You know, if you guys would just take my word for it what the really great shows are going to be, we could all save ourselves a lot of time…
The stars are really in alignment with Mob Psycho 100 (quite literally in the case of Tachikawa and ONE, who are among the brightest industry lights of their generation). What we’re seeing play out here is no less than an example of what happens when you have truly elite elements on every level – the source material, the director, the studio, the composer. It doesn’t always work that way, to be sure – there are certainly cases in anime where the whole comes nowhere close to the sum of the parts, often inexplicably. But more often than not the cream rises to the top, and great anime is the product of great component parts.
I think the movement with Mob Psycho has been pretty much unidirectional, with each episode building on the success of the prior (I knew pretty much from Episode 2 that this show was going to click, but even I didn’t expect this much this soon). The fact is that as good as ONE’s manga is, the reason for that is Tachikawa Yuzuru’s influence. He’s the one who tweaked things slightly to create this great sense of momentum, understanding that when looking back at the end of a great series we see a marathon and not a sprint (as Death Parade bears out).
Tachikawa’s influence is strongly felt in the spectacular visuals too, obviously. He has a big part to play in shot composition and cinematography, but the role of a studio like Bones in an episode like this can’t be overstated. Watching this play out in spectacular 2-D glory one gets the same feeling they did after watching Gon fight Hisoka at Heaven’s Arena, Balsa cross her spear with the swords of the Hunters, or any of a dozen sequences in FLCL – you know you’re watching anime royalty at work. You know the standards are simply higher when you’re dealing with the best of the best, that there’s no consideration of doing something simply average of even “good”. This is the sort of anime that separates the wheat from the chaff, made by people who love their work and are ridiculously good at it.
Still – and this is why Mob Psycho 100 is as special as it is – when you get past all the visual brilliance you’re still left with an amazingly riveting story playing out on screen, and that all goes back to ONE’s manga. This is a deeply human story, and ONE does a sterling job of melding all the pubertal symbolism and universality of emotion with the fantastical premise. The relationships in this series are both complex and compelling, and defy easy categorization. None of them and none of the characters fall neatly into the pigeonholes we create for them based on first appearances – there are always layers and sides there which only reveal themselves over the course of development. That, kids, is what’s called good writing.
Hanazawa-kun is everything Mob isn’t, but that’s not all he is. What he does represent is the polar opposite of Mob in how he relates to his powers. He’s all flash and front, while Mob doesn’t even like to use telekinesis (it makes him nauseous). Teruki embraces his powers, but in a purely superficial way – for him, they make him special. He uses them to cheat on tests and intimidate others and succeed at sports, all for the glorification of his own ego. Mob sums him up in a nutshell – the two of them are very much alike. Not because they’re both powerful espers, but because they’re both terrified that if you take their powers away, they’re nothing. The difference lies in the way they respond to that fear.
This “fight” isn’t really much of a fight for a very long time, because Mob is resolute that he not use his powers against other people. Reigen is a wonderful contradiction, a fraud and a quack, yet someone who gives Mob the soundest possible advice and mentorship he gets from nowhere else. You don’t point knives at other people, period – and Mob struggles to be a model of passive resistance even as Hanazawa breaks every rule Mob holds precious. He even exorcises Dimple (fill in the blanks on why he wanted to take over Mob’s body for “a few minutes”) – someone who Mob’s massive reserves of empathy are comfortably big enough to encompass. What we didn’t know before, of course, is that Mob did lose control once, when he and Ritsu were attacked by a pack of high school bullies – and Mob has carried the horror of that moment with him every day since.
The tragedy of Mob’s character is obvious by now, and it’s gutting to see the agony having lost his battle with himself causes him. Make no mistake, Hanazawa forced him to it – but likewise, it’s unmistakable that Mob is a being to be feared when he unleashes what’s inside him. It’s impossible to say at this stage how deep his power goes but it’s clear that it’s a deep and dark abyss, and Mob surely knows this and is terrified of what he might become. Whatever fraction of his true power he uses here, it’s obvious Teruki is not remotely a match for him (“Top of Teru’s head – 0%“) – he’s quite literally laid bare by the massive difference between his abilities and Mob’s. Mob has certainly won the battle, but just as certainly lost the war.
If there’s a reason to have hope for Mob, it’s that he’s not alone in facing his inner demons. The relationships are indeed complicated, but ultimately there are those who support and believe in him – Reigen for one, and his brother as well. It’s a testament to Ritsu’s love for Mob that he lies to him, knowing full well that it was Mob’s powers that had injured him in that incident. Ritsu’s feelings for Mob are conflicted, certainly, but his desire to believe in his brother’s goodness is a palpable force. Even the Body Conditioning guys are true bros – they may not understand Mob’s deepest and darkest nature, but they understand his desire to change who he is and they understand the value of loyalty. As much as Mob Psycho 100 is the story of Mob’s powers and his struggle to contain them, it’s also the story of the connections which keep him grounded in turbulent moments (insert adolescence metaphors here).