One Punch Man Season 2
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 8 of
One Punch Man (TV 2) ?
After several weeks of structural chaos, One Punch Man actually delivered a reasonably paced episode with a solid beginning, middle, and end this week. There are a couple diversions to remind us that Garou is playing with a dog and Mumen Rider is defending his friends in the hospital, but aside from that, we focus entirely on the monster assault in the wake of the tournament's end. Most surprising of all, Suiryu steps in as the protagonist now that Saitama has been thrown out of the stadium for his illegal wig. One Punch Man is a weird story, so it's not unprecedented to have an entire episode that (mostly) ignores Saitama, but this honestly felt like a breath of fresh air. In a sense, it's unfortunate to have to resort to plot contrivances that remove the main character in order to craft a story with stakes and tension, but I'm not going to complain.
After moseying towards the stadium for what felt like two weeks (because it was), the Monster Association's secret weapon finally crashes through the gate and reveals himself to be none other than Goketsu, the presumed-dead first champion of the tournament. I didn't expect the story to directly link the monster invasion and tournament arcs at all, so this came as a pleasant surprise, even if it's not the most novel twist. Goketsu reveals another arm of the monsters' master plan, which is to convert normal people into monsters to add to their ranks. The fighters are thus presented with the moral quandary of becoming a monster and working for the enemy versus staying human and dying. This is what I expected Suiryu's conflict to be this week, but he also manages to pleasantly surprise me.
In the wake of his defeat at the hands of Saitama, I expected Suiryu to have more of a cognitive breakdown, but he quickly picks his pieces back up and shoves those uncomfortable thoughts back down where they can fester unseen for a while. I like seeing this new facet of his insecurities, because it humanizes his bravado. He has enough swagger to shamelessly flirt while he preemptively claims victory over the monsters, and he's just arrogant enough to be entertaining. Suiryu also turns out to possess a stronger moral code than I gave him credit for, because at no point does he consider betraying his fellow fighters and turning into a monster. One thing I hope OPM goes into down the line (probably through Garou's story) is that being or becoming a monster isn't an inherently evil act. But in this current situation, Suiryu's refusal demarcates the line between what he's willing to do for strength and what he isn't willing to compromise.
Unfortunately, many other contestants think differently and start chowing down on that monster goo almost immediately. It's especially funny how Choze, Mr. Genetically Pure And Superior In Every Way, exhibits zero hesitation when the opportunity presents itself. It's an understated but pointed observation that guys like him only care about the power to subjugate others, and they have no intellectual or ethical framework outside of that, regardless of their many excuses. Thankfully, Suiryu is all too eager to step up to the challenge and put Choze in his place. As far as fight scenes in the second season of One Punch Man, this episode doesn't do too badly with its intelligible and competently animated brawls. There are still some headache-inducing shots of motion-blurred stills moving on top of each other and plenty of awkward close-ups, but there are several good punches and kicks buried in there too. I have to take what I can get.
Suiryu just barely beats Choze, but the crux of the episode is his gradual realization that he's hopelessly outmatched. Goketsu proves to be every bit the monster he's been hyped up as, swatting Suiryu's body around like a gnat. Bakuzan also emerges as a monster of his own making, similarly giving into the lust for power that tempted everyone else. While he gives his all, Suiryu simply doesn't have enough strength to contend with these titans. The shell-shocked Suiryu is even more flabbergasted once the licensed heroes put their already bruised bodies in between him and Goketsu to help him escape. It's a futile effort and they all know it, but their willingness to try despite impossible odds is exactly the kind of the fist-clenching heroism that makes this kind of story compelling.
I really like how the episode handles Suiryu's experience with palpable fear. This is a guy with the swagger of someone who's never had to struggle with anything, so there's definitely some schadenfreude to his sudden brush with death, but there's also more than just desserts going around. Suiryu begging for help could easily be seen as evidence of weakness—and the monsters even taunt him about this—but it's contextualized as a moment of strength for him. The acknowledgement that he's not all-powerful is an important point of growth. Knowing when to ask for help is a lot harder than most people think, and it's as much a sign of maturity as asserting one's independence. Lucky for him, Suiryu has a bald guardian angel listening to his pleas.
Built around the highs and lows of Suiryu's character arc and culminating in a classic feat of heroic salvation, this is one of the most straightforward and strongest episodes of this arc. I still find it funny that the narrative doesn't really know what to do with Saitama right now, but this is proof that the show can be pretty good in spite of that. After all, Mumen Rider's parts in the first season were some of the most memorable and emotionally resonant. ONE can be excellent at finding the heart in absurd situations, and I hope we see more of that quality as the season progresses.
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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