Overpowered protagonists, ugly character designs, excessive gags, anti-climatic narratives. As an anime viewer, you quickly learn to recognize such things as the bane of the genre: They sink so many potentially cool stories! But… what if those things were to work the other way around? To enhance, surprise, and make a tale great?
Can you imagine an ugly-looking gag show becoming beautiful and heart-wrenching in the blink of an eye? Watching one egregious situation after another, yet walking away feeling edified? Well, this is only the first paradox Mob Psycho 100 has in store for you.
Mob is truly great. It is a hilarious masterclass of subtle storytelling and a wise tale about our world. So wise, in fact, that it helps me approach the paradoxical nature of my own desires. What do I want things for? What is the endgame for me? Or, as Our Lord put it, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
Mob shouldn’t be able to consistently pull off these surprises. After a while, we should see the punches coming. But like other great shows, it is astute. It takes advantage of what we’re accustomed to, what worldly logic would have us expect. It shows this possibility to us in a convincing, gripping way. Then, deliberately, things go off course. A different logic brings rhyme and reason to the events we see.
What is this logic? Well, Mob, our overpowered psychic, escapes the designated outcome by displaying “the really important kind of freedom,” the one that “involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day,” as David Foster Wallace describes it.
Here at BtT, we have dealt with this kind of loving, sacrificial freedom in this fascinating article by Annalyn, which analyzes the climax of the first season of Mob and notes how his love brings to mind that of Christ. Here, I will expand that analysis and cover the rest of the series.
So without further ado, let’s delve into the paradoxes of the show. And of course, it all starts with… Reigen!
Reigen and the Dishonest Steward
Reigen is the key to understanding Mob Psycho 100. He is a walking contradiction: a thoroughly worldly con man who uses Mob’s talent for monetary gain, and whose shortcomings we see again and again. And yet… we are drawn to him. Why? Let’s look at Luke 16:1–13, where Our Lord tells the Parable of the Dishonest Steward.
A crooked administrator is about to be fired for his treachery. After considering his dubious prospects, he tries to curry favor with his master’s debtors using fraudulent paychecks. What does the master say? Well, he praises him! And Our Lord adds, “For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.”
The worldly steward who recognized how he could fix his situation has a lesson for us. He was able to see his life and his position from a different perspective and act upon that knowledge. Reigen, too, sees things the rest do not see. He might know how to exploit others, but that is because he sees what they truly need deep down, even when they can’t see it for themselves, let alone articulate it. And he knows what might help them.
Reigen is not as crooked as the unjust administrator. Thus, it is easier for us to partake in Mob’s admiration of his master’s cunning wisdom about the world and the human heart. Mob knows that if he just goes with the flow, he could be blinded by his own power, like most psychics, and end up living in a power fantasy. And Reigen helps him to remain vigilant.
The things that the morally grey con man knows are the things that the honest Mob wants to know to attain his true goals. Things like how to deal with himself; how to deal with others; and how to help, in the most surprising ways. The cheeky master and the stoic disciple are opposites on the surface, but both go about their lives assessing a variety of situations and addressing what is truly going on underneath.
Christ invites us to learn something like that: how to break free of our self-made and world-made distortions, and gradually see things as God sees them; how to act with consequence, putting our abilities, riches, and peculiar psychology to the service of Heaven’s treasures. He invites us to be cunning as children of the light. How? By learning that the everyday stories that we play a role in—our daily interactions—can be interpreted and lived differently, with the treasures of Heaven in mind.
But what exactly are Heaven’s treasures—that is, what do they look like? In a way, this has to be discovered “from the inside,” from the experience of loving, but I’ll try my best to show a spark of their glory, so stay with me.
Just like Reigen, Mob is more than meets the eye. He is more than a troubled, shy schoolboy. And he is more than the hellish, apocalyptic out-of-control persona we anticipate with dread every time his count reaches 100.
At his most intentional, Mob is the “heroic” or luminous persona we see helping others with courage and kindness, transforming hearts. Mob has cultivated this discreetly in his daily life, filling it with his own light. Mob does this because he is devoted to honoring his bonds, saving everyone, and bringing justice, order, and peace to his imperfect world. And so there it is: Mob’s treasure is the treasure of a loving heart.
Ours is too. The treasure of the Christian is the Kingdom of Heaven—that is, the rule of a God who is above us, as the skies are above the earth, and who loves us. Our hope is the triumph of Christ’s love for God and for everyone, and we can begin to enjoy it here. Like a radiant sun bringing life to the winter, this love affirms our existence and helps us to be truly ourselves, achieve communion with others, and love in turn; it is the love that enables us to live forever.
In this sense, Heaven’s treasure is a bond with God, and it is open to everything and everyone, which makes the rest of our bonds purer, greater, richer. Just think of how Mob is an ever-expanding net of helpful relationships built upon the Mob-Reigen friendship, a friendship that teaches the adult the difficult sincerity of the dove, and the teenager the cunning of the light. So too life in God is like an ever-expanding network of connection and love.
