One Punch Man – 09

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ENTER GENOS. Genos doesn’t mess around this week. He gets right down to the Sea King Clobberin’. And it looks, for a hot moment, like he was sufficient, until the Sea King swoops back into view and clobbers him right back. Genos holds out, buying valuable time for the surely en route-by-now Saitama, but when a little girl cheering him on gets targeted by the King’s acid loogie, he blocks it, at great physical cost.

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All I can say is goddamn, it’s a good thing Genos is a cyborg primarily composed of replaceable artificial parts, becaue he looks near-as-makes-no-difference GONE after that acid’s done eating away at him. For a usually funny show, this is a horrific, visceral image that instills despair in that little girl.

And then, Mumen Rider tosses his bike at the Sea King. That gentle rattle of the King’s body brings the laughter right back. Mumen, unlike Saitama, belongs in Class C, at least as far as strength and ability is concerned. But he has a Class S heart, and that’s what matters as he refuses to back down and even tries to feed (in vain) off of the support of the crowd. Again, while he has no hope of victory, he’s buying time for Saitama.

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ENTER SAITAMA. The man we’ve all been waiting to see saunter up to the Sea King. The King sends Saitama’s head gently, hilariously bobbling with his initial punch, but that’s all he does. Saitama doesn’t want to stand in the rain much longer, so he wants to get this over with his usual way, so he does, blasting a hole through the Sea King so hard, the force of his punch actually blows the rainclouds away, an awesome effect. It’s all over; Perfect Victory to Saitama. The crowd of evacuees vociferously voice their gratitude.

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The next day Saitama and (a fully repaired!) Genos receive fan mail via HA delivery drone (they’re going to be a thing, people!), but the first letter Saitama opens is a violently scrawled accusation that’s he’s a cheat who should burn in hell. So hate mail.  We’re helpfully sent back to the immediate aftermath of his defeat of Sea King. There, we see just how much one or two bad apples spoil the bunch when it comes to skewing the opinion of the whole.

One of the evacuees, whose character design seems to have been painstakingly developed to be as loathsome, adversarial, and (one!-)punchable as possible, brings up the fact that this bald guy isn’t necessarily strong, but the other heroes who fell before him were weak. He goes on to call the entire hero class system into question.

This angers Saitama, but he reacts quite differently than I expected: he embraces his role as the guy who “just” delivered the finishing blow. His self-depricating words are a means of preserving the sacrifice of the heroes before him, and he doubles down on racing in at the last second to steal wins off of them. He’s not about to let other heroes who fought with everything they had be thrown under the bus because of his mis-classification. What was left of Genos at the time manages a grin of appreciation; his master truly is amazing.

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And while Saitama’s public image may not be what he might have wanted going into this whole pro hero thing, the fact is paddling against the flow of public opinion is never really going to be worthwhile as long as he’s Class C. That changes after this fight, as he becomes ranked first in C, with the option to be promoted to B after an exhaustive interview; an option he accepts, and which puts him on Amai Mask’s radar as a potential threat closing fast.

Saitama did get one hastily-scrawled letter expressing genuine thanks for his heroism. Turns out it was from Mumen Rider, who treats him to dinner at a food stand. Unlike Saitama, Mumen may be exactly where he should be—atop Class C—but that doesn’t matter to Saitama.

Mumen gave him a ride when he needed one, stood up to the Demon-class Sea King, and took an epic beating that in hindsight couldn’t have been that bad as he’s out of the hospital and ambulatory not long thereafter. We see mutual respect at that stand. And Mumen’s thanks means more to Saitama than the impersonal acceptance and love of the masses. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

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One Punch Man – 08

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Another day, another enemy defeated by Saitama in one punch, almost boring the crowds but helping him rise to Class C Rank 2, almost Class B! Progress. Only the octopus monster he defeated was only the vanguard of a much larger force of seafolk, led by the thoroughly evil-and-damn-proud-of-it Deep Sea King. The King takes out Stinger, then Lightning Max, with ease.

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Aside from a couple of hilarious but all-to-brief scenes of Genos and Saitama drying dishes and running, there’s just not much of the main duo in the picture this week, and while sometimes skipping their action is used for comedic effect, it’s a liability this week. I just didn’t find Stinger, Max, and Puri-Puri-Prisoner all that interesting as they tried and failed to defeat the King.

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Sonic tries to spice things up, and puts up the best fight yet against the King (along with the best combat animation in the episode), but once it starts raining the King gets bigger, stronger, and faster, while Sonic gets tired and retreats to find a weapon. Meanwhile, Amai Mask, the top Class-A hero, is more concerned with his hot new single than hero-duties.

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Mumen Rider is also in this episode, but he’s late to the battle in the cold open, and in transit the rest of the time. Like Saitama and Genos, he doesn’t really do anything. Then the episode ends and I’m left wondering why we were spending so much time watching all the other heroes try in vain to defeat the King, when we all knew it was going to come down to Saitama, Genos, Mumen Rider, or some combination of those three.

