Saving The World From Solomon Grundy

ONE & Yusuke Murata
One Punch Man, book 1

One Punch

One-Punch Man Volume One collects Punches 1 through 8 of ONE and Yusuke Murata’s ongoing manga.

Salaryman turned superhero Saitama wrestles every day with a terrible burden.


Three years of a vigorous daily workout — one hundred push-ups, one hundred sit-ups, one hundred squats, running ten km every day, a proper diet, and eschewing air conditioners — have left him so grotesquely overpowered that a single punch is enough to reduce any foe to a rain of fragmented body-parts.


Saitama hoped to find meaning confronting and defeating the monsters that plague his world. Instead, each fight is so effortless that he has slipped into a deep depression.


Mosquito Girl, a monstrous hybrid of human and insect able to control immense hordes of mosquitoes, offers a ray of hope. Not because she has any chance of surviving an encounter with Saitama. She doesn’t. But before Saitama appears, Mosquito Girl is locked in deadly combat with the earnestly heroic cyborg Genos. Profoundly impressed by Saitama’s abilities, convinced that Saitama has much to teach him, the nineteen-year-old Genos declares himself Saitama’s disciple.

Perhaps Saitama can learn from his new disciple. If he can rise above his depression long enough to pay attention to other humans.

 ~oOo~

Japanese superhero comics have borrowed some tropes from the American genre: flashy costumes, heroic noms de guerre, and explosive violence without any regard for innocent bystanders. One trope notable by its absence is what the roleplaying game Champions calls “Code Versus Killing”: heroic reluctance or outright refusal to kill. Saitama goes all out with the mayhem. This means that there is no Joker immunity; popular antagonists will not be spared for future reappearances. If the Joker caught Saitama’s attention, there would be Joker body parts raining down.

Hence there are no supervillains. In this manga, most antagonists1 are monsters. They are ugly, sadistic, homicidal, and unsympathetic. Many are kaiju. They are not to be captured, tried, and imprisoned; rehabilitation is out of the question; they must just be killed. If only it took more than one punch!

Nor is Saitama your usual superhero. Whatever the true source of his power (he is convinced that it is his workout regimen, something that nobody else believes; his power is too over-the-top) he’s lacking in the motivation department. Having chosen too narrow a goal, he has sunk into a deep depression.

Would I recommend this? I liked the art, in particular the way that the artist conveys Saitama’s disaffection and depression. I was not thrilled by the frequent spectacular bloodshed. I didn’t like the protagonist. Saitama is something of a one-note character and the story doesn’t really make a case that the reader should care that he’s miserable2. The supporting characters, on the other hand, are more interesting. Interesting enough that I could finish reading volume one.

One-Punch Man Volume One is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: The series does feature a pesky ninja, but he’s less of a supervillain and more of an amusement for Saitama. Aware that the ninja presents no serious threat to him, and unaware that the fellow has a body-count in the dozens, Saitama is always careful not to kill his sparring partner.

2: Mind you, the other heroes should be concerned that Saitama might someday decide to turn on them. He might think that the heroes will provide him with the challenge that mere monsters cannot. This never enters their minds. Saitama doesn’t boast; his enemies die the minute they vex him, often without witnesses. You might say that he’s a stealth superhero.


Comments

  • It's been a while, but I remember these as getting better over time. They gradually build up a complex world with interesting characters without ever letting go of the central conceit -- Saitama never meets an opponent he can't dispatch with one punch.

    It's a rare case of something that started as a webcomic and has since grown to be a high-Q media property. (Okay, high-Q for anime fans.)

    Doug M.

  • Michael Grosberg

    The anime was very funny, but your review makes the manga sound dour. Is that the case?

  • James Nicoll

    I think it is funny to some people but not to me.

  • PeterM

    One summer back in the day I did a hundred situps and pushups a day and walked 5+ miles several days a week. I lost a ton of weight but did not develop superpowers. If I'd known that was an option I'd have done the whole regime.

    What defeated my efforts was meeting my now-wife and her cooking skills. Suddenly I had better things to do with my time and better food than the healthy stuff I'd been half-heartedly eating. I regret nothing.

  • Robert Carnegie

    So this isn't the one where a Japanese hero - a super-powered salaryman? - beats up inconsiderate bosses, and and inconsiderate motorists, and shopkeepers who say "there's no demand for" what you're demanding so they don't sell it - that sort of thing. Or perhaps it was in issue one, then there were giant monsters.

    In Marvel Comic, the character Swarm is an actual 1940s Nazi scientist who (unintentionally?) transferred his mind, permanently, into a hive of bees. Difficult to punch. Something for Mosquito Girl to consider. Swarm tends to be associated with either the hive queen or, ah, his original skeleton (ecch), so those are vulnerabilities; his skeleton got destroyed, but it looks like he could get someone else's to maintain the visual.

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