(Warning, the following article contains spoilers for One Punch Man. If you do not want to be spoiled, then read no further)
One Punch Man is the hot new mega popular show of the Fall season, one some are calling the savior of anime even though anime doesn’t need saving. The series follows a man named Saitama who was a salaryman that became bored with that lifestyle. Saitama trains tirelessly every day for three years, losing his hair in the process, and becomes a superhero...as a hobby.
Unfortunately because Saitama is so powerful, being able to defeat so far anything thrown at him with literally just one punch (it honestly doesn’t even need to be a punch, he defeated Mosquito Girl, a humanoid mosquito, by slapping her like she was any other mosquito), he has become extremely bored with being a hero. He’s one of the world’s strongest heroes, and it is merely his hobby, and a hobby he has become tired of to boot.
Somehow that is just fitting for a modern day hero. It is also something that makes Saitama rather relatable. Not the superhero part, that makes him stand out from us, but rather the part about getting bored of a hobby you were invested in. I make reference time and again to the multi-year hiatus I took from anime where my anime consumption greatly decreased. I think such a thing helped me greatly in the long run. I wasn’t burnt out on anime when I started it, but I like to think that significantly scaling back for a few years prevented me from eventually burning out.
And yet, Saitama is probably the hero we need the most in the current superhero market. In a world where so many superheroes are being super serious and dark and brooding and emotional, Saitama is a stark reminder that superheroes can be fun, and that the mere concept of superheroes are rather silly to begin with. One of the best ways this is exemplified is in the cyborg Genos.
After seeing how effortlessly Saitama dispatched Mosquito Girl, Genos desperately wanted to become his disciple and be trained by him. On top of that, Genos has a long winded, dark, brooding backstory, yet the entire time he was telling it to Saitama, he didn’t care about Genos’ backstory, getting agitated the longer Genos droned on, before finally telling him to just shorten it to 20 words or less.
Saitama eventually does agree to make Genos his disciple, but only after deciding the two should join the Heroes Association registry to become official heroes. You see, because Saitama wasn’t a registered hero, all the heroic things he did, including killing countless powerful monsters that could easily kill many other superheroes, none of it mattered. He wasn’t famous and everyone looked at him like just some costumed vigilante weirdo. Which stands in stark contrast with one of the official heroes introduced in the most recent episode, Mumen Rider, a parody of the ever popular Kamen Rider.
Unlike Kamen Rider, Mumen Rider wears rather basic looking armor and what looks like some kind of bicycle helmet and rides a pathetic little mommy bike rather than the kickass motorbike Kamen Rider has. He also sucks, really, really badly, easily getting knocked out in, funnily enough, one punch. However, despite this he is viewed much more favorably than Saitama. Because he’s registered as a hero, people are actually happy to see him around and shower him with love.
It also helps that unlike Saitama, he’s more of a traditional superhero, doing heroic things because that is what he does. He is serious about being a hero in a way that Saitama is not. They are opposite ends of the spectrum; one weak but a true hero through and through, the other basically a god who is almost out of fucks to give.
However it is characters like Mumen Rider that are going to keep One Punch Man fresh. The series could have easily become rather repetitive after a while, but I am seeing how the show can maintain its momentum. Not through Saitama, but those who surround Saitama. Well that and the show’s humor, which is extremely on point and rather genre savvy.
A good example of this was when Genos and Saitama went to the base of House of Evolution, the organization that made Mosquito Girl and other humanoid animal monsters. Their base is this towering multi-floored building and the usual expectation is that Saitama and Genos would have to work their way through it, but before even entering the building Genos just incinerates the whole thing, leaving only the basement, where the real base was in anyways.
Is One Punch Man the savior of anime? Probably not. A stronger case could be made that it is the savior of the superhero genre, but even that is pushing it just a little bit. Regardless, much like how School-Live! was a much needed breath of fresh air for its genre, One Punch Man is an extremely welcomed change of pace when it comes to superheroes, especially in the face of potential burnout from too many superhero films on the horizon.