In American superhero culture there is an often annoying discussion about power-level in regards to fictional characters. The logic of any shonen action series or superhero story steeped in thematic morals is that the hero with the strongest will and heart wins specifically because of those components.
Yet still people will get all up in arms, partly because suspension of disbelief is often integral to the balance needed to keep audiences entertained. The other reason is that characters who are overpowered are often criticised because their power seems unearned, their victories seem illogical, or that there is no tension. It is the same reason why Superman is such a divisive character.
Funnily enough, the works of manga artist ONE seem to avoid these issues in discussion surrounding the works. It could be because the very nature of characters being overpowered are the point of the story like in One Punch Man, but there is more to it than that. After finally watching Mob Psycho 100, it is apparent that ONE’s talent comes from his ability to tackle complex themes and to produce tension and stakes through character drama rather than simply through the power levels of the characters.
Now that I have finally watched it, One thing is for sure, and it is that I am even more angry that Mob Psycho 100 did not win best animation back in 2016.
Mob Psycho 100 is a series about self-betterment. Shigeo Kageyama is a middle schooler with psychic abilities who goes by the nickname “Mob.” Despite how impressive these abilities are, he represses his gifts, believing that they don’t actually make him a better person. This aversion to using his abilities has created a complex and made him less emotionally expressive.
Over the course of the series, Mob, comes face to face with other psychics whose ideologies clash with his own. One early antagonist, Teruki Hanazawa, sees himself as the “protagonist” in his world because of his psychic powers. He is defined by his ability and sees Mob as a threat to his way of life. Mob, on the other hand, doesn’t want to be personified by his power because it can be dangerous.
A big influence on Mob is Reigen Arataka, a phony medium who offers spiritual consulting to unwitting clients. He has Mob exorcise actual ghosts under the guise of being his master, despite not actually having any supernatural powers himself. Sure, he is a con-man, but he understands that everyone wants to feel happy. Thus, he is willing to entertain people’s superstitions and delusions if it offers him the chance to make an actual impact.
Furthermore, he is a genuinely good teacher to Mob when it counts. Just as most people learn how to be careful with knives, Reigen explains the same concept in regards to psychic powers. Just because he has power, doesn’t mean it should be used. Mob isn’t a superhero, but a normal kid who simply has an incredibly powerful ability. His journey is about finding a self that isn’t nothing without those powers.
One early episode sees him choosing to become part of the Body Improvement club, so he can get more physically strong in order to feel better about himself. Sure, he is doing it to get the attention of his crush like a lot of impressionable young men, but he still expresses interest because it will help him better himself, which makes is admirable.
In fact, both him and Reigen are an exceptional duo. The former for his journey of self-betterment and the latter for his quick wit and positive people skills. Reigen’s shining moment(s) during the finale elevated him to a level of cool that I was prepared for.
In the midst of an impressive, yet hilarious battle, Reigen delivers a monologue that is practically a response to every supervillain. In this bizarre way, Mob Psycho 100 gets to have it both ways. It gets to dazzle us with incredible battles, all while saying something about power and it’s effect on what could be good people.
Coming from the same mind as One Punch Man, this series has a ton of characters and even those with less depth leave impact either through comedy or design. My favorite has to be Mob’s little brother Ritsu, who struggles power in his own way during one of the more emotional arcs this season. Much like One Punch Man, there were very few characters I did not like.
This series was directed by Yuzuru Tachikawa, who I know primarily from Death Parade. Now, I don’t think this is a tear jerker like that show was, but I won’t pretend this doesn’t have a lot of heart when it comes to characters. Tachikawa does a great job of translating characters’ very complex emotions in a dramatic spectacle that is easy to parse, yet more deep the further you explore. Another win for a director I hope to see more of in the future.
I was shocked to see that the music was done by Kenji Kawai. I think Kawai is cursed by the fact that perhaps his most notable works are Ghost in the Shell and thus there is a sound I come to expect. I was a little underwhelmed by his work on Towa no Quon but I’m happy to say that the music in this series is mostly good when it gets more experimental.
That being said, some tracks can sound a bit lifeless in comparison, almost like the music you’d play in a parody of a genre. Although, given the show’s forays into comedy, this could be somewhat intentional. Rest assured, you won’t be disappointed with the sound during any of the incredible action scenes.
Is it even worth talking about the animation here? I know this is around the point where I start talking about that but I feel like I’d just be stating the obvious. To that point, I’ll just leave a leave a link to the sakugabooru page.
Honestly, the closest to an issue I have with the show is that some action scenes, while beautiful, could induce some amount of fatigue after a bit too much. It is certainly not a fault with animation, but perhaps instead some pacing in certain episodes. Who knows, perhaps I was just adjusting. This series is exactly the kind of thing I have been waiting for for ages.
Remember when One Punch Man was praised for being one of the most well-animated series ever? It really was a masterpiece in regards to just grabbing as much talent as humanly possible. Funnily enough, people credit Madhouse with producing it, but it is a Madhouse production in name only. Most of the animation was outsourced to Bones, Gainax, and Production I.G. The show itself was like an art exhibit and a tribute to the industry.
Mob Psycho on the other hand? It is the next level.
Which makes it even more frustrating that Mob Psycho 100 did not win Best Animation back in 2016. I know this is old news but having finished it I am officially allowed to be mad about this now. I loved Yuri on Ice, that’s not up for debate, but it got way more than it deserved and you know it.
Allow me to illustrate: on Sakugabooru, Yuri on Ice has about 25 entries, 15 of which are actual cuts from the first season. There are some notable dance numbers missing so I’ll give them about 10-15 more cuts out of generosity. For a 12 episode series, that’s about 30 which is good. But… Mob Psycho has about 166 entries and that’s excluding season two. I’m just saying it shouldn’t have been a difficult choice.
In the same way that a show like FLCL is revered for its experimentation, I think this show will be remembered for its display of the peak of all forms of animation. That, and its heartfelt discussion of power and self-betterment.
Mob Psycho 100 is available for legal streaming through Crunchyroll and FunimationNow. It is also available on Blu-Ray through Funimation.
Leave a comment below telling me what you think of Mob Psycho 100. Yes, I will be reviewing the second season, but my next post will be covering the Netflix release of Evangelion. For real, I’m probably just going to do a review of the series and the films since I have not actually gotten around to finishing the series.
Anyways, after that, expect my season two review of Mob Psycho, which will also be the last post made while I am in Japan. Don’t wanna spoil the review, but I think it will be very satisfying to end my time here in Japan reviewing that show.
Thank you all for reading and I will see you next time!