It’s time for Summer 2016 to bust out its “A” game.
OP: “99” by MOB CHOIR
Summer is off to a strong start, no question about it – both in terms of volume of good series and quality at the top, it seems like it has a chance to be above average. But the two shows I’ve had circled on the calendar since they were announced are late arrivals, and ultimately the rise or fall of Mob Psycho 100 and Battery are going to determine just how good a season this summer turns out to be. Given the pedigree behind it I had every reason to suspect Mob Psycho 100 was going to be exceptional, and I’ve seen nothing to dissuade me of that view.
Full disclosure – I saw not just the premiere of Mob Psycho 100 but the second episode as well last week. Bones founder Minami Masahiko hosted a screening at Anime Expo, and I’ll say this much – whatever you thought of the premiere, trust me on this, the second episode is far better. And that’s coming from someone who’d rank the premiere as one of the best of the season. Bear in mind this week’s ep was comprised more of less of omake chapters stitched into a series introduction, with next week’s more the true beginning of the story proper.
The thing is, though, that Mob Psycho 100 isn’t going to be for everybody, just as One Punch Man wasn’t for everybody. Mangaka ONE’s visual style is obviously singular and frankly weird, but his storytelling approach is too, is somewhat subtler ways. This series is frantic and disjointed and way, way over the top – there are definitely elements of stuff like FLCL and Excel Saga here as much as OPM. But I would encourage you to stick with MP100, because – as you know if you watched (or read) One Punch Man, ONE isn’t simply throwing crazy against the wall for its own sake. He’s a writer with a perspective and a vision, with something to say and a good idea of how to say it. And I think Mob Psycho 100 is broadly speaking a more approachable and less overtly ridiculous story in substance than OPM, even if it’s perhaps more so in style.
The key decision Bones made here was to put this adaptation in the hands of Tahcikawa Yuzuru, who for my money is the most exciting young talent in anime. He created, directed and storyboraded and wrote nearly every episode of the magnificent Death Parade at the age of just 32. That was at Madhouse, the same studio that handled One Punch Man – and once again, ONE is very lucky to see his work get stellar treatment from a platinum studio and excellent director. Tachikawa establishes himself with this show as a director who adapts to the material rather than stamping it with a signature style, and MP100 is one of the most visually arresting premieres in a very long time. Bones also put the excellent Yoshimichi Kameda in charge of animation and character design and hired the legendary Kawai Kenji to write the music, so to say this series is obviously in good hands is a massive understatement.
I think what ONE is going for in terms of story and character themes will become much more clear after next week, so digging too deep into that here would sort of be a manga spoiler. For now we meet Reigen Arataka (Sakurai Takahiro at his most unhinged), a sham psychic who runs the “Spirits and Such” agency in the town of Seasoning. Reigen’s job is to sell – when it comes to actually exorcising anything he calls on a real psychic, middle schooler Kageyama “Mob” Shigeo (Ito Setsuo, who gets to the essence of the character perfectly). Mob is a quiet and self-effacing kid who politely does what Reigen orders him to, even as he accepts paltry 300 Yen wages and threadbare bowls of ramen while Reigen pockets the big bucks and throws table salt at the spirits they encounter. At home, Shigeo involuntarily bends spoons to the weary aggravation of his mother and bemusement of his father, as his straight-arrow younger brother Ritsu (Irino Miyu) watches on.
For purposes of the premiere, Tachikawa has effectively decided to set the table, leaving the actual meal for next week. He defines the broad parameters of the story, shows us roughly how the characters relate to each other, and has a good time with a couple of exorcism stories (a guy who jumped so high after seeing a cockroach that he put his head through the ceiling and a motorcycle gang who slipped on a banana peel). He also gives us a sense of just how powerful a psychic Mob is (incidentally, the title “Mob Psycho” really doesn’t translate literally into English – the Japanese meaning is closer to “boring guy psychic”), without wading into just what this “100” countdown is all about. All in good time.
I loved this premiere, which was just overflowing with style and flourish (including the fabulous OP) but again – if you didn’t, stick around for at least one more episode before you decide. There’s a lot going on with Mob Psycho 100 – a highly literate source material, a ridiculously talented director, a great staff – and it seems very likely Bones is going to give this story two cours (possibly split). Tachikawa-sensei intentionally took a modest approach with the premiere, but even in doing so it’s obvious that this show has exceptional written all over it. Once he takes the limiters off, Mob Psycho 100 is going to blow the roof off the place.