Spoilers for season one of Mob Psycho 100
This fall, we’ve witnessed the return of fan-favorite anime Mob Psycho 100 for its third and final season. As expected, the show continues to deal with many of the same moral dilemmas and personal issues as its first two seasons without compromising them to make room for beautifully animated fight scenes. That’s because, at its very core, MP100 is a show that despises violence as the main means of resolving interpersonal issues, and instead invites its audience to understand each other. In fact, it rejects the mere idea that being more powerful than your enemy is a net positive, or that having special powers makes anyone better altogether. Violence, the series posits, should only be used as a last resort.
This idea is strongly tied to the way masculinity is represented in most media, but particularly shounen anime. While the titular character, Mob, is more powerful than most of the cast, he never uses his powers to impose his will upon his enemies, even when these people are threatening to harm him. What’s more, every character who tries to get what they want through violent means is either defeated or strongly admonished.
Although the show does not actively profess these ideas from the very beginning, and can be somewhat mean-spirited during its first few episodes, it’s at the end of episode two that it shows the intention to question and subvert traditional masculine behavior.
The Body Improvement club is a group of extremely muscular students that tower over most teenage characters and spend their time at school building their bodies to become physically stronger. They’re initially presented as serious, masculine characters that can easily get whatever they want through force, and presented as an antagonistic force to the traditional “nerdiness” of Mob and his friends from the Telepathy Club.
Their masculinity and physical prowess is seen as a threat, because that’s the way traditional jocks are shown in fiction, and what society expects them to be like: emotionally repressed, focused only on getting stronger, and uncaring of those weaker than them.
The audience expectation is that, when Mob asks to join them, they will mock him for his physical weakness. But that could not be farther from what actually happens: they’re ecstatic to have a new member, and they help Mob slowly become more fit through the course of the show. Even the threat of them kicking the Telepathy Club out of their meeting room isn’t an actual threat—they’re happy to share. They become one of the main pillars of Mob’s morality through the season, as they almost always use their strength to help and protect weaker students.
These are the first characters to show the positive version of masculinity that MP100 wants its audience to adopt. They entirely subvert the nerd/jock dichotomy for a more positive worldview in which, while being physically fit is generally good for them, they know they must never abuse their power to mock or demean those weaker than them. Their behavior also disproves the belief that people who wish to improve their bodies are lesser for it, and shows that obsessive attempts to outsmart everyone will only lead down a path of extreme toxicity and emotional numbness. Everyone is good at some things and bad at others, and one’s life should not revolve around being the strongest person in every room.
When this is the case and a character is too laser-focused only on gaining and using power, they are usually shown losing their grasp on what is truly important to them. Teru is introduced as a psychic who, because of the arrogance that stems from his power, is unable to connect with people, and only makes meaningful relationships after being humbled by Mob. Similarly, the main villain of season two, Toichiro Suzuki, accumulates so much power that he becomes emotionally stunted and unable to empathize with others.
Mob himself becomes extremely, dangerously powerful after long periods of repressing his emotions, something men are told they must do under the rules of traditional masculinity. When Mob “explodes” in this way, he loses control and becomes extremely violent, so much so that even his friends are afraid of him. The only thing that can prevent these events is Mob opening up and allowing his emotions to show, even those that are not considered “manly”.
The best example of this is a pivotal moment in the last episode of season one, in which Mob allows Reigen to take control of a situation. Transferring power to another man, allowing them to protect you and do things for you, is usually emasculating when viewed through the lenses of traditional masculinity, but Mob ends up learning it’s perfectly fine to do so if he becomes overwhelmed. The narrative makes a point that not everyone has to excel at everything, and that it’s perfectly fine to ask for help to deal with your problems—being a man doesn’t mean Mob isn’t still a kid, and needing help isn’t a sign of his weakness either.
Reigen, though a somewhat divisive figure in terms of overall morality, is a character who teaches Mob many of the important lessons that will define him as a person all through the show. The first thing he ever teaches Mob, under the belief that the young psychic is just confused, is that he is just as flawed and human as everybody else, even when taking his powers in consideration. He assures him that the important thing about having any skill is not to assume it makes him superior to others, a lesson Mob takes as his personal mantra for the entire show.
This message, though very simple by itself and somewhat par for the course in a battle shounen series, takes on a new meaning when seen as part of a bigger picture.
Reigen’s message, though perhaps inadvertently so, goes against everything that those traditional roles mean for men, and ends up teaching Mob how to use his powers with a constructive objective in mind. In fact, when Mob first meets Reigen, he isn’t seeking to improve his psychic abilities, but to simply control them and keep them at bay. It’s Reigen who suggests he instead train Mob to use his powers for good, though of course this comes with the caveat that the man is doing so to help his business.
And look, nobody is saying Reigen is perfect: he clearly has no trouble cheating his way through life, and sometimes he puts his own priorities in front of Mob’s best interests. His core ideals, however, have proven to be solid as a rock not only on paper, but also in practice, which goes to show how much One trusts this character to be the moral backbone of Mob’s development. He seems to be saying “if even this sneaky con man tries to avoid violence at any cost, then so can you.”
Which leads to the scene that best shows how good of a mentor Reigen is. It’s very easy, after all, to make all those claims while he himself is powerless, but once the fake psychic gains actual powers at the end of season one, what does he do with them?
Well, for starters, instead of hurting his enemies in retaliation for targeting Mob and himself, something most traditional shounen protagonists would have no problem doing, he uses his superiority to teach them an actual life lesson. Though perhaps he doesn’t do it in the nicest way possible, Reigen does teach all of the men from Claw the same lesson he taught Mob: being powerful is not all that there is to life, and forcing others to bend to your every whim will only bring you misery.
In season two, it is revealed that most of these people have indeed moved on from their plans of world domination and are relatively happy with their normal lives. Redemption is something that is rarely truly achieved in most works of fiction, but MP100 does in an incredibly natural way that fits with its themes and proves once more that destroying your enemies is not always the solution to everything. Sometimes, an outlet from toxic masculinity, from the desire to hurt others to achieve personal success, is all these people need, and the results of this rehabilitation are clearly seen all through seasons two and three: virtually every character Mob fights ends up getting an honest job or becoming a better person.
Considering the amount of popular shounen anime that rely on incessant conflict without suggesting alternatives, Mob Psycho 100 stands out as one of the quintessential key works to watch if one wishes to stray away from traditionally masculine characters and tap into the potential of positive masculine representation. Through characters like the Body Improvement Club, and in the resolution to its supernatural conflicts, this series provides a refreshing take on gendered expectations in shounen action and provides a healthy model for everyone to enjoy.