How can a guy who hardly smiles be so much of a cinnamon bun?
I think it’s safe to say that I’ve mellowed out quite a bit over the last year or so. It’s true that there are still critically acclaimed shows that are given passes I don’t think they’ve earned, but I’ve also learned to appreciate certain shows I’m not a fan of for the impact they’ve had on the fandom. And while there are shows I’ve sung high horses for in the past that have aged poorly in my mind, there are also the occasional products I dismiss but eventually come around to once I’m given more time to process them. Not that I dismissed Mob Psycho 100 when it first came out. I just didn’t give it as much of a chance as I probably should have back in the day because at the time I was still suffering from some sort of elitist-disease that was causing me to act like Digibro if he was going through cocaine addiction. And it came back to bite me because the show continued to get better in my mind the more time passed.
While One-Punch Man has sort of come around on me to the point that I’ll give the inevitably inferior second season a watch when it shows up, I’m still not a fan of actually watching that anime and vastly prefer One’s other big hit. Genos may be moe and Saitama may be a fountain of memes, but Mob just really endeared me as a character back when he first showed up, and now he’s become a cinnamon bun to rival all cinnamon buns to me – which is fitting given how his English VA also voices 9S from Nier: Automata and we all know how much of a tasty snack that dude was. So I was a little ecstatic to revisit the series when the blu-ray finally hit US shores, and after my recent rewatch, I decided it might be a good idea to give an updated review for the thing before my anime club forces me to discuss Mob plushies for two hours straight during the New Years’ weekend. As such, here we are.
Now I could give background on the series itself, but given how huge the show was upon airing and it’s more than a year old by now, you most likely already know who made it and whatnot. So I’ll skip that nonsense and jump straight into the plot.
Mob Psycho 100 tells the story of a young middle schooler named Shigeo Kagayama aka Mob (which means background character in Japanese) who is blessed with extremely power psychic powers, but is not very gifted in anything else. Since the girl of his dreams got bored of his superpowers over time when they were kids, Mob tries his best to learn other skills to impress her whilst working part-time at a supernatural agency run by secondary protagonist and lovable powerless con man, Reigen, in order to exorcise spirits that haunt other people. Due to his kind nature along with Reigen telling him that his superpowers shouldn’t be used to hurt other humans, Mob tries to live life to the fullest, staying away from anything that Shonen Jump would find normal, but unfortunately Shonen Jump villains live in his universe and they want powerful espers on their side to further their goals.
Not helping at all is that when the espers aren’t interfering with Mob’s lifestyle, the normal humans in his life are. Ironically, in his pursuit of another girl’s affections, Mob seems to attract the attention of a few girls who quite frankly have more chemistry with him due to them wanting to learn the truth behind his abilities. And who can forget Mob’s younger brother Ritsu, a guy who’s skilled in everything that our lead dreams he could do well, but all he wants is to be an esper like his nii-san? It’s not quite a slice-of-life show, but Mob Psycho 100 is a little hard to summarize because it’s basically got the same plot as Spiderman in that it’s about a teenager living his life and dealing with the villains that threaten to interrupt it. It’s easy to say what the actual story is, but the details can be a bit jumbled to spell out since the protagonists mostly react to the big stuff whilst getting excited over the small ones.
The first thing anyone with eyes is going to notice about Mob Psycho 100 is that it’s a very beautiful show. It’s Bones, so that’s to be expected, but Mob had a particularly artsy style to it that drew a bit of a mixed reaction from a not-so-insignificant amount of anime fans who live in the present way too much and never watched Fantasia once in their life. Said artsy style does its job in keeping bot the mundane and tense moments energetic, but it really shines when it comes to portraying the action scenes, which do a very good job of mixing super power flash with actual choreography as well as actually showing the punches connect rather than cutting to the aftermath after striking a pose. And for a show about a dude trying to stay away from fighting, Mob sure gets into them a lot.
And like I said before, I love Mob as a character. It’s cool to finally see a show where the big brother feels inferior to his younger more talented brother, yet rather than wallow in jealousy, he does his best to improve himself in comically adorable ways. Plus it’s just endearing to see him walk so innocently into crazy situations like cross-dressing or gang attacks, only for those who underestimate him to suffer the psychic version of a curbstomp. His boss, Reigen, also really shines once you get to know him. He’s a bit of an idiot all throughout the show, but I like how he’s always on Mob’s side despite his con-man ways, and how he always seems to do the right thing even if it’s on accident a good chunk of the time. Mind you, I much prefer him in the English dub where the voice actor wisely tones down the pitch of his voice when doing his “Salt Splash” attack, because the Japanese really have to understand that not every comedic moment has to have the characters yelling for further effect. Still, it’s hard to hate the guy, especially when you see what he does in the finale.
