This was an excellent story that ties into many other developing themes in OPM. Sorry, that means it’s going to be a bit long.
Ah, and heroes are officially made of adamantium.
It’s set a week after the catastrophic destruction of City A by the aliens (may there be an afterlife for Boros to be tormented forever in) with Atomic Samurai and Bang trying to fish in a lake. It quickly focuses on a key concern that both men have: they’re getting older and in the light of the ever-increasing threat monsters pose, who is going to take up the mantle?
They get to talking about their disciples with Bang asking after Iain’s health. We cut to Iaian practising (after one week?!!!!! Yup, adamantium) his one-handed iai in a bamboo grove. Here we see the effect of JC Staff animators merely being worked hard as opposed to worked to death: they can start to bring life and care for the telling detail. Not only is it beautiful, but there’s that moment when he starts to sheath his sword as he used to, realises, flips the sword and then completes the motion. Perfect! It’s things like this that are the strength of animation rather than manga or words!
There’s an interesting flip side to this that I’ll go more into in the meta. When Atomic praises the attributes that Iaian has that he is so proud of, it brings to mind the things that Bang loved in Garou and how bereft he felt when Garou turned on him.
Atomic changes the subject to something that I again will be going more into in the meta: heroes. And how weak the majority are. They single out the Hero Association’s points-based system for especial censure, both being of the opinion that it encourages heroes to focus on the minutiae of progressing at the expense of truly being heroic. Fair enough! It’s something the story will be addressing and it’s interesting to see their perspective, but what they say next is much less fair – mocking heroes who wear costumes.
We cut to one such costume-wearer, Chain Toad, on the shores of the lake where he’s tracked a monster. He’s accompanied by Mumen Rider. Together, they unwisely decide that they have to try tackle the monster themselves so as not to disturb the fishermen on the lake. Mumen Rider is particularly motivated to try more because he’s seen what the Class S heroes can do.
Their valiant attempts to subdue the salamander monster are beautifully, beautifully animated. Hard to pick a single moment I liked, but if I’ve got to make a still, let it be of Chain Toad throwing his chain, sending his chain past the monster, who thinks it’s dodged, only to send it looping back to snare it.
Once things get too hot for our valiant heroes (Mumen’s underwater battle has to be one of the best sequences this season), the two fishermen finally see fit to intervene. Atomic hands Bang his rod and citing the need for strength as well as guts, casually cuts the monster up, freeing Chain Toad in the process.
Then they carry on fishing. As you do.
Before I get into the meta proper, a point of order.
WAIT A COTTON-PICKING SECOND! JC STAFF KNOWS HOW TO USE SOUND EFFECTS AND MUSIC APPROPRIATELY? SINCE WHEN? WHY WASN’T THIS ON SHOW IN THE MAIN SEASON?!!!! Sorry, the shoddy, hastily-slapped together effects and disjoint music took so much away from the season it was painful. I’m still salty about it!
Ah, that’s better. We continue.
1. Time waits for no man, and neither do monsters.
A theme that we see come up more than once in OPM. It’s one that is particularly heavy on Bang’s mind – this isn’t the first time we’ve seen him worry about it. No matter how strong he and his fellow heroes are, they are indeed growing older, and against a threat that isn’t getting better, where the heroes who are strong enough to share and eventually going to take over their burden will come from is a real issue. It really sets into context the fight with Centichoro, when Bang simply wouldn’t countenance the prospect of Genos self sacrificing – Bomb explains that his youth is needed for the future.
2. Will. Skill. Strength. Pick all three.
FUCKING FINALLY someone criticises Mumen Rider. It’s been long overdue. Even as Atomic praises his guts and willingness to do his utmost, he points out the absolute need for strength. Mumen wants to do great things, but to this very day has not invested meaningfully in even trying to be physically stronger. I love Mumen, but the dude has to change if he wants his dreams to become reality. The skill and dedication Chain Toad and Mumen Rider showed in attacking the monster so as to keep it from disturbing the fishermen they mistook for ordinary civilians was utterly admirable, but without the strength to see that will through, it was futile. You can’t launch a rocket from a canoe, no matter how much you will it otherwise.
