One Punch Man – 01 (First Impressions)

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“What kind of half-assed backstory is that?”

Sorry, Hannah and Preston, but I may have the best show of the Fall here. A silly little show about a guy who’s a hero for fun, who just got too gosh-darn strong.

One Punch Man packs an enormous amount of action and comedy into 23 minutes, and in a way that somehow didn’t leave me in the dust. This show is a master of comic timing, sight gags, and wry one-liners, some of which I’ll list throughout this review without context.

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“Look at these claws! I can’t even use a towel to wipe it off!”

Of course, dialogue is only half of the fun. The entire ridiculous premise is a heart-lightening joy to behold, in a world where strange, half-dressed supervillains are always cropping up. In a wondrously bizarre origin story, our hero, just coming off another job interview rejection, moved without thinking in savin a big-chinned brat from a tighty-whitey-wearing crab monster by pulling out all his innards.

“In this age of declining birth rates, I can’t just let you kill a kid!.”

Cutting back to the present, we see OPM inspecting crab claws, which made him reminisce about the past in the first place.

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“I added strawberry flavoring to make it go down easier.”

Shows with simple rules always feel tighter, more confident and engaging, and OPM has one simple rule: One Punch Man Always Wins, and he always wins with one punch.

“Put some pants on.”

It doesn’t matter what the supervillain’s ability is, or how nasty and big and strong they are; all OPM needs is a momentary opening to deliver his one punch and it’s all over…though sometimes there’s a degree of collateral damage involved, reinforced by the fact they don’t even bother naming cities in this world, because they’re so often toppled.

[CITY B DESTROYED]

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“In other words, you could say that I haven’t made any impact.”

But due to that one-punch-takes-all rule, One Punch Man is also One Bored Man, feeling neither anger nor passion. He trained so hard to be the most powerful hero the world has ever seen, but it’s still left him wanting, as we see from his humdrum evening routine of washing his gloves, making a simple meal, and watching TV until falling asleep.

OPM’s blank stares and unwillingness to get worked up about any crisis, no matter how dire, is one of many sources of the show’s comedy, and works very nicely indeed.

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From the supermarket around him being destroyed to being plucked out into the morning before he gets his coffee, the speed and intensity with which OPM ends up in his superhero battles is also a strength of this show, as is its tendency to play tricks on the audience.

When thrust out onto the streets, OPM’s apartment is destroyed and he’s confronted by a number of tough-looking “Subterraneans” who call themselves the true humanity and are committed to eradicating all surface dwellers. Having already wiped out 70% of them (yikes!) they turn on OPM as one more target. And they’re able to make him bleed!

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Despite still being able to defeat one Subterranean after another with—you guessed it—one punch, the fact they’re able to hurt him and come at him in such overwhelming numbers starts to suddenly awaken something in OPM as he does battle in his increasingly tatter jammie-jams. Could he finally be getting back what three years of intense training took away, along with his hair?

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It certainly seems so, as after wave after wave of Subbies turn into piles of bodies before him and the massive Subterranean King finally shows himself and challenges him, OPM is suddenly having the time of his life, his passion and drive fully restored…

But alas, it’s only a dream. The real Subterraneans and their king are even more of a pushover than the other baddies he’s fought this week. After dealing with them all too quickly, he once again laments that he’s become too strong. One could say this show is too strong, too; but I don’t care. I love it.

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Comet Lucifer – 01 (First Impressions)

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Well, I know one thing: We’ve got ourselves the first real breaktaking looker of the Fall so far in Comet Lucifer. From lush cityscapes to solid mechanicals and bright, attractive character design, there’s plenty to look at, and there’s shades of both Castle in the Sky and Eureka Seven in the futuristic-fantasy setting, as well as the premise: young crystal miner Sogo finds the rock of his life, along with all the accompanying baggage that comes with it.

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Sogo is so excited by his new find, he takes to speeding through the streets of Garden Indigo well above the recommended speed. As a result, he nearly hits a little girl and a dog, but does hit his friend/love interest Kaon (Takahashi Rie), who as it turns out doesn’t mind, because she needs to get away in a hurry.

