Let me just say this right at the top, If you like superheroes at all you should watch this show.
There’s no denying that I’ve had problems with the whole idea of superheroes and superhero movies/shows. I’m probably just an angry old man now who’s out of the target demographic of the things but I grew up with them and as such they’re always kind of important to me. Equally important to my formative years was anime, usually dubbed in spanish. Saint Seiya(Caballeros del Zodiaco), Captain Tsubasa(Super Campeones) were HUGE to me but I don’t think any series has as big an impact in not only myself but my whole generation as Dragonball Z. I can still remember the schoolyard arguments that would erupt over “Who could beat up who” and Goku, the protagonist of Dragon Ball Z could beat anyone. Can Goku beat Wolverine? Yup. Can he beat Batman? Please. Can Goku beat Spiderman? Easy. Can Goku beat Superman? Hm...I don’t know. That’s usually where the arguments would stop and as we get older we realized the ultimate problem with these heroes, they can only be SO strong before things just break.
Ideally you want your hero to go through struggles, but also you want him to overcome and be stronger. This is what Goku was. He’d find an enemy that would nearly kill him, he’d go train, come back and be stronger. This basic formula was repeated and over and over and over the first guy would threaten to destroy the planet but before long Goku’s power had grown to the point where he was fighting intradimensional ancient Gods. Eventually you had to get rid of Goku this is the only way there was ever really any drama in the show, if Goku couldn’t fight the other guys had to. Superman is very similar in this way, he’s so strong. Too strong, there’s really no need for the Justice League and that’s exactly why Superman is so boring. He’s perfect, so there’s nothing to him. It’s only fun when he’s away. That’s the problem with heroes, they need to be strong, stronger than everyone else but we get bored when they don’t die. If they do die, we get upset and want them back only for them to come back and break everything about the show. It’s a vicious cycle, we can’t break it. Maybe we should stop, One Punch Man does exactly that.
The titular character of One Punch Man’s real name is Saitama and he is a superhero just for fun and can destroy anything with one punch. He gained this ability by working hard, everyday he has a strict regimen of exercises and not using AC but that’s it. There’s no fancy origin story, he’s not an alien, he’s a regular dude. He lives in a crappy one bedroom apartment, goes shopping for his food, and is very sensitive about his early baldness. He’s the dopiest looking dude you’ve ever seen. He inhabits an Earth like planet that has huge megalopolis cities which are just named after letters, City A City B all the way to City Z. The cities are usually under attack by huge monsters that have super simple/ridiculous origin stories. There’s for example “Crablante” a man who ate too much crab so he transformed into a giant crab monster or “Super Custom YO649 Mk 2” who is a man that loves building custom cars so much that he turned into one. Each enemy embodies some human vice, or the Earth's’ response to it and they’re so ridiculous that it just makes you go “Ok, I guess that works” In this world there’s also an association of Heroes much like The Avengers or Justice League, except there’s a lot more heroes than in those two and they’re directly funded by donations from common people. I think this aspect is what really made me like this show, the heroes themselves are much much more ridiculous and over the top than the villains. There’s a guy named “Tank Top Tiger” who wears, a tiger patterned tank top. That’s it, that’s really it. There’s also a guy named “Spring Mustachio” who has a fancy mustache and dresses like he’s in Boardwalk Empire. “Golden Ball” who dresses like a highschool jock in the early 2000s and has a super sonic slingshot, or perhaps the weirdest of all “Puri Puri Prisoner” who is a flamboyant prisoner who loves beautiful men….yeah, it’s over the top and ridiculous and it works. Also within the Hero ASsociation there’s a ranking system from C to B to A to S. The public follows the ranks carefully and people become more or less popular based on their hero activity and Saitama is more or less obsessed with this ranking. It’s such a weird show and it points out everything that’s ridiculous about superhero stories but instead of just mocking them it highlights them and stretches them as far as they can go AND IT WORKS.
Saitama falls into the Goku/Superman/Phoenix lanes of all powerful hero just as badly as them but in his world he is a nobody. He is unloved, unpopular and unwanted. He is never called on to help, no one believes his power and the fate of the world is never directly thrust at him. Half of the time he only springs into action when he sees something going down in the news. He is bored with his strength, true but he is not boring. He doesn’t understand how he got it and he doesn’t exactly believe he can reproduce it. He has problems, his favorite supermarkets are destroyed and the places where he’s been kicked out of remain standing. Despite being the strongest man, he’s a deeply flawed man.
One Punch Man takes all the things we’ve accepted in superhero stories and gives them to us straight, ironically, yet not. It’s the satire of it that makes it work. Very few villains in any superhero story have a believable backstory or characteristics for that matter so why shouldn’t an obsession with crabs be a sufficient reason to become a monster? What superhero’s origin is actually worthwhile? Maybe a simple obsession being a guard dog is enough to become one. Maybe the fact that the bad guys stole your hairstyle is enough to fight them? Doesn’t have to be anything more than that. What if we toss aside all the hubris and long windedness of heroes and just have a guy who does it for fun, because a real job sucks? What if superheroes could be fun and ridiculous and not believable. What if the answer to who would win in a fight is settled but nobody cares? This is the world of One Punch Man.