The Subtle Doctor
” Let’s hope the small-time exorcism racket remains as fun to watch as the climb up the Hero Association was.”
Mob Psycho 100 is an anime adaptation of the manga by newly-minted sensation ONE, the fellow who brought you last year’s smash hit One Punch Man. Where the latter was the story of the pros and cons of being a modern day Superman, Mob Psycho is about the seemingly disreputable industry of ghost busting. Reigen Arataka runs a small exorcism agency, but he has about as much talent dealing with the paranormal as Sherlock Holmes has for making small talk. Luckily, he has found (and duped into employment) Mob, a middle-schooler with off-the-charts ability to fight and/or banish supernatural beings.
Many elements of this first episode will feel familiar to OPM fans. Mob reprises the role of Saitama. He is a rather dull and witless kid, lacking aptitude in things like athletics and academics; yet, the boy is an absolute genius wielding his psychic powers. While we don’t know yet if Mob worked as hard as Saitama did to obtain his powers, all it takes is one look at the kid’s face, and then you realize.
ONE seems to have a penchant for taking lofty or otherworldly fantastical concepts and plunging them into the muck of the real world. Like being a hero in the world of OPM, being a ghost buster in Mob Psycho isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Potential customers treat Reigen with the same degree of skepticism you might treat someone attempting to sell you zombie apocalypse insurance. Mob’s shady mentor (with a heart of gold, of course) does himself no favors by (a) making purchasing an exorcism about as complex as purchasing insurance and (b) being a gigantic fake. And it’s all quite amusing here. ONE has a real talent for introducing red tape to the fantastic and thereby producing humorous situations. Let’s hope the small-time exorcism racket remains as fun to watch as the climb up the Hero Association was.
I’d be remiss in talking about the Mob Psycho premiere without mentioning its chief hook, as well as the thing that most distinguishes it from OPM: its look. It’s well…a mess. An intentional mess, yes, but a mess nonetheless. I will preface the rest of my comments by telling you that I am not, nor do I claim to be, a sakuga expert. The only arena in which I claim expertise is that of my own taste.
Madhouse pumped an incredible amount of detail into nearly every frame of OPM. Despite its kinetic action, last fall’s super hero hit always retained a smoothness, a cleanness to its visuals. Certainly, the show “popped into” a different, blobbier sort of look when Saitama was being silly. But, while OPM went there occasionally, Mob Psycho lives here, in this mushy, messy space. Every object—including the characters themselves—exists in a kind of flux, bending and blending at the whim of the Bones animation team. Most things have purposefully messy outlines, and none of Mob’s shots contain the same amount of depth and detail as OPM’s. The art design resembles a decade-old western cartoon, rather than the latest work by the folks at Studio Bones. I know it seems like I’m attempting to make an unflattering juxtaposition here, but it’s nothing more than a visual comparison.
To be clear, I am not saying this sort of aesthetic is inherently bad or that the team working on Mob isn’t a talented bunch who is working hard. I actually respect the hell out of the effort they’ve put in. What I am saying is that the aesthetic isn’t for me. It doesn’t jibe with what I usually like or what I expected from the show, but it is by no means an eyesore or poorly executed. In fact, the aesthetic is executed with such intentionality, that I’m quite sure someone will write a fine essay on how it ties directly into the show’s core themes.
Regardless of whether or not its look is for you, there is plenty of fun to be had with Mob Psycho.
“Mob Psycho is shaping up to be one of the most inspired anime of the year.”
As someone who wasn’t much of a fan of One Punch Man despite its overwhelming popularity back when it was airing, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of Mob Psycho 100. While One Punch Man is a nearly unparalleled spectacle of Japanese animation, its cynical nature left me feeling unfulfilled and I wasn’t sure if the same tone would carry over into author ONE’s other works. Fortunately, Mob Psycho seems to be a very different kind of series, and is all the better for it.
