Be sure to check out the write-ups for prior episodes!
Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5
“…this episode is just too unfocused and diluted to be compelling beyond its visuals.”
We’re now at the halfway point of Mob Psycho 100 and I think it’s time to start considering the effectiveness of the show when taken so far as a whole. I’ve harped on the individual successes and failures of specific episodes every week, but this far in it’s clearly established its formula, giving us a clear guide to understanding its priorities as a work of entertainment. Unlike the Bones produced sakuga darling Space Dandy before it, Mob has a continuous, non-episodic plot structure and is driven primarily by its narrative, so while its production functions as a spotlight for a variety of idiosyncratic talents in the animation industry there must be some sort of necessary cohesion to tie the whole together.
So far Mob Psycho has been broken up into very short arcs that introduce a conflict in one episode only to resolve it in the next, but they aren’t entirely discrete from each other. A remarkable number of characters have been introduced in the two arcs that make up the first five episodes that have continuously reappeared in the episodes since. Even the minor characters that would have quickly been tossed away after their relevance was exhausted in most other series find a way to get screen time here. Upon watching the most recent episode I’ve determined that this is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand the ever-growing recurrent cast has allowed for this series, in a very short amount of time, to establish a broad community of quirky and memorable characters. This is beneficial because it makes the show feel lively and keeps the viewer entertained with diverse personality types and interactions. However, episode six has made me begin to question the effectiveness of having such a large cast in a series as short and quickly-paced as this.
Indeed, it seems that the only characters that have received any sort of notable development are Mob himself as well as Teruki, who benefited from an entire episode dedicated to his character. It seems Teruki is one of the characters that may actually be tossed away in the scheme of things, as he only briefly appeared in a cute, chibi form during a recollection scene this episode while practically every other minor character gets some sort of role instead. You’ve got the usual Reigen gag at the beginning that serves little to no purpose; the middle school detective, Ichi, interviews Mob to make him uncomfortable, followed by Tome going on a date with him for much less interesting results than I had hoped; the villainous student council present is introduced as a new character while the vice president from the second episode is recycled to draw out Ritsu’s obsession with his brother’s powers; and even Tenga, the gang leader who appeared last arc, gets a last ditch effort at characterization before becoming victimized at the end of the broadcast. Then they go ahead and add a community of wacky minor espers and the goateed hipster that controls them. Honestly, it’s a little much, and I didn’t even mention everything that happens over the episode’s run time. While that is an issue in and of itself, it’s compounded by the fact that all of these characters are as flat as Mob’s bowl cut bangs.
Having not read the source material I can’t say if this problem is something exclusive to the anime or if things will improve as we move forward into new territory, but it’s certainly something that’s irked me this episode, especially after how deeply invested I was into the last arc. If there’s one thing Mob Psycho’s narrative excels at its portraying the adolescent struggles of Mob himself, so when the alluring prospect of angst brought about by being forced into a date with a girl he doesn’t particularly like is mostly skimmed over for bland gags and some questionable foreshadowing I feel the creators aren’t playing their cards right.
That said, in terms of production this episode looked much better than the previous off-episodes. The visual direction was stellar, with a huge variety of shot compositions and framing. What stuck out the most to me was how the presence of the student council president’s brother was cast throughout his home, reflected on the stairs and walls, leading to quite a memorable and believable example of the stress induced by overbearing expectations.
I’m still a fan of the general aesthetic of Mob Psycho and its themes of adolescence, but this episode is just too unfocused and diluted to be compelling beyond its visuals. Moving into the second half of the series I’m beginning to wonder whether or not the narrative will be able to keep pace and deliver and ultimately satisfying or meaningful experience.
“…do I find this compelling and gripping storytelling? No, but you know, points for putting in the effort.”
I don’t think anyone will argue with me when I say this week’s episode was a little dry. It was mostly about Ritsu joining a group of low level psychics looking to enhance their powers. Ritsu is also dealing with the pressure of having to be better than his older brother (Seriously guys, we, meaning Josh and myself, spent a very long time trying to figure which one of these two was the older sibling. Imagine that montage scene from Spotlight where the reporters are piling over mountains of reference books for hours on end, and you’ll have a brief snapshot of what it’s liking trying to figure these silly little details out at WMC). That’s pretty much it. I’m honestly kinda struggling right now to say much about this one.
In terms of character development for Ritsu, it’s serviceable enough. Even though everyone praises him for all of the accomplishments he’s done, those comments come across as insults. How can he be more talented than Mob when he doesn’t even have a fraction of the skill Mob possesses? Can’t they see Mob’s the gifted one?
Another source of Ritsu’s problems come from his after school activities. Ritsu is on the student council who’s president is a little bit of a trash lord. The President is under the opposite side of the pressure Ritsu is facing at home. His parents are constantly hounding him on not having the same achievements as his older brother, but unlike Ritsu who’s seeking to improve what he sees as his weaknesses, the President embraces what everyone thinks of him. He wants to be seen as a disappointment to those closest to him, and involves Ritsu in a scheme to publicly embarrass Tenga. I’ll be honest, I’m really sure why the President was gunning for Tenga outside of just proving to Ritsu that he, meaning The President, is a jerk face.
