This is truly the face of a mighty hero.
When Joseph Campbell wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I bet he didn’t think the blank face above would be one of them. It doesn’t burn with determination, glow with compassion, or shine with righteous resolve. It just looks bored.
This face belongs to Saitama, the hero of One Punch Man: an anime series that swept across the geekier corners of Internet a few months ago. Its premise is very simple: Saitama is a superhero who can defeat any foe with a single punch—hence the name One Punch Man.
One would expect a show with such an overpowered hero to be dull, but the storytellers wisely play Saitama’s power for laughs. One Punch Man is delightfully self-aware, at times almost satirical, in how it plays around with anime tropes and superhero clichés. I think the show’s irreverent approach is a secret to its massive popularity.
For example, a common theme in anime is a hero on a journey to become the strongest. Just look at Pokémon—the show’s theme begins with the words, “I wanna be the very best like no one ever was.” I don’t watch a lot of anime, but I get the impression that many of the most popular, from Naruto to One Piece, revolve around a hero’s quest to be stronger.
In One Punch Man, Saitama is already the strongest. (Most of the other characters haven’t realized it yet, but that’s not the point.) As more impressive-looking heroes fail, Saitama destroys his foes with the indifference of a man swatting flies. Saitama doesn’t burn with ambition. He’s bored, good-natured, and a bit clueless. How did he become so powerful? What is the secret that let him surpass hundreds of other superheroes?
In a ridiculous scene, underscored by dramatic music, Saitama finally explains the secret behind his godlike power:
It took me three years to get this strong. One hundred push-ups! One hundred sit-ups! One hundred squats! Then a ten kilometer run. Every single day! And of course, make sure you eat three meals a day. Just a banana in the morning is fine. But the most important thing is to never use the A/C or heat in the summer or winter so that you can strengthen the mind.
There you have it: the secret to absolute physical power.
One Punch Man also has a terrific opening theme. Here’s a fan-made English cover of the original Japanese song:
The intro to the show ends with a picture of Saitama dramatically walking home with a bag full of groceries, which pretty much sums up the tone of One Punch Man.
With the media saturated with the same old clichés, it’s nice to see a story that flips so many of them on their heads.