Hello everyone! Before I get into the review for the first episode of One-Punch Man, I just want to explain that I’m still developing my “anime reviewer” writing voice, so I’ll be trying a few different styles here and there; right now I’m dividing my review into three main parts: the synopsis, the in-depth spoilery review, and the non-spoiler review at the end. If you’d like to know my thoughts on the episode without having it spoiled, just read the synopsis and jump down to the “Gimme the Skinny!” section down below. Otherwise, enjoy the full extent of my thoughts on the episode. Let’s get to it!
Series: One-Punch Man
Episode #1: The Strongest Man
Release Date: October 4, 2015
Where to Watch: Daisuki
Synopsis: Saitama is a guy who is a hero just for fun. After saving a child from a humanoid crab monster three years prior to the start of the series, he trains himself so hard that he becomes the strongest man on the planet, able to defeat great monsters and evils with one punch. He’s able to withstand being thrown through buildings, can jump high enough to punch a giant in the face, and is overall indestructible. Despite this, Saitama isn’t very satisfied. Saving the world day after day without much of a struggle makes him question why he’s even a hero in the first place, since he treats it like a hobby, and he fears that he’s lost part of his humanity in exchange for his overwhelming power.
Spoilers Begin Here!
My Thoughts: Of all the things I can say about this episode, it’s that Madhouse knows how to make a pilot episode for an action series, and they should, since they’re the studio behind well-known shows like Death Note, Death Parade, Parasyte: The Maxim and the 2011 Hunter x Hunter. The show starts off with a bang, and we get to see Saitama take out his first villain, a guy named Vaccine Man who looks like a confused Piccolo cosplayer:
Piccolo is green, dude.
This guy takes out a large section of the city before Saitama shows up, and it seems implied that a government-sponsored company called the “Heroes Association” monitors and deals with superhuman threats, as it seems like two superhumans were dispatched to stop Vaccine Man and were subsequently defeated. When Saitama does show up, he manages to make a nice last-second save of a crying little girl before one-punching Purple Piccolo Vaccine Man into a puddle.
That’s gotta be the most bored superhero expression ever.
This entire episode seems to enjoy the tropes of fighting anime and manga, referencing it with everything from Saitama’s apparent invincibility, the crazy villain designs, and the over-the-top action sequences. Also, superhumans and mutates seem to be fairly commonplace in Saitama’s world, as the initial expositional flashback shows us a jobless (but hair-having) Saitama saves a big-chinned youngster from being crushed by a humanoid crab guy.
The villains he faces in this episode are over-the-top in a way that makes me think of old comic books: creatures that come from underground, a guy who takes a serum and becomes a giant, and even some humanoid car guy who apparently was a custom car lover before he mutated or something. The show seems to shed a new light on the tropes of the action/superhero genre by not only exploiting the tropes for entertainment value, but it also uses Saitama’s inner self-searching to question what would go on in the mind of someone who had that kind of power.
Interspersed throughout this episode are Saitama’s inner monologues, and these add a new layer of depth to an otherwise cookie-cutter character. He seems to be searching for something: when he first saves the child at the start of his career, he was unemployed. The crab man had even come across him before the incident and allowed him to go, because he had “lifeless eyes”. As Saitama walks away, and notices the child (the crab guy had mentioned wanting to kill the kid for drawing nipples on his shell), he considers not even helping, but something inside him tugs at him until he throws himself at the kid right before the crab guy (I need a better name for him…Crustacean Man?) kills him.
Apparently, this is what happens when you eat too much crab.
He even remarks that as a child, he wanted to be a hero in order to help people, and that desire still burned in him. But as we see him in the present day, he’s still searching for meaning in what he does. He seems to have lost all emotion, getting into fights and winning nearly effortlessly seems to have robbed him of any excitement, fear, or even joy. He’s not sure what to think, and he’s not even sure why he even fights anymore. He even remarks during a fight with the giant character that “overwhelming strength is pretty boring”. This whole idea climaxes in a dream sequence, where he fights an imagined race of subterranean monsters. These are strong enough to withstand his punches (well…sometimes; he still beats pretty much all of them), and for once he has a challenge. He has a goal to strive for, he has someone to challenge him, and we see him actually get into the fight, rather than being fairly bored as he was during his earlier fights. But this all proves to be a dream, and the actual subterranean people that invade turn out to be just as weak as all his other villains.
Gimme the Skinny!
All in all, I really enjoyed the first episode of One-Punch Man! It feels ripped right out of the manga, which is both good and raises some concerns. The manga used the printed form to its advantage by changing art styles to indicate the mood the writer wanted to convey: this occurs in the anime as well, but it could be kind of disconcerting to constantly have style changes from this:
When an action sequence starts. But Madhouse has a talent for action sequences, so I don’t doubt they can pull it off. Speaking of which, the action sequences in the episode are all pretty awesome. While Saitama does defeat most enemies with one punch in a fairly comedic manner, it really picks up near the end with an explosive fight that feels like Saitama is channeling Bruce Lee, Ryu from Street Fighter, and a healthy bit of Goku from Dragon Ball Z, except without the Kamehameha blasts. It’s really good at pulling you into the action, with wide angles to emphasize scale and quick close shots to make you feel the power of each of Saitama’s blows.
Now, the OP for the show is seriously rocking, and I can nearly guarantee that you’ll want to scream “ONE PUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNCH!” at the top of your lungs after you’ve heard it a few times. The opening sequence also seems to foreshadow some future occurrences of the series and some more of Saitama’s powers: apparently he can run on water and survive in space? Already, you know this series will be an interesting one. Also, we get to see some villains and a group of what I believe will be side characters/allies to Saitama as the series progresses.
This episode was nicely paced, with a good balance between fast-paced action and slower, more contemplative scenes. This is a show that seems like it will do a lot of commentary about the superhero/action genre in general while at the same time not taking itself too seriously. I don’t expect some mind-blowing revelations about life, but I do expect that the series will question what the cost and toll of overwhelming power is, why we love these types of stories, and the reason that these stores exist in the first place. That kind of mixture of contemplation and entertainment really excites me, as I really enjoy stories that give me a thrill and yet cause me to stop and think.
In the end, this first episode of One-Punch Man accomplished its goals of hyping me up for the rest of the series. It made me smile and laugh, while making me think about what it would be like to have overwhelming power and how to deal with it (a hallmark of the most interesting Superman stories). The show isn’t a kids show as it does have some blood and gore, and a little bit of language (limited to d—n), but if you’re looking for a good action series that holds potential to become really good, you should definitely pick up One-Punch Man.