Mob Psycho 100 wasn’t the first series this season to really get started only with its second episode (I would argue Handa-kun falls under that same umbrella), but it’s certainly the best. The calendar premiere of Mob Psycho was basically a setup episode, broadly defining the parameters of the story and allowing director Tachikawa Yuzuru to show off the visual and aural style he intended to employ with the series. It worked, but in order to get a feel for why you should invest yourself in this show rather than just look at it, this was the episode where you really needed to pay attention and make up your mind.
As I mentioned last week I saw both episodes at Anime Expo, and this one really blew me away. But I’ve learned you can’t totally trust your reactions when you watch a TV show or a movie with a highly partisan crowd, and the one at A/X certainly qualifies. They were loud and enthusiastic, and Bones founder Masahiko Minami was sitting less than ten meters away from me – it would be easy to be caught up in the moment. But now, having seen both of the first two episodes at home, my initial reactions have been borne out – this is a pretty spectacular series, a stunning display by Tachikawa, and this was the episode that started to prove it.
The thing about Mob Psycho 100 is that it’s mangaka ONE’s full-time job. One Punch Man, for all its fame and glory, is a pretty spartan thing as a webcomic – it’s only when it’s illustrated by Murata Yusuke or adapted to the screen by Madhouse and Nagasaki Kenji that it’s a fully realized work. But I would argue that’s not because ONE is incapable of fully realizing it as an artist – it’s simply that it’s not his top priority, Mob Psycho 100 is. And I think that’s reflected in the writing as much as the art. There seems to be a broad consensus that ONE is a terrible artist and has to be propped up by a big-time illustrator like Murata-sensei or an anime director, but I disagree – I think he’s a fascinating artist with an ingenious mastery of using the format in unconventional ways whose drawing just happens to be very weird.
That said, there’s no question that adding arguably the greatest young gun in anime in Tachikawa (ONE himself is even younger, just 30) elevates MP100 to a new level of brilliance. As for the writing itself, it’s fairly easy with both Mob Psycho and OPM to get caught up in the notion that these are gimmick series – one-trick ponies that rely on a hook to be interesting. What you realize with both series (and even more so with this one) if you stick around and pay attention is that there’s a lot of depth and subtlety to what ONE is doing. The madcap surrealism is important, but so are the characters and the social commentary ONE is slipping past the goalie while your attention is elsewhere.
What struck me about Mob Psycho – both in general and in comparison to One Punch Man – is its warmth and its innocence. Tachikawa has said that there’s a sweetness to Mob Psycho 100 that really appeals to him, and I totally agree. Mob is a highly sympathetic character who has goals anyone can relate to – he just wants to quietly live his life and achieve some kind of personal fulfillment while helping a few people. Of course he happens to be an insanely powerful psychic, and while he never asked for that blessing or curse, it consistently interferes with his ability to do what he’d like to do. Spirits and such don’t really trouble Mob very much, but put him next to a couple of brash girls or in the midst of any athletic competition and he’s terrified. In other words, Mob is a nice, average 13 year-old boy who happens to be a freakishly powerful esper. But the story of MP100 is more about the former than the latter.
That, I think, is why I liked this episode more than the premiere. The true balance of Mob Psycho is much better represented here, because much of it places Mob in a self-reflective mood, and physically places him at school – where some of this series’ funniest material takes place. Reigen is in more of a supporting role, and while I like Reigen and his relationship with Mob is more nuanced and benevolent then the premiere would lead you to believe, the humor works better when he’s not as omnipresent as he was in the first ep. This week introduced the Telepathy Club and its president, Kurata Tome (Tanezaki Ayumi) – a thinly-disguised excuse for its layabout members to waste their precious youth that’s come under threat after its fifth member quits.
As a “bum” Mob seems the perfect candidate to fill in, and he innocently asks Reigen whether he should do so or not. Again we see Mob in his natural state – trusting, self-effacing, but questing for something. Reigen of course wants nothing to do with having to compete for time with his golden goose and selfishly urges Mob to walk, but of course he’s right with every one of his accusations – the club is a front for time-wasting and Kurata-san is turning on the crocodile tears in a bid for sympathy. There’s also a hilarious subplot here which finds Mob and Reigen going undercover at a girls school after having been hired to rid it of a peeping spirit – who turns out to be a loser for whom death has been a lot more fun than his frustrated life. He sees a kindred soul in the awkward and anxious Mob, and his pointing that out is what pushes Mob towards trying to extract something more out of his wastrel youth the 300 Yen and a takoyaki or two.
The payoff of the episode, involving the Body Improvement Club, is a beautiful punchline exquisitely brought off by Tachikawa. And this ep is full of his auteur creative explosions, like the way he shoots the phone conversations which are central to the plot. As a story about a boy in the throes of puberty caught up in fantastical events that’s shot in a frenetic, fantastically colorful style, it’s hard not to see Mob Psycho 100 as a step-child of FLCL. And there are certainly echoes of it in both the writing and direction, though ONE’s peculiar sensibility shines through every bit as much as Tachikawa’s. This is the sort of strange and exuberant psychological deconstruction that you really only see in anime, and every time we get a series like Mob Psycho 100 (which isn’t all that often) it makes me heartily pleased that the medium exists, and that I happened to discover it.