Mob Psycho 100 II
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Mob Psycho 100 II ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Mob Psycho 100 II ?
How would you rate episode 3 of
Mob Psycho 100 II ?
That good psychic boy with the bowl cut is projecting himself back into our hearts and minds with the second season of Mob Psycho 100! (They really should have called it Mob Psycho 200, but I guess Mob Psycho 100 II also works.) The good news is that, despite the over two year hiatus, this is about as solid a sequel as you could want. The cast and characters all return, the story picks up where the first season left off, and the creative team is largely the same. Most importantly, scumbag con artist and internet sex symbol Reigen is back in business.
It's difficult for me to not gush about how fantastic these three episodes have been, so I won't stop myself. Mob Psycho 100 continues to be a nexus of delight and creativity, buoying its sharp and compassionate writing with a tour de force of uniquely strong animation and direction. With ONE's simple yet distinctive character designs and the endless imaginative possibilities of the spirit world, the talented animators at Bones have built themselves a great playground to romp around in. No style or medium is too weird or experimental. We've already seen pixel art, sand on glass, a faux-fighting game screen complete with health bars, and some lovingly-rendered portraits from ONE's own hand. I wouldn't call myself a sakuga expert by any stretch, but every episode has had at least one scene that surprised me with its intricacy and expressiveness. Yuzuru Tachikawa and his team consistently turn Mob Psycho 100 into something magical. I can't fathom the magnitude of hard work and talent that goes into a single episode, and they're on track for an entire season full of stunners.
Of course, Mob Psycho 100 is much more than just an animator spotlight (although it certainly functions well as one). Mob's journey still impresses with its blend of heart and humor, and the first episode of this season was perfect for re-familiarizing myself with the story. His deadpan yet sincere rapport with Reigen is great, and to his credit, Reigen seems to be a lot more considerate of his part-time golden goose now. Meanwhile, Mob is still the quiet and effusively nice kid we knew in the first season. It was nice to see him spread his wings and run for student council president in a misguided attempt to woo Tsubomi, and it was painfully funny to see him blow it so hard. But even if he isn't ready for the big leagues, the small strides he's made and the friend groups he's found are still there to remind him of his progress as a social creature. His journey of self-discovery will continue at his own pace.
To that end, the centerpiece of this episode is his first pseudo-relationship, which becomes a microcosm of Mob's lovability. It's also a clever turn of storytelling, where what appears to be a happy if awkward teen romance (is there any other kind?) gets revealed as a double farce. Despite that, they manage to fill their fake relationship with real warmth. Mob feels bad about having to hide his powers, and he goes comically out of his way to not inconvenience her, but it's obvious that he's just trying to do what he thinks is right. While a lesser story would have villainized Emi, Mob Psycho 100 treats her like yet another teenager trying to figure things out. What made their fake relationship work so well were the things they had in common: a lack of direction and self-confidence alongside a secret part of themselves they wanted to hide. Mob doesn't have the literary training to properly critique her novel, but he recognizes it as something that means a lot to her, which leads to the episode's beautiful climax. Shy, insecure Mob does what he couldn't do in front of the student body and takes a stand. It's a comparatively small audience for his simple assertion: “I made the decision to consider my feelings more. And you need to pick up things you feel are important.” But it's powerful in its simplicity, and it's a huge leap forward for Mob, culminating in a gorgeously-directed scene of him choosing to expose his powers in order to help a friend. The psychedelic spirit battles are always going to be a highlight of this series, but the pure goodness of this moment makes for an episode I'm going to be thinking about all year.
It'll be tough to top an opening statement like that, but the following two episodes had plenty of their own charm. Episode 2 sees Mob and Reigen tackling various urban legends, but in almost every case, the real monster turns out to be man instead. The culprits range from some jerk kids doodling on a dog's face to a flasher high on the power of his infamy, but the common thread is the way our collective unconsciousness misinterprets scary things all the time. Of course, the episode is also quick to call out the internet as the primary catalyst for all these rumors blowing up and terrorizing people. The boys also meet fellow psychic Shinra Banshomaru, and I like how their rivalry gives way to Reigen commanding Dimple to look after him and make sure he doesn't hurt himself. Mob has clearly been a good influence on him, and just in time for us to encounter the episode's only true urban legend, The Dragger. However, even she is a product of the fear and attention poured into her by the masses, and she's only defeated by the fact that Mob is completely out of touch with what's popular. It's not the most original story, but it's told with the anime's signature flair and humor. I can't think of another show about the supernatural that would end on its main character being reduced to tears by a very fast grandma.
The third episode interrogates the thesis of the second one even more ruthlessly, and we're beginning to see Mob wrestle with morality in a way he hasn't had to before. Before this point, his relationship with the spirit world has been pretty cut-and-dry: a ghost shows up, it bothers someone, and he exorcises it. More so than in episode two, all of the trouble here is caused by people, not ghosts—and a lot of those people are the ones hiring Reigen in the first place! The episode pairs this reversal with some of the show's most upsetting imagery to date, and the overall mood is appropriately unsettling. I can feel Mob's discomfort. Things reach a boiling point as a bunch of rowdy college kids (who already cheated Mob and Reigen out of some money) demand that he exorcise a family of ghosts who only want to spend a little more time together in peace. It's absolutely clear that the spirits deserve to be left alone, and the college kids deserve to get their asses kicked instead. But this isn't a situation Mob has found himself in before, even though it's a situation that only Mob can find himself in. Reigen doesn't have these kinds of powers. Only Mob can make this decision, and the fear of hurting someone paralyzes him. Thankfully, Reigen acts like an adult and lies to the clients in order to get them to back off, saving the ghost family. But Mob now has to consider an even bigger world than ever before—it's a world where spirits might be right and humans might be wrong, and there might come a time when he won't have someone to bail him out. He might have to make another decision on his own, and he'll have to live with the consequences. That's part of growing up too.
With three episodes down, Mob Psycho 100 has kicked off its second season with a huge helping of thoughtful storytelling with some delicious animation set pieces on the side. There are plenty of anime that do similar things just as well, but there are precious few shows that do as many things as well as Mob Psycho 100 does at once. I'm so glad to have it back in my life, and I can't wait to see how it continues to explore the complex emotions of learning how to be oneself. I also can't wait to see all of the great Redraw Reigen art that has yet to be made. It's going to be a good season.
Mob Psycho 100 II is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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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