WARNING: The following contains spoilers for "The Martial Arts Tournament," the fifth episode of Season 2 of One-Punch Man, streaming now on Hulu.
Ever since his first appearance in the post-credits scene of Season 2's premiere, Garou has been portrayed as an unrepentant villain. As the self-proclaimed Human Monster, One-Punch Man's new antagonist has relentlessly hunted down and beaten members of the Hero Association within an inch of their lives in an attempt to ensure a prophesied monster-fueled apocalypse comes to pass. However, the latest episode shows an unexpected moment of mercy and restraint from Garou, even as the monster apocalypse begins to take shape.
The episode opens where its predecessor left off, with Garou battling his latest target, the superhero Metal Bat who aptly and expertly wields a metal baseball bat. As the hero endures a vicious beating from Garou, the villain discovers that the more punishment the superhero suffers, the more powerful he becomes. However, just as the battle hits an intensifying climax, Metal Bat abruptly ceases his attack just as he was poised to get the drop on Garou. The potential loss of Metal Bat's advantage is quickly revealed to be the sudden appearance of the hero's kid sister, Zenko.
Having pledged to never engage in violence in his impressionable sister's presence, Metal Bat stands down, allowing Garou to quickly regain his bearings. While initially threatened to kill Metal Bat right before Zenko's eyes, Garou surprisingly decides to stop the fight completely, and walks away to the hero's surprise. This is the first unequivocal act of mercy shown by the character, though the concept of Garou having a soft spot for children was teased earlier in the season with the villain confiding in a schoolboy for advice and using him to learn the whereabouts of heroes to hunt. However, this shocking moment reveals that Garou's affinity for children isn't purely manipulative.
Garou's surprising change of heart continues later, as the monsters Phoenix Man and Sludge Jellyfish approach the Human Monster during their mass attack on the city. Impressed by Garou's hero-hunting over the course of the season, they offer Garou membership into the Monster Association, the union of beasts in direct opposition to the Hero Association. In a shocking turn, Garou flatly refuses and instead stomps Sludge Jellyfish, prompting the two to withdraw.
It was revealed earlier this season that Garou had grown up as an ostracized schoolboy, isolated and tormented by his peers. This certainly accounts for the villain's empathy for children, but it also seems to conflict with his motivations to fight heroes. During his upbringing, Garou had watched footage of superheroes defeating monsters, identifying with the behemoths as they were pummeled by more popular figures, and it was presented as if he has training his entire life to avenge the creatures. Phoenix Man and Sludge Jellyfish's offer gave Garou the chance to finally join those he has long identified with, and his refusal of their offer suggests more layers of complexity to the villain than previously seen.
With the monsters poised to return in even greater numbers than ever before as they attempt to bring about the prophesied apocalypse, Garou's sudden conscience transforms the character into more of a wild card than a predictable villain. Whether more heroes will fall to Garou in the interim has yet to be seen, but there's obviously much more to the antagonist than it originally appeared.
Produced by J.C. Staff, new episodes of One-Punch Man debut every Tuesday on Hulu.