Mob Psycho 100 is one of the strongest written anime series in recent memory. It balances the strong comedy chops with hard-hitting emotional moments like the very best of Fullmetal Alchemist. Very few series can bounce between slapstick comedy and legitimate gut-wrenching grief with this level of agility, and Mob makes it look easy. On top of that, it serves up some of the shiniest fight scenes in the medium, regularly managing to push the upper limit of what is possible for television anime.
[spoilers for the first two seasons of Mob Psycho 100]
Now, Mob Psycho is not all quick lines and epic moments, it has two themes in particular that it focuses on and explores with a deft finger: first, it is a primarily pacifist story, and that bottling up your emotions only allows them to control you. It does this through its protagonists decrying the use of violence unless absolutely necessary, and through the emotional repression of its lead.
Mob Psycho 100 centers on Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama, a middle school student who possesses incredible innate psychic power. He works part-time under a fraudulent exorcist named Reigen, and keeps his feelings bottled up to prevent himself from hurting anyone. The series keeps track of Mob’s emotional state with a percentage counting to 100, and when he caps out, he snaps.
Now, Mob Psycho 100 began life as a manga, and the little brother of One Punch Man, written and illustrated by the same man, One. Both series focus on overpowered protagonists where their strength does not help them with their goals. While One Punch Man’s Saitama acquired his strength through training, it has left him with a stale life with no possibility for real challenge or further growth. In comparison, Mob gained his power through no merit of his own, and they don’t do anything to make his life easier.
Mob wishes he could trade his powers for the simple social skills that someone like his brother Ritsu takes for granted. He wants pretty simple things, like friends, a girlfriend, or to do better physically, but he’s already at the age where he is realizing that those things take time and hard work to get. The only thing his powers seem to do is make it harder for him to get what he wants. One’s message is clear; superpowers aren’t the automatic win button we think they would be, and the only way to get what you want is to step up and work for it.
Reigen teaches Mob early on that his powers don’t make him better than anyone else, and to use them in the service of others (for a modest fee, of course). While every other esper that Mob encounters thinks that their powers elevate them above normal people, they’re usually pretty quickly humbled by a fourteen year old whose power far exceeds theirs. And since that is the only thing they base their self-worth on, it is usually enough of a shock to get them to listen to reason.
This makes for an effective set-up and knockdown, where the series manages to convey its belief that violence is never the answer, while disposing of threats that would not otherwise listen. These people have built themselves up to be so much greater than everyone, but Mob’s overwhelming strength can put them in check long enough to make a point. And when he could not, being only a child and everything, he manages to pass his powers onto Reigen temporarily, allowing the more confident adult to deal a lesson out to the members of Claw.
Speaking of Mob’s 100%, the titular concept of the series is a constant present with its regular reminders of each fluctuation in the young psychic’s mental state. He often struggles with social isolation as a result of his powers. Due to an incident when he was younger involving his brother Ritsu, he pushes his feelings down at all costs, without a thought for how this impacts him over the long term.
This leaves Mob vulnerable to being pushed over the edge at any moment, especially in moments like when the spirit Dimple tells Mob to “get a clue” in the official translation, or perhaps more accurately, to “read the room”. Reading the room is a common concept in Japanese media, as being unable to is a much more egregious faux pas than in the west. Not reading the room correctly puts off your peers who have no polite way to respond, and in the fast-paced and brutal politics of school social circles, there’s few ways out for those who can’t seem to get it, like Mob. Thus, when he hears it for what must be the hundredth time from Dimple, he snaps.
Mob often goes into 100% not just when he is overwhelmed, but when he is unable to handle the situation. At heart, his moments of extreme power are shown to be the opposite of taking control, as they would be in other anime series. A character revealing just how strong they are is supposed to be a triumphant moment, but for Mob, it’s a sign of how far he has to go. The series is explicit that Mob’s coping mechanism is not healthy.
However, it makes for a cathartic moment when Mob manages to use his 100% states for positive emotions, like his final mode of Compassion when fighting Claw Leader Toichiro Suzuki. As Mob’s abilities are so far ahead of the rest of his peers, his growth cannot be measured with new power levels or abilities. Thus, it’s the moments of maturity that he displays to prove that he has come even further.
Mob Psycho 100 has a lot to say as a series, and perhaps enough for a second essay one of these days when season three draws closer. It tactfully handles themes of adolescence and filters them through the lens of psychic battles to make their meanings more explicit and more digestible for the audience. It’s definitely worth a watch, or a read now that the manga has finished, especially if the wait for the next season grows too much to bear. Either way, I hope you enjoyed, and if you did, don’t forget to like the essay, leave a comment, or follow the Otaku Exhibition so you get updates each and every time I post a new one.