The Economic Liability of the Middle Class in One Punch Man

One thing that comes immediately to mind when you think of One Punch Man is economic pressure and governmental oversight. I risk boring the reader even sharing my thoughts on the topic, given how obvious it is, but hopefully there’s still a little room to deal with how Saitama’s adventures illustrate a growing problem in first-world economic liability.

I should start with a primer of sorts: One Punch Man was originally a web comic, turned traditionally-published manga, turned anime. I haven’t read the comics yet, only watched the show, so I can’t speak to anything after the destruction of the alien spaceship — and perhaps even more importantly, the murder of the captured aliens by Amai Mask. But there’s an incredible amount of material just in twelve episodes, so that’s not really a problem.

As a web comic, originally, One Punch Man was fairly naturally close to topics of concern in the day-to-day life of your average Japanese citizen. We see Saitama, in episode one, appear out of nowhere and save a small child, but then we see his origin, in which he does exactly the same thing. But in the past he wasn’t a yellow-and-red suited superhero but an unemployed job seeker (much like one of his mid-series foes, Hammerhead, whom Saitama spares because of their shared frustrations with the recessed economy).

The dynamic is very simple, actually. Saitama was an out of work job hunter, who finds validation outside of economic means. This gives him the strength to become “One Punch Man,” strong enough to destroy anything in a single blow. This actually creates a sense of malaise in him, as he longs for something more challenging — hinting at the problem endemic in his former life as well. He wasn’t challenged, but despite dedication and determination couldn’t get anywhere in life. He had to remove himself from the economic circle to attain that.

Enter all the other characters. Genos began as a poor rural youth, damaged by the wars of his superiors in society. Less than — and also more than — a man now, he travels seeking vengeance on a faceless figure he can’t describe or find. We first meet him struggling to fight a group of mosquitoes, a nice emblem of futility. Note that they’re not bees or wasps or caterpillars, but mosquitoes, an echo of the bloodsuckers that destroyed his hometown and his family.

The heroes in a general sense function as an economic hierarchy, taming powerful people with salaries and fame. They use trumped up internet polls and byzantine rating systems to keep their employees in check — note that a rich businessman started the hero index. It was out of a genuine gratitude toward the “nameless” hero who saved his son (we know it was Saitama), but all he knows is the capitalist system, so he replicates it in everything from the aforementioned rating system to the danger alert system that makes no sense and must yet be immediately understood by everyone working and living in the system.

Naturally the gravest threat to this system would be pirates from outside it, the aliens that appear at the end. They lay waste to an entire city — which allows the hero association to, like Milton Friedman, “shock” the economy into the elaborate new hero system, with an even bigger tower and their own personal highways. The hero association takes advantage of the disaster to entrench itself even further in the landscape and the economy.

But who bears the burden? Who is liable for these economic disasters and trying to lift the weight of the ever-present “recession” of Japanese culture (which, if I’m counting right, has been a touchstone for mimetic anime since the mid-90s). The middle class, naturally — as well as the lower classes, as we saw with Genos’s example. The S rank heroes do almost nothing until something comes along so shocking that it will allow them to further their own goals. The Tornado of Terror is the prime example — she terrorizes the people who allow her organization to actually function, she demands respect despite staying so far back in the shadows many don’t know who she is, and she is extremely powerful — and all without ever having to touch anything. She is the perfect allegory for the upper classes.

While money exchanging hands is often important in One Punch Man (Saitama is still in need of money despite his departure from the economic system that was strangling him), fame and influence are the markers of the ebb and flow of this economy. Rankings and salaries go hand in hand, and Saitama’s inability to curry favor means he never rises far in the ranks, despite being objectively more powerful than everyone else. Like the economic power of the lower and lower-middle class, who could determine much of an economy if its power structure matched its production structure, Saitama outweighs and overpowers everyone else involved. But because he no longer has access to the economy itself — fame and prestige in this case — his power doesn’t matter.

No lasting change ever happens in the world of One Punch Man because no one is able to create any change in any of their conditions. Those who are able to make concrete changes do not have access to the rest of the world — in effect — because they do not have access to the tide of the economy. Those who have that access, and in some cases manufacture it, also have vested interests in making sure everything stays the same (Amai Mask particularly rides the rising tide of riches that does not, in fact, float every boat).

In short, the monsters are merely the “things” that an economy uses to measure itself. It’s actually self-referential, trying as hard as possible to stay a closed loop while also growing every quarter. Saitama got his power by leaving that world, but now can’t reach back and access it well enough to do anything but deal with each individual monster, like the worker who creates each cell phone that drives her economy even while being unable to upgrade herself.

Leave a comment


  1. You had to time it on a bad date, Cuchlann. Really, you just have to resurrect me from the dead with this.

    Okay, let’s talk about this in a non-spoiler standpoint, since you haven’t gotten far on the other types of media for OPM. First off, while the so-called “inner workings” of the Hero Association deem it necessary to rank and file heroes for the organization to work in an economical standpoint, you have to note that the organization works under the pretense of “donations” from people who benefit from what the association does, which is saving people.

    If we look at it from a moral standpoint, the association works similarly to a government that oppresses its people through fear, because the people’s need for these heroes force them to provide monetary aid lest they wind up at the mercy of monsters that the association is tasked to take care of. The association exists as a necessary evil by providing the primary incentive for heroes to do their job: a salary.

    There’s more to the story when we look at each character’s moral compass. Saitama is probably the most notable example of a person who, despite the lack of fame and fortune and his self-assured needs for them, can relegate all these priorities in the sidelines when faced with a moral question. He simply lets his actions speak for themselves, and when questioned about the morality of how he achieved the feat or his credibility in achieving them, he slams everyone with his simple notion of quelling an inner thirst for unbridled heroism without the ethical bindings of rank, file, and money. Contrast Tatsumaki, who flaunts her status without questioning what other people think.

    • cuchlann

       /  7 April 2016

      I… I timed it perfectly. It was my April Fools’ joke… I’m so sorry… ;_;

    • cuchlann

       /  7 April 2016

      Also didn’t you have a birthday recently? Happy late birthday!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: