Recently some of the best anime I have been catching up with come from one mysterious figure within the anime community, the manga artist ONE. One Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100 are the shows and this post is going to talk about them semi-analytically so I can feel like I’ve done watching them a bit of justice. Spoiler warning in case.
Yes, I’m ages behind (what else is new), and you’ll see why. I finished One Punch Man without fanfare or any posts on this blog about it a couple of months ago, partly because it has been such a popular anime that there wasn’t that much I felt I could add to it on its own, and it’s not a show that really has a lot of deep analytical points to pick up on. It’s a parody of superhero settings, particularly older stories with their roots in 50s pop culture that have generic cities and garish supervillain designs and that’s about it. But then I started Mob Psycho and because I ended up enjoying it for much the same reasons, I decided that it was worth doing this post.
Nor was One Punch Man something I thought I’d like. It’s a universe with multiple superheroes who are all good at one particular thing, which is admittedly a plot setting I tend to like as the powers bounce off each other as a metaphysical assist to creating character’s personalities (see: Charlotte, or for a British take, Misfits), united under a secret society. A western analogy I’d like to make would be the X-Men because I sort of like and know stuff about that, somewhat gritty, people with powers setting, and as an immortal, Saitama occupies the same position as Wolverine does in their stories, except he’s even more overpowered. But the reason I didn’t think I’d like One Punch Man is because on visuals and surface level plot I always guessed it probably had more in common with something like the Justice League or the Avengers which I know very little about because superheroes in capes, tight suits and with ‘secret identity’ backstories, or just anything where they use the word superhero or the even more insulting ‘super’ really bloody annoy me. Which is something for another post but it can be summed up with soundbites of ‘plots are mostly the same’, ‘the heroes are people I don’t care for’ and ‘the scale of the plot is too unrealistic and takes me out of the moment’. Also, I dislike comics as a medium, which goes a long way towards explaining why I almost never read the manga. I have almost no time for superheroes, I will probably never willingly watch a DC movie as long as I live and probably only select Marvel (shared universe) films that I hear are very good. So while One Punch Man is a examination of a character who has unlimited power and how he fits into a world where there are a ton of powers and that’s about all there is to it, it’s also parodying something I really really hate in storytelling. Which means I’m coming in at a slightly different angle to everyone else, I’m coming in not as someone who loves this sort of thing and enjoys it for the nostalgia of when they weren’t a weeb and were just a bogstandard geek, but as someone who is just watching it because it’s popular and people like it.
But that aside, it was rather good. Everything was so tongue in cheek the tongue burst through the cheek, Saitama was a likeable layabout who felt relate-able even as I grow to dislike unaspirational characters in other anime for being what I don’t want to be, the setting played with organisational politics, had a number of other memorable characters like Genos, Mumen Rider and Puri-Puri Prisoner, a hero classification system that I found fascinating, and most of all, Saitama’s unfair treatment by pretty much everyone in the series who doesn’t realise that he’s responsible for saving the day in almost every instance outside of the whole series, it’s a really good show of mob mentality. Mob mentality, you say…
As it’s far fresher in my mind, the rest of this post will be about Mob Psycho 100, which I’m going to attempt more on as not as many people will have done posts on it, even though I’m probably still late on that, and it’s far fresher in my mind as I have been watching it over the past week, watching the finale as I am writing this. I latched on to it because I knew it was also by ONE so I expected something similar in humour and from what I could tell from the synopsis, another overpowered character. What I didn’t expect was for the humour that was so apparent in the first episode of Mob Psycho to take a back seat to deep and relevant character themes and an overarching plot with a decent amount of threat. There was one occasion where the series overplayed its hand and I thought it might have turned into something unexpected in having a high amount of threat where named friendly characters can die, which wasn’t something that One Punch Man ever ventured into, when they killed off one of those square glasses kids… briefly, it was an illusion. Had they stuck to that I’d have been racing to the end as this showed that no one is going to die in this type of series, which is fair enough but somewhat disappointing. I had figured from ONE’s style so far that he isn’t about shock value deaths, although, if you want to shock me, please go ahead.
But on those deep and relevant character themes. Though you might want to shake Mob at times and inform him how all protagonists, even the ones with flawed ideals, flawed reasons why they fight, actually fought and stood up for themselves, he’s a very real and understandable person. He’s the sort of kid lots of people were in school, I know I can see shades of myself in him, so quiet, so meek, so gentlemanly (when he cried over having to hit a woman in the latest episode I’m sure the whole audience wanted to give him a hug), so afraid of what would happen if they stood out that they become this blob of low self-esteem. His struggles with not having anything special about him, not being able to attract girls, not being able to succeed in his studies, having nothing besides his powers, which he is adorable in keeping under wraps until forced, it’s also endearing. He’s a very good protagonist because he’s not dense, he’s just mild-mannered and keeping a lot of emotions tightly locked down. Just like so many of us do, except Mob has a counter for when those emotions come up and explode out from him with real tangible force. The saying goes, there are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man, and Mob certainly shows us the truth of that statement. Well, to be accurate, the statement has truth when the anger is justified. I don’t often identify that well with main characters, I didn’t so much with Saitama. I certainly can with Mob, if only because of how he presents himself. I can also identify with Ritsu because I am smart. And in reality, because he so desperately wants powers, as I often do when daydreaming about stuff that will never happen to me. Both brothers are very strong and sympathetic characters.
It’s also in some sense parodying high school anime, as most should these days, the Telepathy club seems very SOS Brigade or otherwise one of these clubs that go do nothing, early on, you assume that Mob will join this but while Tome does become a minor character of a little importance, to remind us of Haruhi while she’s on the screen (how cool is it that we’ve now reached parody of a series that itself was a huge parody), that Mob chooses the Body Improvement club to join instead shows that ONE is aware of his audience. And so he can change and direct his plot by subverting the expectations, for the Body Improvement club is not a punchline but a key turning point for Mob in bettering himself, as it should be. And this is another reason why I like it, so many of the characters are fundamentally good people, looking out for each other, exemplified in the Body Improvement Club but also Teru, Reigen (an honest and upright con artist, no less) and Dimple (when it suits him) being part of the team once defeated by Mob. And that team is set up well at the end of the plot for more to come, perhaps even feeling that any potential continuation – not that I expect it, it is anime after all – will be very fresh and different to the first. Basically, for me, it was a very good anime, not excellent, but very good, that I watched at a time where I almost felt I was falling out of love with anime and its light plot twists that always served a purpose were great at gently reminding me how even non-Attack On Titan shows can be great. Mob Psycho was the first time I’ve really gone after an anime because of knowing and liking the author who wrote a previous work I enjoyed, and thankfully, I found it outstripped his previous work. Narrowly.
Finally, as a post-script, I almost want to do a full on analysis of the greatness of the OP song as an OP song for this particular one, how the visuals remind me hugely of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, and indeed the whole art style is a refined taste that people should accept as something different, and how great a euphoric blast the ending song was to finish off each episode, almost on the level of Re:Re in addictiveness, but I’ve already written a lot and maybe I can expand on that in the future. Or maybe not, those were the main points I had about it, a good set of music and opening reels are so often the sign of strengths in other areas.