Heroism is a theme that manga author One appears to have a keen interest in. His seminal work One Punch Man challenged dramatic conflicts typically found in superhero narratives, by exploring the comical scenario of a hero defeating every opponent with only one punch. His following work Mob Psycho 100 is in a lot of ways a continuation of this exploration – equally containing hero tropes that get turned on their heads in a parodying fashion – but it also includes a prominent amount of dramatic weight in the equation. In contrast to One Punch Man, Mob Psycho 100 is mainly a character piece, driven by the inner struggles that its characters undergo in their various relationships to heroism. Some of them rightfully and/or wrongfully inhabit the title of a hero, some try to distance themselves from it, and some desperately desire it. The following post will through the 2016 anime adaptation of One’s manga take a look at its central characters, and thus explore the rich nuances of heroic identity that the series depicts.
Shigeo Kageyama is a psychic, and an extremely powerful one at that. Throughout his part-time job as an assistant exorcist, he takes care of various evil spirits on a daily basis with ease. Whether it be a big spirit haunting a private all-girls high school, a possession spirit that’s formed an entire cult around him through brainwashing, or even one that’s haunted a mountain for hundreds of years, against Shigeo’s power level they all appear as nothing but “small fry”. However, he is also the type of person who’s only good at one thing. During his normal school hours he has a hard time standing out in any area; his social skills are lacking, he’s not very bright in class, nor is he any good at sports or other physical activities. The big ironic crux of Shigeo’s character thus lies in the dilemma that his one and only talent as an overwhelmingly powerful psychic serves no use in his everyday life.
This is further supported by the fact that he doesn’t have the best relationship to his powers. Ever since an incident where he accidentally injured his brother, he’s been extremely reluctant against using them altogether. To use them against other people is especially something he avoids at all costs, due to a moral code given to him by his mentor. In the same vein as Vash the Stampede, he is a strict pacifist who constantly secludes his abilities for the safety and well-being of others. Furthermore, there exists a direct parallel between Shigeo’s psychic powers and his emotions, meaning that his containment of the former also includes a containment of the latter. Such containment is of course hardly healthy, and indeed leads to his emotions gradually bottling up – which is symbolized by a percentage meter that increases whenever something causes him stress. He nonetheless keeps isolating his inner self to the best of his abilities, afraid of the dangers that his powers and emotions are capable of.
As a young teenager entering puberty, Shigeo starts asking himself how he wants to spend his fleeting youth; is he contempt with his part-time job, or is there more to life that he would like to experience? Throughout episode 2, he is repeatedly confronted with the possibility that he might end up wasting his days by not living life to the fullest, ultimately being filled with regret as an adult. The crux of this however, is that he doesn’t know what he wants to do. All his life he’s been so busy worrying about the ones around him, that he’s never had any major reflection on his own wishes and desires.
Upon this confrontation, his first consideration is to join the Telepathy Club, who during episode 2 desperately try to make him a member to avoid getting disbanded. But the second before signing his club membership, he gets stopped by a student council member who’s there to turn over the clubroom to the Body Improvement Club. The council member questions if this is really what Shigeo wants or if he’s just acting out of the Telepathy Club’s will, and advises him to consider his own desire. This leads Shigeo into an intense self-reflection over what it is he wants, if he wants anything at all, and not least the normative expectations put on him of having to want something: “What I want to do… Do I have anything I want to do? Does everyone else have something? Something enjoyable? Something I’m envious of? What are they enjoying? Clubs, hobbies, and studying? Hanging out with girls might be fun…” During these troubled thoughts, he suddenly enters a revelation. There is in fact something that he wants; to have a romantic relationship with his long-time love interest Tsubomi. Through a flashback, we get to see how he had tried to impress her years earlier with his psychic powers, but she quickly got bored of the same old telekinetic tricks and started showing more interest in sportier guys. He therefore arrives at the decision to decline the Telepathy Club, and instead join the Body Improvement Club.
This plot point speaks very clearly of where Shigeo’s driving ideals lie. He has no desire of becoming the hero since he’s experienced the dangers of his powers, and so instead of embracing what makes him special he distances himself from it to become good at all the normal stuff. Later on in the series, the little spirit sidekick Ekubo – who has the ambition to become a god-like figure – tries to convince Shigeo of the endless possibilities of his power level, that he could stand on top of the world if he just utilized his psychic abilities. But Shigeo has no interest in becoming a god or world ruler; his powers are to him more a burden than a strength, as it only causes harm on the people around him.
