For those who want to discover an iconic shōnen without having to delve into hundreds of episodes, Mob Psycho 100 is the perfect match. Released in 2016, this series which only has three seasons is still considered one of the best animes ever created. However, ONE, its author, had already set a very high standard with his first work: One Punch Man.
Synopsis: Shigeo Kageyama, nicknamed Mob, is an antisocial and insecure high school student who possesses powerful psychic powers. However, he prefers to remain discreet, in order to have as normal a life as possible. Furthermore, he knows that his dangerous powers increase with his emotional charge, rising slowly from 0 to 100%. But as Mob grows up, will he be able to contain his emotions for long?
There are some controversial things, even among animation fans. The artistic direction of Mob Psycho 100 is one of them. At the time the manga and anime were released, many viewers turned away from the work because of ONE’s drawing style. In fact, the mangaka is renowned for being a complete autodidact and it is quite noticeable. On One Punch Man, his characters were more potatoes than hominids.
On Mob Psycho 100, the mangaka has experience and his drawing has improved. However, his artistic style remains the same. The faces are very poorly detailed, the features inconsistent. But it is a choice, because ONE decides to focus on something else (movement, dynamics, clear action). However, what could have doomed the series turned out to become, over time, one of its greatest strengths.
In a world where mangas and animes are at the peak of their popularity and where dozens of them come out every month, we easily find ourselves drowning in the mass. The aesthetics as well as the themes addressed ended up becoming quite flat and indistinguishable over time. Between all the flavorless shōnen clones, ONE’s work bursts with creativity and becomes a refreshing blast. The mangaka never tried to create characters with smooth beauty. His drawing is impactful, organic and those who have tried reading One Punch Man know how effective he is during action. In its lineage, Mob Psycho 100 definitely catches the eye as soon as you cross its path.
A happy marriage between ONE and Bones
Still, it was necessary to choose a studio able to adapt this constant burst of experimentation, power and simplicity. Bones, to whom we owe Cowboy Bebop the movie as well as Full Metal Alchemist, very quickly understood the importance of the work that was given to them. And so, they were able to give it a very decent budget. Mob Psycho 100 is a real slap in our face, and the face of animation. If we could have fallen asleep while watching under-budgeted or mass-produced anime, Bones is happy to wake us up.
Very quickly, the anime established itself as a comic heavyweight, with physical humor worthy of GTO. But its action is also great. Impossible not to think of Masaaki Yuasa (Tatami Galaxy, Mind Game, Lou over the Wall) in the distortion of bodies, faces, in the vital force that is expressed on the screen. The clashes are incredibly powerful, the staging is extremely inventive and everything becomes impactful, on the scale of Mob and his powers.
Between the play of colors and shapes, what also stands out is the abundance of details. Mob Psycho 100 is full of little comic details and references. Each rewatch offers new discoveries. Not to mention that thanks to the rough drawing of the characters, the studio saves time and can concentrate on the fluidity of the animation as well as the environments. Indeed, the backgrounds of Mob Psycho 100 are all made in 2D and distort, move, live just as much as the characters. Sakuga moments are strikingly alive. This style of animation, in addition to the pop colors that clash, sticks with astonishing precision to ONE’s drawing style. A happy marriage, in 12 episodes per season, which made it possible to use very wisely every cent of the budget.
No anime fan can deny the importance of a good theme song. Openings (or outros) often leave us an unforgettable memory. Among the best of them we find, for example, Tank from CowBoy Bebop or A Cruel Angel’s Thesis from Neon Genesis Evangelion. In 2016, the first opening of Mob Psycho 100, called 99, found a place in the top openings of all time. And today, almost ten years later, it is still there.
If we were talking about abundance, this is a perfect exampleof it. 99 is a psychedelic trip where every element counts, without you being able to lay eyes on it. Enjoying the absurd side of the anime, Bones disseminates the entire plot in details that one can only understand once the anime has been watched. With each episode the opening takes on a little more meaning and almost becomes a game between the studio and the viewer.
As for the song, it is a vibrant tribute to everything that Mob Psycho 100 represents. It opens with the lyrics :
If everyone is not special, maybe you can be what you want to be
Powers are not important, they are not what makes anyone special. And they certainly don’t help Mob achieve his goals: socialize, confess his love, build his own future. The lyrics are punctuated with words in Japanese which represent the young man’s hardships : « distress », « false smiles », « loss of confidence », « incapable of reading social cues »…
99 is a constant build up towards what we fear but can’t help but look forward to. From the first seconds a voice starts counting from 0 to 99, following Mob’s emotional charge which rises inexorably to the point of explosion. The synths climb more and more in the treble, the rhythm of the percussion accelerates. It’s exciting, gripping, easy to follow, catchy.