One Punch Man just wasn’t its usual sprightly, decisive self, feeling strangely sluggish and tentative throughout its weakest outing to date. At least it provided quite exhaustive setup to the showdown between the Deep Sea King and the three heroes who have yet to face him.

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One Punch Man – 07

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This week’s threat to the annihilation of City Z and its neighbors isn’t a villain or monster, but a meteor. Just…a meteor. Nothing fancy or ironic about it, except that it shifted course to land right in Saitama’s backyard (so to speak). This initially feels like this threat lacks the imagination of previous foes, but it offers the opportunity to see what happens when Saitama saves the city and is actually recognized for it.

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Only Genos and other Class S heroes are summoned to Z in a last-ditch effort, and only three Class S’s actually show up: Bang, Bofoi, and Genos. Third-ranked Fang’s martial arts are of no help; seventh-ranked Bofoi only sends a drone to perform a weapons test. Genos takes Fang’s advice to go all out and not worry about failure or repercussions, but he also comes up short. It falls to Saitama, who shows up randomly and blasts the meteor to bits.

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Now, Saitama has destroyed cities before, most notably in the first episode when the colossus he knocks out falls on one. But now his name is out there as the one who stopped the meteor and saved millions of lives but also the one who devastated City Z. The HA also assumes he had help from the Class S’s, so he only rises within his own Class C, albeit a healthy jump from 342nd to fifth.

Rankings aside, when heroes near and far hear of a Class C barging into a Class S matter, they’re understandably pissed, and suspect foul play. Enter the Tank Top Brothers, Tiger and Black Hole. Rather than challenge him to a fight, they start yelling abou how Saitama is responsible for all the destruction around them, gathering a crowd that turns against Saitama and starts to chant “give it up”.

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The true test of Saitama’s greatness as a hero is not in his victories over impossible foes like the meteor. Rather, it is in his ability to withstand the indignity of not only hardly ever being recognized for his efforts, but on the contrary, blamed for secondary issues, when if it weren’t for him, every man, woman, child, and building in City Z would have been toast.

Bang witnesses the Brothers turning the crowd against Saitama, but does not interfere, knowing sometimes being the bad guy in spite of being the good guy is part of the job. But the Bros’ scheme backfires when they try to put their hands on Saitama, and they very publicly show how much weaker they are.

Saitama uses the opportunity to tell the stunned crowd he’s a hero because he wants to be one, not for admiration. If they have a problem, they can either say it to his face or go to hell. It’s the first real case of Saitama, who has the clear moral high ground, addressing a good-size crowd of people directly. He probably swayed few minds, but perhaps being known and despised is preferable to not being known at all.

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GATE – 12 (FIN)

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GATE ends its first season with a somewhat transitional episode that takes stock of what’s happened (and all that Itami has done) and sets up some new storylines to come in the second season (whenever it airs). Sure, there’s a dark elf looking for help from the Green People to save her village and not having a lot of success, but there’s not much else going on here, and certainly not any kind of season-ending cliffhangers where anyone is in imminent danger.

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That being said, Yao Haa Dushi’s story is a good one, even if it’s familiar (it’s a lot like Tuka’s, only there are still survivors in her village). She comes in fully prepared to use her body to seduce the green people to help her, which comes off as a bit of a sexist move by her village elders, alone with sending her alone with no help. A lot of the time she has trouble with something as basic as language, and is wrongly accused of mugging one of the seedier elements in the Alnus town after she refused his advances.

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The refrain throughout the episode is twofold: the bureaucracy is bad because it keeps the JSDF from helping people (and because in Japan, the ASDF has to share airspace with civvies and the U.S.), and the question What Would Itami Do? It seemed like stalling a stalling tactic to make Yao’s first impression of Itami so poor (at the tavern last week), and even more of a stalling tactic to send Itami away on a random mission just when Yao finds an interpreter (in Lelei, who is starting to augment her magic with Japanese science).

Everyone who isn’t Itami and is still in town wants him to get back so he can do something, because surely he would in this situation. Which begs the question: how is he going to get past the General’s order not to help Yao? Sure, he’s got some privilege and pull in the Special Region, but there’s still the JSDF chain of command.

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The rest of the episode seems concerned with further stroking Itami’s ego and stoking his legend both in the Special Region and in Japan. Pina seems happy to receive a new supply of BL literature (AKA “Art!”), but it turns out to be translated articles from Japan singing praises of everything Itami has done. This is a bit odd, since Pina and her aide react like they didn’t already know all this, when in reality they were present for much of it! Also, it looks like Pina has a bit of a crush on Itami.

So yeah, this episode wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t a fiasco, either. And it paves the way for an interesting second season. I don’t think it’s a matter of will Itami go off to fight the fire dragon, but when. His JSDF comrades would seem to welcome this, but it’s implied there will be further consequences involving the military brass and civilian government, both entities the show has shown pretty transparent contempt for.

As for me, Itami’s head may be getting a bit big for my taste, but between Rory, Tuka, Lelei, Pina, and now Yao, GATE has a solid cast whose future adventures and fates will have me coming back, and hopefully its more troublesome elements can be kept at bay long enough for me to stick with its second season to the end.

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