It's not often that an anime series goes so far into the distance that it not only makes the competition look bad, but even mocks the existence of every live-action show that has graced the presence of our television screens. A series like that requires unbelievable universal appeal, reaching the hearts of hardcore anime fans and those who don't take the genre as seriously as they should. Cowboy Bebop did this in the nineties, with its combination of well-told stories, nicely-rounded characters, and one of the greatest soundtracks put to tape. Now nearly twenty years later another anime has accomplished exactly the same thing, showcasing the most broadening appeal that any series would crave to have a mere morsel of. That show is One-Punch Man.
Before we jump into the review, some brief history. One-Punch Man started its life as a web comic, penned by a mysterious author who went by the name of ONE. A couple years later the series was remade, with Eyeshield 21 artist Yusuke Murata assisting with its appearance. After reaching a fair level of popularity it was announced that Studio Madhouse (Ninja Scroll, Death Note, Overlord) was adapting One-Punch Man into a twelve-episode series, with Viz Media licensing both the manga & anime and introducing another part of the world to the hero simply known as Saitama (Makoto Furukawa).
Yes, Saitama doesn't have a fancy name, nor does he look like your Justice League or Avengers candidate. In fact the hero of One-Punch Man looks more like a young Rob Corddry rather than a Christian Bale or even a Paul Rudd. Simply plain-looking, with his yellow costume, white cape, and red gloves, his appearance is more suited for one of the Mystery Men or even part of the Kick-Ass crew. And yet, the looks deceive any villain that stands in his way, as the most easiest of punches Saitama delivers results in a knockout that -- on many occasions -- causes his enemies to explode into a monsoon of blood and intestines.
One-Punch Man follows Saitama, who now does the hero stuff for fun and has found little meaning to his actions as the fights tend to end rather quickly. Soon a cyborg by the name of Genos (Kaito Ishikawa) witnesses his fighting skills, and after much buttering up winds up being the bald man's disciple. Upon joining the Hero Association both Saitama and Genos work up the ranks (from C to S), saving the various cities from the threats of the land, the ocean, and even outer space. However as Saitama can defeat just about any foe with the greatest of ease, many of the civilians think that he's merely cheating with his victories.
This is where the writing of the show reaches its pinnacle. Saitama could use his strength to prove that he is the real deal, but instead he rides on this ridicule, as it helps to make the other heroes look better. There's a moment where many of the S-Class heroes are taken out by a massive villain, even though they are working their hardest to defeat this being. When Saitama arrives and lands his trademark punch a citizen starts bashing the other heroes for being weak. "It's a good thing the other heroes weakened him," Saitama says with a snarky laugh. "Now I'll get all the credit!" At that moment the worth of the other heroes are appreciated once more, leaving viewers with a surprisingly warm feeling for what has transpired. (A fan letter Saitama receives later in the episode helps to elevate this emotion.)
Of course it's the humor of One-Punch Man that helps the anime to reach its brightest moments. Watching Saitama beat the living bejesus out of the villain Asura Rhino after he realized that he's missing an important sale at the supermarket, him screaming at Genos to cut his origin story short after he goes on for what seems like an eternity, or watching a villain accidentally land balls-first into his fist is what makes this superhero story stand out from the DC and Marvel comics. (Hell, I'm almost at a point where I'll have to admit that the humor in Deadpool has met its match.) Perhaps it's that level of comedy that makes this series more appealing than other action-based anime series.
Taking on the role of Saitama, Furukawa delivers on the vast amount of emotions that fills our hero: determination as a worthy opponent shows its face, boredom when battles end too quickly, anger when he nearly misses an important sales deal, and even some cockiness in order to build up the illusion that he's not as strong as he really is. As Genos, Ishikawa acts more like a stronger version of the Boy Wonder or even a more articulate Groot. It's when he and Saitama are chatting back and forth when the two act more like the superhero equivalent of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, a true superhero odd couple that delivers huge laughs and some strong -- albeit stereotypical -- inspirational speeches.
Madhouse's attention to detail in One-Punch Man is cinema-worthy. Watching villains explode into a pool of guts when defeated by Saitama never gets old, as no two defeats ever look the same. The surrounding areas of Z-City appear to want to crumble at any moment, with buildings being demolished in battle with the greatest of explosive design. It's the ever-changing appearance of Saitama that makes the show a marvel to watch, with the bald man's face going from bored-looking to incredibly intense when battles begin to heat up.
A great superhero needs a phenomenal theme song, and Saitama gets it with probably the best song JAM Project has ever done: "The Hero!! ~Ikareru Ken ni Honō o Tsukeru~". It's hard-rocking, heart-pounding, and screams in your face as the opening segment shows Saitama, Genos, and other heroes and villains lay waste to their surroundings. This is exactly how a hero's anthem is to sound. As for Hiroko Moriguchi's end song "Hoshi Yori Saki ni Mitsukete Ageru," it's almost as if the song was chosen to calm the viewer down, since there will be nothing on TV afterwards that would be able to help quench the same level of adrenaline this anime delivers. Makoto Miyazaki's score also deserves some credit as being one of the most exciting and head-banging music that's ever graced any heroic battle scene.
All these elements of One-Punch Man ball itself together to deliver an experience you won't get from any hero-based show. No Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Supergirl, Jessica Jones, or Arrow can compare with what this anime delivers on a weekly basis. What all these shows strive to attempt was successfully achieved with just the very first episode of Saitama's adventures. To put it bluntly: One-Punch Man makes the current lineup of live-action hero series look like total garbage. (Yes, even you Daredevil.)
One-Punch Man is the epitome of perfection. The action, the characters, the voice acting, and even the humor reaches the sorts of levels that many superhero-based films or TV series have barely even scraped. (James Gunn's rendition of Guardians of the Galaxy came very close, though.) This is the sort of anime that will even make the haters of the genre bow down before its glorious nature. Another pedestal for legendary anime has been crafted, with Saitama in the best of company with the likes of Spike Spiegel, Lupin III, Astro Boy, and Sailor Moon.
Simply put: One-Punch Man is the best thing to air on TV this year.
Final Grade (not an average):