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A victim of family tradition, Kaon is being pursued by her betrothed, Roman Valov, a man she has no intention of marrying (and accompanied by his henchman Otto), and gets Sogo mixed up in the chase, to the near-death of both of them. Fortunately for them, gravity and hydrodynamics apparently work different in this world, so despite falling perhaps a thousand feet into a yawning chasm, both survive the landing without a scratch.

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Down there in the deep, a newt startles Kaon, who gloms onto Sogo before remembering herself, and the two just sit in awkward, blushing silence. I liked this little scene, because like her suddenly employing him to aid her escape, it says a lot about their relationship without the need for words, while also serving as a resting spot between big action set pieces.

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That second set piece comes when Sogo’s story and the parallel story of a government salvage team working to activate and retrieve the same rock he ended up with in the beginning come together in the caverns. Just as Kaon got Sogo mixed up in her marital crisis, so too has the crystal he found (or rather, found him) gotten Sogo and Kaon mixed up in something even bigger.

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The crystal in his pocket reacts to the larger one in the caverns, and an unconscious ethereal girl in a feathery dress literally falls into his arms, to his and Kaon’s shock. This isn’t just reminiscent of when Sheeta fell into Pazu’s arms, but also the Hollywood film Stardust in which a beautiful maiden falls from the sky as a shooting star.

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Just when the girl appears, however, the salvage team bears down on the kids, with strict orders to secure the “Lima” at all costs. One of the amphibious salvage mechas is about to snatch up the girl when an even bigger, tougher, more ornate mecha, apparently summoned to protect the girl, materializes and beats the salvage mecha to a pulp.

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With the most immediate threat dealt with, Kaon asks Sogo “What now?” What, indeed. As indicated by the references I made, there’s a lot of stuff derived from previous works in play here, but Comet Lucifer is nevertheless a well-executed and above all attractive and fun addition to my Fall watchlist that I’ll be sticking with…for now.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 01 (First Impressions)

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One thing I’ve learned about Gundam over the years is that no one show or OVA with its name slapped on it can ever wholly ruin its legacy, nor prevent me from checking out the next project with an open mind. Reconguista was an unqualified disaster in part because it was so in love with itself, it built a towering wall of self-congratulatory retrospection around itself, leaving me out in the cold.

Recon in G was also spearheaded by Yoshiyuki Tomino, whose specific style came off as both out-of-touch and proudly, stubbornly exclusionary of anyone but the most die-hard fans of his work, ignoring all Gundam that had followed, most of which improved on the original.

It was not a step, but a zero-gravity leap backwards, one even more troubling because a full 26-episode season’s worth of resources were committed to an sugary, empty love letter to itself. But like I said, I wasn’t going to let past failure prevent me from catching something new and exciting from the Gundam brand…and Iron-Blooded Orphans (which I’ll shorten to GIBO from here on) is just what the doctor ordered.

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One reason I had reason to believe GIBO wouldn’t be another dud was staff: Putting Gundam in the hands of Tatsuyuki Nagai (AnoHana, Railgun, Toradora) pays immediate dividends. Nagai retains much of the charming Gundam milieu, but rather than keep it exactly as it was in the Carter Administration, he updates and refines the flow of the action.

Okada Mari (AnoHana, Hanasaku Iroha, Nagi no Asukara, Toradora) tweaks and humanizes the classic Gundam dialogue style and brings it into the 21st century, while Yokoyama Masaru (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo) brings a fresh musical perspective to the sweeping score.

Compared to Reconguista, there’s young blood at work here, but their impressive CVs and relevance in the current anime world shines through in their collaboration here. While Reconguista shut me out, GIBO drew me in, with a slightly dirty hand.

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So what’s GIBO about? Well, there are many thick, juicy layers to excavate, but it’s all pretty organically unfolded. On the Martian colony of Chryse you have the titular Iron-Blooded Orphans like protagonist Mikazuki Augus, who serve at the bottom rung of the private security company CGS.

