Anime Reviews: Mob Psycho 100
Some Basic Info About This Strange Little Anime
Title: Mob Psycho 100
Series Length: 12 episodes
Air Dates: 7/11/2016 to 9/27/2016
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, mild language)
Summary: Shigeo Kageyama, nicknamed "Mob," is a middle-schooler who happens to possess phenomenal psychic powers. Under the tutelage of supposed famous paranormal expert Arataka Reigen, whom he helps with various odd jobs in exorcising evil spirits, Mob comes to understand that his incredible powers aren't the end-all-be-all one might think--after all, the girl Mob likes, Tsubomi, quickly got bored with his telekinetic feats, and finds herself more attracted to athletic types. Wanting to be more like his smart and handsome younger brother Ritsu, as well as hoping to win Tsubomi's heart one day, Mob sets out to improve himself and lead the normal life he's always wanted.
The Good: ONE's quirky art style combined with Bones' incredible action animation; unique and interesting characters; a twisting plot that conveys a message worth heeding
The Bad: The series' style may not appeal to everyone; sequel-baiting
The Ugly: Knowing that you will never be as slick or suave as Reigen
So what brought me to this wacky little series?
Naturally, due to the success of One Punch Man's anime adaptation, it was only to be expected that ONE's other big-name manga, Mob Psycho 100 would also get its own adaptation. And because I greatly enjoyed the former, here I am, having devoured the latter. Having seen both series, it's patently obvious as to why ONE's creations have garnered so much popularity in these past few years. He's not just making silly action series. That might be exactly what it looks like he's doing, but there's so much more happening under the hood, and that's part of what drew me to these titles in the first place. And as much as I liked One Punch Man, I'm gonna be upfront and say I liked Mob Psycho 100 way, way more.
What makes Mob Psycho 100 a standout series?
Unlike One Punch Man, whose manga got a full-on facelift, Mob Psycho 100 never got such treatment, so its anime adaptation falls much closer in line with ONE's original art style. And I love it. Everything looks crude and rough, with all the characters looking bizarre in their ugliness or simplicity. And I love it. There's a certain charm present in these designs that you can't find anywhere else, and it gives the series a ton of personality. It also serves the animators well, as the folks at Bones were able to make the action scenes present in the series much more dynamic and exciting than if they had to work with more detailed character designs, and for an action series, that's pretty important. The wacky designs also work well to make the comedy of Mob Psycho 100 absolutely killer, with hyper-detailed close-ups and crazy faces everywhere. I won't spoil it, but there's a gag involving part of a character's head being shaved off that works wonders with the series' art style, and when that hair is "regrown"...boy, lemme tell ya, I haven't laughed that hard in months.
As for the action itself, you've got it all--intense laser battles, super-fast fisticuffs, grotesque giant monsters, buildings flying apart, crazy powers of all kinds, and so much more! And Studio Bones make each and every set piece a joy to behold. Bones is known in the anime community as one of the top-tier premier creators of action anime, and their pedigree is certainly verifiable in this series.
Now, the quirky art style doesn't just work because of its off-kilter charm; there's also the fact that there's a lovable cast of weirdos and misfits to whom those character designs belong. Like Saitama from One Punch Man, Mob is a relatively soft-spoken protagonist who happens to be grossly overpowered, but Mob is also socially awkward and takes 100% heed from his mentor, Reigen. Reigen is a shameless con man who has no psychic or spiritual powers, and yet he has the world convinced not only that he does, but that his powers are godlike. As a mentor, Reigen is also constantly giving Mob unconventional-but-ultimately-very-sound advice about life, making this shyster much more complex than at first glance. Mob's younger brother, Ritsu, is everything Mob wants to be--handsome, smart, popular, responsible--but unknown to Mob, Ritsu secretly envies his brother's psychic powers (because, hey, who wouldn't?) and overcoming this desire (or perhaps obtaining it...?) becomes his trial as he takes questionable steps in that direction.
