Mahou Shoujo Site – 01 – NOPE (First Impressions)

In the episode’s first couple of minutes, the protagonist Aya is already ready to throw herself in front of an approaching train. I’m not going to pick the low-hanging fruit and say this episode made me feel like doing the same when it was over…but yeah, this was pretty fucked up. And it gets worse.

Aya’s life is hell. She gets cut by tacks and razors in her school shoes. She’s forced to sit in a puddle of glue. She’s punched and kicked and plunged into the toilets, then goes home and gets severely beaten and choked out by her frustrated older brother, pleading in vain for him not to keep her from getting her period by doing too much damage.

She takes a tiny measure of solace from taking care of a stray cat, but her tormentors at school find out and promptly kill it. Oh, and they describe how it died while the senpai they brought in to rape her starts closing in.

Have you had enough yet? I certainly did. Aya is pointed in the direction of the titular “Mahou Shoujo Site” which gives her powers to exact revenge—revenge she is overwhelmingly justified in using against the sorry excuses for demons in human skin that gnaw at her day after day.

Two of her bullies and her would-be rapist are gone, but because Aya’s a decent person, she thinks killing is wrong, to the point of keeping plenty of the remaining beasts alive, who will no doubt dole out more punishment in the coming weeks.

I won’t be there to watch it. I can appreciate the message the show is trying to send—somewhat—and it’s to the show’s credit that Aya is as reluctant to kill as she is despite how much she’s suffered; despite her new powers her basic morality remains unassailable. But MSS has all the subtlety of Stone Cold Steven Austin giving a promo while on PCP. It’s just a bit too much.

 

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Gantz:0 Review

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The Gist: a feature-length CG movie covering the Osaka Arc from the Gantz manga. This arc is between halfway and two-thirds through Gantz’ 383-chapter long story, which means the movie had to shed several characters and a ton of build-up to present a manageable story. For example, the manga’s co-protagonist Katou gets a modified introduction right at the beginning of the arc, which serves as a brief introduction to the rules and world of Gantz for the viewer.

Generally, the changes ‘function,’ from the standpoint of making a coherent movie, but that movie is not very compelling. Despite cutting characters, the arc requires introducing the Osaka team, which is huge, even if its only there to be blown apart. The arc also pits our heroes against a massive challenge, with no room for that core cast to build-up credibility for taking on that challenge, nor an emotional connection with the viewer should they fail.

The result is somewhat like asking the third Lord of the Rings movie to work as our only ‘movie’ adaptation for the novels. The viewer will probably understand what is going on, but why would they care?

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The Verdict: From a technical standpoint, Gantz:0’s character models, lighting, and sets are decent but not mind-blowing. The lip sync isn’t spot on, the lighting and framing don’t feel like they highlight scenes clearly, and the shakey-cam is oh my god stop it! Overall, it lacks thought or style.

There’s some irony to this because Gantz’ weapons and vehicles were already CG-rendered in the manga, and the manga did a great job framing out scenes and conveying what was going on.

Unless you are already a Gantz fan, it’s difficult to see a reason for you to watch this. Unfortunately, if you are a Gantz fan (especially if you’ve read all 383 chapters of it like myself), you’re not going to get much out of this either.

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Chaos;Child – 00 (First Impressions)

screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-12-02-26-pma typical 58 second scene in Chaos;Child, where nothing but text happens…

The Gist: People are killing themselves (or being killed by someone else) in weird ways in Shibuya. Chat rooms are going crazy and giving the event names like ‘new generation murder’ and so on. Meanwhile, our protagonist who lives in a shipping crate with a bunk bed, bottles of cola, and a computer to chat with, has accidentally seen a girl killing someone to a wall with cross-shaped knives.

Or maybe he hasn’t? After all, early on, we see him yelling at empty space behind him in the shipping container…

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The Verdict: Chaos;Child is unwatchably terrible. I’m told it may relate to another series, which may be necessary to understand what is going on and/or care about the cast, who are poorly introduced between endless static shots of chat room text.

Seriously, during the first 5 minutes, more screen time was given to un-moving computer screens of text than the cast, and the only character who did get screen time (amidst still shots of his statues and H-dvds) was completely un-relatable shut-in.

