Mob Psycho 100 II
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Mob Psycho 100 II ?
Wow. In a word, that's all I have to say after finishing this fifth episode of Mob Psycho 100's second season. After failing to overpower Mogami, Mob finds himself trapped in an illusory world of the great ex-psychic's design, subjected to all the slings and arrows of teenage cruelty without any of his abilities or support networks from the real world. It's all a grand experiment by Mogami to make Mob see the world that he sees—to break him down and turn him into an ally who can help mete out unflinching justice upon the myriad evils of humanity. It's also a grand experiment to see how much raw animation power can be concentrated into a single episode of anime, and this experiment at least is a grand success. From the first frame to the last, this episode is one of the most impressive feats of sakuga I've ever seen televised, painting Mob's struggles with both psychedelic bombast and heartwarming delicacy.
Of course, a spectacle like this doesn't magically sprout from a sheet of paper. It shouldn't come as any surprise that the crew responsible is largely the same people who put together the similarly stunning 22nd episode of Fate/Apocrypha just over a year ago. Most prominently, the ridiculously talented Hakuyu Go serves as the episode's director, storyboarder, and animation director, and I can't even imagine how much work his team of animators put into making this possible. The result is positively scrumptious, but I'm most impressed by the sheer variety of styles and moods that make up this episode. I think most viewers are going to be drawn to the fight scene that takes up most of the second half, and for good reason. This is Mob Psycho 100 at its most unrestrained, fully taking advantage of the amorphous nature of its world and the spirits that live there. Everything undulates and flashes. It paints with the entire spectrum of colors, but the harsh glowing red of Mogami's malice dominates the palette. As the fight escalates, so does the effects animation, swirling debris and wisps of light together into show-stopping explosions. I have a ton of screencaps that looks like beautiful examples of abstract art, but they're most beautiful woven together into these moving tapestries of determination and destruction. Like the Karna vs. Sieg fight, this is a superhero battle that raises the bar for all forthcoming superhero battles.
But I'm equally impressed, if not more so, by the weight the animation and direction lend to the less flashy parts of the story. Hakuyu Go's storyboards go a long way in making Mob's fresh high school life feel creepy as heck. He uses a lot of distant and high angles, warping the perspective just enough to disorient the viewer. Mogami's presence is also constant and chilling, manifesting as a series of insects keeping tabs on Mob. The cold, mechanical, and Darwinian world of insects makes sense as a metaphor for the way that Mogami views humanity. His memories are washed in monochrome, and it's unsettling to see his visage become more gnarled and hollow as he transforms from a person into a demon. His story is not entirely unsympathetic, but he's become marinated in misanthropy that he views himself as the sole arbiter of humanity, and no person possesses enough perspective to act in that capacity. Of course, he tries to turn Mob into a manifestation of horror like himself, and he almost succeeds. Mob's pain and anger are visceral once Mogami allows his powers to reawaken, and it's difficult not to feel like he has every right to take his revenge on the people who made his life a living hell. It's an all too familiar fantasy that a lot of stories indulge in one way or another. However, Mob Psycho 100 has thankfully a more emotionally intelligent path forward.
Mogami's fatal flaw is that he cannot see any possibilities for the world other than the one he bases his entire vendetta around. There's a tendency to take visions of the world like his, which hone in on the darkest aspects of humanity, as being more authentic. That's how he rebuts Mob when he regains his memories of his life with his friends, but Mob only twists that into a reason to be even more grateful for the people who have helped him veer away from Mogami's path. Mogami's world is not more authentic than Mob's by virtue of being more cruel. It's simply another possibility, and Mob holds both of them with equal weight, focusing not on people's darkness but on their ability to change for the better. Not everybody is as lucky as Mob, but that's all the more reason for Mob to use the blessings of his charmed life to help others change like he has. Beneath the show's spectacle and hit-or-miss humor, this gets at the real heart of ONE's writing. Everyone is better off when people use their privilege to make the world a kinder place for those without it. That's how we build a world where people don't have to rely on the sheer luck of the circumstances of their birth in order to get by.
Mob channels his positive emotions into his surprisingly hot new 100% form, and despite the eye-popping pyrotechnics of his battle against a legion of evil spirits, his motivation is simple: he's gotta exorcise the demon possessing Minori. Naturally, Mogami doesn't make this easy for him, and by the end pretty much everything in their cognitive world, including Mob, is completely torn asunder. We're graced with another brief visit from our mysterious friend ???%, and Mogami seems to actually understand his true nature, but before we get any answers, Mob is awake and safe in the real world. Minori also finally wakes up, and her seemingly nonchalant admission to Mob that she really is that monstrous bully in reality too, almost immediately gives way to a tearful apology. It's a purposeful echo of her apology in the illusory world, spurred by her fear of Mob's awakened powers, but this time it's completely genuine. One of my favorite bits of animation in the entire episode is her character acting in this scene. The weight of both her regret and her gratitude is palpable, and it's a beautiful illustration of Mob's belief that people can change.
Mogami's arc ends quietly with Reigen treating his part-time assistant to some MobDonald's while he lectures him again on not letting his powers get to his head like they did with Mogami. For all his myriad flaws, Reigen continues to be the only real adult in the entire show, and Mob is so lucky to have him. If I had to have a complaint about this episode, it'd be that it feels a little rushed, but on the other hand I don't know if I could have handled watching any more of my son being bullied. In basically all respects, this is a triumph of an episode, full of both thematic strength and virtuoso animation to match. It's going to stand as a high-water mark for televised anime for years to come. I don't even know if it's possible for Mob Psycho 100 to top this, but the season isn't even halfway over, and I can't wait to see what other surprises it has in store.
Rating: A+ (100%)
Steve is a friend who's good at watching anime and can be found making bad posts about anime on Twitter.
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