One-Punch Man 118-123 – Manga Review

Synopsis: Saitama one day decided to abandon chasing the life of a salary man and instead work towards becoming a hero. Years later he grew so strong that there’s no villain that can stand against him, for he finishes every single fight with just. one. punch!

(Warning: Spoilers to Follow)

Monsters have begun showing up across the globe, causing all sorts of havoc. Things take a dire turn as not only do the heroes have to contend with a wave of monsters, but Garo, the hero killer. However, just as the heroes close in around Garo, it appears the Monster Association, the horrible beings behind the attacks across the globe, have other plans for the great and deadly hero killer.

Review:

Chapters 118 through 123 see us inching ever closer to this arc’s climax. It’s evident in a number of ways, but in particular in how both Genos and Saitama are gradually being pulled into the narrative to an increasing degree. Saitama wanders around with Flashy Flash, looking for the monster king he already defeated. Genos dives into battle after acting as a last minute savior for the heroes on the surface. Seeing both our mainstays making active efforts again is fantastic, as it is to also see Bang, Bomb and Blizzard in Chapters 122 and 123 as they go head to head with Poochi. That said, Genos and Saitama need to really have their involvement ramped up, as even with some of our S-Class heroes on the brink of defeat, One, our author, continues to undermine his writing in other ways that niggle at the story, even when it’s otherwise righting itself. Let’s Jump In!

One of the biggest issues is bloat. We simply have too many characters. This isn’t a problem unique to One, his writing, or One-Punch Man in general. It’s a typical Battle Shonen issue. In the effort to craft fun, inventive, unique characters you end up gradually expanding the cast well past the point it makes sense to give everyone focus. Yet, Battle Shonen almost demands everyone get the spotlight as these unique, inventive visual designs and appealing character traits naturally suck in audiences. Someone like Flashy Flash becomes someone’s favorite character and then the rule of cool demands that any of these new fan favorites must take the spotlight for a bit, even if they’re superfluous to the overall narrative. It’s also kinda the nature of One-Punch Man, unless Saitama is sidelined he’ll end any arc in a snap. But we’re at a point where we have so many heroes involved that then every single one has to have time to look cool, even if we do, as I’ve been hoping, let them finally lose a little. If everyone needs to have a chance to look like a bad ass then you end up like with this arc, where it starts to drag on and on because you’ve got to devote a lot of page space to making sure Child Emperor gets his due, Tornado, Bang, Atomic Samurai etc.

Make no mistake, letting side characters steal the spotlight and offering them a chance to do cool stuff is great, but there’s perhaps too much of a good thing going on here, stretching this arc to the breaking point. That’s why it’s so great that Saitama and Genos are starting to feature more and more, allowing us to move to the climax of the story and get some really cool, gripping developments, like Garo launching back into battle.

It also means we can finally see some of our heroes fall. Chapter 121 is where we finally start to see our S-Rank Heroes falter. Everyone seems to be at their wit’s end. Child Emperor struggles against Evil Natural Water, Atomic Samurai against Black Sperm, Zombieman against Homeless Emperor, etc. I don’t know that the series has convinced me any of these heroes are actually going to lose these matches, rather than win but be unable to continue fighting, but it’s a major step in the right direction at letting the Monster Association actually feel powerful for once. Even Puri-puri getting knocked around by Garo and Darkshine having to step in and save him is great too.

But for all these steps forward, we still gotta make sure Tornado looks unstoppable and that comes at the expense of a really fun reveal. As it turns out Gyoro Gyoro isn’t the mastermind behind the Monster Association. He’s just a telepathically controlled puppet. The mastermind is actually a woman hiding deep, deep below ground, Psykos. But we don’t get to appreciate this development much before One turns it into a goof. For as much as Psykos believes she’s ahead of the heroes, Tornado mentally finds her deep below ground anyway. While One-Punch Man is a comedy, this goof isn’t all that strong, and really just continues to undermine the Monster Association’s constant struggle to feel like a real unstoppable force our heroes are struggling with. It’s a two steps forward, one step back development.

The last thing I wanted to bring up was the series necessity to define S-Rank. I actually think this is kind of a mistake, as this more expanded explanation of how S-Rank came about really makes it sound like every S-Rank hero is Saitama to a degree. Someone who defeats Villains because they enjoy it and that the Hero Association sort of stumbled upon them by accident. It raises questions as to why the Hero Association hasn’t realized how amazing Saitama is, particularly if they’re aware that crazy powerful individuals are lurking in the shadows. Sure maybe they just haven’t stumbled on him yet, but at a point this explanation deflates Saitama’s unique quality as this unknown power house that sees beating baddies as a fun job rather than a career. It’s not the worst thing the manga has done (oh boy at discussing Darkshine controversy in my next review) but it also feels like one of the more unnecessary elements.

That said, I’m still more positive this round of chapters than I was last time. Garo is up again and ready to really wreck shit. Seeing Bang, Bomb and Blizzard again, even if for the usual shtick, is great too. I think the comedy for the series works best when we group heroes together. Even the Saitama scene with Flashy Flash and the low evil villain they rope into taking them to the Monster King is fantastic, particularly with the villain’s desire to unwittingly finish off these heroes, but isn’t quite willing to go there once challenged with the reality of losing his life too. I also still very much enjoy seeing our heroes actually struggle, and while many of them might end up winning their battles themselves, it at least allows the monsters a chance to show that they really are pushing the Hero Association to its limit. I’d say I’m eager for the next set of chapters, though I know that’s going to contain one of the more contentious and troubled sequences the series has offered yet. ‘Joy.’

Please do comment below on what you thought of the latest One-Punch Man Chapters!

One-Punch Man is published bi-weekly (sort of) in Shonen Jump.

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