Arataka Reigen is Shigeo’s boss and psychic mentor. When Shigeo as a young boy was lost and confused, having nobody to turn to about his psychic powers, Arataka welcomed him with open arms. He offered him an assistant job at his firm and taught him about what it means to be a psychic and how one’s powers should be used. He is a true role model for Shigeo, being the one who helped him make sense of his own self. However, Arataka’s actual profession is as a con artist, “helping” people with their paranormal issues through mere trickery. As such, he doesn’t actually possess psychic abilities in the slightest, and his entire role as Shigeo’s master is a mere pretension in order to exploit the boy’s powers for his own work.
The ironic relation between Arataka’s mentorship and his con artistry is perfectly illustrated in episode 5. In a flashback, Arataka is depicted through a young Shigeo’s eyes as a grand and almost holy figure, silhouetted by a bright backlight and seen from a low angle. He gives an inspiring lecture about the responsibilities of being a psychic; not placing yourself over others and not using your powers as weapons – teachings that consequently are the foundation for Shigeo’s worldview:
– We were born with special powers that other people don’t have, but we mustn’t let it get to our heads and think we’re special. People who are fast, people who sing well, people who are book smart, people who are good at talking, and people who can use psychic powers… You can’t put one over the other. Being confident about your powers is fine, but you mustn’t get conceited. Depending on how we use our powers, they can also be deadly weapons. They’re just like knives. What are you not supposed to do with knives?
– Point them at people?
– So you do get it. Make sure you never forget that.
This is immediately followed by the reveal that all these words have come from Arataka, comedically rendering them, as also pointed out by Ekubo, inauthentic. Despite that, it is hard to deny the wiseness and positive influence of the words themselves. This scene thus greatly exemplifies the interestingly contradicting nature of Shigeo’s and Arataka’s relationship. On one hand, everything Arataka has taught Shigeo could be seen as a lie – a mere part in his scheme to use Shigeo’s powers for his own benefit. This would mean that most of Shigeo’s perception of and identification with his psychic powers is nothing but a false construct. On the other hand however, it is worth questioning what significance that this inauthenticity actually bears.
Because Arataka is in fact a good mentor figure and role model for Shigeo in spite of his fake facade. He’s always there as a life advisor whenever Shigeo is concerned about something. When Shigeo expresses his desire to be normal like everyone else, Arataka tells him to instead stand up for himself and listen to his own voice: “Why do you have to be like them? You’re the protagonist of your own life.” When Shigeo says that he doesn’t want to have his powers anymore, Arataka tells him to think of all the clients he’s helped out: “Don’t just focus on the negatives. It’s all about how you use knives, remember? Don’t suppress yourself. You’re the one who holds the key to maximizing your potential.” Not only has Arataka taught Shigeo not to be egocentric or hurt other people, but he also repeatedly tells him to still have self-respect and not undermine his abilities.
Moreover, the relationship between mentorship and con artistry becomes extra interesting when considering the fact that the latter often times supports the former. For example, when Shigeo is being pursued to join the Telepathy Club and calls Arataka for advice, Arataka quickly figures out the agenda of the club members and especially the girl’s attempt at seducing Shigeo. He tells the club not to exploit his pupil for their own needs, and also tells Shigeo that he shouldn’t comply to things he doesn’t want just for the sake of others. Another example occurs in episode 7, when Shigeo gets lured in by a pair of fake art dealers who try to swindle him. Arataka arrives and sees through the fraud, helping Shigeo out of the situation. When one of the art dealers starts threatening him, he responds by faking various injuries and damages that they will have to pay for, thus hitting them back with the same coin. Arataka thus repeatedly uses the experiences from his profession in order to protect Shigeo from being tricked by similarly dishonest people. Of course, there’s a major hypocritical factor at play here, since Arataka is guilty of doing to Shigeo the very thing that he’s protecting him from.
But that is the whole crux of Arataka’s character. While he is hypocrisy incarnate, the nature of his character also questions and challenges the concept of hypocrisy itself. He is a fake role model, but nevertheless a great role model. He is a con artist pretending to be a mentor, but at the same time utilizes that very con artistry in his mentorship. By both embodying an inspirational and admirable heroism, and contradicting that very embodiment, Arataka disputes the line between justice and injustice, between exemplariness and crookedness.
