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One-Punch Man and Knockout Obsession} ?> In the anime world of One-Punch Man, superheroes are selected through standardized testing, supervillains tote socio-satirical names like Vaccine Man, and city-wide destruction is just part of the daily forecast.
Saitama (age: 25; status: unemployed) is fed up with society’s standards. Tossing aside his blue-collar jacket, he suits up in banana-yellow spandex and decides to pursue his boyhood dream of becoming a super hero (not an uncommon career choice in the world of One-Punch Man). Saitama follows a mega-strengthening routine until his hair falls out. He bashes baddie after baddie until he can nail them in a single, anti-climactic punch.
It’s all fun and games… until it isn’t.
What begins as an act to spite society quickly becomes an obsessive spiral into isolation for Saitama. His appearance becomes so comically bland that even his shiny rubber boots and bald head fail to leave an impression. He lives alone in a cheap apartment he can hardly afford, watching B-movies and chasing bargains at his local supermarket.
“I’ve become too strong,” he admits, with a blank expression that has inspired memes across the internet. “In exchange for power, maybe I’ve lost something that’s essential for a human being?”
It’s said that self-recognition means you aren’t too far gone, but I think that only counts if you actually act on the realization. As Saitama’s obsession with becoming the world’s strongest man grows, so too does his separation from others, despite his half-hearted efforts to connect with them.
Surprisingly, despite his boredom, Saitama doesn’t turn full-time supervillain in an attempt to reach new heights of power and recognition. That seems to be the M.O. of all the villains in this anime: they consume their obsessions until they become their obsessions. Exhibit A is Crabrante—a literal case of “you are what you eat”—who gorged on crab meat to the point that he metamorphosed into a crustacean himself.
I think the more relatable case study, though, is Genos—a young, would-be hero who vows to exterminate a rampaging cyborg that wiped his homeland and family off the map. In order to become strong enough to defeat the cyborg, Genos becomes a cyborg. Single-mindedly set on revenge, he isolates himself within his anger. Though Genos fights with morality in mind—ensuring civilians are out of his miles-wide range of fire—his explosive tactics imply reckless destruction, and his cold stares suggest he is an anti-hero from the moment he shows up on-screen and rips the legs off of the nearest supervillain.
“I find myself chasing a virtual image of that cyborg whenever I square off against my enemies,” Genos admits.
Fortunately, along with Saitama, Genos is spared from his obsessions when the two misfit heroes cross paths. Impressed by Saitama’s one-hit KOs, Genos becomes one-punch man’s self-proclaimed disciple, and, amidst the comedic antics and bro-bonding that ensues, begins to find a way to give his single-minded drive for “justice” more meaning.
Through training Genos, Saitama also discovers an outlet for his purposeless power. Their friendship couldn’t have formed a moment too soon.
Any time I pursue something just for the sake of it, I tend to lose sight of its original value. As a geek with Completionist Syndrome, I often feel pressure to watch/read/play/collect all the things, dedicating much of my time, money, and energy toward them. But, eventually, those books I’m reading cover-to-cover and that anime I’m binge-watching stop sinking in. I consume thing after thing, like delicious sushi at a Chinese buffet (guess I’d become Sushi Woman in the One-Punch ‘verse), until my hunger is long-past sated and I forget why I’m stuffing my face to begin with.
Sometimes I excuse my obsessions by justifying them as “good things” (‘cause you can’t have too much of those, right?). For example, when I receive a work-assignment, I obsess over it, using any leftover time and brain power to get started on additional projects. Like a machine, I spit out data without ever taking the time to fully process it. Meanwhile, the more important things in my life—like growth opportunities, time with family and friends, and ever-necessary relaxation—are neglected. “I’m too busy,” becomes an easily-accessible excuse, as I make myself a victim of my own schedule. I spend so much time in my room or in my head or in fictional worlds that, like Saitama and Genos, I risk isolating myself from the world around me and forgetting why I’m here in the first place.
The villains in One-Punch Man are addicted to their obsessions past the point of reason. With a victimized mindset that says, “There’s nothing I can do to stop (so I might as well not),” they spiral further down the abyss of apathetic addiction. Selfishly, these villains see others (particularly society), rather than themselves, as the cause of their circumstances, and every battle becomes a temperamental lashing out that sinks them even deeper into their own sense of justified isolation.
Convinced that he can lose to none but the rampaging cyborg, Genos recklessly pits himself against a towering supervillain he can’t beat. With his cyborg body torn limb-from-limb, Genos can only helplessly watch as a low-rank hero, Mumen Rider, steps in as the last barrier between the supervillain and its civilian victims. Mumen Rider—a civilian himself, protected only by biker gear, whose derring-do involves retrieving lost balloons for crying children—epitomizes the ideal of the everyday hero. When a child calls out to cheer him on, leading others in the crowd to take up the cry, Mumen Rider faces off with the supervillain, even while admitting he can’t win. He only knows he can’t back down without disgracing the universal hero image in front of the small child who idolizes him.
For Mumen Rider, the true battle is not with the supervillain before him, but with his own fears and weaknesses. That recognition, Genos realizes, is what separates the good-guys from the bad-guys.
I don’t believe that heroism is necessarily a set of actions, medals, or qualifications, but rather a way of life that one selflessly and obsessively lives, long before he is called to physically endanger himself for others. It’s a daily dedication, as difficult as Saitama’s strength-training regimen, that’s driven by persistence and cemented by conviction.
When I benevolently use my passions—as much as I consume them—for the good of others, I create self-accountability for my obsessions. Otherwise, I risk becoming a mindless consumer whose passions will eventually separate me from others, rather than connect me with them. That doesn’t necessarily mean regulating and refocusing my time and resources (sometimes that’s needed, too), but rather finding ways to use my interests beyond just my own gain.
What begins as rebellion against society for Saitama and vengeance against a cyborg for Genos ends with their turning inward, only to realize their own frustration and anger is the real enemy. In much the same way that these superheroes stop making excuses and start finding new ways to use their passionate drives of power and justice for the good of others, I find myself faced with the question: Will I allow my obsessions to make me the superhero or supervillain of my story?