The citizens of Chryse are starting to demand independence form the Earth Sphere, but their own cowardly president intends to save his own skin by throwing his people to the wolves. Those he betrays include his own daughter, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, a well-loved, charismatic young agitator who Earth Sphere wants out of the picture.

To make that happen, Aina’s dad Norman lets her handpick the CGS Third Group to serve as her bodyguards for her trip to Earth. Doing so appeals to her desire to “see and feel the truth” and feel the pain of the victims of the Earth Sphere’s rule over Chryse. But in actual truth, the irregular child soldiers, used as cannon fodder by the greedy CGS president Maruda, aren’t expected to stand a chance against Earth’s elite Gjallarhorn unit, which is being deployed to put down the Chryse rebellion in its infancy.

It’s a cowardly, dastardly plot by the self-involved old guard to retain power by snuffing out the flame of youth and hope. It also shows that these old guys know how to play the game far better than Aina, at least at the moment.

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The main couple, Mikazuki and Aina, are from the opposite extreme ends of Chryse’s social spectrum, but unlike your typical aloof princess character, Aina wants to be “on equal terms” with the CGS grunts protecting her, so as to better understand the people she leads and serves. In a clever bit of misdirection, Mika refuses her repeated attempts to shake his hand not because he resents or distrusts her, but becaused his hands are filthy.

Even as Aina tries to reach out to those below her, they’re so conditioned to keep their distance they politely decline her entreaties. Aina’s seiyu Terasaki Yuki often voices boys and younger versions of adult male characters, but her robust pipes lend the pretty Aina some gravitas.

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The same night Aina arrives at CGS headquarters, Gjallarhorn springs into action, but in their arrogance their stealth attack is quickly sniffed out. CGS soldiers like Biscuit Griffon (whose retro design I really dug) whisk Aina to safety as the bullets start to fly. She’s constantly insisting that she can help out, and no one refutes her claim, but she has infinitely more value as the leader of the Chryse resistance than an exposed front-line soldier.

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Mind you, it isn’t CGS as a whole that is sacrificed in this operation, but the Third Group members composed of Mika, his “big brother” Orga Itsuka, Biscuit, et al. The higher ups try to use them as a decoy and human shield to cover their retreat, but they’re foiled when Biscuit remotely launches signal flares, giving the retreating brass and First Corps’ position away to the enemy, which eases off the Third. Still, it isn’t long until Gjallarhorn stops messing around and fields a mobile suit, which can outrun and outgun anything the Third Group has…with one very notable exception.

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In the cold open, we see a sight not out of place in a previous Gundam series, 00, in which a young Mika has just killed on apparent orders from Orga. He turns arond and nonchalantly asks Orga “What should I do next?” It’s a dream of a memory Orga wakes up from, which is revisited when the present-day Mika asks him the very same question. In the memory, Orga replies “We’re going…somewhere not here…to the place where we truly belong.” Their lives aren’t just about surviving when the deck stacked against them at every turn. It’s about finding purpose to those lives they’re fighting for tooth and nail.

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So how do they get there? By fighting the man. Gjallarhorn’s cocky young commander Orlis swats at the CGS bugs with his mobile suit until he’s challenged by a second, stronger suit, a Gundam, piloted by Mika as the Third Group’s trump card. Mika brings Orlis’ suit down in iconic fashion, creating a symbol of what must be done in order to find that place where the iron-blooded orphans belong.

No doubt Mika, Orga, Biscuit & the rest of CGS’s third group will serve as a vanguard for what will become Aina Bernstein’s Chryse Independence movement. Their deeds will change the history of Mars and will affect the lives of many, from Danji, the would-be rookie hero who got too close to the enemy and paid the ultimate price, to the too-adorable-for-words shop girl who seems to carry a flame for Mika, all the way to the most powerful sniveling old white guys in the galaxy.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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