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One Punch Man (Season 1)

Thanks to the colossal box-office pull of Marvel and DC movies, and hits on the small screen like The Flash and Daredevil, superheroes have never been quite as ubiquitous (or overexposed, depending on your viewpoint) as they are right now.  A perfect time for a parody, you might say. This might at least begin to explain why One Punch Man has been so successful.

Starting life as a self-published webcomic by an artist calling himself ONE, it was later adapted into a professional comic, with art by Yusuke Murata (Eyeshield 21) which was later published in the English version of Shonen Jump and has been a bestseller in collected volumes.  It was then adapted into an anime series by Studio Madhouse, which originally aired between October and December of 2015.

One Punch Man draws on not only familiar western superhero tropes, but also Japan's own rich tradition of costumed heroes in film, TV and comics. Other Japanese pop-culture is also riffed upon, including Kaiju movies, Sentai and -perhaps most prominently of all- Shonen-style anime and manga.

The series stars Saitama, a prematurely bald, simplistically drawn guy in a scrappy yellow costume. In a world where giant monsters and supervillains are fond of elaborating on their lengthy back-stories, Saitama has no time for monologuing. "' I'm Saitama, and I'm a hero for fun". Like most Shonen heroes he is also absurdly overpowered- so much so in fact, that he is able to fell virtually any enemy in just One Punch-  much to his chagrin. Hence the title, although he is not actually referred to as One Punch Man in the series itself.

Later he encounters a powerful cyborg named Genos who becomes his disciple (despite Saitama's protestations) and encounters the members of the Hero Association and helps fend off alien invaders.

From the moment our hero encounters a rampaging crab-monster who is furious because a young boy drew nipples on him while he slept, it's clear this is not your typical superhero story. For a start, it's very funny, thanks to a constant parade of insane characters and bizarre situations. It also gets a lot of mileage out of how untypical of a hero Saitama is. From his pokey apartment and slovenly lifestyle to his apparent disinterest in justice, he's a long way from your standard Shonen hero. Sure, he wants to become ever more powerful- but only as long as it's fun. His One-Punch ability robs him of the opportunity to enjoy the fight, much to his frustration. For him, it's the battle that's more interesting than the result.

The best parodies often come from a place of love and manage to simultaneously make fun of a genre, whilst being part of it. One Punch Man is one such series. Spectacularly well-executed (and well animated) action means this works just as well as a Shonen action series as a comedy. You might think the "One Punch" gimmick would get old pretty quick, but the writers were smart enough to make sure this never happens.

Visually, the show is first-rate with Madhouse delivering one of the best-looking anime series of recent years. There's an enjoyable looseness and playfulness to the visuals, confident enough to mix it up and vary the animation style at times. Occasionally, it's reminiscent of a Trigger production. The animation in the set-pieces in the final couple of episodes are particularly impressive.

The only real issue here is some questionable stereotyping based on sexuality and race. The character of Puri Puri Prisoner, for exampleplays on some uncomfortable archetypes of sexually predatory gay men. Then again, it also subverts it slightly by making him one of the show's biggest bad-asses.

When the series was first streaming it seemed to be one of the few anime to have real crossover success. It's easy to see why- this is a show with a pretty broad appeal that you don't need to have a particular familiarity with anime to enjoy. Although the more hard-core fans will find plenty of references and homages to enjoy, any superhero fan with a sense of humour should check this out.

FROM Manga Entertainment/KAZE UK
 15 [UK]

12 Episodes + 6 OAV

IN A NUTSHELL:  Funny, thrilling and a technical Marvel, One Punch Man is a knockout.  ONE PUUUUUUUUUUNCH!