Episode 43: Mob Psycho 100 - My Version of 100…


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            I think we all have that person, thing, or intellectual property that we love so much we cease being able to express that love. Like despite how long language has been in development or how many opportunities there were for its evolution, we still don't have a great set of words to utilize when discussing or referring to certain types of unbridled love and enthusiasm. And maybe that was deliberate. Because I guess, it shows some sort air of reverence to these things by keeping them out of our control or reach. That this thing we have collective made and refer to as language cannot encompass them like it easily can with other things. That it is above us, it is beyond us, it is worth striving for, etc, etc, etc.

            On the other hand, there might be poetry in the universality of this experience. That no matter who we are, there are things that can leave us speechless if not outright breathless. And that we can still, despite whatever odds there are against us or any reasons not to, find peace and joy in something on our plain of existence. That we can still find beauty in a world that seems so remarkably not… not beautiful at all.

            Look, I’m not a very optimistic person by nature. Yes, I can find goodness and joy when I seek it out, but I’m really good at word searches, if you know what I mean. (Pause)  You probably don’t know what I mean. I mean, that sometimes you have to go digging for it. And ou shouldn’t have to. So when it seems to happen, when this whole thing seems to fall into place and something you love like this just comes into your life, it feels like it’s magic.

            And maybe it sometimes is, but sometimes, it’s just a matter of making the right step or selecting the right anime to watch. Though apparently you won’t remember what it was that brought you together in the first place. And so you’re going to try and dodge that question when it comes up on the podcast. Maybe it was just the well-earned reputation of the show’s creator. Probably. Then again, maybe there’s poetry in that. Like magic shows, there’s a certain enjoyment that comes with not knowing what happens behind curtain. Or all the set up that happened before hand.

            (Pause) But bringing in magic feels a little heavy-handed right now…

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            Hi. It’s M. Welcome to episode forty-three.

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            Today, I want to talk about one of these things that I love in a way that seems to be beyond the abilities of human language to express. Although you probably knew that based on my opening, but that’s not the point. I want to talk about the anime series Mob Psycho 100, adapted from the manga by the quickly becoming legendary One. I say “quickly becoming legendary” because both of his major works, this one and One Punch Man, are famous for the brilliant way they play with both genre-specific tropes and general story tropes not just from episode to episode as great but momentary jokes but in their very premises. One Punch Man is about a super invincible human that cannot lose but instead of facing his adventures triumphantly, he’s kind of in a rut…. Like the rest of us. Because it turns out that such a super power is going to have a few drawbacks, Drawbacks that are kind of obvious if you think about it. But we don’t think about it.

            And Mob Psycho 100 strikes that same vein, but in a very new way. Mob Psycho 100 tells the story of middle school student Shigeo Kageyama, but he’s called Mob, a nickname that works on a couple different levels. Or different languages. In Japanese, it’s a derivative of the word for background character, a person that exists in a narrative but lacks a complete presence, and in English, a mob of people is a collection that clearly is human and has traits that we could comfortably recognize as human but lacks a distinct character. And that’s also the best description one could make of the character called Mob were it not for one particular thing.

            He’s a powerful esper. Like, his psychic powers are almost comically intense. And maybe that seems like a pretty important aspect of his character, right? How could I just toss it aside? Well, because that’s what the show does…

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            Part of the brilliance in One’s work is the humor. It’s genuinely funny as each quirk or situation is played up to just the right point but doesn’t try too hard. In fact, it all seems effortless, in fact. Like One built this story in such a way that the humor was inevitable. But that’s not so important to this review except to be a reason I could offer for you to make you watch the show.

            The other part of One’s brilliance is the way the story lays out obvious pieces for what comes next only to completely disregard your expectations in favor of a new direction that actually made a great deal of sense when you look back. In Mob’s case, the very presence of Mob’s psychic powers makes you think he’s going to respond to situations in one way but because he doesn’t see his abilities as an end all and be all or the ultimate gift, and because he has certain other priorities, he makes very different decision. And things play out in very different ways.


