Every season brings a fresh crop of anime series to Japanese airwaves, but few have the ability to permeate into a global phenomenon.
One-Punch Man, a story of a superhero named Saitama who can defeat enemies in a single punch, has made its mark in a new wave of lighthearted anime narratives. The superhero’s satirical choice of a one-punch-defeats-all superpower is surprising in a medium typically filled with more stern sci-fi tales.
Yet, the lighter genre is growing with series such as “Concrete Revolutio” and “My Hero Academia” following suit.
In 2009, On-Punch Man (OPM) began as a webcomic with intentionally crude illustrations and razor-sharp wit. The digital comic garnered a cult following, and eventually found its way to print.
Earlier this month, Madhouse, Inc., a Japanese animation studio, created the anime adaptation of the cult hit that took Japanese TV by storm. Simultaneously, US anime streaming site, Crunchyroll, rolled out the new version — propelling it into mass appeal among anime fans.
The show’s opening theme currently has over 1,500,000 views on YouTube, and Google searches for OPM skyrocketed over the course of October.
Now that the anime has proven its success on air, other studios are similarly developing series with unconventional anime storylines — turning Eastern and Western superpower tropes on their head.
Launched this season is “Concrete Revolutio,” the story of an unlikely team of heroes each based on a different superhero archetype from popular shows. Likewise, “Komori-san Can’t Decline” is the story of a teenage girl who gains super strength from doing mundane favors for her friends.
Weeks after the successful style of OPM’s adaptation, rumors began to circulate of an anime based on superhero high school manga “My Hero Academia.” These speculations were confirmed by a promptly deleted tweet on the manga’s official Twitter account. That said, whether the release is a direct response to One-Punch or just a coincidence of timing is still unclear.
YouTube personality and anime reviewer Roger DiLuigi III, known online as RogersBase, jumped on the OPM bandwagon early—producing reviews, parodies, and other content about the show.
Striking a chord with the burgeoning OPM fan community, BTR spoke with Diluigi about his perspective on the popularity of the new superhero genre.
“One-Punch Man is the perfect cocktail of incredible animation, laugh-out-loud comedy and extraordinary action,” explains DiLuigi. “The main characters, Saitama and Genos, are funny and intimidating which is something that’s a bit of a rare find in modern anime.”
DiLuigi added that the lack of a real overarching-story also allows new fans to pick up where ever the last episode left off.
Other longtime anime aficionados have also taken notice of the impact of OPM.
Thomas Zoth has been involved in anime fan culture for decades, writing regular anime analyses and manga reviews on his own blog, “Hungry Bug Diner”. In an interview with BTR Zoth states his opinions on why the show has taken off, and what effect its success might have.
“I think this is because comedic action titles like ‘DragonBall’ have always been successful, and we might see different waves of sillier titles with darker ones like ‘Death Note’ or ‘Parasyte’ or ‘Akame Ga Kill’ coming at different times,” says Zoth.
“Success for ‘One-Punch Man’ will almost certainly bring imitators, but even if the show doesn’t sell particularly well in Japan, we’ll still see these kind of action comedies which have always been a success for anime.”
Conversely, other anime fans see what OPM brings to the table as a passing trend. Paul Chapman, host of the Greatest Movie Ever podcast — a podcast frequently covering anime and its current trends– offers up a dissenting opinion.
“The Japanese anime industry, especially for TV production, is extremely risk averse, so while we sometimes see something like ‘Ninja Slayer’ from animation or ‘One-Punch Man’, we’re more likely to see imitations of a series that surprisingly surpasses expectations,” comments Chapman on his show. “…Satire doesn’t tend to click with the widest possible audience, especially when it turns a critical eye on a popular medium with broad appeal, such as the superhero sub-genre.”
Beyond this season, where does this new trend put anime? Perhaps the subject of superheroes can help make anime, which has typically been a very insular medium, more accessible to Western audiences who enjoy superhero media like the Marvel films.
The style of the show means a greater focus on aesthetic quality in addition to a self-aware brand of humor. For the time being, though, Zoth and the majority of fans are optimistic about the show’s continued success.
“I’m sad that with only 12 episodes, the series is almost half over, but I expect a lot more awesome action to come, and I hope “One-Punch Man” is a series that brings new fans to anime,” poses Zoth.
It will be interesting to see if OPM truly sets a status quo for anime, and if upcoming series keep its breakout style.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.