By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
Ceylon Today Features
By the end of 2015, the online community exploded with a new onslaught of memes and various GIF posts. All of them focused over one specific title, saying that it brought anime into the mainstream and that it was the most highly received anime in the West. It even received a rating of 9.3/10 and ranks as the 12th most popular animated TV series in IMDB (Two spots above Star Wars: The Clone Wars and four spots above Avatar: The Last Airbender and even seven spots above SpongeBob). That title is One Punch Man.
This story began as a poorly drawn web comic by the internet personality named One (the drawings really are horrible). By some unbelievable strokes of luck that make winning the lottery seem normal, it was adapted into a weekly comic series in printed media with much better art. This subsequently sold millions of copies, resulting in the production of a 12 episode animated series by the production studio Madhouse.
One Punch Man has a very straightforward plot. The main character Saitama, has the ability and strength to defeat any enemy with a single punch. He had decided to become a hero for fun, since it seems better than doing a regular job and so he now patrols the city, defeating enemies with one punch. The result is a hilarious first episode that continues to be funny even when it's not trying to be so in any manner.
The main question that arises from such a situation is, how could a story such as this become entertaining? When the main hero can defeat any enemy with just one punch, the normal buildup of any action sequence can never be used because the usual conflict and tension buildup becomes meaningless, with just one punch. This is the same problem that the main character faces, Saitama finds his situation boring. One Punch Man is such a commendable narrative because it deconstructs the mainstream superhero narrative in story as well as in character.
Yet a good story needs enough conflict to keep audiences engaged past the opening episodes, which is brought to the story by introducing the Hero Association, which is the official organization of Professional Heroes. This organization ranks every registered hero in a scale from "C", the lowest, to "S" being the highest and every aspiring hero must be registered to receive any public recognition, which the main character had no idea about.
When finally taking the evaluation exam, Saitama breaks every recorded physical exam and yet barely manages to pass a written test, resulting in him receiving the lowest rank in the hero association. When continuing to defeat enemies with one punch, the general public start discriminating against him, stating that he is taking other heroes' credit, not believing his accomplishments.
This social injustice towards the main character is what One Punch Man uses to generate empathy within the audience, resulting in keeping the viewer engaged with the narrative.
This production consists of a large and wide cast of characters but, being a twelve episode series, overlooks most of their development and focuses mainly on two characters and their progression in the story. They are Saitama, the main character and Genos, his cyborg disciple.
Genos is One Punch Man's way of showing what we expect in a generic hero in a mainstream narrative. He has a past with conflict, has a deep sense of justice and continuously strives to become stronger, facing enemies along the way. He is well received in the Hero Association, becoming one of their highest rankers and is even revered by the general public. He is almost a polar opposite of his teacher Saitama, who only joins the hero business because he thinks it's better than a normal office job, is scorned by the public and seems to have gained his powers by exercising until his hair had fallen off. Yet Genos continues to have deep respect for Saitama and his abilities as a hero.
Although One Punch Man had a standard animation budget, it is exceptionally good, becoming one of the best animated action animation productions of the year in Hollywood and Anime. Yet the most memorable moments of the production is when it isn't in high quality and emulates the original drawings of the comic. Saitama's dead-faced reactions make some of the most hilarious comic scenes available in animation. Each of the movements are fluid, the angles are well placed and the motion is smooth with well composed background music to set the mood.
One Punch Man is an innovative approach taken in a very popular genre of narration. A superhero story that makes fun of superhero stories while still presenting some thought provoking material on what it really means to be a hero is a very refreshing experience. This is a title that definitely should not be overlooked.