            And this is where we get into trouble. Here’s the thing. You probably have noticed that I hate spoilers. Unless this is your first time here, in which case, I will just say it. I hate spoilers, and I also hate debating what classifies as spoilers and what doesn’t, so I always, always default to avoiding plot points, but you’re not going to understand the brilliance of Mob Psycho 100 if I don’t include some example of this, so I’m going to pick one from an early episode, an episode that feels even earlier now that season 2 exists out in the world. I don’t think knowing what’s going to happen is going to ruin the joke because the delivery is a huge factor in the joy you will receive in watching it. I mean, the animation style perfects it. Everything was working in tandem in that moment, and I cannot spoil that whole moment because I cannot spoil delivery. But if you disagree, yet another reason to go and watch the first few episodes. You will likely get addicted and keep going. Or at the very least, you will know right off the bat if this style of show and its comedic humor is something you would want to watch or not. So you can an informed decision. It’s on Crunchyroll, like most anime is. Avoid the live action Netflix adaptation, though. Just saying. Actually I could say more but that will be for a follow up episode…

            But yeah, pause my voice if you want to go do that. Seriously you should. Last chance. 1… 2… 3…

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            Okay, anyone who was going to leave is probably gone now.

            So, here’s an example. Like most Japanese and American schools and probably all schools in countries in the developed world, Mob’s school has clubs. Clubs that—because the school provides resources and support—are subject to the school’s rules, regulations, and the whims of the student body president. That latter part might be something specific audiences don’t really understand, but you don’t need to really understand the social norms to know what is going on in this scene.

            Essentially, Mob’s school has a “Telepathy Club” that supposedly exists to investigate or develop psychic abilities but really doesn’t do anything. Well, I’ll be fair, they do sit around and eat snacks. But that’s…. That’s not what the club is claiming to be, so there’s that.

            And that hasn’t gone unnoticed. So when they dip beneath the minimum number of members for a club to be a club, the student body president immediately starts the process of disbanding this club and giving their advantages and resources to the “Body Improvement Club,” which is like a group of body builders who don’t look like they should be near a school never mind enrolled in it, but they turn out to be really nice people.

            Regardless, from that set up alone, you think you know where this is going. Mob wants a club to join, partially because that’s how young adulthood works, partially because he’s told to do it, and partially because you get the impression he really, really wants friends. He wants a club, the club devoted to psychic abilities needs members. One plus one equals two. Also, the Telepathy Club’s president makes the connection and starts actively recruiting him to join.

            The plot carries this expectation to the very end, when the aforementioned club president bring Mob to the student body president who is waiting in the club room with both clubs anxiously awaiting their fate. Will Mob join and save the Telepathy Club?  Will he not? Really, they’re just waiting for Mob to move the plot along. To do what seems obvious.

            But he doesn’t. He chooses to go with the Body Improvement Club with minimal persuasion. Yeah, I didn’t misspeak. He chose the sports and body building based club over the club devoted to the very thing that you would call his defining characteristic.

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            Once you get over that initial shock, his decision actually isn’t that shocking. For one, Mob also wants to impress this girl and clearly thinks a superficial, body-based approach is only going to help his odds. And he can see that the telepathy club’s president wants to essentially use him in their grand quest to do absolutely nothing. For them to make substantially contributions to the story, they are going to have to completely deviate from the character they had when they were first introduced. Yes, they are pursuing telepathy, but the idea of telepathy doesn’t seem like a real interest to them but a means to an end. An end that is defined by their laziness.

            In this way, they won’t make for the best set of side characters. Not like the Body Improvement Club who genuinely care about Mob’s welfare in a way that makes them relevant to certain conflict. That in and of itself is a subversion of expectations, you would think. Until you realize how genuinely nice the members of the Body Improvement Club are. Not just to Mob but to everyone.

            When you actually think about the events as they happened and the characters for who they are and not for the positions they are standing in for, Mob’s choice make far more sense than what you were expecting. And this is partially because of one key trait, one that might define Mob better than the existence of his psychic abilities. Namely, his distaste for them and the expectations that come with them.

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            We think of psychic abilities as something to be coveted. Like, it would be great, and it would be a solution to literally all of our problems. But Mob knows these creates new problems in small ways that we see throughout his day to day life and big spoiler-full ways later on in the story.