While One Punch Man used the separation of strength between its main duo of Saitama and Genos to convey the futility hard work and resulting lack of fulfillment, Mob Psycho uses a contrasting approach. In it, the duo’s roles are basically reversed as the seemingly unstoppable Mob, who easily destroys swaths of ghouls with his psychic powers, is never in the spotlight. That’s because his partner, Arataka, is using Mob’s talents to prop up his own ego as the world’s premier psychic medium despite having absolutely no powers himself. What makes it work, though, is how the two seem to share a deeper relationship and depend on each other. It may seem like Arataka is just a heartless narcissist who is taking advantage of a middle school kid, but there are already scenes in the first episode that show that he really cares about Mob, taking him out to eat and yelling for him when he’s in danger. Mob, while unaware of Arataka’s utter lack of authority, seems respectful of his boss and teacher who provides guidance on how to live with the burden of such awesome potential. The team and their interactions are instantly more interesting than those of Saitama and Genos, and it’s certainly drawing me in.
The other way that Mob Psycho differentiates itself is through its visuals. While One Punch Man’s anime adapted the redrawn Yusuke Murata manga which features more realistic and well-proportioned art, Mob Psycho has no such publication, only the original, sketchy ONE manga. Director Yuzuru Tachikawa and the staff at Bones have taken full advantage of this to deliver a very distinct and stylish anime. The art and animation in Mob Psycho show a blissful disregard for realism, resulting in some of the most wonderfully expressive drawings I’ve seen in TV anime since Bone’s own Space Dandy. Characters warp and bend in cartoonish ways, their faces contort to bizarre shapes and their gestures are full of energy. The effects animation is lavish and sometimes even psychedelic, which results in battles being less of a pure animation spectacle and more of a grand, imaginative euphoria. The visual direction is supplemented by dynamic layouts, frequent cuts, and a progressive pacing that keeps the viewer engaged at all times. This all does an excellent job of characterizing the show itself as a more experimental affair than One Punch Man.
One other thing I’d like to bring attention to is the sound design. The soundtrack is composed by Kenji Kawai of Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor fame, the first episode contained a fair mix of moody atmospheric pieces with energetic and notably weird compositions that fit the tone of the show perfectly. I especially enjoyed the hype tune that played while Mob slaughtered the monstrous tunnel demon at the end of the episode. The sound effects often sound like they’re straight out of a Hanna Barbera cartoon and are well-suited to the slapstick comedy and silly, exaggerated expressionism found throughout the episode.
Mob Psycho is shaping up to be one of the most inspired anime of the year. The first episode alone has enough energy and charm that it almost instantly converted me. While some One Punch Man fans may be somewhat off-put by its style choices, I highly recommend giving it a shot anyways.
Oh, and that OP is fantastic.
“…this show is sure to succeed. There’s no doubt of that in my mind.”
Is Mob Psycho 100 good? Yes. Is Mob Psycho 100 a sakuga-fest? Yes. This show instantly draws comparison to the likes of Space Dandy and One Punch Man like a magnet; it is after all the latest visual tour de force in that same style. It is the perfect storm of a myriad of styles and a furry of everything from hand painted ghosts (literally, GEDAI animation’s Miyuki Sato painstakingly painted her cut of Ceiling Crasher) to spectral lightning that recalling Bahi JD’s opening cut of Space Dandy. But never once do these sharp cuts between Dezaki style ‘postcard memories’ and frantic Kanada school animation create any dissonance. In fact, in this regard a storm is a perfect metaphor; it’s completely natural with unparalleled flow. Mob Psycho‘s #1 rule is to never be boring. Even in the moments of more conventional animation the shot composition and framing are brilliant. This show is never dull to look at.
That opening credit sequence pushed the boundaries of what animation is. Like so much of the show, they animate it just for animation’s sake – and that’s really all you need. Thematically, I think this first episode was rather ‘lacking’ but this was merely an introductory episode meant to impress visually. And so much of it is nothing more than visual sensory overload, and that’s a good thing. Hell, this thing could be call MAD Psycho and posted straight to YouTube. The entire episode could be streamed uncut on Sakugabooru and that would be completely appropriate. Yes, it deserves to be in the same conversation as Space Dandy and One Punch Man.
Mob Psycho brings a lot of new blood to the table as well – Yuzuru Tachikawa (Death Parade) is one such example. Tachikawa’s short but impressive track record sets him up as the next big name in anime directing: this is sure to be his most prized feather in that cap. Propping him up is a crack team of animators that each deserve their own pieces written about them – this show is sure to succeed. There’s no doubt of that in my mind.