Season 1: The cunning of fighting lies
The cunning of Mob is not identical to that of the Christian, but both consist of a deep situational understanding that, coupled with humor and humility, allows us to turn those situations on their heads and use them as stepping stones to become who we want to be. The time has come to talk about the details, so major spoilers ahead.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A lonely, unpopular teenage boy finds a girl in despair who tells him that the club she has founded is going to cease to exist. It is not a very good club, granted, but it is hers. The boy is nice enough to worry about her, and he happens to have a secret talent suited for the club’s activity. So, though conflicted, he finally resolves to go away and join the Bodybuilding Club instead. Wait, what?
The first season of Mob is about Mob changing to embrace the world and the people around him instead of bending the world to his wishes. This involves resisting various temptations. Working for Reigen, joining the Bodybuilding Club and confronting the feel-good ideology of the “LOL Cult” are all difficult choices, and that tells us something important about Mob: he wants to grow. And he hopes he will.
Mob could easily use his powers to mold a comfortable environment where the things he is not good at are not relevant. The occult club is one such environment, and it would allow him to satisfy his immediate social needs. It’s the easy route. But he cannot afford to waste time, blinding himself to his own deficiencies, social and otherwise. He knows that he can attain something more valuable than momentary self-satisfaction. He’s bad at sports, emotions, and people, but he will train.
We may sometimes wish to have a low-effort, high-satisfaction environment, but Christ told us about the danger satisfied men might fall into in various parables: our “riches” may blind us to the necessity of transforming, of growing. The “cunning of the light” helps us recognize that an identity that is a work in progress might be rubbish in the eyes of others, but can be God’s treasure.
Yet there are many kinds of growth—and some are showier than others. Why not work to be the man on the top? To dominate, to outclass everyone, to dictate your terms to the world? In the White T-Poison and Claw arcs, Mob’s enemies berate him for remaining a normal student in a normal, challenging school life. And yet…
Confronted with Teru’s logic of power and the world of street gangs with their fights and legends and “king of the hill” attitudes, Mob is able to see that victories won through random brute force are utterly pointless. Mob does fight. But he fights to protect his family, his ideals, and the connections that mean something to him. He knows that a friend or a brother is worth a hundred yes-men.
What is it that we really want? To be the strongest? The smartest? The toughest? What for? Like Mob, Reigen easily sees through the supervillain personas and antisocial ways of the Claw members. Cool-looking gangs and secret societies are exposed as ridiculous. How could it be otherwise? After all, if we are flawed, won’t our fantasies also be flawed?
So, is Mob telling us to discard our fantasies? Not quite, because the world alone is not enough and dreams move us toward that which is greater. We might need to purify our dreams, though. Reshape them. Integrate them with the rest of what we are. That way, they might become generous ideals, dreams of justice and beauty, or creations of imagination and love, like the show itself.
As Annalyn notes, Our Lord chose the long route, too. He did so by enduring the Passion, but also by living as a Galilean artisan for decades and a wandering teacher in His last years. He lived always “under the Law,” limiting Himself to fulfill the rigid symbolic prescriptions of Ancient Israel without needing to, even requesting John baptize him.
But why? An enigmatic passage in the letter to the Hebrews tells us that “although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” Christ chose to live His own life as a way of training in loving obedience, not because He needed the training, but to show us that such a life is the greatest adventure there is, and to show us how to do it, step by step. One, two, three.
Season 2: The cunning of fighting the world
Okay, but come on, right? Isn’t Mob just a little too naive? We live in a cruel, flawed society that affects us in ways we don’t even realize. We are constantly manipulated by powers without faces, be they societal pressures, internal urges, or… external agents. Can ideals like Mob’s survive out there in the real world?
Even more to the point, are we sure Mob isn’t a power fantasy? Mob knows that, even if he chooses not to depend on it, he still has his tremendous power in worldly terms. Isn’t that satisfying on its own? The second season of Mob aims to respond to all these questions.
We see the clash between the ways of Mob and the cruel ways of the world in a variety of contexts: dating, urban legends, work, crime. It all culminates when Mob tries to rescue an esteemed victim possessed by a devil-like entity, only to discover that she is a monstrously evil person. He then forgets that he ever had powers, and suffers at her hands.
So there you have it. Mob’s naivety, his loyalty, and his mercy are not reciprocated. His self-image is broken. He is at the mercy of the “world.” Or is he? Perhaps the cunning of the light can outsmart the cunning of darkness. The darkness has let Mob in, and perhaps he’s more than it can digest.
Might it be that the “loser” position Mob’s kindness puts him in is in fact strategic? Might it actually allow for a powerful whirlwind of mercy to be unleashed? As our hero frees the possessed girl and expels the darkness, we see victory. It may not be a victory that the world notices, but it does touch a single loveless heart.
