The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide Mob Psycho 100
How would you rate episode 1 of
Mob Psycho 100 ?
What is this?
In the modern world, there are many beings mankind cannot comprehend. Here to fight these creatures are psychics, men and women with paranormal powers, who hold back the dangers lurking in the darkness. Reigen Arataka is one such psychic… or at least, that's what his advertising says. In truth, Reigen's psychic abilities seem limited to throwing salt at angry spirits - but Reigen's apprentice, Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama, is the real deal. Together, the two of them fight off the many spirits inhabiting their world, with Mob learning whatever he can from his con artist of a teacher. Mob Psycho 100 is based on a web manga and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Mondays at 12:30 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Let's start by getting the obvious out of the way: Mob Psycho 100 looks really, really cool. It may not fit easily into the usual anime aesthetic that we all know and love, but its art style is a good match for its tone and characters. There's also a lot of impressive animation on display in this first episode, from the big, colorful action sequences to the little shifts in body language that help convey the characters' personalities. The character designs are distinctive, with plenty of creativity going into some of the spirits that Mob and Reigen encounter. This episode reminds me a little bit of Space Dandy in the way it gleefully goes overboard on the visual front.
Mob Psycho 100 also has a good sense of humor, and is able to entertain while still taking itself reasonably seriously. Much of the comedy comes from Reigen's shameless con artist act, with his larger-than-life boasts constantly on the verge of being deflated by Mob's unassuming competence. Reigen is clearly a buffoon that we're meant to laugh at, but his self-promotion is so blatantly hollow that he almost seems to be in on the joke. The biker spirit that appears in this episode is also endearingly silly, and I found myself really liking the little blue guy by the end.
The show makes a lot of promises in the early going, with frequent updates on how close we are to Mob's “explosion,” which presumably sets off the out-of-context fight scene at the beginning of the episode. It's an intriguing setup, but the story definitely has more potential than actual substance at the moment. I'm also a little worried about Mob as a character, as he's almost too much of a blank slate. That seems to be intentional, and I assume he'll move beyond his initial role as Reigen's polar opposite soon enough.
If Mob Psycho 100 can build on its creative visuals and solid comedy to tell an interesting and insightful story, it could easily be the highlight of the season. Even if all that potential never goes anywhere, it'll still be a fun series to watch. This is the kind of thing that you show to your friends when you're trying to prove that anime is more than just short skirts and giant robots.
Humor really is subjective – while I found the over-the-top absurdity of The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. funny, Mob Psycho 100 just kind of left me with the odd smile here and there. This episode relies more on one standard gag, that Reigan, a self-proclaimed super-psychic, is really basically a con artist, and his middle school-aged apprentice, Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama is the real psychic but is totally unaware that Reigan is using him. While that single joke can be taken pretty far when we consider stretching a story out, it also makes for a fair amount of repetition within the episode itself. This one features Reigan failing to defeat two ghosts and then telling Mob that they were really too easy for him to bother with. It feels like the start of a series-long pattern.
More interesting are the visuals. While ONE, who also created One-Punch Man and drew the original webcomic, isn't the best artist out there, his designs mostly work for this show, which makes no bones about its premise or style of humor. Where things get interesting is in the animation and color choices – it's frenetic and a bit ADD in its choices, jumping between fairly traditional animation and sections that look like they're made of thick paint swirled with a large brush, regular colors suddenly giving way to screaming neons. It all felt a bit overwhelming to me, like too much visual stimulation for the story. It is a way to provide more humor and a sense that psychic things are happening, but it also can create the sensation that you have to laugh, because look, isn't everything just so weird?! Granted, I can find that style uncomfortable in terms of visual stimulation in general, so your mileage will almost certainly vary.
Throughout the show we are shown a measure of how close Mob is to exploding, which I assume to mean when he gets fed up with Reigan's posturing and figures out what's going on in terms of his being used and poorly paid. We're at 27% at episode's end, so it may take the whole season, or most of it, to finally push Mob over the edge. While I would like to see that, because the poor boy has enough problems what with his mother threatening to charge him for all of the spoons he's accidentally bent, I'm not willing to sit through the rest of the show to see it happen.
Even if you somehow didn't know up front that this is from the same creative mind behind last year's megahit One-Punch Man, that would be glaringly obvious from the time that Mob first shows up in human form. After all, Mob pretty much is the titular hero of One-Punch Man: he looks like a younger version of Saitama, has a similar personality and way of speaking, and is just as overpowered. The only real difference, aside from age, is that this time around
Saitama Jr. Mob is the underling overestimating the worth of his “master” rather than the other way around. This does raise the question of whether or not ONE is capable of creating anything other than stories about low-key, dry speaking, uber-powered individuals, but hey, if you got the idea to work well once, why not reuse it, right?
The actual story here is amusing but not all that remarkable: a shyster psychic uses a real psychic disciple and smooth talking to cover for the fact that he has no actual ability himself. Could be interesting to see how long that deception lasts before the clueless Mob finally catches on. It could also be interesting to see what, exactly, happens, when the regularly-updated % count hits 100. For the most part, though, the humor and visuals are what carry it for now. Fortunately the visuals are much more capable than the humor, which didn't impress me at all. Most of the jokes are so predictable I barely got a chuckle out of the whole episode; the only ones that I actually found kinda funny was the one about how the biker gang all died due to a banana peel and Mob accidentally bending his spoon while eating, and don't get me started on the stupid naming conventions. (Salt Middle School in Seasoning City?)
