Buy This Book: One And Yusuke Murata’s ‘One-Punch Man’
One of my resolutions this year was to widen my comics reading horizons and try to get a little more into manga, and one of the titles that came most highly recommended, particularly from former ComicsAlliance writer David Brothers, was One-Punch Man. It sounded good, but I'll admit that I was a little reluctant to dive in with a title like that. I mean, I like comic books about punching a lot, so I wasn't sure that I was going to be satisfied with a comic that only promised one. If I'm only getting one punch, I need at least a couple of kicks and maybe someone throwing auto parts at another person. That's just the rules.
Fortunately, last week saw the release of a $6.99 digital collection of the first 200 pages of One-Punch Man, and when I took the risk to see what it was all about, I learned a very valuable lesson: It's not the quantity of punches that's important, it's the quality. And also the quantity of internal organs that go flying out of whoever's getting punched. That's a pretty big deal too.
Here's the high concept behind One-Punch Man, which you may have already guessed from the title: After an encounter with an angry monster on a murderous rampage shocks him out of his boring routine, an unemployed businessman named Saitama quits his job search and trains for three years -- training so intense that it makes him go bald, a throwaway gag that I have been obsessing over for the past week -- to become a superhero so powerful that he can defeat any enemy with a single punch.
That's the problem, though: Saitama isn't motivated by any sense of justice or using his powers responsibly, he's motivated purely by the adrenaline rush that he gets from facing off against giant killer monsters who are capable of leveling entire cities as they leave a path of destruction across Japan. The thing is, since he's powerful enough to destroy any enemy with a single hit, his battles against these gigantic monstrosities just don't excite him. He's constantly bored, and while he longs for a tougher opponent that would test his strength and give him that thrill of combat and being close to death, he's not actually motivated enough to go seek out a tougher challenge, leaving him to just sort of hang around watering his houseplants in a city with a truly Kamen Rider-level monster problem.
The idea of a story about a hero who's bored by his own fights because they always end in one punch might seem like it would translate to a pretty boring experience for the reader as well, but that's one of the things that makes One-Punch Man such an amazing piece of comics. In the first volume, whenever those climactic, fight-ending punches are finally thrown, it's great every single time.
Part of that comes from the way they're built. Writer ONE and artist Yusuke Murata build to each fight with an incredible sense of comic timing that gives each one an individual character that, to say the least, is pretty interesting. Sometimes it's as simple as the way Murata draws Saitama, all flat lines and bored expression, contrasting with these towering, demonic monsters that he ends up dealing with. Beyond that, ONE's script -- and John Werry's translation -- are full of fantastic gags, like the scene where Saitama meets a cyborg warrior with a far more typical backstory.
It goes on like that for a while.
Even better than that, though, are the scenes where it swerves into straight up parody. I haven't read a whole lot of shonen manga, and sadly, Yotsuba&! rarely breaks out into a brutal fight scene, but even I can recognize what's going on when a dude who bears a suspicious resemblance to Piccolo from DragonBall Z shows up and starts demanding a challenge. That's just where it starts, too -- the third chapter features a giant dude who looks a lot like one of those humongous weirdos from Attack On Titan, and I don't want to spoil anything here, but he gets punched in the face a certain number of times that is less than two.
It's a very, very funny comic, full of sharp and insightful gags that work not not just within the context of a comedy, but as a highly enjoyable skewering of big fight comics. But here's the trick: As much as it's a parody, as much as it's a comedy, One-Punch Man is also a pretty genuinely great fight comic on its own.
Again, a lot of that comes down to Murata. The art in One-Punch Man is absolutely incredible, and no matter how ridiculous the stories get -- maybe because of how ridiculous the stories get, because nothing makes for solid comedy like a contrast like this -- Murata's art has this beautifully kinetic, superheroic feel to it. It snaps back and forth between slapstick comedy and genuine action to hit the punchlines, and it does a fantastic job of it. About halfway through the first volume, though, when things start to get a little more serious (relatively speaking) the art has changed gears so smoothly and subtly that you didn't even notice. It never quite loses that comedic edge, there's never a transition where things get real and we all have to stop laughing while someone powers up, but the stuff that plays out in the background, the depiction of Saitama's world as being ravaged by tokusatsu monsters even before he does his hair-removing training, keeps getting more and more interesting, keeping it from being, well, One-Joke Man.
Visually, the absolute highlights of the book are -- surprise! -- those single punches that Saitama throws, and they're beautiful. More often than not, they're done as punchlines, with page turns cutting off villainous monologues with a brutal knockout from Saitama that sends eyeballs and jawbones flying across the page. Just like the monsters themselves, the violence is lovingly (and often hilariously) rendered, and it works on every level. Maybe it's just my admittedly limited frame of reference, but for me, they're really reminiscent of the big double-page executions in Blade of the Immortal, just, you know, funnier and with significantly fewer swastikas.
(Yes, I know. They're manjis.)
More than anything else, the combination of action and comedy in One-Punch Man reminds me of Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen's Nextwave, which is about the highest compliment I can pay to a comic. It's hilarious, beautiful, and gets to a point that's so compelling that I can't wait to read the next volume -- trust me, I know I've put up two of the punches in a book that only has six, but that doesn't spoil anything about what happens in this comic.
It's easy to pick up, too. While it's not in print yet, Viz has bundled up the first eight chapters for seven bucks and is selling it digitally through their site and their mobile app. Functionally, it's a lot like ComiXology, just without the guided view, and you can purchase on the site and sync it to all your devices. The biggest differences are the online viewer, which exists and works well for the double-page spreads but leaves a lot to be desired for everything else, and the actual site, which is a lot more difficult to navigate. To that end, here you go. Go nuts. It's well worth it. There's a resason that people have been talking it up for the past year, and that reason is that it's absolutely fantastic comics.