I assume there is an audience for this show, especially if it is based on a lite novel or a game or enjoy average still-shots of guro, but it completely fails as animation, let alone an entry point for newcomers.

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Orange – 09

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Now that it’s confirmed everyone in Naho’s circle has letters from their future selves guiding them support Naho and Kakeru, we see the first instance of someone other than Naho and Suwa reading their letter and acting on it. In this case, it’s Azusa, whose letters are a lot more fancy and flowery than Naho’s austere correspondence.

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The letter instructs her, during her birthday, to make sure everyone refuses to let Kakeru borrow their umbrella, so that he and Naho can share one and walk home together. It works like a charm, and just like that, Orange has arrived in episode 9 where Momokuri got in it’s second half-episode.

Naho even holds out her hand for him to take, insisting once isn’t enough. But the two still maintain they’re fine with things they way they are, rather than officially going out.

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That’s a not entirely honest position that is put to the test during the sports festival, when the group of friends are to participate in a relay. There are a number of events preceding that race, during which we get a look at everyone’s parents.

Suwa makes sure Kakeru’s grandma comes so he’s not too lonely…but he still feels lonely, because he’s not sure how long it will be before he has to move, before he “disappears.”

Suwa elects to rattle his cage, asking him if it’s really okay to not be going out with Naho, and if it’s really okay with him if he went out with Naho. Kakeru, gloomy and dejected, says that would be fine; not even a bad idea. He’s still speaking from a place of self-hatred and resignation to an uncertain, lonely life in the wake of his mother’s suicide.

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Things take a turn for the worse between Naho and Kakeru when the former dresses Suwa’s wound with the same care she bandaged Kakeru a ways back. The timing sucks, and when Naho offers to dress his wounds too, Kakeru recoils, even slapping her hand away. Immediately ashamed, he scurries off, and Naho wonders what she did wrong (nothing, really).

But Suwa is still optimistic that he’s put Kakeru on the right track to more forcefully and confidently stake a claim and pursue that which he wants – Naho. I’m…less optimistic. Even with the whole circle of friends working toward a single goal, it isn’t going to be easy to bring Kakeru and Naho closer together.

Not when they’re so cripplingly inept at courtship, and possess so little self-worth, thinking the other person too good for them. I don’t envy their friends: this isn’t going to be a smooth ride, and a future where Kakeru is with them is far from assured when he’s still speaking with dark permenance about the certainty of ‘disappearing’.

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Mob Psycho 100 – 07

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The Gist: Ritsu unlocks his psychic powers and can use them with the assistance of Dimple, who has managed to crawl back from nothingness. As you can imagine, with powers drawn from delusion and betrayal, Ritsu’s mental health takes a sharp dive, culminating in the destruction of the student council president and a pile of thugs who now assume he is ‘White T Poison’ (the street name Mob was given for his previous fight)

Hanazawa makes a cameo (in a wig) and shows Ritsu he isn’t as powerful as he thinks. Meanwhile, a shadowy guy in a hoodie has his eyes on Ritsu but, before that plot can unfold, Mob encounters his brother using powers, cliffhangering into next week’s conflict.

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The Verdict: all the parts are moving now — the major character conflicts are in place and the side gags are kept to a minimum. Even Reigen, who I was never a fan of, serves as a good mentor and support for Mob. So why am I still totally meh about this show?

Unfortunately, Mob Psycho 100 doesn’t have much going for it. It’s visually unappealing, much of the cast is depressed or deranged in an unsavory way, and a sense of overall purpose to it all has never materialized. For goodness sakes, Mob’s only personal objective — his only narrative stake — is a love interest we’ve barely seen in 7 episodes.

Without motivations and character driven plot goals, the show must rely on the ‘stuff is just happening’ of its plot driven narrative… and that has felt random so far. I’m dangerously close to dropping this show.

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Orange – 08

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This was not the strongest Orange—indeed, it’s the weakest yet—but it’s still pretty damn good; hardly a dud and still very recommendable. But despite the revelations contained in this outing, it still felt a little slower than I’d like, and that it was covering already-tread territory.

