One-Punch Man has become a very strange comic. In the earliest chapters of Yusuke Murata and ONE’s remake of ONE’s webcomic, the series played out as a parody of both western and Japanese action comics. In recent chapters, however, the story has been played as a seemingly straight superhero comic.
This presents a slight problem for the book, which is based on the gag that Saitama is so strong he can win any fight in just one punch. In real terms, it means that Saitama has been mostly absent from his own book in this arc as the Hero Association battles with the Monster Association. In fact, Saitama only appears on-panel in 17 pages in this volume, one of which is a bonus gag page.
The main character in this arc has been the Hero Hunter Garo, who has been getting more and more page-time since he first showed up all the way back in Volume 8. This volume gives us his origin: an unpopular kid bullied by a popular kid. It’s incredibly generic but at the same time it gives you all the information you need.
The main thing going on here at the moment is the fight scenes. In the hands of a lesser artist they might have seemed almost too over-the-top, but Murata’s art makes it work. The gags haven’t been entirely lost to Cerebus Syndrome; there’s an incredible eight-page sequence where Saitama uses his Serious Punch attack. The naming of Saitama’s attacks has always been pretty funny, but this one takes the cake. It’s these low-key jokes that make One-Punch Man such a wonderful series. You can just enjoy the story as an over-the-top superhero/action manga title, but an eight-page spread for a single attack is clearly meant to be a joke about the inherent silliness of action comic tropes as seen in series like Black Clover or Fairy Tail.
That’s sort of the wonderful thing about One-Punch Man. It’s a perfectly fun read for someone who doesn’t like manga or comics in general, but for people who do it’s full of subtle jabs at the tropes of both genres. For example, as Garo’s power continues to grow exponentially over the course of what’s fully half the series now, and as we see him as the focus of more and more chapters of the book, it’s never far from the mind of the reader that he’s on a collision course with Saitama and you only need to read the title to know how that’s going to to turn out. Saitama says it himself in this volume: “I’ll look for him. And when I find him, I’ll punch him.” Because as Garo has said again and again, from the time he was a young child, the monster never wins.
Western comics will spend endless pages self-seriously exploring the motivations of villains like the Joker or Lex Luthor when all the reader really needs to know can be boiled down to a single word like “crazy” or “narcissist.” Likewise, we’ve explored Garo for nearly 2,000 pages by this volume and he could be summed up as “monster” without adversely affecting the plot. Garo is the ultimate western comic villain, endlessly monologuing about his paper-thin motivation and tragic backstory that are ultimately meaningless as he only exists to be part of some really cool fight scenes. If that sort of long-form joke-critique appeals to you then One-Punch Man is a book you shouldn’t miss.