One of the main reasons One Punch Man is such a popular anime is its ability to turn a seemingly bad storytelling device into a work of comedy genius. The show’s ability to constantly subvert stereotypes of both the anime and superhero genres makes the pilot episodes absolutely hilarious; however, its second season seemed to fall flat in terms of both comedy and action. Breaking down season one can prove integral in discovering why season two was not able to carry over the show’s inaugural brilliance.
One Punch Man follows Saitama, a comically bald young hero, and Genos, his loyal cyborg disciple, in their adventures to defeat the monsters that endanger the various cities. The main conflict in the series is quite unique: Saitama, the main protagonist who possesses the ability to defeat all monsters in a single punch (hence the show’s name), has acquired extreme angst, spending most of the show depressed at his lack of adrenaline and newfound fear in battle.
The show thrives on its ability to parody the trope of the overpowered hero such as Superman or Goku. While other shows and comics such as Watchmen or The Boys shine a darker light on the overpowered hero, One Punch Man shows that unlimited power is soul crushing and frankly, boring. Saitama often has a disinterest in the main conflict, being more concerned with missing the bargain sale at the supermarket rather than fighting dangerous monsters he knows he will always defeat.
So, how does the show stay interesting even though our main hero has almost no interest in the narrative’s main premise? Firstly, Saitama is often sidelined and does not arrive to defeat the monster until the very last minute. The show favors showing other heroes such as Puri Puri Prisoner or Lightning Max getting beaten even though they put all their effort into defeating their foe. The action scenes are brilliant because every hit feels impactful, and we as the audience come to understand how powerful these monsters and heroes are. These initial conflicts ultimately set up Saitama’s easy victory over the monster while providing epic action scenes to keep the show worth investing time into.
Secondly, Saitama’s boredom and search for a balanced opponent delivers some incredibly comedic and heartfelt moments. Multiple times throughout the series Saitama’s lack of a challenge drives him nearly insane, and the audience is able to feel sympathy for the hero. One of the main critiques of incredibly powerful heroes like Superman or Thor is their absence of relatability. In a world full of products designed to make our lives as easy as possible, crushing boredom birthed from extra free time is a curse that cannot be shaken in the modern world. In other words, we can relate to Saitama and his boredom more than we can relate to the issues of Superman.
The question to explore: Why could season two not live up to the comedic genius of season one? The answer lies in not sticking to the story structure mentioned beforehand. Throughout most of season two, Saitama stays extremely detached from the main story line, similar to season one; however, we barely see him actually interfere with the main plot. Saitama spends most of the second season in a martial arts championship, completely unaware of the monsters attacking the cities. By putting the main protagonist in his own separate storyline coupled with the animation taking a dive in quality due to switching animation studios, the show loses both the emotional and the comedic moments that made season one such a great watch.
However, season two is still pretty entertaining, and it has some comedic moments from time to time. The show can be watched on either Netflix or Hulu.