Anime is a strange beast to revisit after stepping away for a few years. While most styles of animation and different genres of shows tend to recycle tropes, anime often reaches striking levels of uniformity that can lead to love-it-or-hate-it reactions from viewers. For me, the spiked-up hair, monologuing villains, and exasperated faces of heroes straining to muster up those last bits of strength and determination to win the day are fun in small doses, but a little too much to follow shows regularly.
That doesn’t keep me from poking around at new arrivals every once in awhile, though. Starting this week, “One Punch Man,” one of the most popular anime series from the last few years, is available for streaming on Netflix. The story follows around Saitama, a self-professed “average guy who’s a hero for fun” as he saves city after city from otherworldly threats, staves off boredom and deals with the bureaucracy that surrounds life as a hero in modern society.
After a three-year push-up and pull-up training regimen that really does no justice in explaining his ridiculously superhuman strength, Saitama is the titular One Punch Man, a moniker he gains from being able to defeat any foe with a single blow. Rather than great power bringing about great responsibility, Saitama is instead saddled with great boredom, as no opponent can even begin to match him. When he’s not punching noses through throats, he spends most of his time lounging in front of the TV or browsing supermarket sales.
The world surrounding Saitama seems to be under threat of destruction in roughly 20-minute intervals, and leagues of other heroes of varying rank fill in the gaps of trying to keep the world safe. Championing justice comes with its own staggering bureaucracy and infighting as heroes compete for the top slots in the industry. Though he has stupid levels of strength unrivaled by any other, Saitama’s short temper and general indifference to the hero game has him toiling in the middle ranks while popular heroes more befitting the anime norm rise to the top.
Much of the appeal of the show comes from its parodying of anime tropes. Saitama’s intense training schedule has left him a bald hero among his spiky-haired contemporaries, and he regularly shuts down any monologuing, demanding summary explanations of tearful backstories or villainous plots in 20 words or less.
Though it does sway into meta territory, “One Punch Man’s” greatest accomplishment is its ability to reflect on the silliness of anime in general without ever coming across as snide. Saitama may be unchallenged by every fight he’s placed in, but the series features remarkably crisp and intricate animation in its fight scenes, even if the result is always blatantly one-sided. He’s often indifferent and bored by plights of the other heroes around him, but he still recognizes their struggles, even if he can’t relate.
There’s a difficult balance to strike in poking fun and not coming off as alienating or mocking, and “One Punch Man” walks the line beautifully. If it’s been a few years since you last sought out a new anime to pour into, this series is a great place for giddy reintroduction.
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