Mob Psycho 100 II
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Mob Psycho 100 II ?
This week's extremely normal episode of Mob Psycho 100 sees Mob aggressively committed to the normalcy of his school life. Mezato wants him to come forward and embrace his role as leader of the Psycho Helmet Religion, but that's not for him. He's too focused on the upcoming marathon, hoping to move up from last year's bottom ten to this year's top ten runners. He's repeatedly reminded that he could easily use some telekinetic mumbo jumbo to breeze past the competition, but that also is not for him. Mob wants to win with the muscles he's cultivated. He wants to ask Tsubomi out. He wants to keep growing and keep getting stronger. He refuses to be defined solely by his psychic talents, however much it inconveniences him. This is hardly a new theme for the series, but by repeatedly vamping on it, Mob Psycho 100 allows no illusions about what truly makes Mob a good person.
Mob's sincerity is met in turn with overflowing kindness as nearly every one of his friends comes out of the background character woodwork to support him. The Body Improvement Club gives him running technique pointers. Ritsu volunteers to do extra work so his brother can focus on training (and resting!). Even Reigen sets aside his packed schedule to focus on helping Mob achieve his dream. Reigen, unsurprisingly, is in even worse shape than Mob, but it's the thought that counts. Once again, this all adds up to a beautiful illustration of the support networks Mob has been able to find. It doesn't even matter that the marathon itself goes terribly; his goals were lofty, yet his progress is undeniable. The episode's intro shows a young Mob brought to tears by a skinned knee, but now he pushes through the same injury to run the entire race. His form and pacing immediately go to hell, and there's a lot of exemplary character animation in this scene that viscerally communicates just how far past the point of exhaustion he is. Nevertheless, he never gives up. He doesn't win, but he finishes, and everyone, including himself, is proud of him. I'm proud of him. Even his teacher sees that Mob is beaming in a way he hadn't before. His life isn't perfect, but Mob is so blessed.
Until, suddenly, he isn't.
I was tempted to write down my thoughts on this episode as one unbroken primal scream, because that's how I felt when I was done watching it. In fact, here's one for good measure: WHAT THE HELL, MOB PSYCHO 100? The last few minutes unfold like a nightmare accelerating towards its awful and inevitable conclusion. Once I had enough distance from the episode to reflect on it, I could see how this season has been leading up to this moment. Mob's been through some dark stuff, especially with Mogami, so while I can't say I anticipated this development, it doesn't arrive completely out of left field. In the moment, however, the shock is palpable. ONE knows exactly what he's doing here too. He goes so far as to dangle some cliche sitcom plot threads (omg Ritsu thinks Tsubomi has a crush on someone who isn't Mob!) throughout the episode just so he can trojan horse this mother of all sucker punches straight through the audience's heart. It's cruel and cheap, but it's methodical in a way I have to respect.
As tends to be the case with Mob Psycho 100, the animation and direction elevate its already good source material into something unforgettable and, in this case, visceral. The episode's tone shifts immediately once the kid from Claw darkens the window next to the Kageyama's door. Heavy shadows and both high and low camera angles throw the previously sunny disposition of the story off-kilter and portend the horrible conclusion. Mob's journey towards and into his house feels like it happens in slow motion, as he becomes aware first of the smoke, then of the fire, and finally of the smouldering contents within. He's in utter shock and disbelief, and I'm right there with him. The scene is surreal, heightened by the uncanny way he ignores his neighbors' shouts and slowly walks straight through the blaze roaring out of his front door. His apparent calmness is more like a numbness. He desperately and meticulously thinks through all of the reasons why his family surely must be safe, because the other possibility is too awful to think about. Again, I'm right there with him. Claw must have destroyed his home and kidnapped his family, but he can find them and save them. There's hope. I am desperately thinking these things alongside Mob while he opens the door to another room. It's so engulfed in flame that you wouldn't be able to distinguish the charred figures from the smoke if not for the unmistakable silhouette of a hand in rigor mortis, reaching out like a claw. Mob's world goes black and white.
In most respects, this is another wonderful episode of Mob full of the kindness and confidence it somehow manages to deliver each week—it's just that this one also happens to rip your heart out at the end. This is the kind of cliffhanger I was expecting from The Promised Neverland. I didn't expect this from Mob Psycho 100. I also really can't appraise it without knowing where this arc is going to go. There's too many variables. Is his family really dead? Is this past the point of no return for Mob? Is this just a cheap ploy for drama? I'd be more skeptical about that third question if not for all the good will this anime has carefully built up over one and half seasons. I have to trust that this is not simply tragedy porn, and that this will ultimately fit in with Mob's overarching themes, where being good holds more value and maturity over being powerful. Claw's actions here are again childish and tantrum-like, and in deliberate contrast to the opening scene with Mob's family. Mob's a literal child in this flashback, but when his powers go berserk they don't harm anyone, and in fact his family all has a good laugh about it. Mob has always been more grown-up than those who would use their powers for petty, selfish reasons, and I hope he doesn't forget that.
Honestly, I'm still in too much shock to give this episode a proper rating. I mean, it's another practically flawless example of one of the finest television anime productions ever crafted, but I have to know where this is going. I'm going to be on the edge of seat waiting for next week, and I know I'm not alone. We'll get through this together. Maybe.
Rating: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA (that's me yelling)
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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