Similarly, the world saw Christ be engulfed by the power of strife, envy, and crooked authorities. It saw Him die humiliated. But the voluntary, strategic nature of His Passion changed things, overcoming the darkness and touching hearts in a way no evil could resist. Christ was out to save, and so is Mob. Helping friends and hurting enemies, you see, is the way of the flesh. The way of God is stronger.
By offering our sufferings to God, exercising His unconditional mercy, and pursuing the one true way of justice, we Christians partake in His unseen victory, even when we are martyred. And in doing so, play a part in saving people, perhaps our torturers themselves, and transform their world.
The theme of the unseen growth and unseen triumph of the light is present in the Hoax and Marathon arcs as well, as Reigen grows in authenticity and Mob keeps trying his best without any, ahem, visible results. This sets up the powerful climax, in which the revolution of the Claw brings society to the brink of collapse.
The world is in chaos, criminals are kings, and Japan’s biggest societal trauma, the dreadful cloud of the atomic bomb, looms over Mob’s city. What was hidden is now in the open. But the light shines through, and Mob and Reigen are able to turn death and destruction into life, conversion, and growth.
On Good Friday, the Catholic Liturgy compares the Cross of Christ to a reverse Tree of Life, an instrument of disobedience unto death turned into one of loving obedience unto life. Mob Psycho 100 ends its second season on a similar note. Sort of. Instead of the mushroom cloud signifying destruction… Well, see for yourself.
Season 3: The cunning of fighting yourself
Where could Mob go after such a powerful ending? Wouldn’t every continuation feel unnecessary? Well, no, because our protagonist still has one final enemy to defeat. That enemy is Shigeo Kageyama, Mob himself. Because, you see, the third season is about neglected feelings, and how our inner darkness grows and feeds off them.
The show astutely prepares us for the final punch. Getting carried away by small school triumphs leads Mob to lose sight of his spirit friend Dimple’s need to be listened to. Similarly, the Occult club doesn’t understand the President’s melancholy as Graduation Day approaches. But deep down, someone else is also feeling neglected, and that person is Mob himself.
A great resentment is building in our hero, a callousness that horrifies his conscious self. It is an urge to affirm himself no matter what, everyone else be damned. It is an urge that will eventually look him in the eye and tell him: “I’m Shigeo Kageyama. I’m being neglected. And I won’t take it.”
This is a shocking turn of events, but it is all too familiar for those who are growing in virtue, learning to receive love, or walking in their faith. Romans 7:15–20 might as well be describing Mob: “I do not understand my own actions,” says St. Paul. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Like Mob, our “heroic self” feels repugnance and disconnection when confronted with our own evil, irrational actions: “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” No Christian is Christ, even if we take His banner, fight on His behalf, and embrace His truth. We fall short.
Our own darkness and insufficiencies become more and more apparent as we walk towards the light. As it turns out, all manners of evil still live in us. So, what can the cunning of the light offer us here, when we are engulfed in darkness? How about… the hope of a rescue? A rescue by the Greatest Love?
Reigen’s final lesson to Mob is this: there is room at the table for a work in progress. In the final moments, Reigen, the fake, becomes real. A heart of flesh, not stone. Even a liar in training can hope to be saved, and become a hero. Mob’s faith in life and love is restored, and he is able to reach his shadow and lead it to reconciliation and unity.
We can fight ourselves and overcome our evil. Sincerity, deep understanding, and human prudence help. Strategy, patience, and hope do, too, as does community. But as St. Paul tells us, what truly makes us rise above sin is the mysterious work of grace brought about by the Spirit of Love, who will transform us, if we let Him.
Like Mob, we might coexist with a nightmarish self, a “body of death.” But there will be Reigens for us. They will come in the form of invisible connections with Christ, with the Father, and with others—the kinds of deep alliances that enable us to embrace ourselves, repent, fight, and rise above. Again and again, the promise remains true that “He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
What does this look like in our day-to-day lives? There is something powerful in the final moments of the show, when Teru, Ritsu, Dimple, and the rest of those converted to Mob’s side finally use their abilities and authority to fight for him. We can make everything inside us become unified in fighting for Christ. And St. Paul, divided like Mob and cunning like Reigen, can show us an example of how this is done.
St. Paul astutely puts his various abilities and authority to the service of his Master and the Gospel as he fights for the Church and the salvation of all. He is a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee; a scholar of the Scripture and a Roman citizen. He is a tent maker, and he is an Apostle. He uses all these roles, and the authority and abilities that come with them, to become “all things to all people.”
But who is Paul, deep down? He embraces all these parts of himself, uniting them to the body of Christ, the Church, in the service of the light. His nickname, “Paul,” means “the little.” He is a Christian who lives in Christ, and who is taught and loved by Christ. He is powerfully subversive and loyal to the end; hopeful and mature, cunning and sincere. But he is also reconciled, unified in himself through Christ. In Christ, Paul is one, and only one.
It’s not a bad way to live.
Mob Psycho 100 III can be streamed on Crunchyroll.