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April 24, 2017

Let’s discuss Mumen Rider.

Okay, so I know that I’ve said some controversial stuff on this blog before -- COUGHunchartedCOUGH -- but I don’t think anyone’s going to take too much issue with what I have to say next: Mumen Rider is the best character in One Punch Man.  And that’s saying something, if you ask me.

Though while we’re on the subject?  Let me back up and say that One Punch Man is, on the whole, a pretty freakin’ good anime.  Its popularity may have surged relatively recently -- and thus people have likely started throwing stones at it -- but much like JoJo or Attack on Titan, I’d say that that popularity is deserved.  And now that I’ve said that, I’m just going to spend the rest of this post gushing over how freakin’ sick Mumen Rider is as a character.  Like, I would absolutely be down for a full-on Mumen Rider series -- not spinoff, but series -- starring the cyclist for justice.  Granted it’s not a guaranteed success, but…hey, it’d at least be something that caters to me.  And that’s what matters most.

Now everybody sit down and shut up, because Mumen Rider said so.  Or someone of relative import.

So for those who aren’t aware (in which case, shame on you), One Punch Man is bursting at the seams with superheroes.  That also means that there are supervillains, naturally -- villains, mad scientists, alien invaders, mutants, etc. -- because somebody has to get punched by somebody, and it’s probably not going to be Mrs. Tanaka down the road.  Ideally.  To counter the small- and large-scale threats that emerge throughout the myriad cities, the Her Association was formed to make the process official and efficient, i.e. deploy super fighting men and women around the world as needed.

It’s an organization that, as you’d expect, organizes heroes and threats alike.  On one hand, the threats are ranked in terms of disaster levels, ranging from Wolf to Tiger to Demon to Dragon to God -- the last of which means that humanity itself is at stake.  On the other hand, the heroes are sorted out too; they range from C-Class, everyday agents of justice to S-Class superstars (with proportionate levels of fame and power).  There’s some stuff worth unpacking vis a vis the ranking system, but I’ll have to get to that another day.  Right now we have other, better things to focus on.

Mumen Rider is a C-Class hero, and the top-ranked one at that.  But in a world where godlike strength, super speed, cybernetic enhancements, psychic powers, and inhuman swordsmanship are the norm, Mumen Rider has -- wait for it -- none of that.  His only power of note is the ability to ride a standard bicycle -- so no, he’s not exactly someone you’d call gifted.  Though he’s just shy of being a palette swap of a Kamen Rider (if you ignore his lack of an insectoid helmet), he doesn’t have anything going for him in terms of skills, tools, or abilities.  Hell, one of his first “fights” has him sprawled on the ground after an abrupt cut.  Our hero, right?

Okay, but here’s the thing.  In order to maintain a C-Class rank, you have to be willing to meet a certain quota of activity -- i.e. do a bunch of street-level tasks, community service, and/or thwarting of crimes.  It’s safe to say that it’s a system designed to weed out the pretenders or the chronically lazy, but that same system makes for a way for would-be heroes to move up in the organization.  Think of it as grinding in an MMO; the more “quests” you do, the more “points” you gain, which in turn help you go from the bottom rank to a top slot.  So if we follow that logic?  Despite being wholly unable to beat any malcontent stronger than a surly drunkard (and even then…), Mumen Rider made his way to the highest rank just by doing the tasks guys like Silver Fang or Atomic Samurai would gladly overlook.  And on top of that, we’re not talking about Mumen Rider “grinding” by killing a bunch of boars in a forest.  He’s ranked #1 because he did more good deeds than anyone else in the class -- potentially, in any class.

What a hero.

It’s worth noting that, because he’s ranked number one in Class C, he’s qualified to move up to the next level.  Even so, he refuses and stays put at the highest slot in the lowest class.  Why?  The obvious one, and the point he’s acknowledged himself, is that he’s nowhere near strong enough to take on the tougher enemies that Class B would go up against.  Fair point -- plus it’s not as if he’s got the resources or technology to face evildoers like Batman would, so that’s a double-strike against him.  But if you ask me?  My guess is that Mumen Rider is happy where he is -- deep in the grassroots of heroism, but down to earth because of it.

All of the big-name or super-strong heroes out there get called on for amazing feats -- to counter disasters or attackers as they come.  It’s fantastical stuff, as you’d expect from an anime/manga/webcomic.  But Mumen Rider keeps it real, and acts how a superhero in the real world might; it’s not about beating down evildoers or stopping meteors cold, but helping innocent, well-meaning civilians with whatever problems crop up in their daily lives.  It’s about helping to enforce the rules and law, so that the police don’t have to overextend.  It’s about being a symbol -- maybe not of godlike strength or unrivaled glory, but of someone people can look to when things aren’t going their way.  If you need support, a hand, or someone in your corner, Mumen Rider is there.

