When it comes to comedies and parodies alike, there really isn't any sort of arithmetic equation or analytical evaluation needed to determine its value. To put it as simply as possible, it all boils down to a rudimentary question: were you kept amused and were you entertained?
If you said "no" then that's fine, there really isn't any need to justify that answer any further, same also applies if you had said "yes." You see, shows geared to keep you amused are that simple, the same way disliking or liking a specific genre of music doesn't inherently determine its worth to the next person to listen to it. Of course, there are many different brands of comedies out there, some sub-genres of which can be measured by its degree of writing and comedic timing, but this should also come with the understanding that within the marginalizing of "comedy" as a genre, there are also room for low-brow humor that relies entirely on dick jokes and crass observations. I say all this to make this point, comedy, like music and other forms of interests that determine an individual's taste, is at essence, a subjective thing. And when something's worth is dependent entirely on whether someone is amused/entertained or not, it's automatically a magnet for contention. For everyone that finds a joke funny, there will be those that stand in opposition.
One Punch Man is a joke that's rather predictable and repetitive if you only care for the punchline but at the same time, a great deal more satisfying if you're keen to the subject matter that's following up to its inevitable destination. In a way, it's an inside joke among friends, just done so for everyone else to hear. It isn't trying to hide it, there's no workaround into deciphering any deep seeded message. What you see is precisely what you get. One Punch Man is a lineage carried over from super sentai/superhero/shounen stories that took a look at itself in the mirror and came to a simple conclusion; that conclusion being that super sentai/superhero/shounen shows are hilarious.
No really, think about it for a second. It's a form of storytelling that was forged from the need to give moral messages by embodying everything in basic "black or white" terms, where you either stand for good or evil. What makes it funny is that these absurd stories are often played straight with no witticism or awareness of its laughable morality message whatsoever. It's a stone-faced, Bible thumping message on morality that's delivered to its audience by grown men and women wearing brightly colored spandex. It's the kind of irony that's only feasible within the realm of fiction, but hilarious in real life when examined. Of course, the inherent silliness of superhero stories have given rise to many satirical outlooks on the subject matter, but for the most part, those aimed more so to poke fun of that form of storytelling, rather than laughing along with it. But every now and then we get a show that isn't out to sully the impact of the subject matter being satirized, instead, it embraces it to its full extent. Rather than teetering between comical nonsense and serious commentary, it decides why to bother holding up that facade, to begin with. It's a show that comes to the conclusion that if you're going to be bat shit crazy, you might as well go all the way.
Ladies and gentlemen this long winded intro is written for the sole purpose of introducing an anime that does just that, One Punch Man. Not only is it aware of the utter nonsense that populates the super sentai/superhero landscape, but it figures that there's no point in trying to deny it. It's a show that revels in the stupidity with no shame or care for onlookers. It's an anime that's comfortable in its spandex suit and flaunts it for all to see. It's a joke that tells you to put away the analytical scrutiny, loosen up your thinking cap, and just come along for the good ole dumb ride that's about to take place.
As I've already previously stated, your individualistic feelings for the show is the deciding factor on its inherent value. So with that being said, this review is written from the point of view of someone who, for the most part, found the journey with OPM to be satisfactory. Whether you disagree with this statement or not isn't important. I'm not here to tell you OPM is great, and I'm not here to tell you it's anything deeper than what it is; rather, I'm here to explain what kinks OPM managed to properly iron out, and where I as a viewer found noticeable bumps on the journey.
While OPM provided a great deal of entertainment, it also had its fair share of issues that detracted from the overall experience. For one, if this anime was created with less effort on the part of the studio (Madhouse) with its audiovisuals, there would be little to credit it for otherwise. The driving force behind OPM is how pristine and well-oiled it looks and feels as a product. This is an anime that relies heavily on the platform of storytelling it is using. This is an anime that works so well because it IS an anime. It's the sense of scale behind every action being taken by our characters; the impact and fluidity of every animated movement; the hyper-detail behind every intricately choreographed action set-piece and moments of high-octane clashes; the flurry of saturated color that follows every frame; the elastic expressions of the personalities in motion. This is an anime that takes full advantage of its medium, and had it been a show that coasted along to a by-the-numbers checklist, there wouldn't be any need to discuss it at all. This was a passion project brought to life in spectacular fashion. Everything from the traditional heavy metal guitar riffs in the background, to the highly detailed shading of the character designs, makes this feel like more than an assembly line production simply made for profit, it became a work of passion.
It stands to reason that the audiovisual presentation and aesthetic appeal was what propelled this show to instant stardom. So the question remains, why is it so aggressively detested by others?
If you've seen the arguments from detractors of the show, you've undoubtedly caught wind of the "One Joke Man" mantra, and to be quite honest, that isn't a bad assessment of the show in a nutshell. Saitama, our lead character and resident impersonator of Mr. Clean, is a man that has grown bored of his acquired strength in pursuit to become a superhero. For reasons vaguely explained, he has reached a point where he can obliterate his foes in one punch. And if you were expecting a "but" at the end of that sentence, don't hold your breath, this is the joke. It's like the climatic end to a battle shounen, where our main character goes through his training arc and defeats the antagonist, after he hit his ultimate form of over-powered potential... but instead of simply ending the story there, we're given an extended "what if" prologue that asks the question: what happens after the final conflict is over, after our hero reaches the apex of the beat 'em up food chain?
And from that question emerges this product; this joke. And while there is an overarching story unfolding in the background, it's the joke that takes precedence and placed on center-stage for our amusement. And it's this joke that creates the split among those who adore the show and those that carry around the "One Joke Man" picket sign in protest to its popularity. As trivial of an argument it may seem, this comedic gag is the reason for the rift among anime viewers, which has become a joke within itself (super meta shit).
