The farther you wade into Mob Psycho 100, the deeper it gets.
In its way, Mob Psycho 100 is kind of a stealth series – at least the way Tachikawa Yuzuru has elected to present it. Both the manga and the anime have elements of flash to them. ONE is a writer who specializes in surrealism and absurdity, and Tachikawa a director whose capacity for stunning visuals is virtually unmatched in TV anime. Between Regien’s antics in the premiere, the silly place names like “Seasoning Town” and “Black Vinegar Middle School”, and the dizzying array of color and texture, Mob Psycho could easily get by as an entertaining epic farce, and a damn good one.
But there’s more here, so much more – just as their was in One Punch Man, only even more more. As compared to OPM Mob Psycho 100 is less a genre satire and social commentary and much more a character study and coming-of-age story – and in many ways quite a conventional one (and I mean that as a compliment). Mob’s esper powers are the MacGuffin in the premise, no doubt, but it’s the impact they have on him and others more than the powers themselves that matter. As with FLCL, MP100 is a highly symbolic take on adolescence, with a whole lot of wildly imaginative fantasy and visual experimentation as the vehicle to get it where it’s going.
There’s an awful lot going on here, starting with introduction of Salt’s delinquent squad, let by the Kanji-challenged (and generally dim-witted) Onigawara Tenga (Hosoya Yoshimasa). Tenga is a classic take on the banchou trope, seemingly very good at getting in over his head – in this instance, taking on the rival Black Vinegar Middle School’s bad boys. They have a secret weapon in Hanazawa Teruki (Matsuoka Yoshitsugu), who’s a secret weapon in more ways than one. He’s a pretty boy who’d rather be spending his time at nampa but still comes when the boys call for him. Onigawa turns to the Body Improvement Club for help in defending Salt Middle’s honor, but they aren’t interested in sullying their vocation by using it in such a meaningless and crude manner.
Meanwhile, there’s an awful lot going on at the Kageyama house. As we saw last week, Dimple has turned up – this time in the form of an absurd green blob urging Mob (“Shige-chan”) to team up with him and take over the world. Ootsuki Akio really shows off his comic chops here as we rarely hear him do, and the banter between boy and spirit is hilarious from the moment it begins. Once he’s confirmed the blob’s identity Mob is determined to exorcise it once and for all, but Dimple is right – Mob is a soft touch (but thank goodness for that) and agrees to ask his sensei for advice first.
The other key development here is the first extended introduction of Ritsu. Things between Ritsu and Shigeo are complicated, unsurprisingly under the circumstances. Ritsu loves his big brother and was always in awe of his spiritual powers, but can’t understand why Mob has stopped using them in public. That’s built up a resentment and envy in him, because he doesn’t understand the weight of those powers. Meanwhile, Mob is jealous of Ritsu because he has everything Mob doesn’t – athletic and academic ability, ease around girls, popularity. It’s very notable that while Ritsu doesn’t understand the decision his brother has made, he refuses to play ball with Mezato-sempai when she tries to do an expose on Mob’s powers and make a spectacle of him. Ritsu doesn’t understand Mob’s choices, but he respects them because Mob is his brother.
I can’t overstate this point enough – the world is very, very lucky that it was Mob who inherited this freakish ability. The funny thing is we hear this thought repeated by different characters expressing different feelings about it – to Dimple, it’s a crying shame. Mob’s humility is both his greatest strength and greatest weakness. He understands both the limitations and dangers of his powers instinctively, and life has confirmed those instincts via some very harsh lessons. Sadly for Mob, though, this means having to suppress something that’s a fundamental part of who he is.
These threads come together when Onigawa tricks Mob into falling into the hands of the Black Vinegar banchou vis the use of an incredibly poorly written “love” letter in his shoe locker. His aim is to get the Body Improvement Club to confront them, and it works – because as we’ve already seen, the Body Improvement Club are actually stand-up guys, and they come to their newest member’s aid without a moment’s hesitation. And they have no trouble with the Vinegar boys – that is, until Terugawa shows up.
Here, then, is the crux of the episode – Terugawa’s ability is no more “natural” than Mob’s. He’s a psychic too, of course – Mob recognizes this instantly, and judging by Terugawa’s reaction he might have been the first one to do so. But to Mob, Terugawa has broken the one inviolable rule of being an esper – never, ever use your powers against other people. “Especially for fighting” Mob adds with astonishing earnestness. This is our first proof that Mob is not alone in this world, but also that the dark side to powers like his is a very real threat – if someone like Terugawa will use them for petty rumbles in the alley, what else might he be willing to use them for? No matter how much Mob would like to keep his powers hidden for the best of reasons, they are in fact a responsibility – there are things only someone like Mob can do.