Looking at the previously mentioned line that Arataka says to Shigeo, that “You’re the protagonist of your own life”, we find in the following episode that it’s mirrored by another line. The episode opens up with an introduction of Teruki Hanazawa; a well-respected member of the Black Vinegar Middle School gang who’s infamous for his inhuman strength. After having beaten Salt Middle School gang leader Tenga Onigawara to a pulp, his introductory scene ends with him expressing an extreme desire for superiority, stating that “I’m the main character in this world.” The mirroring between these two lines effectively establishes the dichotomist nature between Shigeo’s and Teruki’s characters. Shigeo, being too distanced from his own self, is told that he should acknowledge his protagonist role in his own life – whereas Teruki is so self-centered that he considers himself the protagonist of the entire world. As complete binary opposites they are two sides of the same coin, and in more than one way.
It later turns out that Teruki is a psychic, who like Shigeo has throughout his whole life experienced being different from everyone else. However, he chose to take the opposite path from Shigeo, thinking that he’s special because of his powers and using them on other people for his own self-benefit. As a result, the two embody oppositely clashing ideals and worldviews, which naturally come into conflict with each other when they meet for the first time in episode 5. Teruki, having encountered a psychic aside from himself, is at first shocked, but then quickly expresses the need to establish the hierarchy between the two by turning hostile towards Shigeo. Shigeo however is completely clueless over why such a hierarchy would be necessary. Teruki proceeds to attack Shigeo time and again, but to no result. Furthermore, his opponent shows absolutely no will to fight back, stubbornly holding to his code of not using psychic powers against other people. Ekubo is meanwhile observing the fight from the sideline, both commenting on Teruki’s fear of losing his place as the biggest fish in the pond, and also trying to convince Shigeo that Teruki is someone who actually utilizes the potential of his powers and is living a great life because of it. But Shigeo continues to insist on his pacifist stance, while also saying that he doesn’t want to be defined purely by his psychic powers, but wants to find something else to be good at (like working out for example). Teruki responds with anger that special people like them shouldn’t stoop to the level of normal people, while desperately reassuring himself of his supposed superiority.
We can here see that there are several factors involved in Teruki’s frustration and hostility towards Shigeo. For one, there’s a degree of alienation involved, as his opponent holds a completely opposite approach to and identification with psychic powers from his own that he doesn’t understand. But his main concern lies in his sudden discovery that he’s not the only psychic in the world, as it immensely threatens his unicity and projected position as the world’s protagonist. Shigeo recognizes after a while that this desire to be special derives from a lack of self-esteem. Like himself, the only thing Teruki has are his powers – which is why he throughout his life has solely relied on them in order to make him feel better about himself. But if someone like Shigeo suddenly were to beat him at his own game, he’d have nothing left.
You’re sort of like me, Hanazawa-kun… Not the fact that we both have psychic powers, but the fact that you have no confidence in yourself, just like me. If you take away your psychic powers, there’d be nothing left. You’ll be empty. You’re scared of that realization. No friends, and no standing out. Just another average loser who won’t leave a mark. That’s me. Deep down, you’re the same as me. […] From my perspective, you’re totally average.
Upon hearing this, Teruki abandons his psychic powers to instead strangle Shigeo with his own hands in pure desperation. As if having a performative effect, Shigeo’s words have stripped Teruki naked of his powers and therefore all that he identifies with as an individual. While holding a tight grip around Shigeo’s neck, Teruki anxiously expresses how his entire world has been shattered because of Shigeo’s existence. Meanwhile, Shigeo desperately tries to contain his psychic powers, since the last thing he wants is to hurt anyone with them again. “I’m going to change,” he utters to himself, expressing a will of leaving the psychic side of him behind. When Shigeo finally falls unconscious, Teruki suddenly gets filled with fear and panic at the sight of Shigeo’s still body, and is about to leave when the awakening of Shigeo’s full power gets triggered. In a matter of seconds, Teruki is defeated like an ant; his clothes are ripped to shreds, rendering him (once again) naked, after which he gets tossed into the sky alongside flying debris. Having been overwhelmed by the immense power before him, he realizes that there exists a much bigger fish than he could ever become, and concludes that he’s just an average person after all.
Shigeo on the other hand gets devastated when he wakes up, realizing that he was unable to seclude his powers and caused destruction once again. His inability to change fills him with anguish and sorrow, and without knowing where to direct his emotions, his explosion meter reaches 100%. In stark contrast to the previous explosion, where Shigeo had turned into a destructive force, this time we get a somber scene of him down on his knees with his tears flooding. Worth noting is also that his psychic energy is directed to repairing the area that his outburst had destroyed, showcasing his inner desire to protect the things around him as well as suggesting that his powers can have a positive impact.
