Is the humble Mumen Rider the real hero of One-Punch Man? The fantastical One-Punch Man universe is full of outlandish heroes and grotesque villains, each with their own unique gimmick and personality. In fact, there are so many entities in ONE's story that both the heroes and the monsters have their own official "Association" and accompanying labyrinthine headquarters. One-Punch Man is designed as both a battle-based manga and anime in its own right, but also a parody of the genre, seamlessly blending drama and comedy and attaining worldwide acclaim for its originality.
One of the most memorable characters to feature in One-Punch Man, albeit sparingly, is Mumen Rider. A C-class member of the Heroes Association, Mumen Rider is recognizable by his cyclist's uniform, his trusty bike and his cycle-based combat techniques. Of course, "combat" is a relative term when it comes to Mumen Rider, since the hero is characterized as one of Saitama's weakest allies, almost always falling foul of a formidable monster and ending up in a pile of blood and tire rubber. Luckily, Mumen Rider always wears his helmet. More than his two-wheeled obsession, however, Mumen Rider's foremost trait is his unerring sense of duty and justice.
It's easy to pick out lead protagonist Saitama as One-Punch Man's best character, or perhaps his loyal cyborg companion, Genos. However, Mumen Rider certainly makes a strong case for that accolade himself. More than anyone else in One-Punch Man, Mumen Rider embodies the Shonen spirit that the series itself parodies, and it could perhaps be said that the cyclist fills that role even better than most generic anime lead protagonist types can manage. The core of the Mumen Rider character is that no mission is too big or small; he's as willing to direct traffic as he is to take on a giant sea monster without any backup, even though he lacks the strength to fight such enemies.
The one quality that separates Mumen Rider from the pack is that he's fully aware of his weakness, yet admirably tries anyway. Mumen Rider doesn't carry on fighting because he's looking to reach a specific goal, or because he's working towards becoming stronger. In truth, he's one of very few anime characters who fight without a single self-serving motivation in mind, often not even receiving credit for his efforts.
If there is an overriding, non-comedic theme to be found in One-Punch Man, it's the true meaning of being a "hero" and Mumen Rider arguably represents this better than even Saitama. The Caped Baldy simply can't carry those lofty ideals, firstly because he's completely lackadaisical, and secondly because he's comfortably the strongest character in the series. Saitama's bravery has turned to indifference after years of one-punch beatdowns and the urge he once had to help others has turned into more of a hobby than a conviction. In this sense, it's possible that Mumen Rider is a more worthy manifestation of the audience's values than One-Punch Man's title character.
Perhaps this is why Saitama shows so much respect to Mumen Rider during their meetings in One-Punch Man. The bald warrior is hilariously dismissive when faced with higher-ranked heroes, figures of authority or those who proclaim to be aspiring superheroes. However, he has drummed up a mutual friendship with the Mumen Rider in which the two young men, despite a gulf of difference in strength, speak on an even footing. Saitama may be the character leading One-Punch Man, but Mumen Rider may well be the true hero of the piece.
One-Punch Man season 3 is expected to release in mid-2020. More news as it arrives.