One Punch Man Season 2
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 9 of
One Punch Man (TV 2) ?
You can be literally the strongest living being to ever walk the planet, and depression will still kick your ass. That's more or less the central premise of One Punch Man, but it's in sharp focus this episode, which revolves around its titular character for the first time in weeks. There are a few scattered fight scenes thrown in, but for the most part this is an introspection-driven lull after the harsh beatdown suffered by Suiryu and the heroes last episode. And I like that! For one thing, the action hasn't been this season's strongest point anyway, and I personally tend to find character-driven conflict more engaging than fighting for the sake of it. This is the first time we've gotten inside Saitama's shiny head since the tournament and monster uprising started, so have these experiences changed him at all?
Unfortunately, Saitama remains a fairly static character on an aimless journey to grasp at something he's already forgotten how to look for. I'm mostly critical of this from a storytelling perspective, but there's a lot of truth to this struggle, and I think it has merits as a portrayal of the vast emptiness of depression. Saitama just doesn't feel anything anymore, and despite trying new things (like martial arts), he can't seem to find anything that will light a fire in his soul like those days of training to be a hero did. This is fine stuff, but my main frustration with One Punch Man is that it never lets itself engage with anything it does seriously. There's an omnipresent veneer of snark and irony that prevents even its most heartfelt moments from landing. Suiryu's complete 180 of an arc over the past couple episodes is great, but rather than continue to explore that, OPM cuts it off with a joke about Saitama refusing to take him on as another apprentice.
One Punch Man's inability to let itself be vulnerable is probably the widest divide between it and Mob Psycho 100, which is why I find the latter to be an overall better work from ONE. That said, there are still shades of that thoughtfulness peppered throughout this episode. Mostly they're in the conversation between Saitama and King, who despite his lack of any superpowers, definitely pulls his weight when it comes to sage advice. It was just nice to see him genuinely engage with Saitama and try to suggest new things to alleviate his boredom, even if Saitama dismisses them all. King says, jokingly but correctly, that Saitama seems afraid of actually challenging himself. Sure, he's looking for somebody stronger than him, but Saitama has largely forgotten what drove him to be the strongest in the first place. He could just switch to another line of work and find new challenges there, but there's a part of Saitama that has settled into the comfort (and boredom) of routine. Luckily for him, he has friends like King who can offer to beat him at video games in trying times. I like King.
Elsewhere, the monster attack has more or less died down (it probably helped that Saitama splattered their two strongest fighters into pieces), although there are still a few stragglers. Perilously, Puri Puri Prisoner protects people from a prickly porcupine's pugilism. ONE's sense of humor is a mixed bag at best, but this guy is a walking stereotype of a gay man who fights by hugging his opponent while naked, which is not great. Heroes having bizarre powers is fine on its own, but these jokes shouldn't come at the expense of groups of people who face both serious discrimination. Elsewhere, another S Class hero named Zombieman does effectively nothing, but he is voiced by Takahiro Sakurai, so he's at least worth mentioning. Plus, his name is Zombieman. Our friend Armored Gorilla from the first season also makes an appearance! It's nice to see that he's mellowed out and seems to be living as normal a life as a talking gorilla can live.
On the villain side, Garou was completely bested by Watchdog Man's unusual four-legged fighting style, which surprised me but delighted Garou. Unlike Saitama, whose strength is a dead end, Garou revels in the revelation that he has so much more room to grow as a fighter (and by extension, as a person). Seeing him be so happy about losing only endears me to him more, and I love that he immediately shakes off his injuries when a chance to check another hero off his list walks down the street. He's done in once again by Saitama, but I'm sure this isn't the last of their chance encounters. Meanwhile, Sonic runs into some old acquaintances who tempt him with the strength that becoming a monster has to offer. He's so singlemindedly obsessed with beating Saitama that it makes sense for him to resort to any means he believes will help him. Also I think it's adorable that he tried cooking the monster cell.
Now that the Monster Association's opening volley has ceased, the Hero Association is planning their counterattack. Most of what I got out of this segment is further confirmation that their board of directors are a bunch of bureaucratic jerks who don't understand how much their heroes suffered in this fight. They glibly compare the monster attack to rioting and protests (an amusing inversion of what we typically hear), and they're already gleefully thinking of ways to strike back, which I imagine will carry us through the end of the season. Thus concludes an unusually low-key episode of One Punch Man, but I enjoyed it more than usual thanks to its straightforward focus on the characters. The tournament/monster uprising arc ends so inconclusively that it can't really justify its own existence, but at least it ends stronger than it began. On to bigger and better punches! Hopefully.
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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