Aside from getting into Teruki Hanazawa (because spoilers), we also have a plethora of weird and lovable side characters! Tome Kurata, president of the Telepathy Club, is absolutely adorable in her hideousness and her overbearing nature, and I wish there was more of her in the series. The members of the Body Improvement Club seem like stereotypical jocks at first, with their evil desire to take over the Telepathy Club's clubroom, but they let the Telepathy Club stay, accept Mob as a member, and are complete and total bros to the poor kid who can barely run 50 feet, making them the coolest guys you wish existed in real life. Dimple is also a very funny character, as he's a megalomaniacal spirit exorcised by Mob in an early episode who wanted to become a god and his shenanigans (and delightfully rosy cheeks) are always fun to have around.
It also helps that there's an interesting underlying narrative. The first half of the series mostly serves to cement Mob's philosophy, as influenced by Reigen, by pitting it against various Evil Spirits of the Week, and the second half is a more complex plot involving a misunderstanding that gets Ritsu caught up in a shady organization called Claw that does research on children with psychic powers. Many twists and turns are had, and overall, it's very much a good time.
However, the most important thing about Mob Psycho 100's story (and ONE's stories in general) is the message it sets out to convey. While One Punch Man certainly had a moral to tell (life requires struggle or else it becomes boring and meaningless), it was never quite at the forefront; in this series, however, the message is loud and clear: You are not your talents. You are only as good as what you do with your talents, and having a rare talent does not, in any way, inherently make you special. We see this dynamic play out brilliantly in the battle between Mob and Teruki--the latter grew up all his life thinking he was above everyone else just because he had telekinetic abilities, but when he came up against the brick wall that is Mob, he's forced to deal with the fact that he is not the "main character of this world," as he puts it.
Unlike Teruki, Mob learned early on that his powers would never get him everything he wanted (the ability to socialize and be popular, and to win Tsubomi's heart), and his growth as a character hinges on improving himself in other ways, to be a more well-rounded human being rather than a one-trick pony. This message feels particularly relevant today, as there are a great many people who think being good at something means they're superior beings somehow, when in reality they're just self-centered children who never grew up, as Reigen would put it. In an age of specialization, perhaps it would be beneficial for everyone if more people set out to be more well-rounded--after all, as Natural Selection suggests, specialization can be a grave weakness.
...And where do the series' pitfalls lie?
Speaking of which, ONE's writing and concepts are truly something special, but he never quite got around to the whole "improving the artwork" thing. While I mentioned before that I quite liked Mob Psycho 100's wacky artwork and that it gives the series a real personality, the fact remains that the character art is objectively poor, and all the charm and personality in the world won't change the cold, hard reality that many people will be instantly turned off by it. For many, the appeal of animation is the flawless ideal escapism it provides in its visuals (simpler faces are easier to animate and also happen to be more attractive, after all), and ONE's artwork, while certainly simple, doesn't quite capture the whole "flawless" or "ideal" thing. So yeah, it's a very minor flaw, one that didn't bother me much at all, but a flaw nonetheless.
What did bother me, however, is the sequel-baiting. It's patently obvious the story is not over--Mob's character arc is still ongoing, and he never did impress Tsubomi!--but the series goes out of its way to set up plot points and conflicts for a second season. This would be forgivable if a second season was imminent, but even now, a year and a half later, there's no news of any new seasons. So now the sequel-baiting just hurts my soul. Because I wanted more. The ending they gave the series is nice and all, but I want more. And so will you.
So, what's the verdict?
Mob Psycho 100 may not have a conclusive ending and its artwork may turn some people away right out the gate, but honestly, I think it's a fantastic anime. ONE's idiosyncratic aesthetic makes the whole thing feel fresh and unique, and while the series' older brother, One Punch Man, got a prettier coat of paint and a more marketable premise, I firmly believe that Mob Psycho 100 is the superior title. It just feels like more thought and heart went into the making of the story and characters. I would highly recommend this to basically any anime fan, because a breath of fresh air like this only comes along every so often.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. Mob Psycho 100's quirky aesthetics and even quirkier cast already make it an excellent addition to any anime fan's collection, but its message of constantly improving oneself and not relying on overspecialization, particularly relevant in today's times, elevate it that much further among the competition.