Funny, whimsical, charming, and oddly enough, thoughtful.
Mob Psycho 100 is another comedic/action endeavor brought to us by author ONE, the mind behind 2015's breakout hit, One Punch Man, and like that success story, this also carries with it his signature flare for cool action set-pieces, theatrical displays of goofball antics, an art presence that's immediately eye-catching, all while being peppered with an obtuse sense of humor that's interwoven to form the finished product. And while it started out in a manner that felt like a subsidiary of its much more recognizable older brother, as it ventured on, it has proven to be more than capable in earning its own identity, deserving of the same level of respect as its predecessor. Where One Punch Man was all about being bullheadedly direct with everything it hits you with, Mob Psycho 100 instead chooses to blare the same kind of energy upfront, before coming in with a sneaky left hook; one that not only rattles off a few bells to the unexpected viewer but also lands the first blow of the show's claim to autonomy from unnecessary comparisons to determine its own self-worth.
And with that being said, let's get the obligatory comparisons out of the way first, if only for the sake of those viewers who simply came for just that.
•Both Mob and Saitama are characters with regressed emotions, but where Saitama's emotionless state comes from sheer boredom from a life with no true obstacles, Mob's state derives from a completely different reason. He's socially inept and insecure about his inability to make meaningful connections, while at the same time, mindful of his immense power, choosing to suppress them, and in the course of doing so, suppress his feelings as well. But when he could no longer keep those emotions in check, the show's namesake becomes clear as day, but we'll address that later, for now, hold on to that thought.
•They contain fights that are equal parts wacky and inventive. Where OPM chose a more polished look to exemplify everything, MP100 decided to go the opposite route, staying faithful to the source material, while maintaining the level of quality expected from a work of its stature.
•Mob looks like Saitama with a wig.
Alright, with the comparisons out of the way, on with the review!
The first thing that would immediately jump out at you is the art itself, which could be described as a fever dream filtered through a barrage of psychedelia, along the lines of a visual interpretation of an acid trip. With neon reds and blues swirling around disproportionate character designs, and animators that look like they're trying everything within their power just to color within the lines, this anime could get quite intoxicating at times. An accomplishment in wacky cerebral distortion that hasn't been seen since 2008's Kaiba. And it's this very warped production that helps drive the narrative along, and for many, this aesthetic appeal would have already been enough to get them through all 12-episodes. But thanks to some meaningful passages being brought up to supplement this nutty art-style later on, to many, the presentation only became a secondary reason to stick around instead.
And with a story as frenetic as this one, this style of presentation felt like one of those "why haven't anyone done this yet?" kind of moments. Mob Psycho 100 is X-Men meet Ghostbusters.
Shigeo "Mob" Kageyama, residential egghead and harborer of immense power, is our protagonist. As he bobs along with an expression that makes it clear that he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, he enters the office of his employer, Arataka Reigen. When he isn't busy stealing your wallet to sell it back to you, Reigen and Mob forms a ghostbusting duo that runs around town exorcising evil spirits for profit. And when I say they exorcise evil spirits, I mean Mob does the work while Reigen thinks of new ways of swindling some sap out of their hard earned paycheck. And had that been the only thing going on in the story, there wouldn't be much here to discuss, but thankfully, that's only a jumping off point to what's really important.
A dive headfirst into easily digestible symbology and subtext.
While adored the world over by critical thinkers and any reviewer worth their salt, allegorical content is usually received with mix reception by the general audience, in large part to the fact that said material requires a keen eye to make what's being digested more engaging. Indie films don't rake in big box office returns, the big brand-name Hollywood blockbusters do, and understandably so. The general audience simply wishes to be entertained, and where one requires more fixation on the details of the plot and what certain things may mean, the other promises none of that, instead offering an experience that's as straightforward as the images on the screen would have you believe. In a way, that's the difference between OPM and MP100; OPM makes bullet-point statements with no hidden agenda, while MP100 has fine print written into its spastic portrayal. And let's not make any quick assumptions here, that's not bad at all, simple programming is equally as needed as something with a bit more bite to it. One services everyone, while the other offers a second helping for those that want a bit more.
But then there's that weird breed of content. One that's as direct as the big blockbusters, but at the same time, manages to slide another layer in for those that pick up on it. Something that appears to be a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, but when bitten into, has the texture and taste of something a bit more high-end.
We've seen it with anime titles such as Gurren Lagann, Gunbuster, Abenobashi, and FLCL, and now MP100 has seemingly stepped up on the mantle to join their ranks, if only on a scale that's not as far-reaching.
This unexpected layer is found in the humorous scenarios, quick "blink and you'll miss it" commentary, and the relationship Mob shares with his brother, Ritsu.
