Friday, April 14, 2017

Check out One Punch Man, if you can!

Hell no! Anime Go!

I have a confession to make: I detest -- nay, HATE anime. Oh, I like cartoons, but I have a palpable contempt for the Japanese variety. I find the character models boring. I find the incessant prattling of the protagonists too much to stomach. I find the insipid, recycled episodic scripts unbearable. I rage at the anime heroes who are always just "too cool" or "too unbeatable" to be interesting at all. I roll my eyes at the slow pacing. I can't even count how many times I've seen a storyline about cool robots or dragons having epic battles devolve into gag-inducing whiny diatribes about how "our feelings drive war," or some other stupid nonsense. It's to the point where even anime that doesn't follow these trends directly (like Cowboy Bebop) grates on my nerves to the point where I can't watch it anymore.

Think I'm joking? I tried watching the original Ghost in the Shell the other night, and only made it about 45 minutes in before I was done. I will never watch it again, and that's a movie I remember liking. Anime and I are Splitsville... or so I thought...

For literally no reason at all I began watching an anime on Netflix last night. And as of today, I've watched the entire first season. I don't normally binge-watch shows, and as my previous statements should have convinced you, I don't watch anime anymore. But I can say the following with conviction:

One Punch Man is one of the greatest shows I've ever watched.

I know: It's weird, right? But One Punch Man is a simple, one-note show that has wormed its way into my heart and I hope that I'll see more of it in the future. And I love it because it makes fun of every single thing that the culture and medium that spawned it introduced into the zeitgeist. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The basics

The show follows a recently laid-off telemarketer named Saitama, who happens upon a monster on his way home. He saves a child from the monster, beating it in the process. He then decides he wants to be a hero "for fun," and begins a training regimen (which is hilarious, but I'll leave that as a spoiler). Three years later, he has trained "so hard that (his) hair fell out." Now he has the unique problem that being a hero isn't fun for him anymore, and for one simple reason: He's so powerful that he beats any foe he meets with one single punch. What's worse, nobody recognizes him as a hero and they frequently make fun of his bald head.

It's such a unique and fun take on the whole Superman problem: When you have a hero who is all-powerful, what motivates him? Saitama is stuck in a constant state of ennui. He's in over his head because he isn't particularly bright, which makes his frustrations even more entertaining. His biggest concerns when he's fighting are that his costume will get ruined (and he's not rich enough to replace it) and that he might not make it to the supermarket before it closes. His round, vacant face in the heat of battle is just so entertaining it defies logic.

The show pokes fun at anime, superheroes, fighting games, Japanese culture, action movies, and really too much else to mention. The supporting cast includes a cool-looking cyborg who becomes Saitama's unwanted disciple, a bloodthirsty ninja with serious inadequacy issues, a dangerous young telepath who could give the Phoenix force a run for its money, and my favorite, Mumen Rider (which literally translates to "No-license Rider"), a sting at the Japanese superhero staple Kamen Rider (Masked Rider) who has no superpowers and rides a pretty crappy bicycle (and he doesn't even ride it particularly well, either). The funny thing is, you can find yourself starting to care about these characters, despite the show's ridiculous premise.

In conclusion

CAUTION: Be aware that this is a Japanese program, so there are a few characters who are skirting the edge of being offensive and racist (and that's putting it kindly). While not as bloody as some anime, it can still be a little gruesome at times, so avoid watching with kids. This show is in Japanese and is subtitled (on Netflix, anyway), so if that's not your thing you might want to give it a "pass." Side effects may include holding poses for way too long and power levels above 5,000.

Anyway, other than those minor gripes I had a genuinely fun time watching it. The episodes are short, the pacing is mostly fast, and even when it's slow it seems more like an episode of Seinfeld than an anime. I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.

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