Ultimately, if a hero is serious about being a hero, they have to worship and chase after strength like a fanatic after their idea of God: there are too many vicious monsters for a hero to be less than the very strongest they can be. Anything less is a betrayal of both the people the hero fails to protect and of the principles the hero is trying to live by. OPM is just too brutal a world for good intentions to survive without solid backing.
3. Games Games Everywhere
One-Punch Man is only partially a parody. At times it is a satire, and in the instance of the points-based system the Hero Association uses to manage its heroes, it is a sharp one on the subject of gamification. While treating non-games as games has been around since the 19th century, the 2010s is when it really took off, round about when ONE started writing OPM. SInce then, it’s only become more pervasive: you can set objectives, quests, and get rewards for just about anything. Eating, sleeping, completing in-work induction, delivering packages, you name it, someone has gamified it. It delivers regular little hits of gratification, bigger hits when you rank up, and rivalry when there’s a leaderboard. It also means that failures can be individualised – it’s your fault if you’re struggling rather than the system as a whole. The way the Hero Association has implemented it, it’s a straight up gaming system. It means that the Hero Association can leave heroes to motivate and push themselves without actively knowing too much about them.The distortions that Bang and Atomic discuss are the same that Saitama identifies. Rookie crushing, refusing promotions if they mean more responsibility and less recognition, factions, chicanery, showboating to try to gain points through popularity, discouraged and crushingly lonely heroes – we’ve seen Swim, Glasses and Saitama – all are to be expected. Their idea of how to manage heroes is looking for people with qualities such as honour and dedication and nurturing them is much more hands on – and represents longer-term thinking.
But before we go praising their sagacity, the episode casts an unforgiving eye on their own shortcomings.
4. The Tyranny of ‘Fit’
Precisely because it is so hands-off, the HA makes no direct judgement on what a hero should be like, leaving it up to the observed results to be the proof of the pudding, so to speak. This has meant that some real mavericks and oddballs are legitimately heroes in good standing. We see that the old boys have a much narrower definition of what a good hero can be like. A ‘good’ hero can’t wear a costume in their eyes. We can see that’s grossly unfair to those who do: Chain Toad’s heroism has nothing to do with his wearing one. But the problem with their is more pernicious than judging heroes by their dress sense. Implementing their ideas would formalise a system whereby it would be all but impossible for an up and coming hero to get anywhere without belonging to a school or at least having a sponsor able to vouch for them.
What’s wrong with that? The thing that’s really noteworthy is that the people that Atomic and Bang champion (and not merely teach or support) are also the people who most remind them of themselves. It contributes to Bang feeling personally rejected by Garou. It goes beyond teacher-student relationships: in the main season we come to learn that Kuseno sees much of himself in Genos. It goes beyond the page: it’s why many fans wish that Glasses would be Saitama’s disciple and feel he should be his ‘true’ heir. It’s an uncomfortable truth that much of what is called ‘fit’ is more familiarity than suitability. And this is particularly relevant because no one, not one of the masters praising Saitama would ever, ever have given him the time of the day had they met him before he became strong. He doesn’t fit. And neither do a lot of other good heroes. It’s perhaps most fitting that the ultimate misfit, Saitama, has the most blatantly misfitting disciple… :D
It’s almost like how best to recognise, support and nuture heroes isn’t a simple problem with a singular answer!
I suppose I’d better wrap up
As you can tell from the length of this review, I’ve really enjoyed this episode. Two old boys pondering the future, their fears and their hopes and along the way being both entertaining and deeply thought-provoking.
I suspect that OAV 2 is going to be the best of the lot, but I live in hope of being wrong!