Being hidden within the folds of blaring orchestrated set-pieces, comedic jabs at the situations that the characters are placed in, and the occasional factoids pertaining to the state of certain issues, you'll find very quick cheeky retorts that draw into question the very nature of these kinds of narratives that are simply accepted by the masses. Where mini-boss battles are simply accepted as side conquests for smaller characters or obstacles that the protagonist has to plow through to meet the head honcho, in MP100, that very idea of thinking is sideswiped with a swift punch to the face and characters that are practically voicing the audiences' concern of "just get to the boss battle already." Where the presence of a villainous organization full of henchmen being operated haphazardly is simply shrugged off as a byproduct of superhero stories, MP100 makes that very notion its reason for doing nothing short of walking through the front entrance without so much as a scuffle. And where we never questioned why megalomaniacs all come off as infuriatingly disturbed manchildren, MP100 doesn't even think twice about having someone say "These guys who are seriously talking about taking over the world are children who failed to grow up."
Every jab towards these trends are delivered with pinpoint accuracy but never in a mean-spirited way that feels like the writers are cynically lampooning them. ONE has proven to be a fan of these accepted tropes and cliches but doesn't shy away from addressing it for what it is. I can go on and on about moments like these, but the point is, MP100 is fully aware of the lunacy populating the very landscape of contemporary trends it has become a part of, while still fully embracing it to tell its own kooky version of the same kind of story.
And while this very tongue-in-cheek manner that MP100 operates on is worth discussing in lengthier detail, the true heart of the show's content lies with Mob's mental state and the relationship he shares with his brother.
Mob, as a brother, is too dense to see the anguish felt by his little brother, Ritsu, while Ritsu himself is too focused on trying to surpass Mob that he loses focus on the fact that he's admired by him, for reasons even someone as powerful as Mob himself can't obtain. It's the "grass is always greener on the other side" saying, but instead of them being delegated as enemies, they're simply misunderstood. Each seeking a quality that the other has without registering the actuality of their own self-worth. Where Ritsu fosters all of the qualities of a well-acclimated socialite, his brother, unfortunately, possesses the charm of Bozo the Clown. A trait that's only worsened by the increasingly negative reception that his powers tend to draw from others. What was once seen as an astonishing gift to some, was now only registered with blasé responses, or in worst case scenario, something that could endanger the lives of others. As a result, his already simple demeanor was reduced even further to a state that's almost autistic (and no, I'm not saying that in a joking manner), since the one thing that made him unique was now bastardized, effectively boxing him into a corner with nothing left to turn to. But where others shunned or ignore him, his brother saw otherwise. He saw a gift he yearned for but couldn't have. Despite being accepted by society, something his brother was robbed of, he still harbors a feeling of inadequacy when Mob levitates objects like it's no big deal or causes his dinner spoon to bend like playdough.
Just the very duality between these brothers was enough to dissect already, this doesn't even address the elephant in the room; Mob's powers themselves.
The title of Mob Psycho 100 quite literally refers to his power and what they mean, as it's shorthand for what's going on whenever he uses them. No one could suppress their emotions long enough before they hit a breaking point, and that's essentially the idea presented here. But where that "final straw" is usually only presented through someone emoting, in MP100, it's seen by a radiant burst of energy that exudes from every fiber of Mob's being. A burst of energy that's presented by a percentage scale that's occasionally flashed onscreen, when the number hits 100%, this power manifests itself upon release with the emotion he was suppressing. Whether that be the guilt he feels for putting others in harm's way or the animosity that boils over when someone dares to endanger his loved ones; every pent-up emotion is externalized into a colorful display of energy, feeling, and chaos.
It's simple ideas like this that adds a certain charming layer to MP100's content. It doesn't boast about its ideas nor does it tell you to take them seriously, it simply presents it for what it is and chooses to let the viewer take from it what they will. A kind of earnestness that goes a long way after witnessing other titles that flamboyantly boast their basic accomplishments. It's a small change in approach, yet it makes all the difference. And that's what this is as well; a simple idea but done so in a way that adds new meaning to what's at face value, another beat-em-up with superpowers.
And with the understanding of these basic ideas, physical encounters become much more than empty fists clashing, they become a fight for something. Not all share in this quality, but for the ones that matter, there's a reason for the audience to be genuinely invested in the outcome. In the schizophrenic world of MP100, it's these very humanistic ideas that keep everything anchored behind the layer of jokes and satirical jabs.
Even characters like Reigen that would usually remain pigeonholed as the sleazy money-grubbing con-artist types are given a surprising amount of humanity by the time everything comes to its final stop. This doesn't come from excessive showboating, it comes from observations made after seeing similar things play out. ONE's innate understanding of tropes has allowed him the ability to work them into something straightforward and fun, yet clever without the need to reinforce that fact. Don't get me wrong, this isn't to say that the show is subtle; on the contrary, it's very much on-the-nose 100% of the time. But what it is is humble about its ideas, not expressing some inherent birthright to be taken seriously just because it has something to say.
This is the kind of landscape that ONE seems to be paving with each new undertaking, helping give birth to a mini-cultural zeitgeist in the medium. One where not taking yourself too seriously could be a commendable approach, while still having ideas that could please those interested in them. Simplicity delivered with a new flare. A compromise that could give rise to fun, yet thoughtful, projects like this one. It may just be a direct response to the superhero genre that's dominating pop culture, but with results like this, I'm in full support for it. And with that in mind, Mob Psycho 100 is a welcomed addition to this blossoming trend.