It’s an important aspect of the One Punch Man mythos.  If it was a story that just followed a guy who can beat pretty much anything with one punch, then that would be something.  But because there are multiple heroes, it creates all sorts of unique opportunities -- chances for the story to explore different aspects of heroism, ideals, and the people who uphold them.  The official anime hasn’t gone whole hog with that just yet -- as of writing there’s only one season and 12 episodes -- but there’s still more than enough to digest.

One of the major events of the anime thus far is the Sea Monster arc (inasmuch as you can call a couple of episodes an arc).  In it, the Deep Sea King shows up with a handful of his aquatic goons and starts laying waste to whatever’s in their way -- as marine menaces are wont to do.  It’s a dire situation, because not only is the Deep Sea King powerful in his own right, but also stronger than ever; since it’s raining, he gets a power boost and repeated evolutions whenever he feels like it.  It’s not exactly soothing to know that the world is being threatened by a guy who looks like this, but whatever.  Let it rock.

You would think that beating the Deep Sea King would be a breeze given the main character and the premise.  But since the whole story is just two steps short of being Superdickery: Anime Arrange, Saitama -- whose special abilities include hyper speed -- bumbles around the city while people, civilian and hero alike, are at risk of getting slaughtered.  Plenty of them do, or at least get close to it; even S-Class heroes can’t take the Deep Sea King down, and cyborg sidekick Genos very nearly ends up getting melted to nothing by acid, just so he can protect an innocent girl.

Saitama is…yeah, he’s kind of an asshole.  But it’s fine, because Mumen Rider shows up and decides to do what he does best: be a hero.  You know that he’s got no shot of succeeding against a guy who took on (and out) some of the best guys the Hero Association has to offer.  He knows it too.  But he ends up taking on the Deep Sea King, alone, unarmed -- except for his bike, and he tosses that at the marine monarch as part of his opening gambit.

What follows isn’t a come-from-behind victory for Mumen Rider.  What follows is one of the best anime moments in years.

What a goddamned hero.  Mumen Rider’s courage and valor drive him to fight the Deep Sea King, even if his chances of winning are less than zero.  And yes, to some extent you could say he did it for selfish reasons -- to mend his fractured pride, to overcome his feelings of inadequacy in the face of a system that literally tells him to know his place -- but I think that he’s absolutely sincere about wanting to do the right thing.  In this case, “the right thing” is fighting on behalf of the innocent, and going up against a bully from the ocean depths.

Mumen Rider loses to the Deep Sea King, and handily, and instantly.  It wouldn’t have surprised me if he died right then and there (and honestly, I kind of expected it…even if it would have torn my heart in two).  But even if he didn’t punch out the bad guy, there are victories that no villain could ever take away.  The obvious one?  The people of the city are facing their darkest hour, pitted against a menace eager to wipe them out.  Despair spreads like wildfire in their hearts and before their eyes; one champion after another has failed to stop the oceanic invaders, after all.  As valuable as it would’ve been to have someone resolve the situation instantly (Saitama), they need more than that.  They need a symbol of hope to provide solace, not just someone who punches really, really hard.  Guess who’s there to fill that niche?

But wait, there’s more!  Remember, the objective here isn’t just “beat the bad guy”.  It’s “protect the innocent”.  And when no one else could, Mumen Rider did.  Even though he couldn’t hold the line for very long, he did what he could for as long as he could -- despite the massive risks he took.  If he hadn’t stepped in, then the arc would’ve had a much sadder ending.  Genos would’ve died.  Every last human in that shelter -- man, woman, and child -- would’ve died.  The heroes left battered and scattered would’ve been easy pickings for the king and his men, so that’s another round of deaths that would’ve crippled the Hero Association.

Thank God that Mumen Rider stepped in.  By choosing to take a stand, he gave Saitama just the amount of time he needed to find the Deep Sea King and finish the fight conclusively.  So even if Saitama managed to steal the “hero saves the day” moment in the breadth of a nanosecond, Mumen Rider managed to do something more.  He managed to become more, despite losing in a spectacular fashion.  Maybe someone will know Saitama’s name by heart someday, but for now?  Mumen Rider, the cyclist for justice, is deservedly on the lips of the masses.

Why?  Simple.  Because he’s a god.  Damned.  MotherFuckingHERO.

It really says a lot about a show when one of its characters could stand easily earn a spinoff series.  But here we are with One Punch Man, with one of the greatest heroes ever committed to the airwaves.  Here we are with Mumen Rider, a guy whose speech gets my tear ducts all limbered up every time I watch a repeat of it.  And here we are with an anime and comic with an eclectic cast of characters -- any one of which might have the potential for a spinoff to call their own.

What do I mean?  Well, I‘ll get to that another time.  But for now?  Let’s all just take a moment to salute the one and only cyclist for justice.  Salute, and never, ever stop saluting.

God Bless You, Mumen Rider.  You and your weird chili bowl helmet thing.

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