Self-improvement 100

Very early on in my anime watching career, I had begun watching One Punch Man. I was immediately a fan. After doing a little research on OPM’s writer, ONE, I set out to watch another anime adaptation of ONE’s works, Mob Psycho 100. And I have to say, I was rather underwhelmed. My first takeaway was, “this is no One Punch Man, is it?” Ironic, then, that this first impression would go on to be true, but only contrary to what I’d first thought. To me, today, Mob Psycho 100 is the pinnacle of ONE’s works. How did I arrive here after such a lukewarm start? Let’s find out.


Our main character, middle schooler Shigeo Kageyama aka Mob, is a boy who possesses psychic abilities that allow him to see and interact with spirits, lift objects, break things, and more. Even among psychics, Mob is overpowered, and when his usually-suppressed emotions reach 100% (hence the title) he goes into an uncontrollable ‘rage mode’. The series can be summed up as Mob trying to find a workaround to make sure he does not end up harming innocent people with this set of frighteningly powerful tools.


Looking back, I can understand why I did not think much of it initially. Mob Psycho 100 is a bit of a hard sell to anime newbies. The style of comedy can only be described as ‘frantic’ and ‘energetic’, which can be a bit much at first. The story is similarly frantic and is very much all over the place. It takes a while to decide what it’s even about, or where it wants to go.


It starts off with Mob’s apprenticeship with Reigen, a fraudster who runs an ‘exorcism clinic’ where he claims to be able to see and ward off evil spirits, while not having a shred of psychic ability himself. He relies on Mob for jobs requiring actual exorcism, while using his talent as a fraud to get through the rest. He’s a fantastic character. I was able to get through the first half of season 1 solely because of him.


He has a bunch of ‘special moves’ (such as ‘Salt Splash’, where he just throws salt around) that he claims are effective against spirits. One group of clients shows up at his office, asking for a ‘supernatural photograph’ (the kind where you can’t see anything around you but when you check the photo, a spirit is right behind you). They return afterwards, terrified, because a spirit has actually shown up in the image! They were only joking around; they weren’t expecting it to actually happen! No worries, Reigen says. He has a ‘special move’ to deal with that.


The ‘special move’?


Photoshop.


I lost it. The combination of the energetic smooth-talking Reigen with the unassuming deadpan Mob is a great source of comedy.


One of Reigen's 'special moves'

They also have a rather complex relationship that forms one of the cores of the series. Reigen is quite clearly an unscrupulous man who underpays Mob, but is also looking out for him and mentoring him in life. Whenever he does something nice for Mob, you have to wonder: is it for Mob’s sake or is it just because he wants Mob to continue working for him? They could have just left it at that as a point of humour, but season 2 escalates the conflict that this dynamic brings, resulting in one of the high points of the entire series. I like how it didn’t just play things safe between them.


The same can be said of the relationship between Mob and his brother Ritsu. Ritsu is always seen as supportive of his elder brother, appreciating him and admiring him for his psychic abilities (only a small fraction of the population possesses these abilities). Again, this could have been left as is, to keep things pleasant. But the writers peel off a layer of Ritsu to show the depth beneath: jealousy, resentment, inferiority.


The subplot with Ritsu was where I truly started to be engaged with season 1. It brings into focus the importance of Mob’s relationship with a father figure like Reigen, something that Ritsu did not have.


There are many other such engaging character-focused subplots, such as those with Teru Hanazawa (an arrogant psychic from another school), Dimple (a spirit that starts a brainwashing cult), Tsubame (school idol and Mob’s crush), the Body Improvement Club (a bunch of muscle dudes that Mob exercises with), and other characters. Some of these subplots fall flat though, and can occasionally feel like filler.


The Body Improvement Club

The most important relationship is that of Mob with himself. He is a gloomy, self-deprecating person who does not think his powers are useful in any way. In fact, it’s worse than this: when he’s in 100% mode, he can no longer control himself, and hurts those around him, even the ones he loves. He therefore avoids using his powers, and thinks little of them. By extension, he also thinks little of himself, and suppresses his emotions at all times, to avoid causing harm. Mob Psycho 100, at its core, is the story of Mob’s self-improvement: how he sees his place in the world, how he reaches out and makes connections, how he comes to terms with his emotions, and how this makes his sense of self-worth rise. There are people like Reigen to help him along the way, but ultimately any improvement needs to come from within. It’s quite touching.


An anime about psychics must feature psychic battles, and Mob Psycho 100 provides this. And how! The crudely drawn character designs (made to mimic the style of ONE’s original webcomic) can look a bit cheap at times, but they are in their element when the action begins. The crudeness of the lines lends itself very well to the ‘pencil-heavy’ art style of the action scenes. The bright, psychedelic colouring only enhances this further. Mob Psycho 100 was something of a passion project for Studio Bones, and it shows. Some of the psychic battles, especially in season 2, are very innovative, and don’t simply rely on bashing things against each other.


The psychedelic colouring really comes to the fore in scenes like this

A shame, then, that the ‘final bosses’ of both seasons were let-downs. The battles weren’t too special when compared to what came earlier, and these villains lack the complexity that other characters had. In fact, none of the villains impressed me too much. Even the arc with the most promising of these villains, the bitter and misanthropic evil spirit Mogami, was still a letdown because the arc felt rushed. Moreover, the writers did not push the characters far enough. At no point was I able to feel the emotional torture that the characters were supposed to be put through by the twisted Mogami. Perhaps they were afraid of alienating their younger target audience. Mob Psycho 100 is a shonen anime, after all.


But despite the underwhelming antagonists and weak conclusions to both seasons, I am very positive about Mob Psycho 100. Hoping there’ll be a season 3 to wrap it all up.





Scores


Art: A. Looks cool and trippy, but character designs look a bit cheap.


Animation: A+. Amazingly fluid action, with consistency in quality throughout the series.


Music: B. Nothing too standout here. Catchy opening songs.


Acting (Japanese): A. Energetic performances from all characters, especially Takahiro Sakurai’s charismatic Reigen and Tatsuomi Hamada’s soft-spoken Mob.


Acting (English Dub): B+. Mostly good. Chris Niosi’s Reigen is great, but Mob is better in Japanese.


Story: B+. A bit unfocused, with story threads transitioning a bit poorly from one to the other, especially from the first half of season 1 to the second half. Season 2 mostly improves on this with an overarching plot.


Characters: A. Realistically flawed characters. The heart of this anime, and what makes it special. Plenty of character conflict and bonding.


Overall Grade: A

Mob Psycho 100 boasts consistently high production values, zany comedy, and interesting and likable characters, which more than makes up for the meandering plot. A modern classic.

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