And my, the visuals are the reason to watch this! I am not at all a fan of the kind of psychedelic style used for the opening couple of minutes or the grotesque character designs and reaction shots used later on, but that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate the quality and creativity of the visual effort. It can be described and shown in screen shots, but you have to see it full animation to fully comprehend the visual accomplishment. The only thing that really bugged me about it is how some characters other than Mob also have very Saitama-like faces. (See the screen shot, which shows the girl Mob is sweet on.) Is that a deliberate visual conceit, perhaps?
Overall, the first episode is good enough that I can give it a recommendation, although not everyone is going to bite on the humor.
When it comes to the animation side of anime, it's hard to imagine topping Mob Psycho 100. Hell, it's hard to imagine topping the opening theme alone, which packs so many psychedelic images and wildly imaginative cuts of insanity into 90 seconds that you could probably watch it in slow motion and get a solid 3-4 minutes of trippy entertainment out of the experience. The manic action and immaculate attention to detail doesn't slow with the main episode either, as one comical or haunting setpiece after another flicks past a stone-faced Mob just trying to navigate his daily life with psychic powers he hasn't even begun to understand. Thanks to its scribbly and amorphous art style, Mob Psycho 100 can pack more dynamic animation into twenty minutes of TV than almost any other production, even from a studio of BONES's caliber, could even dream of.
But when it comes to the story, I think the jury's still out. Unlike author ONE's former work on One-Punch Man, Mob Psycho 100 doesn't wear its gimmick on its sleeve. Right from OPM's first episode, poor Saitama's plight of young adult ennui was obvious to anyone who'd felt the same way about their own lives, but as of MP100's first episode, Mob is still a total cipher of a middle-schooler. Fortunately, I think that's intentional. Mob has only reached about 27% of the foreboding "100" number in the title that portends some kind of horrifying change for the poor kid. Unfortunately, holding out on this mystery undercuts the episode's comedic and narrative content a little bit, since the joke that dominates the story pre-100-explosion is that Mob's con artist teacher takes advantage of his talents, a joke that gets old pretty fast when Mob isn't ready to rebel against the dynamic yet. (The rest of the humor comes from ridiculous origin stories for vengeful spirits, which is funny, but basically a palette-swap of the supervillain origin story jokes from One-Punch Man.)
So what does that 100% represent? Puberty? Self-awareness? Emotional awakening? Just plain teen frustration? It could be any number of things, but with a mega-talented series director in Yuzuru Tachikawa and ONE's intimate understanding of millennial ennui, I'm eager to see where Mob's adventures will take him. Even if I don't know much about the kid and his world just yet, it's definitely jaw-dropping just to look at!
It sure is exciting watching new talent absolutely kill it. Three years ago, Yuzuru Tachikawa handled the concept and direction for Death Billiards, one of the four chosen projects for that year's Anime Mirai young animators project. Last year saw the release of the excellent Death Parade, a full-length series based on his short that demonstrated tremendous dramatic range and a careful eye for aesthetic resonance. And today, we get to see Tachikawa directing Mob Psycho 100, the highly anticipated anime based on ONE's original webcomic.
ONE's name is likely to arouse a little more notice than Tachikawa's - after all, he was the original creator of last year's extremely well-received One-Punch Man. But while One-Punch Man offered quite the animation showcase, it was also a very imbalanced work; lacking somewhat in the narrative and non-animation visual departments, it often felt like a series of animation peaks stranded in a succession of valleys.
Mob Psycho 100 has no such problems. There's plenty of sumptuous animation here, but the show's overall art design is even stronger. The opening sequence by itself presents a fantastical kaleidoscope of wild, colorful imagery, and it's strangely wonderful seeing ONE's very loose, almost scribbled character designs in motion. Very few shows lean into their expressions as enthusiastically as Mob Psycho 100; the show shifts wildly between pencil sketches, vivid colors, and even traditionally painted faces, always demonstrating some new visual trick.
And behind it all, Tachikawa's skillful direction gives the show a powerful tonal consistency. The worlds that Reigen and Mob occupy actually feel viscerally different purely due to the way the two characters are framed. Reigen presents himself as a hardboiled psychic detective, and so that's what the camera sees - lots of dutch angle shots of him staring pensively at the sky, or tapping his polished heels as he waits for danger. Mob doesn't see himself as special at all, and so the camera diminishes him, letting him appear small and conventional in the frame until his wild powers take all control.
The show isn't just noteworthy for its visuals, either. While I can't say every joke worked here (ONE tends to favor pretty broad humor in general, leaning on gags like “I'm sure we'll be able to fix your girlfriend's face” “but she always looks like that!”), the show has a snappy sense of comedic timing, and the relationship between Reigen and Mob already feels fairly compelling. There's a building sense of suspense over what will happen when the recurring Mob counter reaches one hundred, and I really liked the small moments of Reigen actually acting tough for his young apprentice. It'd be easy for a bluffing con man like Reigen to come off as unlikable, but small moments of insecurity and concern for his apprentice quickly reveal an underlying humanity in his character.
Mob Psycho 100 was one of the top shows to look out for this season, and I'm very happy to see it make good on that promise. Given my mixed feelings on One-Punch Man, I'm not entirely sure I trust this show's source material, but I think it's safe to say the adaptation is in very good hands.
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