One Punch Man Review: Its Fun, But We Need To Talk About the Homophobic and Transphobic caricatures
When the Fall 2015 line up announced what the new anime shows would be premiering, there was a huge excitement over the decision of Mad House Studios to animate One Punch Man. It is clear that the series has a huge fan base and it definitely peaked my curiosity. Despite the promotional videos, it was hard figure out what kind of story One Punch Man wanted to tell. The rise in popularity of the show is certainly interesting because unlike the conventional adaption of a manga to anime the series, this was originally a web-comic created and written by One. (It is an interesting pen name). The great aspect about publishing content through a web-comic format is that it is accessible to everyone and can be read for free. Yusuke Murata who is the creator for Eyeshield 21 saw something special in One Punch Man that he decided to illustrate the series and re-release it in manga format. My reaction to the series as whole is I think the series is so much fun, and surprisingly the show also made genuine critiques about systemic oppression in Japan.
That sounds heavy right? Well first and foremost One Punch Man is an action-based comedy that is self-aware of the generic tropes found in hero comics. The story revolved around a 25 year old man named Saitama who is disillusioned with everything in his life after constantly getting rejected at job interviews. A fateful encounter eventually pushed Saitama to become a hero. After following his so-called training regimen (its literally ridiculous) for three years he became so strong that he could destroy any enemy with one punch, hence his name One Punch Man.
Despite the fact he is probably the most powerful hero in the universe, ‘One Punch Man‘ Saitama once again felt a sense of emptiness about his life in an occupation that he thought would bring him happiness. I can imagine people are starting to question how can this show be any fun if the battles end that quickly? Well, the interesting aspect about the series is that ultimately it is a character study of Saitama, and the corruption of the ‘Hero Association’ that was created by an unlikely source. Saitama is a unique hero who does not have any patience for the typical hero tropes that the audience often sees in this genre. He not only ends the long verbal expositions and power ups that villains often do quickly, but often times he is just a simple man that wants to be able to make it on time to the bargain sales at the super market.
I mentioned earlier that the Hero Association was created for people who want to help others, but it was clear that the system was not created for heroes like Saitama to succeed. The association is essentially a corporate industry that cares more about equating heroic deeds to their self-worth, which not only ruins any potential teamwork, but it can also ruin the moral of any individual heroes trying to make a difference. This is made worst by the creation of the class system that actively judges what kind of heroes can make it to the top of their rank. If that was not enough, the association also created categories that assigned the level of danger to catastrophe events. This classification made it easier for “heroes” to decide what crisis to get involved in order to move up in the ranking system, which contradicts the definition that heroes are suppose to help anyone regardless of the situation.
Despite this hostile environment set up in One Punch Man, and Saitama own professed attitude of wanting to become famous, his own actions clearly show he does his job because the essence of being a true hero involves helping others. Fortunately throughout the series Saitama does meet fellow colleagues who genuinely respect him and even though he feels empty not being able to be challenged in his battles, at least he feels a sense of comradery with the other people who want to become heroes for the right reasons.
With the many nice things I have said about One Punch Man, that means there is no room for criticism right? Unfortunately, I have to address the problems with the character of Puri Puri Prisoner, who appears later in the series.
There are a lot of characters in One Punch Man that are exaggerated and over the top. However, Puri Puri Prisoner carries with him a negative nuance that continuously demeans gay men in anime. Essentially, his character has a class-S rank, but he was imprisoned because he kept “attacking pretty men”. In the manga it is implied he has also done awful things to “pretty men” in prison too. Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon, anime has endlessly created caricatures about Queer characters that perpetuate problematic notions about the Queer community.
The predatory aspect of Puri Puri Prisoner’s character in One Punch Man was not only met with dismay by prominent anime bloggers, but an intense debate was created in the comment sections. There were so many defensive comments like “Puri Puri Prisoner is parodying sailor moon”, “Why is everyone so PC”, and “we’re westerners we cannot understand eastern sensibilities”. The answer to the first statement is that yes the actual transformation sequence is a parody of sailor moon, but it does not change the fact that the character carries a negative history within anime. In response to the second statement is that I find folks who complain about being too “PC” are often the ones that want to silence genuine concerns people have about content. Lastly, the people in East Asia have been fighting for proper representations of themselves for years in all mediums. Look at the whole issue surrounding the first lesbian j-drama Transit Girls and several Queer advocates like Maki Muraki leader of the non-profit organization Nijiiro Diversity are calling it an “outdated portrayal” of their communities. The comment sections in various anime blogs not only filled me with anger, but it was also a realization that we need to continue having the conversation about racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic attitudes both in anime and within the community.
Despite that major criticism, do I still recommend One Punch Man? Yes, because One Punch Man is a great story that obviously has a unique tale to share. There is nothing wrong with liking anything that has problematic aspects, but it is important to give space to people who have issues with the content in any medium. What ultimately gives me strength is that there are folks like anime complexium that create spaces for us to call out bullshit when we see it.