One Punch Man’s Saitama may be anime’s best example of the old book-and-cover proverb yet.
He’s the last person the world would call for help, an unassuming, unpopular and often unexciting-drawn hero at the bottom of the Hero Association’s rankings for most of the show. Even when he does sort out their problems, because of his one-punch-solves-everything approach, it’s often thought that he’s cheated, or that someone else should get the credit.
The more you look at One Punch Man, the more the show and its hero prove to be an epicentre of misjudgement, and a great allegory for many of the traps a Christian can fall into when it comes to judgement in its many forms. Lining the anime up with Scripture, there are some useful lessons we can take from Saitama’s anticlimactic antics.
1) Discern Justly
Early on, Saitama manages to register with the Hero Association alongside his similarly-overpowered ‘apprentice’, Genos. The latter gets put straight in S Class. Saitama? To his dismay, and our hilarious surprise, his terrible written test scores land him at the bottom of C Class, despite his full marks in the physical exam. But what at first seems just a humiliating joke turns into a debilitating brand as the show progresses, as everything Saitama does is scrutinized against this single round letter, round as his bald and unimpressive head.
The viewer knows that Saitama should be in S Class; they know his strength, his life story. But the world he lives in doesn’t. Rather than find out the truth about him, they’re often given over to rumour and mob mentality, all centred around the belief that the Association’s ranking system is an absolute authority; they question the individual against the system, and the viewer sits in front of their screen dying to see it go the other way round.
This isn’t good discernment, but it’s something we can fall into as Christians. We know that spiritual truths ‘are discerned only through the Spirit’ (1 Cor 2:14); there is no sense of right or wrong in human definitions. What the world sees as good, the Bible – and the spirit inside you – may call sin. Yet, it’s easy to follow labels of human ethics and value, justifying a sin for one’s self because the world calls it, for instance, ‘natural’.
We should remember that ‘the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God’ (1 Cor 2:14); we should, in the first place, ignore how the world rates morality and, like Saitama, know that the world’s definitions are not a good measuring stick for our lives. Saitama knows his own strength no matter how many people tell him to back off because he’s only C or B Class. We know whether we’re doing right or wrong because of God, no matter how much the world says we’re foolish.
2) Never Condemn
While the Bible teaches us to discern with wisdom, as the masses in One Punch Man can’t, the judgement it speaks of in the often-quoted verse ‘do not judge, or you too will be judged'(Matt 7:1) is of another kind – condemnation.
Because of Saitama’s ranking, he is never offered jobs that could challenge him, and is never the first hero called for help, like he should be. He is condemned to the life and reputation of a C Class hero because of his ranking, and only breaks out of that by breaking the system and fighting battles he apparently shouldn’t. The Association only permits this at times because they know how he performed in their tests. The rest of the world doesn’t.
Like One Punch Man’s world, we too can condemn people because of the labels we or the world have given them, mainly because it’s easy. Throughout history, many Protestants have believed that Catholics have had it all wrong and, most importantly, will not be saved because they’re Catholic. Denominations are often treated as much like brands as ranks are in One Punch Man. Bear the right one when you die, and fulfil its terms, and you’re a member of the Salvation Club.
But, like the heroism of One Punch Man, the Christian faith is an individual and personal journey, not bound or divisible by one-word definitions. We can’t understand whether someone’s started that journey or how far they are along it through how they label themselves. Saul, before he became Paul, was the kind of person we could think ‘won’t be saved’, but God had an incredible plan for him.
It’s never our place to condemn, but one of the easiest places to do it is behind the comfort of our own label, attacking the perceived inherent wrongness of another’s. The spirit of truth that guides us needs no such language. Indeed, Paul even spoke out against people labelling Christianity into denominations in the early days of the Church:
‘One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul?’ (1 Cor 1 12-13)
Just as all are one in Christ, all are one in their potential to follow the Way, the Truth and the Life. Do not be deceived by how mankind has tried to define religions. Discern – and do not condemn – with the Spirit instead.
3) Resist an Unequal Yoke
In Episode Nine, we see Saitama’s antithesis, the powerless Mumen Rider, race to fight the Deep Sea King. We hear, in an emotional scene, his cries of how it doesn’t matter what rank you are, or how strong you are – what matters is the fight you give. He proves that heroism is not in strength of superpowers, but strength of resolve. That’s what inspires people. That’s what heroes are for, and a fair reason why Saitama can’t fit in with the rest of them.
But what does this mean for a Christian? The problem is that we can sometimes be the ones of the receiving end of erroneous labels. More specifically, the Bible warns about being ‘yoked with unbelievers’ – that is to say, not to be fixed into working with people who aren’t of the faith for our Christian goals. When oxen are yoked unequally, one is taller than the other, and they end up driving themselves in circles.
The same can happen to us if we use the world’s definition of our religious position and join communities that, when we really get down to it, aren’t what God wants us to a part of, even if the world says that’s where we should go as Christians. If we stay true to our faith like Mumen Rider stayed true to his heroism in spite of his rank, no matter how the world calls it right or wrong, no matter whether we’re called Class C or Class S, Jew or Greek, slave or free (Gal 3:28), we will find that we are all one in Christ, who will guide us to follow him and not the yoking of the world.
Like Saitama, however, we should also be ready for the world to misjudge or misunderstand out actions. Many question how sin can come through one man (Romans 5:12), and salvation through another (John 14:6); the crowds watching Saitama questioned whether he could really kill the Deep Sea King in one punch. Mumen Rider was the only person who thanked him in the end. Whole crowds turned against the apostles in Acts.
We should prepare an answer for this kind of challenge, as Saitama does, and that answer should be as humble as his is. When Saitama downplays his own power, he instead subtly boasts of the heroism of the Association, ensuring that the crowd’s attention is on the strength of heroes other than himself. Our own testimony should also be not of our strength, but Christ’s. To boast of one’s own works is something the world bases much of its guidance on – take pride in yourself! – but it’s just another way of yoking yourself with unbelievers and being counter-productive when people ask you about being a Christian. Instead, boast of the cross. Boast of Christ.
I enjoyed One Punch Man while taking these lessons to heart, meditating on them and giving thanks to God that we can find Biblical wisdom in perhaps as unlikely a source as a satirical Shounen anime.
But what else did you find when watching yourself? Do any of these thoughts remind you of another anime? Have your say in the comments below!
Current theme music: Yellow Claw & Flux Pavilion – Catch Me feat. Naaz