You want anime? I got your anime right here.
This was the first episode of Mob Psycho 100 that I truly came into cold, having seen a preview screening of the first two at Anime Expo. To say that it lived up to my expectations would be an understatement. The premiere of this series gave a little taste of what was possible, what was to come; the second delivered on a sizable chunk of that possibility. Now we see Mob Psycho in its true form, just as we see Mob in his true form – this is a series that’s so much more than the superficial flash and style (though that itself is pretty damn impressive).
As we begin, Mob is trying to find his way in the Body Improvement Club – a process that once again proves that if God exists, being a 13 year-old boy can be a cruel joke. Fortunately for all concerned, the Body Improvement guys actually turn out to be a pretty decent sort – they let the derelict Telepathy Club use their equipment room, and they kindly carry the unconscious Mob into the care of the Telepathy Club after he passes out. Kurata-san is highly skeptical of Mob’s ambitions to be popular (cruelly so, in fact), and of his psychic powers. A demonstration quickly puts a stop to that, and Kurata’s moment of inspiration is a comic highlight of the episode (Tanezaki Atsumi is a hugely underrated comic actress).
Comedy is part and parcel to what Mob Psycho 100 is, no doubt about that, and Tachikawa-sensei clearly understands how to maximize it. Take the moment when the “psychic” on the street tries to guess what’s troubling Mob, and only after trying every other possible answer gets it right with “love” (duh – he’s 13). And in reply, Mob completely sums up the farcical appeal of real-world psychics with “How did you know?!” The scenario for this episode is no accident, I think, because MP100 is definitely a series where there’s a lot going on underneath the laughter – which is really just what gets us in the door.
Religious cults are serious business in Japan, for starters, at the center of some of modern Japan’s darkest moments. It’s pretty clear from the beginning (even if you aren’t an esper) that the “Dimple” religion the woman drags Mob off to see is a sham, and a sinister one. Also present is Mezato Ichi (the stellar Fujimura Ayumi) – you’ve seen her already if you’ve been paying attention – Mob’s classmate who’s investigating the cult for the school newspaper. There’s also a hapless dude who got snatched off a park bench – a “victim of the recession” as the cult’s leader calls him.
That leader calls himself Dimple, and he’s played by no less than Ootsuka Akio, who for my money is one of the flat-out best seiyuu in anime history. And thank goodness because, yes, this is an important character – Dimple is only the tip of the iceberg. And the cult storyline is only the tip of the iceberg too, because the real drama in Mob Psycho 100 is always what’s going on inside Mob’s head. If you could imagine the most awkward cult for Mob-kun to be stuck in the middle of, it would be one where everyone laughs and smiles constantly – because Mob has locked all that up deep inside himself.
So now the meaning of that countdown becomes clear – not that it was a huge mystery. As set pieces go, I think it would be hard to ask for much more than the showdown on Level B3 – ONE, Tachikawa and Bones showing what happens when all the elements are in harmony. It’s darkly comic and sinister at the same time, and pretty heartbreaking at the same time as it becomes clear just how deeply Mob is wounded. “Get a clue” has never sounded colder or more cruel, and it cuts to the very heart of the alienation Mob feels.
It is indeed a “complex” as the narrator (who’s also Ootsuka Akio, by the way) describes it – knowing how dangerous his powers are and how they set him apart from others, Mob suppresses them. But in doing so, he’s suppressing himself. That this is an explosive combination is an obvious understatement, and Mob’s explosion lives up the hype. This is not a boy you want to piss off – yet even in rage mode, Mob doesn’t become a senseless tornado of violence – he channels it expertly. His nature asserts itself even when he loses control of his pent-up emotions.
One of my favorite elements of the final act (over the credits) is that we get a window into the relationship between Mob and Reigen. Reigen is a buffoon and a charlatan, but he’s still the one Mob turns to when he’s emotionally devastated by what’s happened – which he sees as having spoiled the cultists’ fun. Reigen may be a clown but he’s no fool, and not only that, he understands Mob better than anyone. And he tells Mob exactly what he needs to hear – that he saved those people, and not only that, he was the only person that could have. And as for the surprise that’s awaiting Mob when he wakes up the next day, well – there’s plenty of time for us to get into that next week.