After the fight, Teruki’s fellow gang members get to see his utter defeat and quickly runs away, abandoning him. This confirms to him what Shigeo said, that the two of them have nothing without their powers. However, he gets interrupted by the Body Improvement Club who run over to Shigeo to see if he’s alright. In other words: Teruki is left with nothing since all he’s done is take advantage of people through his powers, whereas Shigeo has his fellow workout buddies by his side with or without his powers. The end message here doesn’t merely boil down to “rely on only one thing and get left with nothing”, but also that “the one who both gives and takes ends up richer than the one who only takes”. This is the lesson that Teruki now has come to learn the hard way, and he decides to leave his egocentric self behind in pursuit of a better life. As for Shigeo, he has a lot to learn from the lesson too, with his problem lying in that he gives more than what he takes to the point that he ends up hurting both himself and the ones around him.
Ritsu Kageyama is everything that his older brother is not. He’s bright in class, great at sports, and great at socializing – a typical model student through and through. He is therefore the one person that Shigeo looks up to and admires the most, seamlessly embodying all the “normal” attributes that he strives for. The very first scene that the two are in together clearly establishes their sibling dynamic; as Shigeo accidentally bends his spoon at the dining table with his powers, Ritsu kindly unbends it for him with his hands. Even though Ritsu is the younger brother, he is the responsible one who takes care of Shigeo, using his normality to aid in the struggles of his brother’s abnormality. But from Ritsu’s perspective, it’s the complete opposite. Shigeo is the one he admires and has always been the standard of his world. Growing up with the presence of Shigeo’s psychic powers, he admired all the things that they could do and hoped to one day obtain them himself. All of his achievements in school and everyday life have in fact just been stepping stones towards this goal. In other words: by striving to become like his brother, Ritsu instead became everything that his brother wants to become. The crossing between their respective ideals and identities couldn’t be more ironic.
Due to this yearning that hides behind Ritsu’s model image, the majority of his character arc deals with the issue of persona, to which episodes 6 and 7 are especially dedicated. It begins with him suggesting during a student council meeting the necessity to take care of the school’s delinquent students in order to create a peaceful environment. This suggestion is fueled by a prior encounter of Shigeo appearing to be harassed by Tenga (worth noting is that Tenga’s only intentions were to give Shigeo an apology, but due to bad timing Ritsu misinterpreted the situation). Student council president Shinji Kamuro, who gets introduced as a gloomy and sinister character, finds it to be a splendid idea. On his way home the same day, Ritsu meets a man who offers improvements on his psychic powers, saying that he runs a research facility that studies psychics. Quickly realizing that he’s being mistaken for his brother, Ritsu declines, but then considers that he could use this for his own desire after psychic powers. He thus joins the facility and its other test subjects, who, as it anticlimactically turns out, are all ridiculously weak psychics whose abilities are completely useless. That being said, they are in the same position as Ritsu himself, being nothing but ordinary people who want to become special. Important to note is that Ritsu during his visits at the facility pretends to be Shigeo – in other words, he assumes the identity of the psychic that he longs to be. Together with his school presence, he thus embodies two personas that respectively relate to his identity and desires; the first one being the ideal student who’s great at all the normal stuff, and the second one being the standout hero with great psychic powers.
The next morning, Ritsu meets Shinji in the classroom that Tenga belongs to. The council president has already come up with a strategy of dealing with the delinquents issue; he wants to cause vandalization and then frame the target, in this case being Tenga. Ritsu highly questions Shinji’s plan, pointing out how unethical it is, especially for an elite student like him. Shinji replies: “An elite? That’s just an imaginary persona that someone labeled me with. You’ve realized it too, haven’t you? That the praise others lavish upon you doesn’t actually fit who you really are.” This remark, and especially the last sentence, alludes back to a prior comparing depiction of the two’s respective home lives. As soon as Shinji enters through the front door each afternoon, he is met with his entire family looking down on him in disappointment, relentlessly comparing him to his superior big brother. Ritsu on the other hand is ascribed as that superior brother, being the constant point of reference for Shigeo’s desired improvements. Shinji’s and Ritsu’s idealistic personas are thus in obvious parallel with each other, both being constructed by expectations based on comparisons to their older brothers.