But what strikes me the most is the message being conveyed. I felt that ONE’s One Punch Man was less ‘What would life be like if a normal guy was Superman?’ and more along the lines of ‘the greatness a single person is lost in a modern societal hierarchy’. I think Mob Psycho is no different. Reigen taking complete advantage of the talented Mob strikes a chord to the tune of the business world’s extortion of those too young and ignorant to know better. It’s Mob’s talent keeping the comically under qualified and blissfully incompetent Reigen fat. And Mob blindly obeys Reigen’s hollow authority. With such an absence of malice, it feels like a subtle satire has slipped into the narrative. I acknowledge my extrapolation on just this one episode alone might be quite the leap, but to say there’s nothing there I feel would be a further leap.
So what does that 100% that Mob seems to be working toward represent? That’s easy, the start of the show is the climax – the 100%.
“There’s better character development and story in watching paint dry.”
Before we get too far into my opinions about this first episode, I should disclose that I’ve been experiencing a major anime burn out and this show isn’t doing that burn out any favors. Hell, its more evidence that current anime has moved past my taste and preferences – I should probably give up anime all together. Regardless, I was asked what my opinions on this show are and I’m going to be as honest and transparent on my feelings on this series. So keep in mind, if you want a positive review of this, look elsewhere. Maybe the comments from my colleges on this site will be more kind.
Mob Psycho 100 is basically a really shitty version of the 1996 Peter Jackson movie The Frighteners. A con-artist tricks folks into performing overpriced exorcisms, but when the dangers turn out to be real, he contacts a real powerful psychic named Mob who deals with the ghost himself. While both Mob Psycho 100 and Frighteners are horror comedies, the difference is Frighteners is actually scary and funny, while Mob Psycho 100 is not.
Mob Psycho 100 runs on the same gimmick as last year’s run away hit, One Punch Man, throw enough money into the animation to create so many explosions of color and motion that the creators are aiming to distract the audience from noticing there’s no meaning or substance. Full disclosure, I didn’t like One Punch Man either. Here’s the thing though, One Punch Man at least has an entertaining lead in Saitama, Mob Psycho 100 doesn’t even have that saving grace. Mob is the same loser hero stereotype that was on full display in last season’s My Hero Acadamia (Another show I absolutely loathed). Mob doesn’t have friends, he sucks at school, he’s not good at sports, etc. etc. etc. Its an overused character archetype that I’m really starting to get sick of. Its all of the characteristics that trick the viewer into identifying themselves as that character so they can relate and feel empathetic towards him. Instead he comes across as a loser who’s only talent is fighting ghost. (Quick aside: I almost wrote, “killing ghost”, but I noticed how stupid and contradictory that was.) At least Saitama is confident in his abilities and his smug nature makes him likable, while Mob is just a social inept teenager and there’s nothing interesting about him.
So the lonely Mob teams up with Not Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox’s character from Frighteners for all you non-film buffs and I refuse to look up his name) to fight evil spirits. Not Frank is completely unlikable. He’s a total clod who’s taking advantage of this kid’s loneliness to scam him and the others around him into making him money. He’s only in the show to serve as a bumbling idiot who delivers terrible jokes. He’ll try fighting a ghost on his own, spraying salt everywhere and screaming the name of an attack, when… Gasp! Uh-oh! It’s the wrong kind of salt! Queue the horn of failure and slap your knee as you indulge in a big belly laugh as you marvel that this show’s clever humor and wit. Har freaking har. If that does nothing for you, don’t worry, the butt chinned kid from One Punch Man has grown up and makes an appearance in the first episode. I so look forward to watching his character grow and develop over the course of the series, because I can give a flying toss about anybody else.
Also I have a feeling that everyone and their mommies will be praising this show for its animation. I also call bull crap on this because all of the main characters have the same blasted face. The same damn face as Saitama by the by. Starting to think whoever worked on the character designs is the same guy who drew Tomoko’s face in Watamote. Anyhow, the fight scenes are basically the equivalent of having keys dangled in front of your face. They make noises, they flash colors, you know, all of those exciting things you kids love nowadays.
So no, I don’t recommend Mob Psycho 100. There’s better character development and story in watching paint dry.