“One Punch Man” was an instant hit with anime fans in 2015, taking the internet by storm with memes and parodies featuring its dopey, bald star. A second season was soon announced, but in 2017, the series changed production houses entirely, delaying the release. Four years later, the yellow-and-red-clad “hero for fun” has returned to television, though he isn’t packing quite the same power.
Saitama, the eponymous One Punch Man, adopts a daily routine of running, push-ups, sit-ups and squats that miraculously grants him the power to defeat any and all foes with a single punch — much to his dismay, as he finds superhero-fighting boring with no real threat. Constantly searching for a real fight, Saitama hopes to go from C rank to the high honor of government-sanctioned S rank, while the awe-struck, ultra-serious, S-rank cyborg Genos follows him around as his disciple. Though everyone, including prideful heroes, crazed monsters and calculating villains, seems to be out to get them, Saitama and Genos invariably save the day.
The first season of “One Punch Man” delivered on the premise well. Villains turn into sniveling wrecks upon witnessing Saitama’s power while he frets about a sale on groceries. Numerous monsters end up decapitated by his fist. Season two, however, struggles to find the same thread.
First and foremost, action and comedy drive “One Punch Man,” and the series is able to emphasize the best of both when combining them. Saitama’s search for an enjoyable fight lampoons superheroes’ feats of valor. It’s not a story about an unbeatable hero meeting his match and surpassing it, but rather decking hulking, homicidal maniacs and still searching for more. Though he is played off as a simple person, the layers to his motivation are interesting as his craving for an opponent is almost maniacal.
But if season two adheres to the 12-episode precedent of the first season, then we are already a third of the way into its run, and the One Punch Man has delivered woefully few punches. The entire first episode focuses on one gag — the truth behind a new hero, King. The second episode introduces yet another new hero, while the third focuses on monster man Garou, the season’s villain. Much of these first episodes are dedicated to exposition in the form of lengthy conversations, and wastefully use the villain-of-the-week trope to give Saitama something to do.
Only the fourth episode delivers a satisfying action scene, as S-rank Metal Bat takes on giant centipedes. His cool-as-a-cucumber demeanor is instantly endearing and the CGI utilized to render the myriapod monsters is outstanding. One only wishes it centered around our main characters. The first few episodes have a woeful lack of action for Saitama and Genos outside of an amusing face-off with a dedicated assassin in episode two. After four years of waiting for the two parties to throw down once again, it’s disheartening, to say the least. But hope remains.
Saitama and Genos are hilarious when they’re allowed to be, and the world retains its goofy tone. Calm and collected, Garou seems to be more than another one-note abomination for Saitama to steamroll over, and a growing band of allies promise a satisfying season arc. In lieu of a string of one-punch baddies each episode, perhaps we’ll see a one-punch season with a big payoff. Here’s hoping for a knockout.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, May 6, 2019, print edition. Email Fareid El Gafy at [email protected]