The popular manga One-Punch Man, written by ONE and illustrated by Yuusuke Murata, draws readers in with its entertaining plot, dynamic characters, and incredible illustrations. Since the release of the original webcomic in 2009, One-Punch gained success, receiving 7.9 million hits by 2012 and having 4.5 million copies in circulation by September 2014. A recurring theme in One-punch is how it subverts the superhero archetype. Already a spoof on the popular children’s manga series Apanman, One-punch continues to satire the typical superhero plot by contributing elements of novelty and hilarity.
The main character Saitama is an average looking man who decides he is fed up with looking for work and makes fighting crime his full-time hobby. After three years of training to become stronger, Saitama emerges bald, overwhelmingly powerful, and bored since no one can match his awesome strength. Instead of drawn out fight scenes with the struggle of evenly matched opponents, every fight between Saitama and a Mysterious Being – the name for monsters in the manga – ends after the eponymous one punch.
Saitama diverges from the usual superhero. Using the definition of a superhero provided by Peter Coogan, Director of Internal Operations at Institute for Comics Studies, in his book Superhero: The Secret Origins of a Genre, I discuss that while aspects of Saitama fit within the parameters of a superhero, they also diverge from and provide commentary on the superhero genre. Coogan identifies three elements of the superhero genre– the MPI, mission, powers, and identity.
Superhero. A heroic character with a selfless, pro-social mssion; with superpowers-extraordinary abilities, advanced technology, or highly developed physical, mental, or mystical skils; who has a superhero identity embodied in a codename and iconic costume, which typically express his biography, character, powers, or origin, and who is generically distinct by a preponderance of generic conventions. Often superheroes have dual identities, the ordinary one which is usually a closely guarded secret. – Superhero: The Secret Origins of a Genre
Cooper states that a hero’s mission must fit within the mores of society and cannot progress the hero’s own agenda. As a child Saitama dreamed of being a hero, and as stated in the panel to the left, Saitama wants the excitement of the fight and “self-satisfaction of fighting evil under justice”. His mission is to find an enemy who can challenge his strength and cure his boredom. Thus Saitama does not at first seem to fit the selfless identification of a superhero by mission. However, when the strikes from the Mysterious Beings reach disaster level, Saitama says, “If the heroes run and hide, who will stay and fight”, expressing his understanding of the role of a superhero.
A hero’s powers are one of the most outstanding qualities they possess. Saitama meets the expectations of being a powerful figure, exceeding the strength of heroes like Superman and Wonder Man. Unlike the intense fight scenes of other superheroes, Saitaima beats his enemy with one quick punch. The source of his strength is bizarre and adds to Saitama’s oddball character. The general hero is born with innate power, possesses abilities to gain skill, or goes through incredible training regimens. Instead Saitama has somehow reached ultimate power through general strengthening exercises.
Cooper notes that the two parts of a superhero’s identity convention are the “heroic codename and the costume”. In the corporeal realm of a superhero Saitama is bland, drawn in most frames with simple nondescript features, dull compared to other characters who are drawn with more definition. His body type is average and thin while his posture tends towards unassuming. Saitama is given the hero name “Caped Baldy” by the Hero Association due to his most distinct features -his white or red cape and bald head. Saitama’s costume consists of a yellow jumpsuit, a short zipper on top, red gloves, red boots, and a cape. Fulfilling both components of identity, Saitama still does not project the powerful image of a superhero. His codename is lame and his costume looks amateurish at best.
One-Punch Man stays consistent with the elements of MPI, but depicts its main hero as wonderfully abnormal. Pop culture seems to be trending towards the hero that is a little less than perfect. Take for example the recent popularity of the protagonists in Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. The dynamic of humor and overturned expectations makes Saitaima an entertaining and novel superhero.
Below is the trailer to the anime adaptation as well as a link to the first episode of One-Punch Man.