The other protagonists are well-developed for the most part, but the antagonistic characters (or at least the ones that don’t become protagonists later on) are more gimmicky due to their “superpowers rule” style of living combined with how the ones with backstories are treated more like jokes. Most of them have enough opposing philosophy to them so that you care when Mob slams them into a ceiling, but while I remember they’re called “Claw”, I can’t remember one antagonist’s name for the life of me. Part of that is probably due to how I’m not good at remembering Japanese names, but I can’t even summon up any effort to Google them up for this review compared to, say, the main antagonist with the hand on his face in My Hero Academia. Speaking of gimmicky, while Mob’s feelings for her are cute, that love interest of his is so background you could have literally replaced her with a magazine cover and it would have made as much sense (or at least it would have been more entertaining because we’d be laughing too hard at the absurdity of it all).
As for the story, in an era overcrowded with shonen action/superhero products, Mob Psycho 100 prefers to refine the genre rather than evolve it by going for the classic “those who depend on superpowers fall to ruin” approach and handling it pretty well for the most part. I think most of it has to do with the characters he surrounds himself with and how they contrast his ideals. One of Spiderman’s big problems is that the antagonists from Doc Ock to Green Goblin don’t have any chemistry with the web-slinger, so whenever they show up to provide the token combat, you keep wishing for them to fuck off so Peter won’t miss his date with Gwen Stacy for the fifteenth time. Mob, in contrast, has so much good support on all sides without any of it coming off as unrealistically cheesy, which is quite a feat given how many anime cliches the story depends on to get its point across. Of course, if you’re not a fan of that old “‘I’m going to kill you’ followed up by ‘let’s be friends’ after five minutes” trope, then you’re pretty much out of luck.
I’m still unable to see Mob Psycho 100 as a great show as opposed to a decent superhero series, probably because there are only two perspectives to its story, and they’re pretty much the default ones. Those who don’t get defined by superpowers win. Those who do rely on them lose. There’s a limit to how much fresh execution can give life to these philosophies without needing to introduce a surprise hidden third perspective to shake things up. Maybe that happens later in the original manga, but my point is that I prefer either several philosophies at war with each other or if there’s only two, have them be a little more unique/morally ambiguous. Mob’s tendency to lose control of his emotions at 100% is sort of a gray area, but the show doesn’t really exploit it enough to be anything more than a “I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if you threaten my family” excuse for fighting.
Also, I remember one of my previous criticisms being that the show took a while to get going, but while that criticism has since been withdrawn, it still sort of feels like an introductory season to an extent due to a few underdeveloped supporting characters and Claw not really being much of a threat, even for a show where humor plays a large part in the storytelling. But mainly, it’s due to how Mob doesn’t so much learn anything in this show as opposed to having his philosophies slip, only to have them reconfirmed in different packaging. I didn’t feel like the amendments made to his aspirations for a violence-free life not dependent on esper powers were that much of an evolution. Sure having friends to carry the burden for you is nice, but it’s also a pretty overdone trope.
On a final note, the production takes some noticeable hits in the penultimate episodes. It’s mostly the background characters that are affected so it’s not a big deal, but don’t think I didn’t notice that there wasn’t character shading where they should have been combined with some derpy faces. No amount of artistic style is going to cover that up, Bones.
Mob Psycho 100 is a few writing changes away from being a personal favorite, but it would have definitely have been my favorite series of 2016 if I wrote that list now, as well as just a solid 8/10 series overall. The animation is amazing, the characterization is solid, the humor can be funny at times, and the overarching plot is spruced enough so that even when you know what’s coming, it feels new. Also, screw the people who say the English dub sucks, because 9S as Mob is a perfect fit in my books.
I really hope a sequel comes out, but I’m fine with it taking its time to appear because I’m fully aware that making this kind of anime is hard, and I don’t want it to get passed on to an inferior production team like One-Punch Man did (although I’m not really sure what the exact circumstances were for that). Either way, this was a fun show and I was really glad to revisit it with my mellowed-out mindset. Just don’t expect me to do the same for Death Parade. No you’re not going to convince me that the tonal shifts and incomplete narrative weren’t major distractions.
- Mob Psycho 100 is available for purchase at this Amazon link. Limited edition is this one.
- Fully aware of the upcoming live-action drama, thank you very much.
- I’m not saying it’s impossible for One-Punch Man 2 to not disappoint my friends. I’m just saying it’s very fucking unlikely.
- Where exactly did Mob get his nickname from anyways?