Mob Psycho 100
Episode 5

by Nick Creamer,

How would you rate episode 5 of
Mob Psycho 100 ?

Teruki opens this episode with a characteristically aggressive line: “before anything else, we need to establish the hierarchy here.” That might seem like odd phrasing. In contrast to the more conventional “I will defeat you,” Teruki's choice combines schoolyard rivalries with shounen power level phrasing. He wants to be on the top, and that means everyone else has to be down below. Hierarchy was also key in ONE's other recent adaptation, One Punch Man. There, the pay and popularity of heroes was determined by a rigid hierarchical system, one that protagonist Saitama swiftly demonstrated had clear limitations. Saitama wasn't terribly interested in hierarchies, and Mob isn't either - his response to Teruki's rage is just to wonder why they can't be friends.

Between the two shows, it's clear that ONE has a bone to pick with his perception of the general societal order. Mob just wants to be accepted as a “normal person,” but the world around him refuses to allow that - instead, people like Dimple, Teruki, and possibly even Ritsu all parse their world in terms of adversarial relationships. The existence of an ostensibly meritocratic, confrontational, and ultimately flawed system of assigning worth is assumed - it's a simplification, but one that clearly resonates with ONE's view of the world. At its worst, framing the world as a cruel meritocracy leads to Randian fantasies like Mahouka, but even though I personally see ONE's worldview as a little juvenile, Mob Psycho's thematic questions are utterly lifted by the humanity of its characters.

This entire episode plays out as a “duel” between Mob and Teruki, as Teruki attempts to prove his dominance, and Mob refuses to use his powers against another human. At the start, Teruki treats this as an actual war of powers, where his victory will be determined by his ability to make Mob submit. But as the fight continues, the context changes - framed through angry lectures by Teruki and vivid memories from Mob, their physical battle turns into a war of ideals.

Teruki's identity is predicated on the idea that his powers make him the protagonist of the world. In light of that, Mob's mere existence as an equally powered esper is a slight to him - it implies that he's just another person, and that psychic powers by themselves don't make him special. While Dimple offers Teruki as an example of someone “using his powers to live a fulfilling life,” it's clear that Teruki isn't happy, but actually very insecure. As Mob eventually points out, by hanging his self-worth on the presence of his powers, Teruki only highlights his emptiness outside of them, and a lack of anything that he has built himself to be proud of.

In contrast, Mob is guided by the words of his mentor and scars of his own experiences. Thinking back to an early meeting with Reigen, he recalls how his teacher stated that powers don't make him special, and that he shouldn't put one person over another. Mob is not an expressive person, but he is deeply affected by the actions of those around him and the theoretical consequences of his own actions. Even the few times Dimple actually called him great seem to have had a clear impact on him - and the memory of once hurting his brother with his powers stands as a psychological shield against ever using them against another person.

Mob's refusal to use his powers is the most powerful attack he could use on Teruki. While Mob sincerely asks why Teruki feels he has to belittle others, Teruki can only see Mob's kind gestures and concern for his safety as conceit or mockery. When he realizes Mob is never going to strike back with his powers, he gets even more incensed. Mob's choice isn't just a rejection of Teruki's attack, it makes him “better” than Teruki - if he can hold on to his pacifist ideals in the face of Teruki's assault, then he is stronger in both body and spirit, a more implacable statement of his ideals than Teruki could ever be. And so Teruki is eventually reduced to a screaming mess, physically choking Mob when all his grand powers have failed.

At the core of Mob's strength is an earnest desire to become a better version of himself - a version of himself he can see as valuable. Mob believes he can move beyond his powers; he can lift weights and make friends and never have to rely on dangerous psychic powers that he's never truly “earned.” This goal frightens Teruki; if Mob succeeds, it means he has eclipsed everything Teruki has chosen to believe for the security of his own confidence. So he chokes Mob into unconsciousness, shouting that “people can't change that easily” as Mob refuses to bend.

In the end, neither hero wins this battle. Once Mob has fallen unconscious, the beast inside him takes over, shattering Teruki's defenses and destroying the school in a cataclysmic psychic explosion. Teruki is completely defeated in both power and philosophy - but seeing the destruction his powers have caused, Mob can only cry as well. He wasn't able to change. He wasn't able to become better. Teruki was right.

After an episode rife with psychic explosions and emotional breakdowns, sprinkled with almost none of Mob Psycho's usual comedy, this harrowing story concludes with a moment of genuine warmth. Mob spends three rainy hours looking for Dimple, and when he finally returns home, he still feels empty from the day's events. But Ritsu briefly checks in on him, and Mob is able to apologize for that psychic outburst from long ago. Mob Psycho 100 would be a stifling experience if it were totally dedicated to its societal ideas, and an emotionally flat one if it were wholly dedicated to its visual setpieces. But by centering those two poles with the poignant emotional core of Mob and his close friends, this show's events are given a brilliant human touch.

This episode of Mob Psycho 100 was less visually inventive than most of the previous ones, in terms of both design and animation highlights. It was also the most thematically rich and emotionally charged episode of anything I'm watching this season. Mob Psycho has topped itself yet again.

Overall: A+

Mob Psycho 100 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.

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