There’s many reasons why people love the new hit anime One Punch Man. Whether it be the concept of the main character, Saitama, being able to destroy any enemy with one punch, the way the show pokes fun at typical anime stereotypes, the humorous dynamics between all of the characters (especially Saitama and his self-proclaimed disciple, Genos), or the show’s ability to actually tell an interesting story alongside all its comedy, it seems that One Punch Man is praised by a majority of anime lovers who have enjoyed the first season and are on-board for the second.
I think a big part of what makes One Punch Man so fun to watch is the way Saitama ends all of his fights–with one punch. Even the simplicity of his character is comically intriguing. The show goes into his backstory quite a bit, explaining how he got to the point of being arguably the greatest hero in the world; but, to everyone’s surprise, he’s just an ordinary dude who consistently followed a basic strength-training regimen every day without fail. When asked by Genos about any attachments, powers, and/or special abilities that he may have acquired, Saitama tells him that he just did an exercise program every day. He wanted to be the strongest, and he became the strongest.
I really like Saitama’s character–the way that nothing really seems to faze him, how he doesn’t feel the need to prove himself to anyone (since he already knows he’s the strongest), and how he doesn’t mind taking the heat and ridicule to make others look good by giving them the credit for the work that he’s done.
However, what’s interesting when it comes to Saitama is his overall outlook on life. He’s reached his goal of being so powerful and unmatched that he’s become depressed and bored out of his mind. There’s even a point in the first episode where he inner monologues about how all emotions seem to have left him, and that he dreams of finding an opponent that’ll actually put up a good fight. The only thing that gets him excited seems to be sales at the supermarket.
One would assume that someone who reached such a huge goal as being the strongest man would be ecstatic about his achievements and abilities. But Saitama reacts very differently. It may sound like he’s depressed because of how easily defeated his opponents are, but if his goal was to truly be the strongest and be a “hero for fun,” as he says, then he pretty much got what he wanted. So there must be something else that’s bothering him. I think the problem comes from his entire identity being attached to an earthly goal (as in, a goal that will eventually end).
When you think about it, goals ultimately have one of two outcomes: you either reach them or you don’t. There’s going to be an end to them at some point. When Saitama put the goal of becoming the strongest at the center of his life (whether he knew it or not), he was setting himself up either to achieve it or fail. If he failed, then his life wouldn’t be up to his standards. However, he ended up succeeding, so the question that he then had to face was, “Now what?” On a deeper level, he probably felt that his life had basically concluded right there. No wonder he’s always searching for someone who’s stronger than him: if he finds a supervillain even he can’t beat, then his life will have purpose again! But the moment he beats the new “big bad” and becomes the strongest once again, he will find himself in another spiral of depression. Even if he did choose something else to strive for, it would eventually come to an end. Saitama would find himself in an endless cycle of achievement and failure.
Through Saitama’s reflections of his life, I think One Punch Man demonstrates the dangers of attaching one’s identity or life purpose to an earthly goal.
Now I’m not saying that goals are bad. It’s the way we attach ourselves to them that can become an issue. As followers of Jesus, we are given a solution to this problem: when we put God at the center of our lives, everything else comes along for the ride. If our purpose and goal is to continuously get closer to God and do His will the best we can, we’re in a good place, because God doesn’t have an “end” and He never disappoints.
So what if we re-imagined Saitama as a Christian hero? What would he look like? If he still wanted to become the strongest man, it would probably be from a mindset of serving God. So when he finally did become the strongest, his main goal would probably consist of helping others (which is the second greatest commandment given by Jesus). It’s actually at this point when Saitama can really be effective in the way he would’ve hoped for. His joy would come not from his achievement of unmatched strength, but from his ability to basically save everyone from any and all evil forces with one punch. And it seems that, in the world of One Punch Man, that happens almost every day. In this scenario, we would probably have a much happier Saitama.
(And who knows; maybe the main arc of One Punch Man will explore Saitama finding a more fulfilling purpose for his life. It looks to be leading that way with Genos in the picture now.)
It’s cool to have crazy goals like Saitama’s and actually achieve them, but as followers of Jesus, that shouldn’t be our reason for existence. Rather, we should use these achievements, talents, and abilities to serve God in any way we can.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.” ~ 1 John 2:15-17