When people talk about Mob Psycho 100, they talk about bombast. They talk about spectacle. Technical excellence. They pull out a list of both established and up-and-coming animators all taking part in what is undeniably a feast for the eyes. The bones of Mob Psycho 100 are raw emotions on a page (or if you’re Miyo Sato, a piece of glass) but, to borrow a tired and frequently ill-used phrase from one Marshall McLuhan, the medium is often the message.
In other words, the “content” of Mob Psycho 100 often takes (and arguably should take, given what the series is doing in the context of the current anime space) a backseat to the medium itself. Discussion of Mob Psycho 100 is dominated by the medium and not the content. Mob Psycho 100 online discourse walks the worn path emotional narrative versus animation quality/visuals and it shouldn’t.
It shouldn’t, because Mob Psycho 100 is both in tandem.
It took me until the first episode of Mob Psycho 100‘s second season to realize this harmonious relationship between medium and content. When I initially watched the first season’s premiere, the series didn’t grab me emotionally in any way, despite being remarkably pretty. I falsely lumped it in with One Punch Man (another animators’ showcase adaptation of a ONE manga) which left me completely cold, and the online discussion primarily centered around sakuga or animation.
“Sakuga” (作画) means drawing or, more specifically, production drawing. Over the past few years, sakuga has become a catch-all term for the Japanese animator fandom, discussion of animation quality and production, and the cataloguing of animation cuts. Defining what sakuga means in western anime fandom is now difficult because of how the term has been diffused and redefined by fans to encompass so much. For a long time sakuga to me was distant and cold. It was — and honestly still is — something I didn’t feel qualified to write about, despite loving so many anime for their visuals alone. For years, sakuga was pitted against emotional narrative as if the two were at odds with each other.
The first episode of Mob Psycho 100‘s second season is remarkably quiet. It’s a small narrative focused around Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama’s daily life at school and introduces him to an unlikely kindred spirit in Emi, a girl who only asks Mob out as a dare from her friends. There’s remarkable emotional subtlety in the presentation of Emi’s relationship with her friend group, who aren’t presented as toxic as much as they are simply cliquey and a bit mean, like many friend groups in junior high school. Emi has a hobby that she cares about fiercely, but is forced to remain insincere about it in front of her friends. The episode’s eyecatch cleverly shows Emi with her eyes open as the leader of the group fishes for a toy from the claw machine with the other three friends grinning, eyes closed. Emi is separate.
Mob can relate and his sincerity inspires her. When he begins gathering the scattered pieces of the manuscript that Emi worked so hard on, she joins him on the ground and tells her friends to go ahead without her. There’s no shouting or bombast, just quiet strength, showcased beautifully in a nine-second-long animation cut by Itsuki Tsuchigami where Mob uses his powers to restore the torn manuscript. The “camera” rotates around Mob and Emi as paper scraps fly around them both in a way that’s reminiscent of a romantic movie climax. And while Mob and Emi’s relationship is hardly romantic, it’s cemented in this moment as a meeting of two people who have a lot more in common with each other than either of them initially thought.
At the end of this animation cut, Mob smiles and hands the reassembled story to Emi. “You see, I happen to be an esper,” he says simply, as if he’s describing his eye color or a food preference. It’s not only an unlikely display of trust to someone who is effectively an outsider to Mob’s every day life, but a hint that Mob has accepted himself. This quiet and simple scene becomes a framework for Mob’s journey through the rest of the second season, particularly his relationship with his mentor, Reigen Arataka.
I wouldn’t have given this series another chance without this perfect example of emotional narrative and animation working in unison. Like Emi herself, I get bogged down in what I hear from others, what I should care about, and how I should write about it. While I know that online discussion shouldn’t affect my personal enjoyment of a series, sometimes it does. Fortunately, the premiere of Mob Psycho 100‘s second season showed me how wrong I was.