Can these do-gooders power their way onto the watchlist?
If mecha is a taste I’ve never quite acquired, then superhero is one that I find myself enjoying more with each year. Give the MCU ample credit for that, as well as new western lady-led comics like Ms. Marvel or The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, for sure, but magical girls and powered rangers have had a place in my heart for a while now, too, and that place grows a little warmer all the time. So it’s no wonder that both of these shows received glowing premiere reviews not too long ago. As for whether or not that glow has worn off… well, that requires a few more paragraphs than this one.
I won’t deny that ConcRevo is kind of a mess. It dashes back and forth between time lines at breakneck speeds, tearing us through cause-and-effect by contrasting present-day characters with their not-too-distant-future selves so quickly that it can be hard to stay oriented or catch all the dialogue flying across the screen. Characters are defined more by how they react to sudden crises rather than by relaxed conversation, and discussions about the nature of justice or what it means to be human occur on the fly, interspersed with plot points about building unrest and an impending war.
Even so, there are enough connecting threads that I feel confident saying there’s a method to all this madness. Director Mizushima seems to be creating a very intentional tension, taking us from a clear-cut, black-and-white present to an increasingly grim and morally gray future. I can see how getting whipped around through time and comic-booky conflicts with a group of brightly colored superhuman watchdogs could get tiring for some, but I find the aesthetic wildly entertaining and the smear-animated fight scenes a blast.
Better still, the series is peppered with enough beats of emotional honesty and existential musing (such as the android detective’s insistence that he’s human, not “superhuman”) that I’m starting to get invested in the characters, and curious to see what dramatic events changed them so significantly from Present to Future. It’s not the most polished show of the season, but right now, I think it just might be my favorite, and the one I most look forward to each week. Lead on, Mizushima. I’ll be running along frantically behind you.
One Punch Man
I’m going to make a seemingly bonkers comparison and say that One Punch Man reminds me a lot of Snow White with the Red Hair. Not because their stories or characters or ideas are in any way similar (they are not), but because both are developed by talented creative teams who had a very specific look and feel they wanted to bring to their adaptations. Both sought to imbue every element of their production with that particular tone, and both by and large succeeded.
OPM is the story of a basically normal guy who becomes the strongest man in the world, and about how empty and boring his life has become because of that. It always looks good and often looks downright stunning, using thick black lines and stretchy animation to great effect, and the music adds to the scenes without overpowering them. The main character is a contradictory combination of apathetic and hopeful who fills the series with deadpan comedy and an ever-present hint of melancholy. In effect, OPM manages to both be a send-up to and a parody of the superhero genre, full of GAR fights and self-aware humor alike.
But, much like Snow White, as well-made as it is, it isn’t going to appeal to everyone. The adherence to the “good guy fights bad guy(s)” formula can make it predictable on a macro level (despite all the great humorous twists at the micro), and the lack of a clear central story line means the series needs to rely on its cast or comedy to convince the audience to come back each week. Which is where the problem arises, because so far, there’s not enough depth to either individuals or relationships to make them people I’m dying to hang out with each week, and I’m struggling to find a compelling reason to keep doing so.
All of which is to say that, well, One Punch Man is a fine series, but it might not be for me. I’ll probably check in for one more to see if the next story arc can give me something to look forward to, but much like Comet Lucifer, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t make the Midseason Review. Ah, well. To each their own, I s’pose.
5 thoughts on “Rule of Three Review, Superhero Digest: Concrete Revolutio, One Punch Man”
One of the things I like about OPM is how it dissects the normal Shonen hero motivation of Become the strongest/best. It reinforces the idea that the fun part is struggling and trying to achieve that summit, but once you actually get there, what’s left for you.
The more interesting parts of the series come later when they introduce the Hero association, (probably around episode 5 at this pace). As it turns out there is this system in place with a large number of super heroes, many of whom are famous for their action while Saitama has Zero fame despite everything he has done. Once that gets introduced you start getting a little more exploration into what it means to be a hero. From the powerless who stand for what is right even when they have no chance to powerful monsters who only get called Hero because they happen to have a licence that says so. Saitama finds himself at the bottom of this world of Glory hounds, Newb crushers and honest heroes, relegated to catching purse snatchers and pick pockets.
What makes a hero
Is it power
Is it prestige
Is it the adoration of the masses
Or is it the willingness to stand between the terror and the innocent if only for a single moment longer.
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Well pitched! And it sounds like a worthwhile conversation, to be sure. I don’t deny that OPM seems to be written by a smart person who knows what they want to say and tend to say it quite well. I appreciate it on all the intellectual, technical levels. I just can’t seem to get invested on a more personal one, which is ultimately what keeps me coming back to long-running, premise-based series such as these. I’m giving it at least one more episode, so we’ll see if it can find a way to hook me. I hope it does! It’s a good enough production that I’m sad I’m not enjoying it as much as everyone else is.
I’m more or less ‘passion sport or art drama>mystery>sci-fi or mecha>superhero’ these days. especially because there’s SO MANY superhero stuff in popular media lately that one can’t help but feel fatigued by the whole deal, no matter how inventive or atypical the new product is. OPM is something that I can only admire and never actually love, that is.
This comment got me thinking, and you may have helped me put my finger on why OPM isn’t working for me personally. See, I’m a fan of the superhero genre, but I’m a fan of it in its newer genre-bending crossover forms. One thing I like about the MCU is that they’ve managed to give the different films enough variety that they don’t all feel like the same story. The Thor films are crossed with myth/fantasy; the Captain America movies are political/military dramas; Ant-Man was a crime caper; Agent Carter is a Noir-ish period piece; etc. Even the Avengers films are as much character study as they are superhero action spectacle. Similarly, the superhero comics I read tend to have other elements to them: slice-of-life, comedy, YA coming-of-age, or what have you. Putting on a costume and saving the world is a part of it, yeah, but it’s the other stuff that lends the world flavor and draws me in to the story.
On the other hand, straight, classic superhero stories – “good dude in costume goes out and fights bad dudes in costumes,” to put it in way-too-simple terms – struggle to hold my attention because of a general lack of tension. I always feel like I know exactly what’s going to happen next. Ultimately I think that’s the issue I’m having with OPM at this point, despite its technical and thematic accomplishments. It needs some other genre element to hook me, and there isn’t anything yet.
From what I understand the series began as a very simple Web Comic, that happened to catch a lot of attention. I think most of the Web Comics I read took a while to get a good head of steam going. Makes me think about what we’d get if someone decided to make a TV series out of Sluggy Freelance.
You are absolutely right though. A Constant diet of Good guy smashes Bad guy is cool to look at but not exactly compelling week after week.
The introduction of the Hero Association helps with that a little. For one it provides a vehicle to introduce characters that will stick around longer than 1 episode (Mumen Rider for example is someone we will be seeing more of). It also provides a new sort of conflict for our hero to deal with, things that can’t be solved by just punching them, as he navigates the innternal politics and cliques of the Association.
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