Reviews of Mob Psycho 100 (2016) and related work

Mob Psycho 100 (2016Moving picture, 5.0 hours)

Seen in 2020.

Kageyama “Mob” Shigeo is a quiet kid in middle school. His nickname has nothing to do with organized crime. More likely, it comes from the simple “mobile” opponents in early video games. Mob is neither bright nor athletic and he doesn’t attract attention. One day he walks into the office of a two-bit scam artist, looking for a consultation. Kageyama is a psychic talent, and he doesn’t know what to do about it. The scam artist, Reigen Arataka, tricks the boy into being his disciple, driving out unwanted spirits. Attention inevitably follows.

Mob Psycho 100 was a big hit, probably because it combines a broad character-based comedy (e.g. Mob never realizing that Reigen is faking it) with above-average animation sequences for the action scenes of a quick shōnen power trip. The love of animation, more than the school-and-workplace comedy, give it life. The many small sequences of animation on glass, the medium of Caroline Leaf, are a nice complement to the energetic cel-style action.

The escalating power level, from minor haunting spirits to an evil organization plotting world domination with hundreds of powerful psychics, is abrupt, and includes a number of side stories that fail to achieve their intended emotional depth. The long, dark story of Shigeo’s little brother, Ritsu, is unsuccessful in my opinion; none of the horror elements really work with the comedic baseline. The school clubs and rival gangs of delinquents are more fun, but that material is derivative of decades of middle-school manga. The central motif of “espers”, chōnōryokusha, is played for nostalgia, having much in common with Domu: A Child’s Dream (1980) and the psychic fad of the 1980s.

Shigeo resembles the same writer’s One Punch Man (2015): the overpowered, good-hearted naïf. “99”, a song set to the opening credits, starts with an attempt to encapsulate Shigeo’s dilemma in English: “If everyone is not special, maybe you can be what you want to be”. This is the ethos of Rick and Morty (2013). Like Morty, Mob is at an unfair advantage, yet struggles to form his own character in adolescence. Arataka is a more original character, more than a comedic version of Ryōta from After the Storm (2016). The relationship between Mob and Arataka, though comical, is based on traditional Japanese notions of mutual responsibility: The master, though he may be a petty criminal, does in fact try to do his duty toward his disciple and nurture the boy, which is a functional dramatic backbone.

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“Mob Psycho 100: Reigen – The Miracle Psychic that Nobody Knows” (2018Moving picture, 60 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A recap under the premise that Reigen dictates a book based on his adventures.

This is a vehicle for announcing that the second season would be made. The little new material is not worthwhile.

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Mob Psycho 100 II (2019Moving picture, 5.0 hours)

Seen in 2021.

Practically a second season of the same adaptation, but under a separate title and made after a three-year hiatus. The style is very similar, but the mixed-media inserts are pencil and a little bit of sand-on-light-table rather than paint on glass.

Where the mid-season arc was the weakest part of the first season, this one is strongest in episodes 6 through 8, an arc where Reigen’s gaslighting of Mob finally fails. This is both the result of and a cause for further natural character development, with very little fighting. From episode 9 onward it’s back to superheroics, culminating in a showdown that very nearly reaches the power level of Akira (1982).

The animation and the characters sustain interest in the more formulaic and action-packed episodes, but bravura sakuga cannot entirely compensate for the low frame rate or the occasional lapses in storytelling. The return of Claw involves an escalation into more adult territory—the killing of Ritsu and his parents—but this turns out to be faked. Faking it pulls the rug out from under the dramatic stakes that should have supported the finale. The show remains kids’ stuff, albeit relatively lively, and much is elided to deliver that finale on budget.

References here: “Mob Psycho 100 II: The First Spirits and Such Company Trip — A Journey that Mends the Heart and Heals the Soul” (2019).

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“Mob Psycho 100 II: The First Spirits and Such Company Trip — A Journey that Mends the Heart and Heals the Soul” (2019Moving picture, 24 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Serizawa, the shut-in from Mob Psycho 100 II (2019), joins Reigen, Dimple, Hanazawa and the Kageyama brothers to exorcise an inn that has been dropping people into pocket dimensions or parallel worlds.

Better than the average episode.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture sequel