Azu and Taka don’t unreasonably assumed that because Naho and Kakeru made their love for each other, they’re now officially “dating.” But neither Naho nor Kakeru believes this is the case, as both are worried that going out would somehow “hurt” the other. I’m not really a fan of that line of thinking.

Also, considering how closely Naho has follows the letters, it seems a little arbitrary and shortsighted to start questioning them after Kakeru faints during soccer. And abandoning the rest of the letters altogether borders on reckless.

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And yet, that’s what Naho does: she puts the letters away and starts acting in the way she thinks is best for Kakeru. The letters tell her and Suwa not to let Kakeru anchor the class relay, since he’ll twist and ankle and lose, but instead, all five of Kakeru’s friends stand up to share the relay duties with him, since he wants to run, but is also worried he’ll let everyone down if he fails. This way his load is lightened, but the letter isn’t being followed to the letter.

A letterless Naho turns out to be a nearly rudderless one, as each time Kakeru holds out his hand to hold hers, she has no idea what he’s doing, and ends up frustrating him. I know the two aren’t used to physical contact, but the gesture he’s making could only mean so many things, especially when she knows he loves her.

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This latest “problem” with Kakeru almost leads Naho to go back to the letters, but instead Suwa is found out by Azu and Taka, who ask Naho what the trouble is and laugh when they learn how simple and easily solved the “problem” is: just hold hands with the poor guy!

Suwa encourages Naho to tell them the rest of the truth, about the future letters, and as expected, they respond by revealing their own. All five friends wrote to their past selves. All five regretted what went down with Kakeru, and all five are committed to saving him.

Now it’s all out in the open…except for Kakeru himself. Even if they all have the best intentions, the fact they all have this secret they’re not sharing with him could have serious problems down the road, no matter how hard they try to hide it.

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Mob Psycho 100 – 06

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The Gist: Ritsu continues to obsess over not having powers like his older brother, which leads him to join a sketchy psychic research group. After meeting their underpowered stars and ongoing frustration, he breaks down and helps the student council vice-president frame a delinquent for stealing the girls’ recorder heads.

Meanwhile, Mob detects a sketchy adult with psychic powers, the muscle club members welcome the delinquent into their ranks, there’s a whole lot of misunderstanding about shadow leaders of Salt & Vinegar middle schools, and finally dimple appears to have returned. (witnessed by Ritsu no less)

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The Verdict: MP100 is currently juggling seven narrative threads and each got a little development this episode. Unfortunately, while a lot of ‘stuff’ happened, none of it carried any drama, humor or urgency.

Why should we care about the reveal that Ritsu has powers? It’s a darkly dramatic reveal — obvious due to his anger — spliced between scenes of slap stick and a ludicrous art style. MP100 is entirely the wrong format for seriousness.

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Orange – 07

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Orange continues to be a particularly hard show to assail, which explains all the 10s I’ve been doling out. It is without question First in Feels, that ahs affected me like no show since AnoHana.

Like many mysteries in fiction, I believe like my RABUJOI comrades that less is more in terms of explanation. To that end, Orange has kept away from explainin how the future letters work. What matters is that they are a means for Kakeru’s salvation, and now Naho is no longer alone in that struggle, and never was.

Suwa suggests they coordinate their moves in order to share the load of saving Kakeru. They do so by finding out his birthday and then asking him what he wants. Not only to Suwa and Naho do this, but the others as well who (as far as we know) are unaware of the letters.

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But because Kakeru and Taka want to support Naho’s pursuit of Kakeru, even being out of the loop doesn’t stop them from helping the cause. Taka finall gets to directly threaten Ueda, but stops short of assault and instead promises the school will know of the scorned girl’s continued bullying if it persists.

It’s still troubling that Ueda continues to pop up on the edges, since she still represents a wild card in the grander scheme of saving Kakeru, but good to see the united front against her. I daresay I’m also starting to feel bad for Ueda. Awful a person as she is, it’s true Kakeru dumped her pretty  fast, and if she’s going to be dumped, then Naho needs to—and forgive the crude metaphor—piss or get off the pot.

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Back in the old future, Naho, Suwa & Co. are still visiting Kakeru’s room, and the others reveal to Naho that Kakeru always loved him. Naturally, Naho’s instinct is to blame her inability to give a response contributed to the spiral of depression that led to his demise.