Shinji’s words and actions make all of Ritsu’s frustrations reach a tipping point, and he enters a personal crisis similar to the one Shigeo dealt with in episode 2. But whereas Shigeo’s crisis centered around what path he wanted to take in life and what identity he wanted to assign to himself, Ritsu’s deals with his already constructed identity and the expectations of it. His act upon it is likewise not a productive choice of who he wants to be, but a destructive attempt at tearing down who he has become. He accomplices Shinji in his plan, and the two take apart all of the class girls’ recorders and spread them across the classroom, all while making it look like Tenga is the perpetrator. The whole scenario is very reminiscent of another character-driven narrative: Aku no Hana. A series that fiercely explores the destruction of normative identity-ascriptions through the embracement of taboo, Aku no Hana features a protagonist who similarly undergoes a major confrontation of his own self and his ideals. In a climactic scene, he and his accomplice break into their classroom during night, and he’s pressured to expose his prior perverted actions for everyone in class to see the next morning. It starts with him writing down a confession on the chalkboard, but quickly escalates into the two of them tearing apart the entire classroom. The scene serves as a cathartic demolishment of the walls of his persona, embracing the liberating honesty of perversion.
Ritsu seeks a similar catharsis in accompanying Shinji, later stating that “I think I might have gotten tired of myself. I just wanted to know what it felt like to be a fool.” But unfortunately for him, the event reinforces his persona instead of demolishing it. When the class starts, all the students naturally panic over the situation, and Shinji and Ritsu are there as council representatives to “solve” the case. As Tenga then enters the room, he is met with intense hostility without having any idea of what’s going on. The plan proceeds flawlessly, and with nothing to back him up Tenga is framed guilty beyond doubt. The tragedy of it all is that Tenga was on a path of becoming a better person; just some minutes before, he was convinced by a member of the Body Improvement Club to lead a healthier life, and earlier he apologized to Shigeo for his immoral actions. Even as he enters the classroom, he says to himself that he was almost about to ruin his record of not being late to or absent from class. But due to his staple as a notorious delinquent student he is completely defenseless against this attack, which quickly pushes him back to square one. He is, in short, unable to escape his persona.
While Shinji is nothing but pleased with the successful execution of their plan, the immorality of it doesn’t sit quite as well with Ritsu. When at the research facility later that day, he contemplates and realizes the foolishness of his actions. Abandoning the pursuit of his ideals, he reveals that he doesn’t have psychic powers – strips naked of his persona – and goes home. However, it is quickly revealed that his state of rage and frustration has triggered a tiny bit of psychic powers within him. On his way home, he encounters Ekubo, who is quick to capitalize on Ritsu’s newly found powers for his own desire of world domination. As he persuades Ritsu by offering to unlock his full potential, Ritsu willfully accepts and the two of them team up. This is furthermore intercut with a scene of Shinji and Ritsu at school the following day. An essential parallel is indicated through this intercutting; namely that Ritsu’s two personas – the “normal” one and the “psychic” one – are largely driven by the persuasions and influences of other people, i.e. Shinji and Ekubo respectively. As Shinji and Ritsu walk through the school corridor, they are met with high praise and admiration from everyone around them. “They’re like heroes”, one student comments. “They’re the heroes of the school”, another one says. Evidently, the hero-villain duality present in this situation is immensely ironic. The perceived heroes are in actuality the villains, while the perceived villains are the victims.
The two continue to roam the school, framing one “delinquent” student after another for crimes they haven’t committed. As a result, the school is turned into a safe, clean and ideal academic environment – but just like the heroes behind it, it’s nothing but a fake utopia. All the while, Ritsu’s powers grow more and more, and he realizes that the cause of it is the anxiety put on him by his and Shinji’s actions. ”Corruption and guilt… Those are the things that become fuel for my powers,” he says to himself while sitting in his dark bedroom. Once again, an immense irony is at play; Ritsu has finally obtained the one thing that he’s so desperately strived after for so long, but it is gained as a result of his emotional and psychological agony. And like in the case of his brother, psychic powers are depicted as being in direct correlation with negative emotions, as well as being destructive for both the wielder and the people around him.
