One-Punch Man 124-131 – 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:

It’s here with Chapters 124 through 131 that the Monster Association, after getting pulverized so much early on, finally and truly feels like an unstoppable threat. We’d already seen the shifting of tides a little last time, but here Tornado gradually finds that Psychos, the secret leader of the Monster Association, is a villain not to be trifled with. With Tornado herself against the ropes, the city in shambles, the other S-Rank heroes beaten and bruised, and Psychos herself capable of world-ending laser beams levels of destruction, it feels like it’s almost time for Saitama to jump in and save the day. But still, getting here isn’t without its missteps. Let’s Jump In!

Before I get negative, let’s talk about some of the more fun elements running through these chapters. Saitama continues to be a part of the story, remaining a welcome shift from his near total absence prior. He’s used primarily for comic relief, pitting him with Flashy Flash and a fun little low-level Monster, as they ‘tour’ the underground of the Monster Association’s lair. What’s fun about Saitama’s continued inclusion as comic relief is how he still manages to have effects on the main story, like when he punches away one of Psychos’ globby tendrils, and does her unexpected damage that goes unexplained for her and everyone else on the battlefield. While Saitama might feel increasingly less like he’s the main character of his own manga, these comic relief bits at least keep him part of the story, and allowing him to sway events a bit, this way or that, keeps him from feeling totally abandoned.

There’s also another fun section I want to highlight, and that’s Metal Bat, along with other heroes, hospitalized from their earlier battles, rushing back into the action. It’s a great heroic sequence, filled with a bit of goofy fun as the A-Class and B-Class heroes do the mental gymnastics needed to push themselves into battle. Though, this section also has a kind of ‘just there’ moment to it, when we briefly check in on the Martial Artists, like Suiryu, from the martial arts tournament, yet they decide not to jump into the fray. If these characters are truly going to remain sidelined, I’m not entirely sure it was worth even bringing them up again.

Another great moment is when Tornado has to use her powers to save so many of the S-Class heroes from their own fights. Outside of Atomic Samurai, the rest of these heroes are pretty much down for the count, and making it so they have to have their butts saved leaves their adversaries feeling like truly formidable individuals. This is all bolstered by Murata’s incredible art, that continually captures the ever growing scale of the chaos. There’s some truly incredible art on display here that makes this feel like the most epic arc yet.

But, as I said above, we don’t get to where Chapter 131 leaves us off, not without a few missteps along the way. First, of course, is the Darkshine debacle. Darkshine hasn’t been much of a character until this arc, but his mere presence as a, presumably, person of color at least gave the series a token feeling of greater representation. But that all falls away here with Chapter 127, as Darkshine is revealed to be a scrawny white kid who over-trained himself over the years, and went a bit too heavy on the body tanning lotion. Hardcore One-Punch Man fans, who’ve read the webcomic, have known this development for years, and even those following with the Japanese release of the manga-version have been aware of this detail for quite awhile. Hell I’m also coming to this debacle months behind from the official Western Release, where now everyone has cornered themselves off to either ambivalence at this development, or abject disappointment. So, I’ll just keep this simple and then move on; It’s overall disappointing. I feel for anyone who saw Darkshine as a token of representation within a manga that was otherwise quite homogeneous with its characters. It’s upsetting when that’s taken away for a goof. But because this is a piece of entertainment hailing from Japan, a fairly homogeneous country in and of itself, I also find it unsurprising. Japan is quite insular, and that can often mean creators are entirely insensitive to issues that other cultures are consumed by. This isn’t me saying it’s okay or that disappointed fans should suck it up, but I think it’s something most readers need to be prepared for when consuming entertainment crafted for another culture. Our author isn’t likely to be well equipped for racial sensitivity, not in the same way Western writers, who live in countries with a more diverse make up of people, potentially are.

Moving on, the other big issue is one of structure. The overall progress of Chapters 124 through 131 sees Tornado directly confront Psychos. She pulls our villainous woman from the depths of her lair, forcing the two into a direct and ever-expanding confrontation. This sequence of events plays out much like any shonen title; Tornado has the upper hand, but then loses it to Psychos, who in turn finds the tables, well, turned on her by Tornado again. And we go round and round. This manifests in Tornado not using her full power for fear of hurting the last remaining child hostage (Whom King inadvertently saves) to Tornado taking it easy on Psychos, to Psychos surprise powering up, to her not taking it seriously, etc. These shifts in who has the upper-hand are firmly the 180 type, making for some incredible whiplash as for which way the battle is swinging. What makes this depiction of it a problem is truly how fast these swings happen. Sometimes you can have two 180 turns in one chapter alone, and that feels simply too fast. Part of me wonders if our author is critiquing/parodying the typical Shonen flow to grand, epic fights, but at the same time, because the series has lost so much of its original nature as a parody, this sequence, even if intended as such, feels so much more like what it’s trying to parody rather than clever commentary. This makes the battle, at times, feel a bit too haphazard.

That said, it’s difficult to be too harsh on the series, particularly when things have started to come together so much stronger than before. With the Monster Association truly feeling like the massive threat they’ve been treated as, things have gotten crazy exciting. Having Saitama back in his own manga, even if just as comedic relief, makes the series that much more enjoyable. As this is probably my last One-Punch Man Review, in part due to how long chapters can take to come out, I wanted to  express my overall thoughts on One-Punch Man. There’s no denying the series has lost something. That original ability to parody Battle Shonen was incredible, and made One-Punch Man an absurdly enjoyable title. The epic art aside, it’s been the writing, and the clever use of parody, that kept the series so enthralling. Without it, One-Punch Man has taken a step down in quality, and now it certainly feels like part of what keeps the series fun is a more superficial appreciation of the art that Murata brings to it. That said, I think another thing that keeps me reading, and collecting the title, are the characters. Saitama is just so much fun as the series’ off-kilter straight-man. Genos’ quest for strength keeps him endearing, and it’s these two, alongside some greater world-building, that still holds my attention. I highly doubt that our author will ever recapture the original magic that sold so many of us on the series, but as long as Saitama and Genos continue to remain relevant, even as the series shifts focus to an ever-expanding library of additional characters, I think I’m in it for the long haul.

Please do comment below with your thoughts on One-Punch Man!

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

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