Two and three legendary openings
With three seasons of 12 episodes each, Bones studio was able to offer consistency and coherence to the entire anime, openings included. And if the quality of the animation is not enough to prove how invested the team behind Mob Psycho 100 was… Well, you just have to hear them sing it. Because yes, it is their voices, all of them, that we hear in all three of openings credited as « Mob Choir ». This choir is in fact made up of dozens of animators, the screenwriters, and the director of Mob Psycho 100. In an environment overloaded with work, it very moving to see a team bursting with passion and focusing on a project that is important to them.
The two following openings, 99.9 and 1 are just as striking as the first. True homage to the history of animation, the credits feature a zoetrope, a moiré effect, the wave principle… Objects and techniques that have slowly led to our current animated films and to whom Bones addresses a love letter. The outros are not to be forgotten, with amazing stop-motion depicting the daily life of Mob or his master Reigen.
The numbers assigned to the credits as well as the lyrics continue to follow the evolution of Mob who, after having been pushed to the limit, further and further, must now learn to live with himself and be one.
Not your typical hero
Shigeo’s entire character is constructed to oppose the very idea of an archetypal shonen hero. Starting with his nickname: Mob. Whether it means a crowd, a background character, or a non-player character, at the start of season 1, Shigeo is all of this. To everyone around him, he is forgettable. He is barely discernible among other students. When mangakas usually rack their brains to give their hero a memorable character design, Mob’s is deliberately sober and not showy at all. Black bowl cut, black uniform, no accessories, no emotion on the face. But who wants to see the life of such an uninteresting boy? Answer: no one, not even Mob himself.
Indeed, Mob built this character to protect the world from his powers. Since he tends to lose control under the influence of emotions, he might as well not feel anything. To avoid people bothering him, he might as well not stand out. But in the process, he ended up losing himself entirely. And while the others have built a personality, a social life, Shigeo realizes that he has left his life on the side of the road.
Ultimately Mob Psycho 100 tells of an internal quest. That of leaving childhood, where we look for ourselves, where we look for our place among others. Fighting against his natural affinities, the young man will strive for everything that is « normal », despite the difficulties. He will never stop trying to reconnect with his emotions and help his friends. Mob is a hero that we can and really want to identify with.
Strong secondary characters
Talking only about Mob when discussing Mob Psycho 100 is seeing only one side of the coin. In fact the anime features a whole bunch of crazy characters, who contrast even more with our bland-looking hero. For example the bodybuilding club, whose overdeveloped pectorals contain a treasure of goodness and motivation. But also the telepathy club and other members of the Salt school. Outside of the school environment, we meet the antagonists of The Claw, numerous mediums, the awakening lab… But also spirits, including Smile, who will accompany Mob on his adventures and develop a strong relationship with the latter.
Mob becomes a friend, a colleague, a club member, sometimes also an adversary. By opposing or allying with those around him, he builds himself, defines himself, he finds his place little by little in society. And finally, he is no longer alone.
But the real headliner of the festival, if you like, is obviously the ego monster Reigen. Also known as Mob’s master. Cunning, stingy, liar, resourceful, funny, touching. The series could just as easily have been called Reigen Psycho as the anime gives him so much prominence. Reigen has all the energy, flaws, liveliness that Mob lacks. His personality bursts through the screen and makes him very endearing or at least absolutely memorable. In three seasons, it is the relationship between him and Mob which is the most explored and becomes the source of many emotions.
Bones offers all these characters a great development, narrative arcs and as we see them from season 1 to season 3, the studio immerses us in a consistent world. Seeing how far we have come, we finally have the impression of having watched much more than 36 episodes.
The balance of emotions
Mob Psycho 100 is a shōnen. And that’s how it was sold when it appeared on Ura Sunday, the online magazine of Weekly Shōnen Sunday. However, what qualifies this piece of work more than anything is the mix of genres that it combines with great mastery. Because if it indeed has the nekketsu of shōnen, the powerful and escalating battles associated with the genre, Mob Psycho 100 looks way beyond that.
Where his older brother, One Punch Man, got stuck after a while, Mob Psycho 100 kept going. It is a very successful slice-of-life anime, as well as a very funny comedy, which knows how to hit the mark every time. It’s a beautiful coming-of-age story, an incredible adventure and an inventive science fiction series. All these aspects of the work complement each other instead of clashing, just like Mob and his friends. And it’s normal to find so many elements in Mob Psycho 100 since the goal of ONE and Bones was to capture the complexity of an entire life.
There are a thousand of reasons to watch, rewatch, rerewatch Mob Psycho 100. Everyone will see in it what they are looking for. A comforting bubble. Great life lessons. Incredible fights. A real good laugh. Lost emotions. But at the end of each viewing, when the screen goes black, a little voice remains in our mind. Reigen’s voice, Mob’s voice, ONE’s voice and the entire Bones studio: « Go out, meet people, meet yourself, have fun, cry, love. Live. »