Up until this point Saitama has faced off against some pretty bad villains. But how will he survive the threat of a meteor which threatens all life on the planet? Or what about the Deep Sea King who has invaded the surface along with the rest of his fishy clan? Is this a threat that even the…
No I can’t keep it up. He takes them out in one punch just like the previous volumes. Yet while writer ONE and artist Yusuke Murata continue to show that they can wring an impressive amount of suspense and drama from the buildup until Saitama does his thing, they also introduce some new tricks and wrinkles here. The Deep Sea King is the first as he represents the first truly daunting foe to grace the pages of this title. On one level he’s a ridiculous parody of every seemingly invincible foe to show up in a fighting manga. You know, the kind who take a hit and go, “I barely felt that,” and then knock out the hero with a well-timed punch or several.
Here, the creators take that stereotype to its most ridiculous extreme as several heroes take on the King in succession. They give it their all… and accomplish almost nothing. The King either shrugs off every attack or makes an instantaneous recovery to come back and kick his attacker’s ass. This starts towards the end of vol. 4 and continues on through most of vol. 5 and while you’d think that this would grow repetitive after a while, the efforts of these heroes actually become genuinely heroic after a while.
Even after it becomes apparent that the King is way out of their league, the heroes continue to line up and try to save the citizens of the town. Sometimes they line up only to be cut down in the middle of announcing themselves. Other times, as in the case of Genos, they put up a good fight before they’re knocked out of commission. You even have Class-C bicyclist hero Mumen Rider giving it his all and trying to tackle the monster even though he knows his efforts are a joke. Yet his selflessness manages to be inspiring as he demonstrates his utter commitment to being a hero and trying to save as many people as he can for as long as possible. Which turns out to be just as long as necessary.
While I’d normally find the King’s steamrolling of these heroes to be demonstrative of a lack of imagination on the part of a writer in a normal fighting manga, that’s not the case here. Why? Well, the title of this series is “One-Punch Man” after all. Balanced against the King’s winning streak is the knowledge that once he meets Saitama he will be taken down hard. It’s kind of a metalogic version of dramatic irony that the creators are working with here and it makes the suffering of the heroes easier to deal with as the story goes on. The wait for Saitama to show up becomes deliciously agonizing instead of just plain agonizing.
Then, in the wake of the King’s defeat, as well as the destruction of the meteor in the previous volume, we get to see the other new wrinkle that the creators have introduced to this series. That would be Saitama’s total lack of skill at manipulating public opinion. At first I thought that the bureaucracy of the Hero Association was going to be the threat that he wouldn’t be able to take out by punching it. I was wrong. It turns out that when faced with a couple of grubby attention-seeking heroes who want to make him a scapegoat for the collateral damage caused by the meteor (which was technically his fault…) Saitama isn’t quite clever enough to spin their rhetoric back at them. Even when he tries to promote the efforts of the other heroes in taking out the King, it still manages to backfire on him. Then you get a look at the hate mail he gets in the wake of saving everyone in the city and it becomes clear that the real challenge for the character is seeing if he’s going to be able to maintain his “I’m some guy who’s a hero for fun” mentality in the face of being a superhero in the public eye.
Even though ONE and Yusuke Murata can stage incredible fight scenes, as they demonstrate over and over again in these two volumes, it’s clear that there’s more to “One-Punch Man” beyond witnessing the many ways in which the title character is able to decimate his opponents. In fact, the most interesting conflict in this series might occur when Saitama, the hero who is terrible at shaping public opinion, finds himself at odds with Class-A hero Amai Mask, a hero who can pull it off effortlessly. That conflict, and subsequent volumes of the series in general, are eagerly awaited.
…but let’s leave Puru Puru Prisoner out of them, okay? The walking, talking gay joke that he embodies went out with the turn of the century.