One Punch Man serves as suitable entertainment on the shallowest of levels, though its repetitive comedy and presentation prevent it from standing out beyond that.
One Punch Man starts out on a moderate note, with the joke of Saitama’s overpowered physicality growing old before the end of the first episode. From the start, this is a problem, as even less acclaimed comedic series like Baka and Test and The Devil is a Part Timer have fast and furious first episodes, where comedies usually try to reel in their audience by establishing character dynamics, introducing multiple avenues of comedy (ranging from misunderstandings to ill pre-conceived notions) and more than a single named character. Though the first episode contains a fight with a crab, a fight with a giant, an extended dream sequence and a showcase of sidekick Genos, it feels very scant on promising material or even immediate comedic or visceral sustenance (outside of the sakuga, but I’ll get to that later). When Genos is introduced things become a bit more interesting, as his back-and-forth with Saitama resulting from their juxtaposition in goals, fighting styles and ambitions makes them able to play off each other very effectively. Another couple of episodes are carried by this, and for a while their sort-of buddy cop routine works somewhat effectively, repetitive scenarios aside (Genos fights his heart out, Saitama wins with no difficulty at all, rinse and repeat).
However, problems become more prevalent after the introduction of Speed of Sound Sonic. The hero association is introduced, and there is little excuse for Saitama to not know of this for several reasons. Firstly, as the series itself points out, the hero association is subsidised by the government, and Saitama must have had to have paid tax at some point in the past. Secondly, he must have seen other heroes near gigantic monsters at least a few times. Finally, if the association is so well structured, with satellites and monitoring systems all throughout the world, why hasn’t Saitama been noticed? (Disclaimer: I have read the manga up until where it is now, and his scapegoat is an insufficient reason for the public’s inability to report him). When any level of scrutiny is applied to the mechanics of the world, it falls apart, and the excuse of it being a parody just isn’t enough for this negligible world building. With the plot essentially consisting of a sequence of events as Saitama and Genos rise through the ranks, One Punch Man choses to take the unambitious route of having the series serve as a comedy and action series almost exclusively.
However, the comedy of the series, which even more so than the action was its main draw, was an area where the series ultimately falls into the category of hit-and-miss. When it parodies the super sentai and American comic book hero genres, it works relatively fine on a comedic level, though no thoughtful subversions or critiques are made with this self-awareness of its labels. However, when it isn’t pertaining to the very watchable and even charming relationship between Saitama and Genos, it resorts to the most painfully unimaginative anime humour, and these extended cringe-sequences can take up to 5 minutes at a time, which even a good joke couldn’t sustain. As was mentioned above, the series uses Saitama’s lack of intelligence or quick thinking as a source of humour against Genos, but when he’s on his own the scenes feel like the uninspired moron-shaming the something like Family Guy is usually associated with. The depiction of homosexuals as sexually aggressive sociopaths isn’t even parodied at all, with the writers seemingly using a clearly sexually abusive man as a source of humour, made worse when you consider we are supposed to be rooting for him. Even the loathsome groin jabs make an appearance, and in the earlier parts of the series at that, though they are played more effectively than one might presume.
Another of the plentiful problems with the later episodes is that the supporting cast, mainly the other S class heroes, are introduced and then immediately set to fight in dangerous situations, with episode 11 being taken up mostly with these new, though not particularly interesting characters fighting unnamed aliens whose weakness is so painfully obvious that the entire episode is skippable. To add to that, with the exception of Sonic, every villain in One Punch Man is interchangeable; sure, they have slightly different goals, but they’re essentially all cocky giants who command henchmen who seem to dominate until they are easily dispatched by Saitama. A couple characters like Tornado of Terror and Sweet Mask seem interesting, but they do nothing more than gloat and occasionally attack enemies of little consequences while Saitama does all the work.
Thematically, One Punch Man is a very dry series. It sometimes likes to throw around themes like “People will judge you based on your history and appearance instead of your actions.” However, these are simply repeated from time to time with little sense of thematic progression. This theme is introduced, and immediately becomes a dead end, and as a result, One Punch Man only really has something to say if the viewer is willing to turn their brain off. Instead slowly moving from a parody to something of greater memorability, the series chooses to stay in its tried-and-tested ways, resulting in an oddly unfulfilling viewing experience.
One Punch Man’s visual presentation is another mixed bag. The action sequences are fluid and the lack of weight to them makes One Punch Man feel like a video game at times, though this is appropriate for Saitama given that his victories are often achieved with the comparable ease of button pressing. Visually, any scene involving the main character works, as his character model is sufficiently loose for it to change depending on the tone of the scene without feeling distracting. On the other hand, like with Attack on Titan the inconsistent production quality is covered up with tight shots and speed lines, however unlike there it doesn’t function as effectively because, as a generally light hearted series, wide and open shots would feel more natural. The few instances where there are crowd shots feature many off model people for up to 10 seconds, and even vehicles seem deformed as a result of the action scenes clearly being given priority over the in-between ones. The character designs are fairly on-the-nose typical of super-heroes, with the serious, detailed and (widely considered) attractive Genos acting as the straight man, while Saitama serves as the spanner in the works with his intentionally unspectacular but memorable aesthetic. When Genos, or many of the other characters move, they are often pudgy at distance shots, and the choreography of many fights leaves viewers with little sense of distance or speed. The fights against the Deep Sea King and aliens in the second half were particularly disappointing for the most part, usually consisting of a series of stylish stills and speed lines which, while reminiscent of charming older action shounen, detract from what are supposed to be serious confrontations.
The colour palette for the series is below average by modern standards in terms of breadth, with simple base colours dominating the character designs and backgrounds. The series misses a big opportunity here, because though this works well for Saitama, giving Tornado of Terror or Silver Fang a more sophisticated depth of lighting would assert why they are so respected and bring greater contrast to them and Saitama. Outside of the fight scenes, the series often has difficultly with the mobility of larger, more detailed monsters, as the story boards that treat One Punch Man like a theatrical outing couldn’t be brought to life without the time and energy put into something akin to a Makoto Shinkai movie. The series shot itself in the foot to an extent with the bland angles and framing, because had the series shown monsters rising from behind, rather than at the front where everything has to be drawn, it would have both made them more imposing and increased the fluidity of these creatures. Instead, the monsters’ movements are stiff, unnatural and greatly contrast that of the rest of the characters. To add to that, the content of the fights often feels like there were forced attempt at lengthening them (Saitama is running away from Genos… why?). A potentially even bigger problem would have to be the visual pacing; with One Punch Man being a Madhouse production in name only, dozens upon dozens of freelancing key animators were hired to direct individual scenes as short as 10 seconds. The jarring shift in art style, matched with the directionless story often makes episodes of One Punch Man feel either dry or bloated, messy and confusing and, at worst, like nothing is happening.
The standouts scenes that have made One Punch Man famous in the visual department are its occasional use of Sakuga animation, which is to say, when then animation quality considerably increases for a brief period under the watch of specific key animators, such as Tetsuya Takeuchi or Nozomu Abe. The first and final episodes of One Punch Man in particular has a few of these, with many of the staff from Space Dandy creating sequences specific to them for maximum effect. However, this ultimately serves as a double-edge sword, as though they may be exhilarating for about 30 seconds, these sakuga moments are intercut between with so little grace and consideration for pacing that the scenes feel random and uncoordinated, with the final battle between Saitama and Boros essentially being a long sakuga compilation, rather than a well-structured fight. To add to that, the effects work surrounding them isn’t up to par, with the dust clouds lacking the fluidity or realistic motion of a product from P.A. Works or Ufotable. One Punch Man’s animation during action scenes make for some entertaining gifs, but not satisfying battles.
The music of One Punch Man starts out on a strong note, with the second half of the first episode containing a powerful, catching and uplifting song during Saitama’s dream sequence that brings to life the unadulterated feeling of being a hero. However, this track is repeated several times over the later episodes, during training scenes, fights and even dialogue, outstaying its welcome before the mid-point of this 12 episode series has been reached, and being used to death till the end (it even serves as the main theme in the final battle!). The OP is so on the nose that it feels obnoxious, representing the repetitive nature of jokes pertaining to Saitama and barely showcasing any of the more interesting looking characters. The lyrics are also suitably bland; like the series it accompanies, the opening song uses the label “parody” to excuse a lack of creativity and articulation. The ED feels like it belongs in a different series, with the various visual cues and vocals having nothing to do with One Punch Man, and “Sleep soundly…” doesn’t seem to pertain to any of the characters. Sound effects are dull and overused from the very beginning, with each “Clang” sounding exactly the same and some of the noises sounding outright off.
As a comedy, the voice acting in One Punch Man is serviceable, with Makoto Furukawa’s Saitama voice doing such a good job at reflecting his years of fighting pitiful opponents that it just makes the jokes feel more repetitive. Genos is well represented by relative new comer Kaito Ishikawa, who brings his focused and disciplined characteristics to the forefront, though the script and direction prevent him from displaying much range. Much better is Yuki Kaiji’s wonderfully insane and energetic performance as reoccurring antagonist Sonic, who steals whatever scene he appears in with his memorable mannerisms and fighting style. Mamoru Miyano as Sweet Mask is also good, though his scenes are too few and far between. The gem in the cast, however, would have to be the one-two punch of Saori Hayami’s wonderfully cold and manipulative Blizzard of Hell Fubuki (in spite of her appearance being little more than a cameo) and Aoi Yuuki’s simultaneously adorable and magnetically unpleasant Tornado of Terror, who possess the most personality of the cast.
All in all, One Punch Man is a candy coloured super hero punch up that sacrifices ambition and development in favour of using it for a quick joke stretched out into a 12 episode long series, which based on its current strong reception and awareness among the public, is likely extend even further. The humour quickly becomes uninspired and overdone, the story lacks bite and the presentation is hit-and-miss. It excuses itself as a parody or satire, though ultimately doesn’t function as either of those a lot of the time, resulting in a lukewarm experience.