There are two main parts to the overarching story: one of which involves Saitama and his ironic post-climb to the top of a superhero organization to gain recognition, while also trying to fulfill his excessive need to seek out an enemy that can finally put up a challenge. And the other subplot revolves around his apprentice and eventual friend, Genos, who's goal can be seen as the stereotypical hero story of vengeance. And while both stories are played straight, it's the awareness the show has for its content which lets everyone in on the joke, and also what makes the parody of the subject matter both amusing, and in a weird way, self-indulgent. While the show follows these narratives in a fashion expected, it does so with a constant sense of witticism and deliberate elbow nudging. This, as a result, can lead to scenes where expository dialogue is given, while our lead is trying to dismiss it, the equivalent of which is like the character breaking the fourth wall and looking into the camera saying — "isn't this shit boring? I wish he would shut up already!" It's these moments that make what can be seen as a fairly common story, into one that's not only fun to follow, but also something like brownie points for the viewer that are keen to the observations. It's an anime that actively interacts with the expectation of the audience watching it. And while these moments still play second-fiddle to the constant beat 'em up action on screen, it's those moments that give OPM its sense of identity.
Speaking of the beat 'em up action, OPM effectively nails this aspect down without much debate. While the satirical moments sprinkled throughout shines in its own way, it's the fight scenes that elevates this title to a growing household name. It's the fuel behind the hype if you will. And while that may be a superficial reason to bolster its value, it's still a viable reason for the sake of consumable entertainment. One of its primary genres is action after all, and when it comes to action, very few shows can stand as competition to the consistent level of quality encapsulated in OPM.
The characters of OPM are just that, characters. You're not looking at them for any profound message or character depth, rather it's the eccentricity of the personalities themselves that works. From the typical hero of justice stereotypes found in characters like Genos and Mumen Rider, to the more obvious satirized ones like Amai Mask and Metal Bat. It's comic book personalities brought to life and set loose, all for the sole purpose of wacky antics and populating the setting with a garden variety of personas. The villains can range from the ultra-silly like a lobsterman wearing underwear (similar to something found in the likes of super sentai works), to the more maniacal dimensionless baddie who's sole purpose in life is to fight strong opponents (similar to that of most battle shounens). It's this variety of Saturday morning cartoon level characters that keep things fresh. And with the over-exaggerated character designs, it becomes even more elevated than what would typically be seen from this kind of show.
Although, this, as a result, creates the most shallow cast imaginable, and while they're still endearing in the already goofy backdrop they're placed in, they're not in any way new to what would come out of this brand of storytelling. The more you buy into the comedic outlook the show presents everything in, the easier it is to buy into their placement in the story.
This, of course, leads to one of the more noticeable problems the show can't seem to get a grasp on, and that's that nothing it does can be taken seriously. The show goes out of its way to paint everything in clown makeup, so when it does try to take things down a more serious route the final result is more of an apathetic shrug and resounding "who cares", than anything you can deem potent. This isn't to say that those more serious moments don't hold meaning, but that in the context of a parody that has been doing nothing but laughing along with the audience, the moments are simply unwarranted. It's like if a stoner comedy stopped everything dead in its tracks to present a D.A.R.E speech against the use of drugs. Thankfully these moments aren't ever-present throughout the show's run-time.
Another issue that many might have with OPM is quite obviously the joke itself. Being that it's a repetitive comedic gag, many might find the novelty of the gag to have less impact as the show goes on. This, of course, is a reasonable concern, since variety is what keeps long-running sitcoms and comedies on the air. The show attempts to alleviate that concern with the involvement of characters like Genos, who serves as the duality to Saitama's placement in the story.
And then there's Saitama himself, who is a deadpan protagonist for a majority of the show's run-time. Those unfamiliar or simply indifferent to deadpan humor will of course not find anything in Saitama, making him uninteresting to most, and rightfully so. And like the concern of the run-on joke losing its luster, the myriad of other wacky characters introduced are the show's defense to keep the attentiveness of those who simply can't be bothered with the uncaring and often cynical outlook Saitama is given. This isn't a case where the lead is a blank slate, but rather he's a character that should have already been done with his arc and involvement in the story. This is the follow up to where a typical hero story should have ended, the downward spiral of a man who has already achieved all that there is to do in his given universe. Which of course is the point of this prolog inspired series, but like I've already stated, the inherent value of OPM rests with the viewer's taste in comedy, so this problem may not even register at all to a lot of people.
But despite these indeterminate shortcomings, the show still manages to do enough to keep itself together. Because it's so self-aware, a great deal of these issues is often made to be null and void. It's hard to dissect a show that is so honest about what it is. This doesn't wash away the issues it may have, but it certainly makes it more palatable to a consumer that isn't necessarily concerned about it.
I can go on and on about what the show had working against it, but at the end of the day, I walked away with a title that constantly kept me entertained. The fights were great fun, the animation was handled with care, the OST was kickass, the satirical jabs kept me cackling, and above all else, I was more than satisfied as a viewer and fellow enthusiast of anime. Sure the run-on gag lost steam at times, and yes the plot wasn't always engaging, but as far as enjoyment is concerned, OPM scratched an itch that previously only Jojo of the same year was able to.
Is One Punch Man over-hyped? Yes, it certainly is. But does that make it inherently bad? No, it doesn't. While it may be blown out of proportion due to the fact that its contemporaries are of less than stellar quality, there are still merits to the appraisal it receives. It isn't a title that will break new ground anytime soon, and partially, it's a Frankenstein who's existence can be credited with the recent high demand for superhero stories in pop culture. But as an action-comedy that's out to simply have fun and revel in the absurdity of its story, One Punch Man is a show that can keep even the most jaded of audiences entertained, and if only for that aspect alone, I think it's worth trying out.