winning is either boring from an individual standpoint (see Saitama) or dangerous on a structural level (see the bullies and by extension the Hero Association). I'm intrigued to see what kind of person Garou becomes in response to continued meddling from both the monsters and the heroes, and it's a shame he has to end the season hanging limp in the talons of a giant bird.
After Garou is “rescued”, the heroes are left to deal with Centichoro in what ends up being the final big battle of the season. Unfortunately, neither this nor Garou's previous scuffle with Bang and Bomb reach the heights of last week's fight scenes, as we return to crutches like blurred camera movements and disjointed storyboarding. There's nothing wrong with having your climactic battle take place outside of your season finale (just look at the previous season of My Hero Academia), but the Centichoro battle feels like a big whiff. Here's a monster who briefly showed up in the middle of the season, disappeared, and now he's back! Hooray? There's no personality to him, and the only bit of characterization he gets is that he wants revenge on Blast. The fact that he's entirely CG also doesn't help to create an engaging final clash. Pretty much the only notable part of the fight is that Genos gets himself swallowed, providing a modicum of material for all the vore fetishists in the audience.
King and Saitama show up at the very end to take care of things, which actually makes for a nice little bookend to the season. We started by learning that the highly-revered King is a total weakling and coward, and we end with King showing some spine and putting his neck on the line in order to lure Centichoro away from the city. Still, he was hardly a constant presence throughout these past few months, so it's difficult to feel too satisfied when his growth has been so disjointed. Imagine if the narrative had been constructed to emphasize arcs like King's instead of meandering for weeks.
Both the manga and first season of One Punch Man are buoyed by incredible technical prowess on behalf of the artists bringing the story to life, but I think this second season of the anime has shown that the story really needs that extra flair to make up for its deficiencies. But even stellar animation could not have completely salvaged the lack of focus in this part of OPM. It's not a bad story, but everything from its characters to its humor to its themes is rough around the edges, and it needed a judicious directorial eye to cut through the excess and hone the gems at its core. Instead, we got the unfortunate confluence of worse material being handled by a limited team compared to the first season.
Ultimately, while it may be unfair to compare these two seasons directly given their wildly different circumstances, the comparison was always going to be inevitable. On the bright side, this can serve as an abject lesson that artists absolutely do matter and are not interchangeable. If given enough time and resources, they can accomplish amazing things, and if not, you get something like One Punch Man Season 2. Still, J.C. Staff did the best they could with the hand they were dealt, and this season wasn't completely without merit. I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but the best parts can be summed up by one word: Garou. I love that boy, and if we do get a third season, he'll be the reason I'll come back.
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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