            An additional challenge comes from the fact that Mob’s powers and his emotions are intertwined, meaning for the safety of everyone around him, he has to stifle his emotion. Part of what makes Mob such a forgettable person is how dry he can be. Dry or emotional void. It’s all the same thing in this case. And in this case, there’s a valid reason for it. And so we quickly grow to love Mob and understand his reasoning for being how he is, and well, it becomes endearing at some point. But in a different case, you might not be so inclined to agree. Or at least, you’d be very surprised by how little you would agree.


            I feel like I should open this section of the review by saying that I like creating things but I’m not great at creating things. Or I could be better. Or I’m still learning. I’m always learning. And that’s part of the creative process. If you want to be nice about it.

            I’m not sure why I’m bringing it up. I guess, I’m just trying to set your expectations appropriately. But yeah, I like to make things. And I’ve also suffered a lot in my life what with my dad being sickly and finally dying and my growing up in a community that didn’t really have space for me, and insert a bunch of other stuff I don’t want to make public right now. Sometimes, when people know about both of these avenues of my life, they try to highlight a connection that isn’t really there. Or they make a connection that isn’t actually there. At all.

            It’s that old trope of the pained artist coming to life. The artist is in pain and that fuels their creativity. That the hurt they feel is the oil for their canvas. That it is only through suffering that the artist can be awakened and in their prime. It’s such an age old trope. Even if all the signs to the contrary are there, people still think they know what is coming next. They believe they know what to expect because the story is set up in one way. And confidence can strip away one’s ability to see contrary details.

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            Do you know of that whole “emotionally-burdened, somewhat broken artist trope” or are you playing dumb? Or is it reserved for the visual arts? Like painters of days gone by? I don’t know. Objectively, I don’t know how wide spread it actually is, but in my life, it comes up all the time. The assumption is that emotional pain and trauma is what makes a creator great or it gives them the ability to become great if they bleed enough. And that’s a callout to the Ernest Hemingway quote “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

            And that could be an innocent quote. It technically has two interpretations. One, you can pour all your efforts into creating something and from that effort that something will have value. Or two, you can pour all your pain into something and then that something will have value, but that would require you to have pain. Which Hemingway very much did…

            I think about this a lot. And it’s partially because Neil Hilborn’s spoken word poem “Audiobook” that describes this, has haunted me since the first time I watched the performance. I’ll put a link in the show notes if you haven’t seen it. But the poem focuses more on the cost of achieving this status as “interesting” artist or exulted as an artist. These so-called steps the narrator of the poem describes would be the definition of self-destruction in any other context, but when they are viewed as fodder or material in the course of art, suddenly they’re okay. Like the thing you have made retroactively will justify all the suffering you went through either from outside forces or because of untreated mental conditions that went awry.

            I won’t pretend there isn’t something fascinating about the idea of humans struggling. It might make the sufferer interesting because it means they’re different from everyone else. But the allure is also in the proof they provide: proof that human being can survive quite a lot. That we aren’t as fragile as we sometimes feel. But I don’t know. I genuinely don’t understand this phenomenon, and I almost think no one does. Because if we did… Well, I mean, I hope that if we did, we wouldn’t stick with it like we have.

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            And that’s all relevant yes. Because a supposed ability to create art—while less useful than Mob’s ability—is tied to my emotions, supposedly. So wouldn’t the logic be to then embrace this, let myself become prey to my emotions, because to gives me something. At the very least it will make me interesting. Just like it would genuinely make Mob powerful. I can see that logic. Mob might not, but I do. It’s just that sometimes you don’t want this thing that everyone is assuming that you want. You just want could be considered a relatively normal like. And maybe you want the things everyone else wants. Things they are pursing because they’re obtainable, even if they aren’t as exalted as the thing you could have. For Mob, it’s popularity. For me, popularity would be nice, but my bar is set a little lower.

            Or really, it could just be about trying to be something or someone in the absence of that trait that supposedly defines you. Because a trait doesn’t make you a person. It makes you a thing.

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            Particularly in season one—you know the season that would lay the groundwork for everything that comes after—Mob is trying to be popular, a desire that leads him into a lot of almost absurd conflicts and perils in which his powers suddenly become relevant.  That’s often how he gets out of them.