This time, they remember his birthday, Naho gets him a flashy sports bag—to replace the one his mom threw out in an act of possessiveness, an important symbol of moving on. Suwa gets Kakeru flowers, like he jokingly asked for, but just as Suwa does in his place in the future, Kakeru immediately gives the flowers to Naho, as an even stronger symbol of his feelings.

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Their friends file out and allow Kakeru to properly confess his feelings for Naho, though he doesn’t expect an immediate response. That’s just as well, because it takes some nudging from her friends for Naho to summon the courage to answer him.

Not only that, it takes a letter dated September 23, the day Kakeru attempted suicide after his friends from Tokyo visited and laughed off his stated desire to die. Neither Naho nor Suwa are going to let that happen. Suwa joins Naho and Kakeru for one of the tensest and most emotionally intense scenes in the show so far.

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In it, Suwa tells Kakeru no to hang out with his Tokyo friends, but with them, and goes further, saying he doesn’t want to just laugh with him. He, and Naho, want to know what’s really troubling him. Suwa’s firmness gets Kakeru to admit he wants to die all the time because he regrets breaking his promise to his mother and thinking her texts were “pain.”

As Suwa rightly puts is, Kakeru did nothing wrong. Everyone at some point feels the way he felt. It wasn’t his fault his mom died, and they don’t want him to continue blaming himself for everything. Not only that, Naho chimes in at the right time to deliver her unequivocal response: she loves him, and doesn’t want him to go away.

Kakeru’s joyful tears and smile are still tinged with melancholy, but Naho is in. She did what her past self could not, and she and Suwa, with their friends’ help, changed the future once more for the better. Now that Kakeru and Naho know how they feel about one another, the question becomes what comes next, and how to keep the good going.

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Mob Psycho 100 – 05

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The Gist: Hanazawa pounds on Mob in a desperate attempt to make Mob use his powers. When this fails, and when Mob points out they are both meaningless losers without their powers, Hanazawa chokes Mob out.

Which results in Mob’s inner darkness taking over and utterly obliterating the school, HanazawaHanazawa’s hair, and then building it back afterwards.

Also Dimple is destroyed and we learn Mob lost his control once in the past and caused some high school bullies serious injury. Both of these points cause Mob some upset. He even looks around town for poor Dimple in the rain.

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The Verdict: While the action ramped up, the very nature that Mob didn’t want to use his powers (and really didn’t, except for his short 100% unconscious beat down) bled the life out of this week’s battle. Sure, there was internal conflict aplenty but that didn’t carry through what was otherwise a visible action sequence.

The episode wasn’t helped at all by a lack of humor either. This was, by and large, due to the episode focusing on a fight sequence. Meh?

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Orange – 06

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This week, as Naho and Kakeru grow closer and Naho learns more about the future, the enormity of her “mission” begins to weigh on her once more, and she again starts to doubt her ability to make the changes that needs to be made to save Kakeru. After all, she’s already failed the letters twice: when she invited Kakeru to hang out the day his mother died, and when she let him start dating Ueda-senpai.

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Since those failures, and the extra problems they created, Naho has been careful to carefully follow the bullet points in the letters. They are saying she has to watch the fireworks with Kakeru alone by the pool, and so that’s what she aims to do.

Knowing that these two are gradually becoming a couple and eager to help them out when they can, Azu, Tako, Hagita and Suwa all work to assist the two in getting together in the ideal time and place. Kakeru brings up his past regrets when asking Suwa if it’s really okay to be in love with Naho and to pursue her.

Suwa’s answer is that it has to be, because being in love isn’t a choice (and also because he has a pretty good idea how Naho feels).

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The consequences of Naho’s second failure almost derail the entire op, but Azu and Tako thankfully find Naho on the steps lugging Ueda’s contest prizes and take over the task, while Suwa and Nagita keep Ueda away from the pool in a way that will surely mean Ueda isn’t done fighting with the group. If she can’t have Kakeru and be happy, no one can. That could prove deadly to Kakeru later on.

