The stakes sure have been raised quickly here…
When you stop and think about it, the escalation of events in Mob Psycho 100 has been pretty staggering. We’ve gone from sham exorcisms and low-level spirits to schoolyard banchou to world domination and child-killing (sort of) in the matter of a few episodes. It really makes you wonder just how grand ONE’s schemes for this series are, and fervently hope we get to see more than one cour of it in anime form. I think our chances are good – Stalker is looking better, and there were split-cour rumors right from the beginning – but it’d be a real shame if a story with so much scope and possibility has to leave most of it on the table.
That feeling is strong especially with an episode like this one, that really puts me in mind of Hunter X Hunter. As I mentioned last week it’s striking how similarly ONE approaches the big action set pieces in Mob Psycho to the way Togashi-sensei does in H x H – they’re anything but non-stop but when they happen, they’re character-driven and laden with subtext. He’s also fond of grotesque character designs, a Togashi signature – looking around that conference table at Claw it almost seemed like something out of Togashi’s imagination.
We’ve already met two members of “Scar”, the top echelon of Claw (apparently there are eleven of them) and a third quickly joins the fray this week – Terada. He’s played by H x H veteran Tachiki Fumihiko (Terada even gives us a Gendou pose) and is keen to cash in on Koyama’s slip-up by taking out the boy too strong for Koyama to handle. Like Koyama Terada sports a grisly scar – apparently they’re a token of rank bestowed by the organization’s top boss – and like Koyama, he seems a little overconfident due to the age of his opponents. Even now Koyama thinks Terada – who he declares is the weaker esper – should be able to gain the upper hand on Mob because “he’s a kid”. Reality soon intervenes with extreme prejudice.
Meanwhile Ritsu and the kidnapped kiddos from Awakening Labs (I feel you, Ritsu-kun – I couldn’t remember their names either) are herded into the Seventh Division compound and promptly imprisoned in the basement. For a while it looks as if one of the kids (the younger of the telepathically linked Shiratori brothers) is murdered as a show of force to get the others to comply, but this turns out to be an illusion crafted by another Scar, Mutou (as classic a Togashi design as you’ll ever see).
What’s interesting here is seeing Ritsu display a very different sort of strength than his brother. Ritsu has indeed awakened psychic abilities, but it’s other qualities that he uses to engineer an escape. Namely patience, natural authority, calm under pressure and outright cleverness. He keeps the others – a nearly powerless gang of third-tier espers if we’re honest – from panicking altogether, and devises a plan by which they use their meager abilities not to escape, but to lure the guards into complacency with their meagerness (is that a word?). Mob is scary for obvious reasons, but Ritsu is pretty terrifying in his own right. He has a ruthless detachment about him that’s very unsettling, especially when one considers that it’s attached to a 13 year-old with as-yet undetermined psychic abilities he’s only just discovering.
As for Mob, Terada is no match even for his second, Hanazawa. He has no qualms about torturing Terada for information, though the kind-hearted Mob is more inclined towards mercy (albeit an ironic sort). And after they force Terada to lead then to Claw HQ and Koyama heads out to seek his revenge, Mob finally unleashes his own power. Whatever tiny percentage of the iceberg that’s sticking up above the waterline so far is terrifying enough – it’s not just that Mob is stronger than everyone he’s facing, but that it’s not even close. What would he be capable of if he really let loose?
While on some level we may be at-risk of overpowered MC syndrome here, I think Mob Psycho 100 can get past it – largely because so much of the drama here is not built around Mob’s battles with others, but with himself. That Mob is a good soul who wants to do right is irrefutable based on the evidence, but (and it’s a big “but”) he’s still a pubescent kid. When Ritsu is in trouble Mob’s all too willing to “not hold back” against Koyama, knowing time is of the essence (his only regret is that he was too noisy). As hard as it would be for anyone to control powers like Mob has when relentlessly provoked, surely it’s that much harder for a middle-schooler with the usual wheelbarrow full of middle-schooler neuroses. As bad as it would be for the world if Mob really lost control, what most gnaws at me is what that would do to Mob himself, because he surely deserves better. And I think that’s the real driver of this story going forward.