Sunday, July 17, 2016

'Mob Pycho 100' is definitely worth your time


Show name: Mob Psycho 100
Genre: Action/Horror Comedy
Premiered: July 12, 2016

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, the name ONE should be familiar to you by now if you’ve been anywhere near the anime world.  Known for creating spectacularly well-written web comics with spectacularly awful art, his most famous work by far is the recent hit series One-Punch Man.  A narrative tour de force affectionately parodying shonen and Western superhero tropes alike, both the manga and the anime have gathered rave reviews and an overwhelmingly positive fan response, and is in my humble opinion the best anime released in the last decade.

So imagine the hype that swelled every corner of the Otaku Nation when it was announced that ONE’s second work, Mob Psycho 100, was getting its own anime release in the summer of ‘16, thanks to the celebrated Studio Bones.  Though less well-known than its big brother, Mob has a strong fandom praising its dour and taciturn protagonist to stars, and I can personally attest to its coming-of-age charm and humor.  But how will the anime stand in comparison?  Does the first episode give us any reason to remain glued to our seats?

In a world full of malevolent spirits and “espers” endowed with phenomenal psychic powers, Shigeo Kageyama - A.K.A. “Mob” - seems like just your average, nondescript 14-year-old middle schooler.  He’s not particularly good at sports or academics, and with his expressionless face, muted emotions, and lame helmut-style haircut, he only stands out by how utterly uninteresting he appears to be.  But looks can be deceiving, and behind the bland exterior, Mob hides a big secret: he’s actually one of the world’s most powerful espers, casually dispatching even the strongest spirits with little effort on a daily basis.  But even that is just a fraction of his full power; when his stress level reaches the breaking point (displayed symbolically as an “explosion meter” ranging from 0 to 100%) his normally suppressed emotions overflow, transforming him into a living force of nature that few, if any, have the power to resist.  With the help of his boss Reigen Arataka, a phony-baloney “psychic consultant” who is, for better or worse, Mob’s mentor and confidant, our teenage protagonist navigates the rocky minefield of adolescence, seeking popularity, friends, and an identity beyond what his powers hold.

The Good
Right from the start, Mob Psycho 100 accomplishes what it absolutely must in order to keep afloat: capture and hold the audience’s attention.  The mysterious, action-packed in medias res opening, where a lone shadowy figure does battle against a host of otherworldly creatures, is the one scene with no analogue to the web comic (at least, not for many issues down the road) and really grabs you - kind of like turning the ignition key in your car and getting a roundhouse kick to the jaw out of nowhere.  Studio Bones fostered this new series well, no doubt acknowledging the big shoes it had to fill, but determined not to make this One-Punch Man Junior.  The music was pulse-pounding, but also ethereal, while the psychic action often exploded in psychedelic colors strew about - befitting a show focused on the supernatural as a mysterious intrusion, as opposed to the common, almost banal occurrences in One-Punch.  Reigen and Mob make for an amusing Abbott and Costello duo - the former, dramatic and bumbling in the course of his wayward fraud, with the latter as his calm and reliable straight man.  The voice actors for both sound pitch perfect, and I look forward to seeing how Setsuo Ito handles Mob’s rare but memorable descents into emotional wreckage when the arc villains push him one step too far.  Also, while it’s ultimately Mob’s spotlight here, the creators are smart to push on with the initial focus on Reigen and his “business,” giving us only a brief yet well-paced overview of Mob’s home and school life, since he’s the more interesting and amusing of the two at the start.

The Bad
So far, I can’t really finger any glaring problems.  A pilot episode serves one of two purposes: it either kicks off the plot or paints the setting, and Mob successfully went with option two.  We’re only allowed a taste of the daily life of our protagonist and his closest ally so far - and oh what a delicious morsel it is, and certainly wets our appetite for more.  If forced to really dig deep and consult my inner pedant, I’d say that the colorful light show accompanying whenever Mob makes some poor soul give up the ghost can look a little cheap at times, especially compared to the relatively muted palette dominating the rest of the episode.  But that’s very much a minor nitpick, and had no impact whatsoever on my enjoyment.

The Ugly
One of the big question marks hanging over this series since it was announced was how Studio Bones would handle ONE’s...unique art style.  Although One-Punch Man is his creation as well,  Madhouse wisely chose to follow the manga remake drawn by the incredible Yusuke Murata.  Mob, however, is all ONE, and everything that entails.  So far it’s working, the animation style shifting from ONE-ish (mainly for the characters) to bright and flashy for the psychic powers, to a duller wash when the mood takes a more sinister turn.  There is a real risk that the contrasts in style and art might look disjointed as time goes by, but we’ll just have to keep watching to find out.  Of course, the art style itself can be a deal breaker for anyone looking for a more mainstream look, or those unfamiliar with ONE’s artwork, but that, as always, is a matter of personal taste.

Tune In or Tune Out?
Definitely Tune In.  This was a slow but smooth start to what’s likely a wild ride.  I couldn’t find any real cause for complaint in this premiere, and the art, voice acting, and music are all top-notch.  Will this be another smash success like One-Punch?  Who knows, but I’ll definitely be tuning in to see.

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