I’ve kind of been waiting for One Punch Man to put some thematic muscle behind its animation chops, and this episode did it (albeit via the graceless inclusion of the random whiny dude). So, of course, I gave the show its due and spent a little bit of time breaking down how One Punch Man‘s commentary works at illuminating the nature of heroism. I suppose I should point out—and I didn’t really touch on this in the original article—that the Hero Associations brand of heroism isn’t wrong per se. It’s functional and practical. It emphasizes results, and directs heroes for the benefit of society the best it can (the point raised this episode that the Association is funded by donations from the public is extremely interesting). But this post is about heroes! Enjoy!
6 thoughts on “Aniwords – One Punch Man & the Nature of Heroism”
I can ignore it for the sake of entertainment, but this attitude to heroism bothers me. The quote in the screenshot, “If the heroes run away, who’s left to help?”, puts its finger right onto it: rather than calling the people who don’t run away “heroes”, as an acknowledgement of exceptional behaviour, you make “hero” a type of person on whom we confer expectations. I always sort of have the hunch that having “heroes” reduces the acceptance of the fact that sometimes bad things happen.
In the daily life, it’s in the attitude towards the police: the police is supposed to protect you, but sometimes it’s not possible, maybe because protecting you would mean arresting someone on suspicion alone. There’s often a sense of entitlement of protection.
This is where we get Mumen Rider as the spirit of heroism, a sort of ideal that’s apparantly more important than Mumen Rider’s life. If that’s how he rolls: fine. But together with a sense of entitlement for protection, this is bothering me deeply. I don’t like it. The power-differentials, a real thing shonen anime if not in life, mean it doesn’t have to be Mumen Rider. Any of the people in the crowd could have stepped forward. Do they? No. Not one. Because so far the show distinguishes clearly between hero and the rest: protector and protectee. It’s great that Mumen Rider comes to the rescue, but it’s a waste of life, a waste of potential. You take up a challange you’re not up to only if life throws you into the situation; you don’t rush head-first into your doom. That’s idiocy or pride; not heroism. I don’t like it.
Earlier this year, we had the Rolling Girls. They were basically a lower-stake version of Mumen Rider, but the show contextualised the situation completely differently, and as a result I loved the show: Here, too, we have rather normal people taking up tasks they’re not up to. Here, too, they don’t succeed. The inspirational aspect is still there, but here it’s an integral part of the story: the Rolling Girls roll to the rescue, are completely ineffective, but are so earnest and naive in their attempt to help (well, Nozomi mostly; the others kinda tag along), that they inspire the people who asked to help to solve their own problems (it’s no as clear cut, but that’s the general direction the show takes). What’s more: the heroes they are standing in for tend to be of the typical violent shounen type: there’s not problem a good fight can solve. But the solutions to the problems rarely involve violence, and often aren’t what people asked for in the first place. People have called that bad writing, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
If the heroes run away you have two choices: step forward yourself or accept your fate. That’s life. (I certainly wouldn’t feel inspired in the last moments of my life, if the last thing I saw before the monster gets me was an ineffective, self-styled hero being brutalised. I appreciate the sentiment, but projected results do matter.)
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Wow, this was a great, nuanced response. Thanks for this. I especially like the way you contrasted OPM with Rolling Girls. Granting or inspiring agency in others, versus just keeping people protected.
I do suppose context matters a lot here—the world of One Punch Man doesn’t really allow for the common man to defend himself, and for all his lack of effectiveness here against the Deep See King, Mumen Rider still appears to have at least some kind of ability to fight (he is C-Class number 1, after all) to fight that the regular people might not.
Then again, One Punch Man generally has a pretty cavalier attitude towards violence, gore, and a rampant destruction, so I suppose expectations for it to see this kind of nuance are…unlikely.
I agree with pretty much everything you said here. And I actually like Mumen Rider as a character (how he stopped for a red light while hurrying to the rescure, heh), as long as I don’t think too much about how they used him to make a comment about heroism. (There are always alternatives, in world, though. For example: the Seaking could have been allergic to Mumen Rider’s aftershave, or something.)
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“rescue”. “rescure” sounds like a magical girl with resurrection powers…
Glad I’m not the only one who noticed the SAO parallel. First thing I thought of. And I don’t see that as an insult cause I loved that part of Kirito.
Not an insult from me either! Frankly, SAO‘s probably worked even better for me because I like the show more, but that’s neither here nor there.