Greetings. This is a post I’ve written back in 2019 because a friend asked me to. I debated over updating the old version or releasing as a new post and decided on the latter so here I am. There are a couple of my really old posts that I want to revisit because, while I’m still not competent, I feel that I’m in better shape for discussing them. The bulk of the post is the same, there are some additions, reformatting, and rewording. Enjoy ~
I never felt the need to comment on this, most probably because I never thought this deeply about both of the shows, however, what got my gears into moving was Namjoon’s review of their album LY: Tear. In his Vlive, he mentioned how he preferred Anpanman over One Punch Man because instead of being an almighty powerful character like Saitama, Anpanman was weak, to help the others they were sacrificing from themselves and thus, more of a relatable character for BTS.
I first learned about Anpanman after reading (and then watching) One Punch Man, since Anpanman was the inspiration for One during the process of creating the characters. Together with Mob Psycho 100, these series deal with the notion of “power” in very unique ways and that’s what drew me to them. Looking at both ANP and OPM side by side, I think they both encapsulate their respectful historical backgrounds extremely well.
Although ANP had started being serialized in 1973, we know that Takashi Yanase based the character on his unfortunate experiences during WW2, where he was at the beginning of his 20’s. Of course, the main reason for the characters and the storyline’s simplicity is due to show is geared towards children, so I don’t think a very deep reading is necessary. In this regard, I just want to point out that due to the political climate of the world with superpowers, there was a more polarized view of the reality with ‘extremely good’ and ‘pure evil’ — the polar opposites on the moral spectrum. And this manifested itself in literature, and in media as well. That being said, I truly like the naivety and the notion of giving from yourself to lighten the burden on others metaphor used in ANP.
Fast-forwarding to our modern world, where does all this put Saitama, our mighty hero who sacrificed his hair through ”rigorous” training? A reading where his character is the embodiment of a modern person in a capitalistic society made perfect sense to me. Saitama had the dream of becoming a superhero when he was a kid. This dream was as pure as it could get, naive and excited like any kid. However, growing up, he faces the reality of the world and gives up on these aspirations. He’s dejected from failing every job interview he tried for, tired of having to put up with something he doesn’t want to be a part of in the first place. That’s when he meets the giant crab villain looking for a kid (who happens to be the son of the founder of Hero Association, judging from the chins). Saitama doesn’t care what happens to the kid, he keeps questioning his motives even when he’s fighting the villain and putting his own life on the line to save the child. Although saving the kid looks as if it happened reflexively, doing something “right” or “worthy” rekindles his childhood excitement and that’s when he starts his training regime to become a superhero.
What’s important to point out here first, is The Hero Association. What should be born out of the rightfulness or moral obligation of an individual as we usually see in American hero stories, Hero Association is quite ‘corporal’.
Heroes have a hierarchy amongst themselves, their salary is decided according to their levels. They may get promotions or demotion depending on their performance. They have a company building, have meetings with the CEO or founder, work together with the police force, they hold written and physical exams to employ new heroes. The notion of “being a hero” is institutionalized, dissected, and is controlled, it’s a profession that doesn’t necessarily depend on the moral duty of the individual. This institutionalization makes way for the job to become a part of the capitalist scheme and heroism has become a part of the overall ideology’s tool.
This doesn’t mean every hero slowly turns into a ‘company drone’ during their career, but we do see plenty of examples of heroes that heavily focus on recognition, fanservice, quotas, and work efficiency. Then, we have Saitama as a part of this institution. He says he never wanted to become an office worker, yet his childhood dream of being a hero doesn’t help him escape the dull and exploitative cycle of work experience either. At the beginning of the first season, he looks equally depressed and withdrawn when he was job-hunting.
Carefully considering his situation, he’s so overqualified for his job to a point where no one believes his strength. He’s a C-level hero who has to wander around, searching for potential villains so he can meet the quota, hopefully, promote to B-level, and earn more. Not only he’s not recognized or praised for his hard work, since his potential is not used fully and he cannot find a single villain worthy of calling an opponent, he feels hollow. He knows he doesn’t make any impact on world peace, considering the amount of villains is not dropping in any way, he loses his determination and will to continue the job as he wanted to when he was a kid.
