One thing you can say about ONE and Yusuke Murata’s One-Punch Man is that the title does not lie. The shounen parody, which began life as a web comic both written and illustrated by ONE, follows the adventures of Saitama, a young man who was an unemployed salary man three years ago and now works as a hero who can fell any foe with a single punch. Stuff psychic powers and extravagant battles; all Saitama needs is a right hook and it’s all over. Unfortunately for him, this is not the most exciting power to have, nor does it lead to a massive battle or thrilling fight. On that topic, it seems daft to question the world that Saitama lives in, where mad scientists, crazy mutated monsters, and cyborgs live side-by-side with regular humans who don’t pay much, if any, attention to the whole thing unless there’s an attack. Visible in the backgrounds of many scenes are the faces of civilians who seem almost blase instead of the screaming terror that one would expect when confronted with super villains and monsters, until they’re attacked. Then again, it seems to be almost a daily occurrence, so it’s logical that we’re to assume to the normal population, it is just business as usual.
The story opens with a character resembling Piccolo from DragonBall Z with horns attacking a city. He claims he does so on behalf of the earth, for humans have taken advantage of the planet and polluted its gifts for far too long. Now he must punish the people. He does not get far in his mission, however, as an average looking bald man shows up and turns him into gory pieces with a single punch. It’s Saitama, the Hero for Fun here to save the day, even if he was just on his way to go grocery shopping. It’s the basic gist of the story for at least the first few chapters of volume one, and although repetitive it is entertaining. The second chapter delves a little into Saitama’s past and what motivated himto become a hero, involving a super villain looking like a Sponge Bob character on steroids. This is the mostly outwardly silly chapter and it’s appropriately lame as a backstory for our hero, who perhaps was looking for a way to dodge becoming a salaryman as much as he was looking to do something he enjoyed. Chapters three and four are basically one-shots involving Saitama taking on different (and relatively insane) villains, although chapter three makes an attempt at emotional content, before the actual series storyline begins in chapter five.
Once the main plot begins, however, there isn’t a decrease in the ridiculious factor. We simply begin to get both multi-chapter arcs and more main characters, with the first being Genos, a cyborg who makes himself Saitama’s apprentice in order to learn how to become stronger. Genos is the straight man of the series, at times visibly exasperated by Saitama’s attitude and casual heroing style, and he balances the story out. The two spend their first story arc together combating strange hybrid human/beast warriors, with the most memorable being Mosquito Girl; a character that would not be out of place in MonMusu for obvious reasons. (Rachnera would love her company, huehuehue) Those of us who have seen bloated ticks on a creature could find aspects of this chapter difficult and possibly a little disgusting, but on the other had, the complete contrast between Mosquito Girl’s fight with Genos and Saitama’s total inability to swat a single, unrelated mosquito ironic and hilarious. ONE is careful in both volumes to balance out the action with silliness, making this a very fast, entertaining read. Volume two finishes up the mad scientist story that incorporates Mosquito Girl and then brings us a new rival character and a ninja battle.
While ONE did the original artwork for the webcomic, award-winning artist Murata has taken over for the paper publication, and he captures the essence of the story well. From the small details of faces mentioned before to a well-timed “waiting” panel that will likely play elevator music in the anime, the art compliments the text nicely. Bodies have occasional issues, but the most noticeable one is Mosquito Girl’s massive thigh gap, which is so large as to be a bit distracting, even if that’s not a trend that bothers you. There’s a deliberately uneven level of quality to Saitama himself that goes with the moment and largely works well, though occasionally it can just look sloppy.
Whether you see it as a send up of the superhero story or a flat out Monty Python parody of it, One-Punch Man’s first two volumes are a lot of fun. With a hero who is verging on bored but keeps slogging away, an overzealous cyborg companion, and some truly weird villains mixed together with a gratuitous dollop of the absurd, it’s the sort of goofy story you can read whenever you need a laugh. As to whether the series can keep the energy of the series rolling, it is yet to be seen, but from these two books, One-Punch Man is a good cure for a bad day.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.