One Punch Man 2 – 06 – Whittling Down the Herd

Don’t get me wrong: stuff happens this week; lots of stuff, and lots of it decent. The competition moves briskly as most matches are over in one move, as befits fighters at the top of their game. And while the monsters had free rein last week, the likes of Genos and Tornado—seriously strong heroes—evens the odds in a hurry.

So why did this feel so meh, so rote? A couple things. It felt like there was no rhyme or reason to cutting from an arena fight to a monster fight, making the episode feel unfocused. Second, there wasn’t a whole lot of comedy to be had. Aside from Saitama’s early KO of Bakuzan because he touched his wig, the episode plays like a straightforward shounen ensemble series.

And that’s fine, normally, but One Punch Man should be a cut above. A grab bag of minor skirmishes and minimal gags, along with what felt like a step down in production values, kept this episode feeling merely okay and nothing close to the excellence the OPM is known for. Halfway through the season, and the first episode is still the best, which is disappointing.

Looking beyond this episode, it seems clear Saitama is in line for a win, but if his identity is found out he will no doubt be disqualified due to breaking the rules. Other than that, I’m not sure yet what the monsters’ play is, or how they can roll in so confidently only to be slapped back by the cream of the Hero Association crop. What’s with taking that rich kid hostage? It seems like a small-fries move.

Hopefully we can cut through the chaff in the next week or two and get to the heart of what big threat, if any, Saitama & Co. will face. He may be content to spend most of the tournament on the toilet, but I guess I’m looking for the next guy who can take his punch!

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Hanebado! – 13 (Fin) – The Other Side of the Net

Hanebado! seemed to take a bit of a nosedive in critical reception as it progressed, with most of the criticism centering on writing perceived as poor and character reactions and attitudes that were too often over-the-top or unrealistic.

Frankly, neither of these things ever bothered me, because the primary draw for me was always watching two players slap the shit out of a birdie (or shuttlecock, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). Ayano and Nagisa close out their match, and the show, doing just that.

As such, the animation of the match and of the character’s reactions grows ever more dramatic and stylized throughout the roller coaster of an episode. Ayano crawls all the way back, and Nagisa and her knee seem poised to crumble before the might of her opponent’s honed talent.

Coach Tachibana looks ready to pounce at any moment should Nagisa desire to end the match to possibly preserve her career; to lose to live to fight another day. But she doesn’t give up, nor does she let her knee stop her from hanging in there against Ayano.

After several end-of-match deuces (ties), it gets to the point that even Ayano’s body starts to give out. Indeed, when Nagisa’s winning point is scored, securing the narrowest of victories, Ayano’s racket flies right out of her hand and hits one of the net posts.

Once Nagisa realizes she’s won, she bursts into tears right there on the court, while an exhausted Ayano is helped off by her senpais, and takes that opportunity to thank them for supporting her, something that catches them off guard, since she was such an unapologetic bitch to them not too long ago!

Even though Ayano lost, she doesn’t feel like she’s going to be abandoned, nor that it’s the end of the world. Rather, both she and Nagisa realized during the match that they both love and play badminton because it’s fun; and it’s never more fun than when you’re playing such a close match against someone on or around your level.

Ayano and Nagisa might just represent the two peaks of their respective corners (talent and hard work), though it’s also clear that Nagisa has plenty of talent (otherwise she wouldn’t have beaten Ayano, period), while Ayano works plenty hard (otherwise she wouldn’t have had the stamina to almost knock Nagisa off).

Ayano also confronts her mother and states that she hated her, past-tense, because she thought she was abandoned for not having any talent. Uchika repeats her offer to bring Ayano back with her to Denmark, but Ayano wishes to remain in Japan, where she intends to keep playing and keep getting better. Uchika is impressed and moved by her daughter’s words.

As friends Riko and Nagisa share a post-victory moment of friendship, Ayano also takes the time to thank her friend Erena for always standing by her side, as well as for persuading her to get back into badminton.

When Ayano and Nagisa next meet, the latter is being told to take things easy, what with her patellar tendinitis. But Ayano immediately challenges her to a match. She quickly switches back to “Evil Ayanon”, but not out of straight-up malice; her intention to inspire Nagisa, not provoke her.

It’s also a way of acknowledging Nagisa’s skill; trash talk aside, Ayano wouldn’t play someone she believed wasn’t worth playing. And so the two arrange to practice together more and more in preparation for the inter-high tournament. After all, the person on the other side of the net is a “reflection of themselves”. Beat that, and they can beat anyone.