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But we’re allowed to forget about Ueda and all her bullshit for a few wonderful, beautiful moments, as Naho and Kakeru are united before the fireworks end. In the courageous mood her future self told her she’d be in, she answers his question about which boy she’d most want to as her out (him), and he in turn answers hers (via Azu): that he’d want her to ask him out. The night ends as one neither will forget for the rest of their lives.

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Future Naho asserts that Kakeru’s regret stems from being unable to save his mother, while her regret comes from not being able to save him from the accident. Wondering why she can’t simply save Kakeru on the day of the accident, Naho reads ahead, and learns it wasn’t an accident – Kakeru rode his bike into a speeding truck on purpose, so he could go to where his mother was and apologize.

Knowing when it happens is irrelevant. Naho can’t save him from something his mind is set on anyway. Her true mission is to save his heart. That means learning more about his regret, which means asking about his mother. When Naho and Kakeru’s friends again arrange it so the two are alone for the Matsumoto Bon Bon, she gets plenty of opportunities, while also enjoying each other’s company.

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Despite their ongoing denial about not being a couple (at least not yet), the two look the part, and the camera captures them in a number of gorgeous isolated shots. Most affecting is when they pray to the shrine, which gives Naho her in.

After he evades her question of what he said to his mother at the shrine, Naho resolves to get him to answer her properly, even if he ends up hating her. Saving his heart is more important than preserving their romance, underscoring Naho’s role as a reluctant heroine.

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Turns out, Kakeru doesn’t hate her for pressing, though it’s clearly a painful subject to discuss. Indeed, he was worried she’d hate him if he told her the truth: that his mother, psychologically unstable, committed suicide the day he blew her off to hang out with Naho. That makes Naho’s first failure the reason Kakeru carries the regret that will ultimately destroy him if unchecked.

It’s an overwhelming blow for Naho, who can’t muster the words to comfort him. Suddenly, saving Kakeru’s heart seems like an impossible feat, especially all on her own. So she boldly reaches out to Suwa about her mission, and he seems to already be in the loop. You see, he also got a letter. BOOM.

That’s an explosive revelation right there, delivered with impeccable timing right at episode’s end. But it’s not so shocking, because we’ve seen Suwa and the others working so hard for Naho and Kakeru’s sakes.

I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone had letters, but it stands to reason if Naho could write a letter to her past self, she’d also write one to her future husband. It also explains why Suwa isn’t challenging Kakeru. In any case, now Naho knows his isn’t a mission she has to undertake all on her own. Everyone wants to save Kakeru’s heart.

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Mob Psycho 100 – 04

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The Gist: Salt middle school’s delinquent (club?) gets in over its head and seeks out the Body Improvement Club to aide in their revenge. However, this does not fit with the non-violent self improvement mission of the BIC and the delinquents must resort into tricking Mob to get kidnapped and forcing the BIC to intervene.

Meanwhile, evil spirit Dimple-sama has returned and is living with Mob. His goal is to eventually take advantage of Mob and rule the world but, in the short term, he has to learn more about his target and win his confidence.

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toughs arguing semantics is always funny

Off to the side, we see more of Mob’s brother and come to understand his deep desire for psychic powers. Despite his great abilities, and Mob’s assurance that psychic powers aren’t a source of limitless advantage, the younger brother’s desire is strong. It borders on jealous. possibly psychotic.

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Finally, there’s a massive showdown between the rival delinquents, the BIC, and eventually Hanazawa Teruki, a villainous psychic and shadow leader of the school. It’s a fantastic battle which raises the stakes until only Mob and Teruki remain, and Mob’s indifference (while tied up) and awareness of Teruki’s psychic powers has the early edge.

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The Verdict: MP100’s continues to build on its strengths. This episode was funny both in comedic timing and in creative goofiness. My favorite gag was the poor spelling of the letters the delinquents were sending, but Dimple’s reactions were generally a chuckle all the way.

More important than making a fun romp, this episode gave Mob a true antagonist to work against. While I doubt Teruki is a match for our quiet Mob, let alone a full on explosion Mob, the fact that he treats his powers differently is a good showcase in contrast.

And then, Mob’s brother is probably being setup as a longer term, more tragic antagonist. Good things are coming!

