Today, I’m looking at a manga book that’s already super-popular. (I’m VERY late to this party.) It’s a story that’s been recommended to me by half-a-dozen people (although most folks keep telling me to watch the anime more than they’ve suggested reading the manga), and it’s actually kind of silly that I haven't read this series, yet. I love Japanese comics, tonally and thematically, and I especially love humor manga---so why didn’t I pick this up five or six years ago??? Because there's only so much time in the day, and I only have a limited amount of cash to drop on materials to read, BUT I finally made the plunge, (thanks to a couple of Christmas gift cards), and bought volume one. Will I be buying volume two??? READ ON to find out!!!
[This is a photograph that I took of the actual digital comic that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]
ONE & Yusuke Murata – One-Punch Man – 01 (2012) [Translated by John Werry]
One-Punch Man is written by ONE (and I’m not sure if that’s pronounced like “won” is in English or if it’s pronounced “Oh-neh”) and drawn by Yusuke Murata. According to the very short intro to the book, the series started as a web-comic, created by ONE before taking off in popularity---becoming popular enough to get a series of collections published by Shonen Jump and Viz Comics, as well as an animated series. A LOT of folks already know about this book, but this was my first time reading it, so I’m going to assume that there are OTHER folks out there who maybe haven’t read it, yet, either.
For those who have never heard of this series, One-Punch Man follows the adventures of Saitama, a fighter who has become SO POWERFUL that he can defeat ANY enemy with a single punch. And by “defeat,” I actually mean DESTROY. The comic is black and white, and that’s probably a good thing, as a great many of Saitama’s enemies end up with their heads exploding or with giant holes where their chests used to be. Saitama has become so strong, in fact, that fighting has become a bitterly disappointing activity for him. He is a warrior---but just for fun, not for any specific cause---and UNFORTUNATELY, almost all of the fun has gone out of battling for him because he can't find anyone strong enough to challenge him!
What we really get with this comic is some dark humor and a send up of the standard “fighting” comic tropes---stuff like you might find in Dragon Ball Z or Naruto or any of the numerous series in which characters train and grow and become super-humanly skilled and powerful. With One-Punch Man, however, the standard “exciting battle” sequences are subverted by the comic’s format. What usually happens in a given story is that some kind of giant monster or genetically modified animal (in this volume, anyway) starts rampaging around and destroying things, Saitama sees it attacking on the t.v. and becomes excited that THIS fight might finally be a real challenge, and he goes to wherever the monster is and challenges it. The monster sees this short, bald, somewhat scrawny looking guy, and they laugh or boast about how they’re going to squash him, and Saitama lets them take their best shot. Then, disappointed, bored, and depressed, he punches the creature, they explode in a shower of body parts, and he broods about how sad it is that nothing can challenge him. (If you’ve ever seen Kung-Fu Hustle, it’s a lot like the character, The Beast, who allows himself to be locked up in prison until he discovers somebody worth fighting against, and he then escapes with ease when he is presented with the opportunity to fight Yuen Wah and Yuen Qiu, the supernaturally powerful landlords of Pigsty Alley. It’s a weird movie, but very fun!)
This is probably a good point to mention that the violence in One-Punch Man is a little bit heavy on the gore-factor, lots of eyeballs splurting out of heads and blood splashing around, but because the overall TONE is comical, it comes off as more cartoony, more humorous, than gross. Plus, since the comic is in black and white, we don’t have to see all the reds and pinks and other body fluid colors, which helps soften the effect a bit. (Technically, the book is rated “T” for “realistic and fantasy violence,” but I think calling the violence in this book “realistic” is stretching that term quite a bit…) It might disturb some folks, but it’s nowhere near as gross or uncomfortable as your average medical drama, like E.R. or Gray’s Anatomy, if you ask me. (I hate those shows.)
Anyway, if the book is just a guy punching monsters and making them explode over and over again, is it really worth reading??? Yes! I honestly enjoyed this book, and I will certainly be dropping some dough (the next time I have a surplus) on the next couple of volumes! There are three things that, to me, make this story entertaining and worth reading---and the first should be pretty obvious to anyone who regularly reads my reviews… This book has a lot of monsters in it, which would probably be enough to keep me entertained, even if the book wasn’t funny. (And it IS funny!)
The next thing I really like about this comic is the dialog, even when it’s just Saitama talking to himself. Having read a TON of manga (going back to the early 1980s), I’m familiar with the big, pompous, grandiose speeches that Japanese characters often make in these books, talking in sweeping and philosophical terms about their ideologies, their motivations, their moral proclivities, or their weird, pseudo-mystical or scientific explanations for superpowers or ghostly goings on or whatever... It can be a bit MUCH, with sometimes several pages of text given over to delivering these speeches, and even in THIS book, the cyborg, Genos, who was saved by Saitama from an evil creature called Mosquito Girl, decides that he wants to be Saitama’s disciple and makes a big speech to try to convince Saitama that he is worthy of being taught. Genos launches into a two page blather-fest of tightly packed text, talking about his origins and motivations---and we see Saitama getting more and more bored, until he finally screams, “KNOCK IT OFF! SHORTEN THAT TO 20 WORDS OR LESS!! AND TRY AGAIN!” Apparently, ONE (the writer) and I agree that these types of speeches are usually just silly and pointless, but by including this type of dialog---and then mocking it---the creators are sending up this classic manga trope. Almost everything any character says in this book is overblown and ridiculous and funny as heck.
And the final bit that keeps this story entertaining for me are the flashbacks! Just about every other chapter, we are sent back to Saitama’s life BEFORE he became the ultimate fighter, (when he still had hair), and we get to see what motivated him to become stronger in the first place. He is picked on, he tries to help people in need, and he sees that monsters are starting to pop up everywhere, and in order to survive and help those in need, he decides that he MUST train… These moments of Saitama being battered by bullies or smashed flat by monsters or tortured by school teachers show us his HUMANITY, which is then LOST somewhere along his journey from weakling to powerful warrior. These moments with young Saitama are a great contrast with the mopey and indifferent fighter who can explode a giant monster’s head with one fist…
Overall, I thought this comic was a lot of fun---BUT I’m also willing to admit that it might not be everyone’s favorite. You probably do have to have at least a rudimentary understanding of manga, particularly fighting mango, before going into this series to get most of the jokes. In addition, the book (even this digital download) is presented in the RIGHT-TO-LEFT format, which might be a bit jarring for folks who haven’t ever tried it. (To be honest, it’s really pretty easy to read that way, once you get the hang of it. Reading right to left doesn’t bother me at all, at this point!) However, if you like satirical stories with strange protagonists, lots of monsters, a little bit of gore, and a cartoony tone, then give One-Punch Man a try. (If you have Comixology on your electronic device, there was a short sampler available on there, for free, at one point---only a few pages, but it was enough to convince me to buy the full volume, so… Might be worth looking for!)
Okay, that’s it for today’s fun. Now go read a damn book, and then let me know in the comments what you thought of it!!! Later!
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)
SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FOLKS WHO ARE JUST MAKING STUFF BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT!!!