Mob Psycho 100 Delivers Stunning Action, But Also An Endearing Story Of Empathy And Compassion

Action anime, particularly shonen anime, tend to be very focused on delivering the coolest fights, the most dazzling visuals, and the biggest power-ups, while their stories follow true and tested formulas without much variation. It's a formula even more established and recognizable than that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it can get rather tiresome to see the same wide-eyed superpowered protagonist train to become the very best, like no one ever was.

Which is why I try to highlight shows that try something different, that deviate from this formula or embrace it to do something new. "One Punch Man" used the shonen and the superhero formula before tearing it to pieces with a brilliant parody that has both incredible, jaw-dropping fight scenes, while telling a hilarious story of the strongest hero alive. Where most shonen action shows present a longterm goal from the beginning, one that can push the protagonist to train and become more powerful, manga artist ONE presents a world where the hero has already accomplished all that and is already the most powerful being there is. 

The question then becomes, what do you do when you have all the power in the world but it does nothing for you? "One Punch Man" answered with a comedic approach wherein its titular hero is bored out of his mind, but ONE's other franchise takes an emotionally devastating and heartfelt approach that delivers one of the best shows of the past few years. We're talking about "Mob Psycho 100."

This show is set in a world of evil spirits and psychics. We follow Shigeo Kageyama, a middle-school student who is the most powerful psychic alive, but who just wants to be popular with kids his age.

What makes it great

The first thing to note about "Mob Psycho 100" is how well-written its characters are. Each character we meet is initially introduced as merely an archetype, as that is how our adolescent protagonist sees people: there's the juvenile delinquent, the pretty girl, the jock, the taller and more popular younger brother, and more. It is one of the strengths of the show that it quickly reveals its supporting cast to be more than they initially seem, as each character is given depth and nuance. Arguably the funniest and coolest example is the gym bros from the body improvement club that Mob reluctantly joins, who end up being deeply wholesome and supportive of Mob's goals, regardless of his physique. 

Likewise, "Mob Psycho 100" gives a new meaning to the power of friendship that has been a staple of shonen action shows for decades. It's not that Mob defeats the bad guys with the encouragement from his friends, but that his group of friends genuinely ground him and allow him to avoid falling into an all-consuming darkness. Like "Akira," this is a story about psychics that is also about being a teenager, and the dangers of repressing your emotions.

Of course, this is still an action show, and boy, is it a beautiful-looking one. This is one of the most stunning pieces of TV animation of the past few years, with Studio Bones surpassing themselves with each episode. Not only is the camera dynamic and the animation fluid, but it isn't afraid to go experimental, to completely change art styles, or to go abstract in the middle of a climactic fight. This helps keep "Mob Psycho 100" visually interesting, while bringing to life the feeling of Mob's psychic powers having infinite possibilities.

What it adds to the conversation

The beating heart of the show is without a doubt Reigen Arataka, the internet sex symbol and anime version of Jimmy McGill. He is Mob's boss at the ‎Spirits and Such Consultation psychic office. Though Reigen starts out as a shallow, egocentric man who used Mob for his powers and offered him stupidly little money, he is often the voice of reason in the show, delivering emotional speech after emotional speech, his main lesson being that Mob shouldn't resort to using his powers to solve everything, and that just having powers does not make you special. 

Indeed, that is the core message of the show, one that stands in direct contradiction to the spirit of shonen action anime. Anime, much like American TV and film, is driven by the hero's journey, by the idea of a protagonist with a special power that makes them uniquely qualified to go on a spectacular journey and become even stronger. Everything from "My Hero Academia," "Naruto," "Dragon Ball," but also "Star Wars" and "Dune" is driven by the idea that, if you have a special skill, you're destined for greatness. But this is not that story. 

On the contrary, every villain we meet in "Mob Psycho 100" is someone who thinks of themselves as special and above others because of their powers, and Mob tends to defeat them not by strength (though usually during some stunning fight scene) but by empathizing with them. Mob's biggest power is being able to peel away the villain's layers of self loathing, and recognizing the lonely, insecure person within, because Mob himself is a lonely and insecure kid, except he has an emotional support system that helps him be a better person.

Why non-anime fans should check it out

In some ways, "Mob Pyscho 100" is the best Superman story not starring Clark Kent that we've ever got. After all, what is Mob if not an all powerful being that could wipe out everyone around him if he wanted to? Like the best Superman stories, "Mob Psycho 100" is all about throwing an all powerful being into situations that can't be solved with powers, showing Shigeo wrestle with how to be a better person and to not rely on his powers to get there. 

This is not just an action-packed, beautiful-looking show, but an emotionally intelligent one that places empathy and self-growth above simple punches and one-liners. 

Watch This If You Like: "Akira," "One Punch Man," "My Hero Academia."

"Mob Psycho 100" is streaming on Crunchyroll.