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Mob Psycho 100 – 03

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The Gist: the Body Improvement Club allows the Telepathy Club to keep the room (the BIC only needs it for equipment storage) and everyone is happy. Mob reveals his powers to the Telepathy Club but he’s still not interested in joining them. His focus is on improving his physical form.

On his way home, Mob is pressured into joining a newly formed cult, LOL. It’s a laughter cult run by a hypnotist, who is later revealed as a spirit using low bloodshed methods to take over. In his frustration with Mob’s inability to smile, he pushes Mob too far — into 100% — and he is easily destroyed by the Emotionally Active Mob.

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Later, Reigen reinforces many of the negative things the spirit said to Mob — that Mob’s lack of emotions and ‘getting it’ mean he will cause trouble for people and be bad at love. However, Reigen also shrugs this off because Mob is his own protagonist and he did just save some people. He was the only one who could have saved those people.

Tying up last week’s club-room drama and expanding on Mob’s social circle was a good move. It was also nice and short, which left most of the episode for this week’s cult plot.

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The cult plot itself introduces Mezato from the school newspaper, who serves as our point of reference as humans. We hear her internal conflict before, during and after the spirit affects her and that lends more power to Mob not being effected.

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The Fight between Mob and the Spirit is stylish. Ugly, like everything else we’ve seen, but nicely framed and frenetic. The most interesting elements are the psychological ones: we see how Mob has been hurt in the past by not showing his expressions and the narrator gives us context for why he chooses to hid his emotions.

Finally, Reigen manages a human, not totally cringey scene where he actually mentors Mob. As with last week, the formula works best when we see the least of him but here, we got that AND seeing him briefly in a positive light.

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The Verdict: It had some lumps but this was MP100’s first honestly good episode. It was also the most One-Punch like, with a most of he episode being spent on Mob not being defeated, and eventually splattering the enemy with one hit.

Setting up Mob for multiple 100% explosions, and not just a single earth destroying one, is a clever fake out. It lends a different structure to the show than I was expecting, and I love surprises. It’s still a Butter Face show but the incremental improvements finally make it worth watching.

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Mob Psycho 100 – 02

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The Gist: Mob grapples with how he wants to spend his middle school years. Will he spend it working for his mentor Reigen, will he join the Telepathy Club, or will he put effort into winning a girl and enjoying some young love?

The Reigen path forces Mob to dress in drag and defeat a loser-ghost that didn’t live his life to the fullest — and both of these experiences cause Mob a fair amount of discomfort.

The Telepathy Club doesn’t really interest him. However, he considers it because the club members make a good point that middle school is the only time they ever will be able to slack off, and that he would not only be welcome to join in their fun, but be greatly appreciated, since the club will be disbanded by the student council unless a fifth member joins.

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What worked: when the episode got around to having a core dilemma, that Mob’s great power does not make his personal wants any more achievable, MP100 felt compelling. Dare I say it was even remarkable that Mob’s blank expression was able to emote at the height of his stress.

It was also brilliant to make the invert the Body Improvement Club from throw-away bad guys after the Telepathy Club’s room, into an earnest thing Mob would want to be part of — that he needs to improve his physique to get the girls. That’s smart comedy and drama in short span of frames!

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What didn’t work: Reigen continues to drag down the show. Because he is predictable, he adds no humor. Because he’s self centered, he’s unlikable. Because he’s part of the plot, he gets an unnecessary amount of screen time and totally pulls us away from more interesting developments in the plot.

It’s also still an ugly show. Sadly, I get the sense it would be fine as a manga, where the muddy color pallet wouldn’t exist (black and white) and the unproductive Reigen scenes would be easy to skip. It would also match MP100’s humor style, which relies on frame-reveal and deadpan looks in response to dialog.

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The Verdict: There were glimmers of a better show this week. The ‘live paint’ style of the ghost as it spoke to Mob was visually interesting, the character developments in the second arc were interesting and funny, and Reigen was absent for much of it.

However, at 40% to explosion, Mob Psycho 100 is still not a very good show. I suspect it will continue to get better as Mob grows and his sense of hope deteriorates, but making the audience wade through 3 or 4 episodes first is a brave move to make. Brave… or really stupid.

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