Of course, the President’s plan is bit odd. He and Ritsu sneak into Tenga’s classroom, take all of the mouth pieces from the girl’s musical recorders and hide them in his desk, attempting to label Tenga as a pervert. The idea is since the girls used the mouth pieces to blow into their recorders, he’ll be able to taste the girl’s lips, which seems like a bit of a stretch to me. I get people being grossed out by underwear thieves and why underwear is an appealing thing to steal, but the mouth piece from a recorder is just a bit of plastic. It might get slightly wet, but it’s not like they slobbered all over it and I doubt you’d even get much lipstick residue on there assuming any of the girls are wearing lipstick. I’m also not entirely sure why everyone in the class is freaked out by this. A few people, sure, definitely the girls in the room who had their stuff stolen, but I have a hard time imagining every guy in the class would be even slightly concerned. Again, gym clothes and underwear, sure that can be creepy and gross to a lot of people, but a bunch of cheep plastic from a really annoying musical instrument went missing. Also why are a bunch of middle-schoolers practicing the recorder in the first place? Isn’t that just an elementary school activity? Anyhow, I’m over thinking this whole bit in the hopes of stretching out my section of the article’s length when really I don’t have much to say this week.
Regardless of how silly this act can come across, it still bothers Ritsu on a personal level. Not because he’s framing an innocent student as a pervert, but because he’s using his limited abilities and resources for causing harm. He knows Mob only uses his gifts to entertain his friends and protect himself and those around him. Meanwhile, Ritsu’s damaging a person’s reputation to help some scumbag in a higher level of power. How is he supposed to live up to Mob’s example when this is how he’s spending his time? It doesn’t matter if everyone else sees him as a model student, Ritsu knows deep down he’s doing the wrong thing.
Now, do I find this compelling and gripping storytelling? No, but you know, points for putting in the effort. This story just doesn’t grab me like it should and I can’t put my finger on why I wasn’t interested this week. Normally, I can point to one thing that bothered me, but this week it was just everything. It might be because the show spent the time building up elements that’ll come into play later, like the group of weak psychics Ritsu met or the powerful psychic in a hoodie Mob encountered while hanging out with the girl from the Telepathy Club. Either way, this episode was just kinda dry.
These kinds of episodes are important, but unfortunately they’re not the most interesting to talk about.
“The sakuga – or in this case, its absence, means something, and serves a purpose more than just looking pretty.”
“Where’d all the sakuga go?” seems to be the uniform opinion of this week’s episode, but to be honest, I think its absence was intended. With comments like that, people have forgotten that Mob Psycho is interested in its narrative as well as stylish flare and visual integrity. Compound this with the fact that nearly every moment we’ve been privy to said sakuga involves the use of psychic abilities and it starts to make sense. A full on sakuga-fest would not have been appropriate this episode, and ultimately, would have detracted from the very standard and average life of Mob’s younger brother, Ritsu. Because Mob Psycho uses sakuga properly: to drive the narrative.
That’s not to say this episode was visually underwhelming, episode director and story boarder Anzai Takefumi was able to keep the shot composition dynamic without dipping into the mania of episodes past, just as he did in episode 2. In fact, a lot of the comments I made then apply to this episode now, the ‘syncopation of sakuga’ comment in particular. What Mob has done is emphasize the off-beats with class-A animation, not only the battles and clashes, but even the mundane uses of Mob’s powers (such as sharing takoyaki with Reigen). Why? Because the sakuga drives the narrative point home (seriously, go read my comments on episode 2). The sakuga – or in this case, its absence, means something, and serves a purpose more than just looking pretty. It’s abundantly obvious that Ritsu is due for psychic powers of his own, but if he becomes as visually stimulating as the all-powerful Mob this early on all that progression would have been spoiled before it even began.
Camera angles and perspectives did well to probe into Ritsu’s insecurities/aspirations. Running parallel to this is his relationship with the student council president, a vision of what Ritsu could (or will) become if his pursuit of power continues to be a path of frustration and self flagellation. And similar to last episode, exploration of these themes takes a dialectical approach, even going as far to show the student council president being browbeaten by his older brother, escaping to his room to lie in the trash. The symbolism is poignant.
Perhaps the most effective of cinematic tools establishing the theme includes the lighting, shallow depth-of-field, and warped perspective, and in many cases the use of all three elements together. The constant use of shallow depth-of-field was most noteworthy. Takefumi Really seems to be fond of low-angle shots emphasizing depth of field and inviting contrast in scenes where one of the foci hugs the rabatment of the frame.
Likewise, this same technique causes tension when applied to closeups, one focus placed in lower-left third at a low angle looking to the actor’s face in the upper-right third. The distance between the two objects is understood, but two contrasting objects are now forced to share a frame when they may not like each other.
Meanwhile, warped perspective shots allowed for emotion to leak from Ritsu, inviting us into his world, demanding we be drawn into his cerebral space. These forced perspectives literally increasing the size of the focus in the center frame; we have no choice but to see and acknowledge it. But carrying all of this was the lighting, providing an even and level dais for the other elements to stand on. Even though this episode falls short of being the fantastical spectacle we demand week to week, the visuals carried the burden of the story just as effectively, only differently.
But I suppose if you aren’t sold on that you could just wait until next episode for Dimple to save the show.