No question, the last two days have offered an object lesson in the sometimes harsh realities of anime production, courtesy of two of the Summer’s best series. As Orange – the product of a mid-sized studio and working on a limited budget – has seen its production values crater, Mob Psycho 100 has soared to heights of sakuga unseen this season (except perhaps in its earlier episodes). It seems almost unfair how different things are for premier studios like Madhouse and Bones. Not only does Tachikawa have the money he needs, he can call on the talents (and boy, are they talents) of guys like Nakamura Yutaka and Kameda Yoshimichi when episodes call for that extra dose of visual flash.
And this was certainly such an episode. Big-time confrontations are fewer and farther between in Mob Psycho 100 than in ONE’s One Punch Man (it’s just that sort of story), but when they happen, they really matter. But what I really appreciate about them (as much as the glorious way they’re animated) is how the big action sequences in Mob Psycho are character-driven. It reminds me very much of Hunter X Hunter in that way. That’s another series that features stupendous fight sequences at infrequent intervals, and never dishes up a throwaway – all the fights are organic to the story and full of subtext when it comes to the characters.
At first, this seems very much like it’s going to be a story of the conflict (albeit a one-sided one) between brothers. Hanazawa-kun was the one who brought Mob to show him what Ritsu was doing to the banchou in the alley, though he had no idea the two were brothers – he just knew Ritsu was using Mob’s name. Naturally enough Mob is horrified by what he sees, even disbelieving for a while. He can’t believe the Ritsu he knows would do this – not just (or even mostly) because as far as he knows Ritsu is incapable of it physically, but because the Ritsu he knows would never do such a thing.
This is a pretty powerful moment here, and it shows us a lot about Mob’s character (as in the attribute). Ritsu sells this as effectively a declaration of independence (if not outright war) towards his brother, telling Mob that his prior deferential attitude was a matter of being fearful of Mob’s powers. Ritsu does a good job selling it (having a seiyuu as stellar as Irino Miyu helps) but Mob isn’t buying it – he knows the truth. He knows Ritsu’s love and admiration is the thing that’s real, and that what he’s seeing and hearing now is the lie.
Mob is such a good kid, truly. None of this is a front for him – he walks the walk. He’s a pacifist in his heart, almost totally lacking in conceit or ego (to a fault at times). Ritsu is naturally horrified when Mob begs for the bullies’ forgiveness for what his otouto has done to them, even more when they tell him to grovel and Mob complies. But no one is more aware of the dangers of his own power than Mob is, and his pride is a price he’s more than willing to pay. All of this is mooted, of course, when Koyama (the hoodie guy) shows up to kidnap Ritsu – who he still thinks is Kageyama Shigeo. At this point the bullies revert to the sniveling cowards they are, and Mob and Koyama are the only two people in that alley.
This is the money scene, and the boys at Bones don’t disappoint – it’s stupendously drawn and delivered. But there’s a lot going on here. It’s a painful (literally) reminder that Mob doesn’t have the luxury to live the passive life he wishes to – he’s simply too exceptional to be unexceptional. Koyama is strong, no doubt about it, and he initially gets the upper hand on Mob (to Ritsu’s horror). But we know the drill here – we know what happens when Mob’s kettle goes on the boil, even if Koyama (and his handler, played by Hosoya Yoshimasa) don’t. Ekubo sees that one way or another this isn’t going to end well, and brings in Hanazawa to see if he can be of any help. He can’t, much – but when Koyama plays his trump card and ends up fleeing with Ritsu, he at least takes Mob back to his apartment to sleep it off.
There’s a somewhat extraneous interlude with Reigen here that’s worth mentioning, because the evolution of his character has been one of the most subtly interesting elements of Mob Psycho 100. This time around he’s helping a woman who’s been told by a fortuneteller that she has a spirit on her shoulder, using Himalayan sea salt, aromatherapy and massage. Again we see the seemingly absurd spectacle of Reigen being outraged by a con, but here’s the thing – his outrage is real. There’s a funny sort of honor to what Reigen does, because the thing is he actually does help people. In effect he’s a therapist rather than a medium, but so what? Those people still get helped – they feel better. And Reigen seems to understand the distinction between hucksterism and genuine evil, deceiving or using one’s power to hurt. He’s a scoundrel, but ultimately an honorable one in his own way.
Stepping back, the bigger picture in Mob Psycho 100 has definitely seen a tectonic shift. Thanks to Hanazawa (who’s been their target before) we now know of the existence of Claw, a power-hungry cable of espers (over 100) who kidnap children with powers and brainwash them into a psychic army. They’ve already hit the Awakening Lab, snatching the kids and leaving the place a wreck and the adults unconscious. And now they have Ritsu, too, which means no matter how much Mob would prefer to avoid a confrontation (one Hanazawa is skeptical that even his vanquisher can win) he must act. This is the harshest test yet of Mob’s world view – Claw is not only hugely powerful, but represents the existential opposite of everything Mob believes about how to live with psychic powers.