In my last post, I’ve been talking about bullet hell stories, and as it is often the case I wasn’t able to say if the setup in itself is good or bad. And it is to be expected, plot devices have their upsides and downsides. But, every once in a while I want to be able to say something more definitive, you know? So, I decided to write one or two posts about story elements that I think are genuinely good, examples of what I believe to be a good writing.
My first pick is One Punch Man series. Considering the fact that it had a very popular anime adaptation recently, I’ll assume that you have seen it or know the general idea. Actually, you will probably be fine just knowing that this is a story about heroes, and the protagonist is a completely overpowered dude, named Saitama. I will be spoiling some of the anime and manga plot twists though, so be warned. Let’s go.
When discussing One Punch Man it is important to realize that while it is firmly set in the “hero genre”, it intentionally sways from the genre’s tropes. The very premise of the show, namely Saitama being completely invincible, takes away almost half of the standard plot progression devices that you can expect from a hero show. You can’t make your protagonist climb a power ladder, you can’t make a “dangerous opponent” for him. In fact, all the character dynamics for Saitama has to with his psyche, since his physique already has no room for improvement. And as Arkada explains in his review for the tv series, the mental challenges Saitama faces, such as unfairness, luck of recognition, stupidity or hostility of fellow heroes and so on, these become the driving force for the show. The audience can easily relate to these problems too, since it is something most people experience to some degree.
In case you haven’t seen or read One Punch Man, I must clarify this point a little bit. The mental struggles do not make Saitama doubt his convictions or hesitate in his actions. In fact, he is almost a lighthouse, as far as the morality and ethics are concerned, in a sense that he continuously becomes an aspiration for other people.
This post isn’t about Saitama though. It is about monsters. Or maybe just one monster, we’ll see. So, what are they, the monsters in the OPM universe? First of all, they are sentient creatures, most with intelligence level of an average human. Some of them have huge life spans, some are being creates just recently, some used to be humans, some are aliens from outer space, some are extremely violent and some are just potentially dangerous or disgusting. The one thing they have in common is, they seem to have serious trouble peacefully co-existing with humans. They are also hunted down and exterminated by the heroes.
Sound a bit dramatic, right? Maybe a bit too dramatic for a show like One Punch man. The monsters here are supposed to be an enemy, same as in any other story, no? Well, that would be a popular trope too. Just for this discussion, I would divide stories into two categories. The first is the one where the “good guys” are in fact immoral to a certain degree and killing sentient “monsters” is just another showcase of their immorality (think of Hellsing, Blood: The Last Vampire, Dorohedoro). And the second is where the “good guys” are genuinely role models and nice people, and all the killing is sort of brushed aside (think of Slayers, Bleach, Dungeon ni Deai, etc). OPM definitely belongs to this second category. Not surprisingly, most video games where you fight monsters would fall under this category too.
So, doesn’t it sound a bit off to you? A story that focuses so much on the metal states of its characters, discusses morality and whatnot, but then chooses to camp with much more naïve shows and video games, ignoring this huge moral question, isn’t that a bit… weak? Especially since OPM is clearly self-conscious and understands the tropes of its genre.