            And it’s almost ironic that in trying to escape his powers, he only grows more dependent on them. Because despite his best efforts, this is a critical part of his experience and his life. And while he’s trying to make the most of it, life might never be what he wants it to be.


            Now, I’m not saying One meant for this story to be an allegory for the creatives’ struggles. Although if he did… wow, I deserve a cookie for that one. When you consider the cultural context that is Japan and the way this culture and other Asian cultures treat these types of thing, it seems unlikely, though in my defense, artists are typically immune from the stigma because it’s seen as part of their profession. Not in the case of anime or manga artists, though One did start as a webcomic author, leaving him more immersed in a world that knew this reality quite well, but yeah, no, this is not a good argument to have and certainly not one that I need to have. I mean all of this as an attempt to explain why Mob Psycho 100 has become one of my favorite anime series of all time. It’s Mob and how Mob can be such a normal teenager in exceedingly abnormal circumstances. Or not even a teenager. Just how Mob can be human in the face of all of this…

            I put it that way because part of what it means to be human is a desire to be connected. We all want to be connected to other people, and when we’re younger this not fully formed desire, so it kind of manifests itself in a desire for popularity amongst one’s peers. Because we don’t really an authentic connection, so we’re going for quantity over quality and hoping for the best.  This isn’t even the case of “the grass being greener on the other side.” It’s just that this other side, of power and domination, isn’t going to offer Mob what he really wants, which is genuine care and love from his peers. Not power or acclaim.

            Think about it. Those things he could want or things he could obtain that are part and parcel with his obscenely strong psychic ability are things he could have had them if he went for it. He could have started with the Telepathy Club where he would have been their star or outright leader and gone from there. But no, he made a different decision.

            Yes, it’s a small decision that represents so much of his life philosophy. A philosophy that resonated with me: because, you see, I don’t need the world or the world’s acclaim. I just need to my humanity and happiness therein.

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            In typing this all out, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs came to mind. It’s the psychological theory that argues that human beings have different types of need that are given differently levels of priority to. And we cannot ascend the hierarchy until base needs are met. We cannot find love, for example, if we are dehydrated. And when it comes to extreme cases, I would say that’s true, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have serious problems with this theory in a more general sense. In case, you thought of it, too. I just wanted to through that out there.

            Because, in some ways, it seems like this is happening. That forget fame if I am isolated and completely deprived of my social needs. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I think it’s a matter of agency and autonomy. The ability to choose what aspects of your life you emphasize. Ultimately, that seems like the underlying conflict of Mob Psycho 100. It’s about Mob’s ability to direct his own life despite this major complication.

            And that’s it’s a fairly universal tale. After all, we are all born into circumstances we didn’t chose with a set of cards we didn’t ask for in a world that interprets them without much consideration to our interpretations. But we have to make the most of it, regardless.

            Mob was the first character I encountered whose specific challenges were that reminiscent of mine. That someone would want to reject a superpower because of the complications therein. In reality, falling THAT deep into your emotions or anything tied into your options is only going to lead to the destruction of your life. Yeah, I said it. It’s in the show. It’s in the spoken word poem. It’s an inevitability. Even with talents, letting one thing dictate your life and identity unchecked will let all other avenues wither away. Because human nature is finite, I guess. I don’t know. I shouldn’t have to justify it that much.

            And yet, I feel like I do. Because of the pressure to align with other people’s expectations. So when you find someone like Mob—who has the same struggles you do, who—in theory—knows what you feel and wouldn’t force this struggle onto you again, or is something vaguely akin to safety in a dangerous world—obviously you want to hold on.

            Substantially, Mob Psycho 100 is amazing. It is an amazing anime, with an amazing story executed in a very amazing way. And I love it for that, but even more than that, I love it for the way it fits into my life. And for what it offered me. Permission to live as I am you could say. Or something vaguely akin to familiarity. Hopefully that made sense.

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            This has been a production of Miscellany Media Studios. Thanks for listening. If you like what you heard, check out some of our other projects and their transcripts, all on our website: miscellanymedia.online or follow us on twitter @miscellanymedia for real time updates.