One Punch Man Season 2
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 4 of
One Punch Man (TV 2) ?
It's funny that Saitama now feels like a side character in the show that's named for him, but that's where we're currently at in One Punch Man. After taking Charanko's ticket to the big martial arts tournament, he buys an unspeakably bad wig, signs up under Charanko's name, and sits in a waiting room while the other brackets duke it out. And that's about all he does in this episode. If you were looking forward to those classic single punches, the next episode promises to deliver at least some of that. In this episode, he only manages to have the bad luck to run into somebody who actually knows the real Charanko. Despite Saitama doing his best to avoid the conversation (and avoid letting his face be seen), Sourface talks his ear off about their old days in the dojo with Master Bang. The mistaken identity humor doesn't go very far—Saitama holding up a piece of paper in front of his face is sadly not the height of comedy—so the only thing to get out of the scene is more background information on the latest and greatest threat, Garou.
I'm honestly okay with Saitama sticking to the sidelines for now if it means more screentime for Garou. After he suffered the all-powerful karate chop of the Caped Baldy last episode, I'm glad he lived to tell the tale, because this episode only further endears me to his character. We open on a flashback to tiny Garou watching the tube and rooting for the villains in his favorite nondescript Saturday morning superhero cartoon, Justice Man. Of course, Justice Man saves the day by kicking the monsters' butts, and the inevitability of this strikes at the core of Garou, who has nothing but empathy for the monsters. It seems like a simple or even childish motivation, but I like it a lot! Villains in cartoons and other genre-heavy entertainment have historically been coded with the characteristics of marginalized people, so there's a significant fraction of audiences who grew up relating to some villains more than the heroes. Just go to any fan convention and see how many people cosplay as villains, or think about all of the love and dedication that's sustained a franchise like Godzilla for over half a century. People love monsters! They're an important part of storytelling, and they can be filled with just as much pathos and humanity as the people who fight to bring them down.
I wouldn't say that One Punch Man has been particularly great at crafting sympathetic villains, but Garou definitely feels like a step in the right direction. It's especially hard not to root for him after everything we keep learning about the Hero Association. Both Garou and an upsurge in monster attacks have them all panicking, and their most recent measure is assigning S class heroes to act as bodyguards for the executives of the organization. It's explicitly stated that they're prioritizing their safety over that of the heroes because they pull in sponsors and money, revealing the Hero Association to be yet another profit-driven den of casual disregard for the lives of its workers. I like ONE's acerbic take on the intersection of government and business. He's already drawn attention to the absurdity of the hero hierarchy, but this goes a step further to question the nature of the organization itself, and I'm interested to see how far he goes with this exploration. There are a many relevant concerns to be had when a private corporation is in charge of public safety, and I think it'd be neat for ONE to set up this gilded league of heroes only to knock it down again.
ONE spares no love for the ruling class this week. S class hero Metal Bat is assigned to protect the director and his son, and ONE spends an entire scene highlighting both how selfish and totally disconnected they are from normal society. Worst of all, they have absolutely terrible taste in suits. Metal Bat at least is portrayed sympathetically, with all of his futile attempts to get his employers to actually follow the rules of the conveyor belt restaurant. By way of what can only be karmic intervention, monsters soon arrive and attack them, and Metal Bat performs his duty diligently. His superpower is basically “being a delinquent,” and I have a soft spot for that, so it's hard not to root for him in spite of the complete buffoons under his protection. Again, the anime tries its best to piece together an exciting action scene, but all the CGI centipede demons in the world can't save it from feeling underwhelming. The colors at least don't feel quite so desaturated this week.
This is a blatantly interstitial episode of One Punch Man, but I found myself invested in the future conflicts it seems to be setting up. I'm totally down for Garou's challenge to the Hero Association, and I hope we delve deeper into the lives of the monsters he's fighting for. I'm not as interested in Saitama's martial arts tournament diversion, especially when the prospect of eye-catching sakuga is basically nil, but maybe it will be fun. Mostly, I'm optimistic in light of the fact that ONE has the ability to pull sympathetic characters and political satire out of his superhero parody series, and I want to see more of that.
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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