This alienation Saitama feels is very interesting, and I think, very relatable as well. He no longer has any aspirations for the future of the country/other people/himself. When Genos appears at his door, begging Saitama to take him as his disciple, he only accepts him after Genos offers to pay half the rent and bills, not because Saitama wants to pass his own techniques or values on the next generation. What all these made me think was, although Saitama can bring down each and every villain there is to exist with just a single punch, the only enemy he is yet to defeat is something that’s smaller than him, yet it has seeped into every corner of our lives so firmly that we cannot identify the whole, or point out a definite and pure evil, chips away at our energy, drains us bit by bit while remaining invisible.
What makes this alienation from his dream and circumstances this powerful? And what exactly brings Saitama down? I want to quote two parts from Althusser’s Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, where he dwells on the endless chain and circulation of capital, and where labor-power (=worker) stands in Marxist theory.
“A moment’s reflection is enough to be convinced of this: Mr. X, a capitalist who produces woolen yarn in his spinning mill, has to ‘reproduce’ his raw material, his machines, etc. But he does not produce them for his own production – other capitalists do: an Australian sheep farmer, Mr. Y, a heavy engineer producing machine-tools, Mr. Z, etc., etc. And Mr. Y and Mr. Z, in order to produce those products which are the condition of the reproduction of Mr. X’s conditions of production, also have to reproduce the conditions of their own production, and so on to infinity – the whole in proportions such that, on the national and even the world market, the demand for means of production (for reproduction) can be satisfied by the supply.”
Hence, dividing the totality of production causes one to lose control over the whole process, making them dependent on other branches for the reproduction of what constitutes their livelihood. This shows itself in the evaluation process of the deeds done by the heroes. In the extra chapter of the 5th volume, Saitama is in front of a vending machine and there’s a new drink that he wants to try but he’s 30 yen short. When he’s trying to convince himself that, well, a red bean jelly cider drink couldn’t possibly taste good anyway, ironically, a huge monster he just one-punched lies unconscious behind him.
Then, he has an internal monologue where he talks about the system of the Hero Association. Heroes are paid monthly according to their ranks, and their ranks are based on the points they get after their actions. However, the criteria behind how those points are distributed are only known by the board. And no hero can openly complain about the whole process because essentially they should be continuing to help people out of compassion or moral duty.
“How is the reproduction of labor-power ensured?
It is ensured by giving labor-power the material means with which to reproduce itself: by wages. Wages feature in the accounting of each enterprise, but as ‘wage capital’ (or as introduced by Marx, variable capital) not at all as a condition of the material reproduction of labor-power. (…) the wherewithal to pay for housing, food, and clothing, in short, to enable the wage earner to present himself again at the factory gate the next day – and every further day God grants him); and we should add: indispensable for raising and educating the children in whom the proletarian reproduces himself as labor-power.
Remember that this quantity of value (wages) necessary for the reproduction of labor-power is determined not by the needs of a ‘biological’ guaranteed minimum wage [salaire minimum interprefcssionnel garanti] alone, but by the needs of a historical minimum (Marx noted that English workers need beer while French proletarians need wine) – i.e. a historically variable minimum.”
Of course, it’s not only about workers and their salary, but another strictly necessary criteria to be met is also that you obey the rules that you are subjected to. You also have to reproduce the next generation.
“I shall say that the reproduction of labor-power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order, i.e. a reproduction of submission to the ruling ideology for the workers, and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression, so that they, too, will provide for the domination of the ruling class ‘in words ‘ .”
There were a lot of reproductions there that it started to sound like Althusser was rapping. But in short, capitalism needs you alive and present at work every day while paying you shit and it works because it feeds on our desperation, depression, and solitude. The current approach to mental health issues takes societal inequality and systematic oppression into account more than it used to, and Saitama in the second season looked like a testament to that to me. He has finally found friends he can click and spend time with apart from work, that’s also when he, for the first time, tries to branch out and try something different to get stronger: martial arts.
Whew, if you have managed to read my rambling up until now, you earned yourself a hug. One Punch Man is one of my favorite shounen series and while it’s possible that I’m reading too much into it, I had fun doing it and visiting some of the older texts I have read in the meantime. Thanks for giving it a read, have a nice day, and don’t forget to fight the patriarchy. (ง •̀_•́)ง
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