Let’s not deny the obvious: the words that have been used the most when recommending Mob Psycho 100 to someone are “it’s by the same creator as One Punch Man“. Fair enough. ONE has proved to be able to come out with some successful and refreshing stories, and mentioning the creator of what was without a doubt the most popular anime of 2015 is the perfect hook. However, this comparison also has its downsides because, even if there are some obvious similarities, these are two completely different series with different intentions and different audiences in mind.
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for the first season of Mob Psycho 100
They say with great power comes great responsibility. So what would happen if you gave tremendous power to an innocent, awkward kid who just wants to be normal? What if you put this kid under incredible amounts of pressure in which the only way out is to fight and hurt others? Does having a talent make you “special”, and does “being special” mean you’re superior to others? These are some of the questions Mob Psycho raises through different arcs and points of views throughout the episodes.
In fact, this is one of those series that wouldn’t work if it weren’t for its characters. Mob and Reigen cannot be described without referring back to their relationship and how much they have influenced each other. Mob is not fit, smart, and does not stand out in any way. He wishes to be popular to get the attention of his crush and couldn’t care less about having psychic powers. While Mob admires Reigen deeply (more on him later), he probably does not realize that he’s the reason behind other characters changing for the better. This is the case with Dimple, Teru and Ritsu. There’s something very humble about seeing an all-powerful person brushing off what makes him special and refusing to take advantage of others. Even some of the more minor characters like Onigawara or Shinji saw their character arcs fulfilled once they realized the error in their ways. The Body Improvement Club is the best group of bros you will find in anime, and even though Tsubomi only seemed like a trophy wife for Mob so far, Tome and Mezato brought a lot of charm every time they were on screen.
We have become so used to the typical shonen-esque idea of teens fighting battles to death that the message this season tries to give was a hard pill to swallow for many. Make no mistake, Mob Psycho 100 does fall under the shonen demographic, but it does try new things and hence constantly subverts viewers expectations. In that regard, Mob Psycho could be more comparable to Hunter x Hunter> than One Punch Man, which is a straight-up parody based on a single concept. The finale of Mob Psycho and its “Leave it to master” premise is a clear example of this. Even though the general consensus is that it was a great episode, there was a minority of the viewership that claimed to be disappointed. Why? Because they were led up to believe Mob would go 100% on Claw after witnessing Reigen supposedly dying. Instead of that, what they got was 15 minutes of Reigen lecturing the villains on how ridiculously childish their plans of “world domination” were. In fact, Suzuki Shou, the mysterious red head kid who could work as a hook for a sequel, calls Mob a “coward”, as if he also expected something else from him.
The fact that everyone believed they already knew what would happen in the finale is nothing but proof that these type of stories have become too predictable. Not getting exactly what they expected was the cause of many complains from anime fans. In fact, the actual events were so unexpected that they have ignited plenty of discussion on whether Reigen was right or wrong. You see, Reigen believes that it’s his responsibility as (literally) the only adult in that room to solve the problem. He doesn’t want Mob to feel “Murderous Intent” (an emotion a 14 year old should never feel), nor does he want to see him carrying the burden of having killed people all his life. Teru and Ritsu, who at some point also believed that psychic powers made them superior to commoners, kept shouting for Mob to do something about the situation. The truth is, no matter how much Teru and Ritsu might care for Mob, they are probably too young to realize the implications of Mob fighting in that state. What’s even more remarkable is that, once Reigen had momentarily acquired Mob’s powers due to Gratitude, he doesn’t proceed to use them to hurt or kill the members of Claw, but to support his words. Reigen might be a manipulative con artist, but he’s also one hell of a good person who cares deeply about Mob. What makes you special is not psychic powers, he says. “Be kind. That’s all”.
Speaking now of the audiovisuals, one of the main things that lured (or sadly, scared away) many viewers was the way the anime looks. While studio Madhouse based their One Punch Man adaptation on Yusuke Murata‘s redrawn version, BONES only had the source material to work with. And, well, let’s just say ONE’s drawing technique is not the best, especially not for animating. This is why it’s even more impressive that BONES managed to stay faithful to the original art while still giving each character charm and making them more appealing to the masses. (You can see some manga-anime comparisons here). Not only that, but all the voice actors did an excellent job (special shout-out to Setsuo Itou (Mob), a newbie in the industry). Yoshimichi Kameda also made sure to give characters different mannerisms and quirks that contributed to making them more memorable and likable. As usual, the direction by Yuzuru Tachikawa didn’t disappoint, and all the action scenes looked spectacular, with the main highlights being episodes 5, 8 and 11. Everything from the animation to the constant change of art styles made Mob Psycho one of the better looking series of 2016 as you could practically feel the love for this series in every frame.
No less important was the music. The soundtrack (coming out on November 23rd) was composed by Kenji Kawai, and it’s probably one of his best works in recent years. The OPENING, “99” was originally written and performed by MOB CHOIR, a choir formed by staff members of BONES, and features trippy visuals that even reference future manga events. The ENDING, “Refrain Boy” by ALL OFF was entirely made by Miyo Sato’s paint-on-glass technique (check out this article for an interview with the artist). All in all, Mob Psycho 100 is a production full of passion for the project.
No, Mob Psycho 100 is not a series about a ridiculously strong kid who can one-shot anyone with psychic powers. It’s a coming of age story about a kid realizing that having a special ability does not make him better or worse than others. This time, Reigen’s plan worked. Those Claw members were easy to convince, and Shou worked as a Deus Ex Machina in defeating Ishiguro. We don’t know if Reigen’s speech can be applied to any situation, especially after the appearance of the actual Boss of Claw at the end, meaning a bigger threat for the future. For that, we will have to wait for a second season.