Sunday, January 8, 2017

Narrative Analysis: Mob Psycho 100

So I'd like to start writing more. I also want more narrative design to study. In light of those two things, I'm going to branch out a bit and take a look at some things outside of gaming, when they strike me as being particularly interesting or relevant in some way.

My first foray into those lands comes in the form of an anime: Mob Psycho 100.

Mob Psycho is the story of a middle schooler who has incredible psychic power. His mentor, Reigen, takes him around the city to exorcize ghosts that the locals are complaining about. Reigen, however, is a fraud and is using Mob's legitimate abilities to help him make a profit. That's the general overview of the story established in the first episode, but we're here to dive in to what the story is really about (and to spoil the entire plot, so if you haven't watched it yet, do so first and then come back). Mob Psycho 100 is not about ghosts. It is also not about psychics. Mob Psycho 100 is, in fact, about living with depression.

Mob is depressed. Mob is horrifically depressed. The most depressed person anywhere nearby. Mob is so depressed that it affects his everyday life, and even prevents him from eating. The show uses Mob's psychic powers to represent Mob's depression, and in the case of his being unable to eat, we are shown that Mob bends his spoons before they reach his mouth. His parents love him, and even accept his depression as just being a part of who he is. They never condemn him for bending spoons, they just acknowledge it and kind of wish that he would stop, because they have to replace so much cutlery.

Mob's brother, Ritsu, is not depressed. Ritsu is a model student who goes out of his way to succeed in all aspects of life. He does a great job of being a model student, but he forever has to live in the shadow of his brother's depression. Everything in Ritsu's life becomes about caring for his brother, and even Ritsu's accomplishments end up taking a back seat to the care his brother requires.

Reigen, or "Master" as Mob calls him, is Mob's psychiatrist. Reigen has never suffered from depression, but he goes out of his way to make Mob feel like he is normal. He wants Mob to feel like he belongs, and so Reigen pretends to be 'psychic' so that he can be Mob's friend. Mob never questions this because doing so would destroy the illusion that has helped him come as far as he has.

That's the main cast covered, let's look at the overall plot. Mob is suffering from extreme depression. He and Reigen go out into the world to 'exorcize demons' from their area. While doing so, Mob is recruited by a club of slackers who waste their after school time with video games and snacks. He befriends this group, but sides against them in order to officially join the body improvement club, showing a subconscious desire to better himself despite his situation.

The plot starts to take off when we meet another person who suffers from depression, a 'psychic' Teruki Hanazawa. Hanazawa is a kid who has taken advantage of his condition in order to control the people around him. He uses his 'psychic power' to gather people to him so that he can prove to himself how truly special he is. When he and Mob face off against each other, we see Reigen's teachings for the first time. While Hanazawa believes that he is special and deserves to be treated as such, Mob has been taught that he should not allow his depression to affect his interactions with other people. Mob believes that he is no different from anyone else, and that he should learn to be a functional member of society despite his shortcomings. When confronted with this ideology, Hanazawa has a breakdown. In the end, Hanazawa acknowledges Mob's strength, and changes his ways.

The fight with Hanazawa causes an uproar around town as people begin to investigate more into 'psychic phenomena'. This causes a reporter to begin harassing Ritsu, Mob's brother, about Mob's power. As if Ritsu didn't already have to live in his brother's shadow at home, now his school life would be taken over as well. This causes Ritsu to sink into his baser instincts. He pulls awful pranks on other members of his class in an effort to 'clean up' the school. This weighs heavily on him, and eventually the combination of all of these elements causes Ritsu to 'awaken' to his 'psychic power'. Ritsu begins to use his power to take advantage of those around him (much as Hanazawa was doing), but Mob finds out what is happening very quickly and the two face off. Mob, having been cared for throughout his life, meets Ritsu's depression with open arms, showing absolutely nothing but love and admiration for a brother that he has always believed to be better than himself. This forces Ritsu out of his fugue before he can descend any further.

At this point in the story, we are introduced to an organization known as "Claw". Claw is an organization of adults who have allowed their lives to be controlled by their mental illness, which they refuse to properly address. In one episode Claw is referenced as "children who failed to grow up" because they are stuck in the depression that developed when they were kids, causing them to feel like they were robbed of their youth. This organization collects other people who suffer from depression, indoctrinating them into their system of self-loathing. As part of this effort, Ritsu is stolen away and Mob must save his brother.

This series of events unfolds in your typical shonen fashion, featuring giant fights with psychic powers being thrown around at every opportunity. At the climax of the show we are given a typical flashback sequence that gives us more of the information that we need in order to understand Mob. We see that Mob found Reigen as a child. At the time, Mob was unable to talk to other adults about his problem, but Reigen makes him feel like he is a perfectly normal little boy, and that is all Mob has ever wanted to hear. Reigen emphasizes that being depressed is no different from any other personality quirk, and that it's all about how you let it affect your life.

Throughout this show, Reigen is presented as a fraud. He is the one person pretending to be psychic when he has absolutely no power. In reality, he is just pretending so that Mob can feel as if he has a friend. Reigen's true power, however, shows when he appears at the Claw base pretending to be their boss. Reigen cannot battle Claw with 'psychic power' because he has none. Instead, Reigen uses his own skill: his words. Reigen boasts that he has never lost an argumement, and that "the power of one's words are unfathomable". He goes on to say "One's heart can find a resolution just by being offered a helping hand", which is exactly what we see with Mob (who, by this point in the series, has made several friends, and shown several others that there is a better way to live with a mental disorder). At this climactic battle, Reigen is shown to have the ultimate power. In the show it is represented by Mob accidentally giving his power to Reigen, but the reality is that he defeats Claw with his words. He shows them all that they are clinging onto the childhood they believe they have lost, rather than just accepting reality as it is and learning to overcome their problems. The boss of Claw is revealed to be a wizened old man who acts more like an infant. Reigen tells them that they are not special, that they do not deserve any special treatment, and that we all deserve to be treated as equals. No matter what our pasts have done to us.

Mob stands as a testament to this ideology, and in the face of this, Claw crumbles. Their base is destroyed, and their minions flee.

The series ends with a final scene showing Mob and Reigen out to find more ghosts to exorcize. This shows us that life goes on, and the fight never stops. It also shows us that you can go about your life despite it all.

I also wanted to mention one more arc I found to be particularly interesting. When Ritsu first became depressed, he did some awful things to his classmates. In particular, Onigawara, whom he planted false evidence upon. Onigawara was kicked out of school as a result. He never stopped attending class, however, and even joined the Body Improvement Club in order to better himself. Onigawara's plight was actually worse than Ritsu's by far, but Onigawara was not afflicted with depression. Onigawara acts as a foil to show us that those people who don't suffer from mental illness can still have terrible things to deal with in their lives, but that they simply don't react in the same ways. He also, perhaps, shows us that we don't have to react poorly even when something awful happens to us. He shows us that we can choose a better way.

And that, dear readers, is Mob Psycho 100. If you disagree on any of my interpretations, or want to expand on any of them, feel free to comment below!

Thanks for reading!


  1. Hi. I like your interpretation of Mob Psycho 100. I would like your interpretation of 100%Mob and ???%Mob and his interaction with Dimple.

    1. Thanks for reading and enjoying the article!

      To answer your question accurately, I'd have to rewatch the series with a specific eye on his interactions with Dimple.

      He strikes me as a sort of lingering issue that sticks with you even after you've resolved it. He seems to push Mob towards honing his psychic power, and towards giving in to his base instincts.

      You've got me thinking. I may have to look into this interaction and think about it more specifically. I'll get back to you if I do!

      Thanks again! :D

  2. I thought more about the article and I came to the following conclusion regarding ???%Mob. It represents something entirely different from depression. What if ???%Mob represents Mob's panic attacks? It's entirely possible to suffer from depression after panic attacks. It's repressented as something that can't be controlled, no matter what you do, it appears in stressful situations. It appears when Mob can no longer take it(when Mob falls "unconscious") It adds more depth to what Mob tries to do: to change.

    1. Perfectly valid thought. I think the core of the show overall is depression, but there are definitely a number of mental illnesses on display throughout. It's easy for me to call out the depression bit because I've dealt with that myself, but having not dealt with panic attacks, it's harder for me to analyze that one.

      Good call!