When several of his and Shinji’s victims find out about their “cleaning”, Ritsu starts utilizing the psychic side of him for the same purpose, effortlessly defeating them with the strength of his powers. The parallel between Ritsu and the prior arc of Teruki is at this point highly prominent. Both of them use their power and influence in order to place themselves above everyone else in a supposed hierarchical food chain, much to the gratification of their own (lack of) self-esteem. The show itself even makes sure to point this out, as Teruki confronts Ritsu upon seeing his actions, telling him not to grow dependent on his powers or to think that he’s more special than anyone else. “It’s hard looking at someone who reminds me of my old self,” he says. But as much alike as they are, it is also worth noting two key differences between them. The first one is that Teruki’s desire was fueled by an alienation from the world around him caused by his uniqueness, whereas Ritsu’s desire is fueled by his lack of that uniqueness. The second is that Teruki’s method of reaching his ideal was by becoming the biggest fish in the pond through a “survival of the fittest” worldview, while Ritsu’s method is a combination of this and that of constructing a projected heroism. This “projected heroism” is itself very much in line with Arataka, being in a sense its own form of con artistry. And so interestingly enough, what we see in Ritsu is to a large extent a combination of our two previous character subjects, as the superiority complex of Teruki is integrated with the falsehood of Arataka.
Although with Ritsu having started to use his powers in his and Shinji’s pursuits, it doesn’t take long until it all takes a major turn. When a gang member from another school arrives in front of Shinji and Ritsu in search of Shigeo – who’s gained a significant reputation after his fight with Teruki – Ritsu decides to take care of him by beating him up. The one who gets to suffer the consequences of this is Shinji, as several other gang members find him and gives him a beating, with the belief that he’s associated with Shigeo. This makes Shinji immediately back out of their operation, having directly experienced the dramatic backfire caused from applying it on a gang leader from another school. After having repetitiously received several beatings, he eventually breaks down and isolates himself in his bedroom. Ritsu however shows no empathy for Shinji, looking down on him as no different from all the other pieces of trash that they’ve continually cleaned up, and thus leaves him to his own demise. He has long since lost interest in their pursuits as the school’s heroes, having previously stated that “I’ve obtained a much bigger world.”
With the abandonment of his “normal” persona and idealistic endeavors, and his eyes set on purely gaining power as a psychic, Ritsu’s inner conflict finally reaches a culmination in the scene that makes up the end of episode 7 and beginning of episode 8. Once again claiming to be his brother, he faces off a large crowd of gangs in a dark alleyway. Before taking them all down with ease, he delivers a monologue about an essential realization that he’s had:
I will not judge you people. Because I know now. When people stray from the right path, there usually isn’t an actual reason. It’s like that even now. I’m facing enemies that have lost all will to fight, and I’m moving forward for the sake of violence. There’s no reason there. This kind of freedom is strong. I’m much freer than all of you. Why? Because I’ve lost my limits. I’ve obtained loss.
Upon losing his idealistic identity, he no longer has any sense for moral judgements or right versus wrong. Instead, he’s realized the lack of reason and meaning in any of it, embracing a moral nihilism. At the same time, he also expresses a hierarchical stance, saying that his “loss” (note how he says that he’s “obtained loss”, as if the loss itself was a gain) has made him free of limits and thus stronger than any of his opponents. Needless to say, this monologue, as well as Ritsu’s current state in general, is all in a typical übermensch fashion.
However, after defeating all of the gang members, the situation takes another turn when Shigeo arrives at the scene. Having been exposed of his actions and psychic powers, Ritsu takes the opportunity to confront his brother about all of the inner struggles he’s had for so long. Once again, his recent personal crisis has lead him to a major realization; that his admiration for Shigeo was just a subconscious effort to deceive himself from the truth. In reality, the traumatic accident in which he got hurt by Shigeo’s powers had caused him to fear his brother, and he desperately wanted to get psychic powers in order to protect himself. The reason behind his act as the caring little brother was to avoid stressing Shigeo out, since he didn’t know what would happen then. This reveal reframes much of what we’ve gotten to know about Ritsu up until this point in a very interesting way. His actions and desires have been driven by a post-traumatic survivalist mentality; he sought to protect his brother in order to protect himself, and likewise wanted to become stronger for his own safety.
With all that being said, he insists to fight Shigeo now that he’s finally obtained psychic powers. Shigeo however, being the pacifist that he is, ignores Ritsu’s hostility and instead turns to all the gang members, apologizing on behalf of his brother. This perfectly showcases the vastly different viewpoints between Ritsu and Shigeo; whereas Ritsu embodies almost a predator’s instinct, thinking that he needs to be stronger than everyone around him in order to survive, Shigeo instead seeks for a peaceful agreement with the people around him in avoidance of conflict. While bowing before the gang members, he also tells Ritsu that while half of his words may be true, there’s more to it than just fear. They are brothers after all, and therefore naturally share a bond of love and empathy. Even though Ritsu’s kindness towards Shigeo may have largely been for his own sake, his actions were nonetheless that of a compassionate brother. Deep down, he does care – but it’s up to him to realize it.
Having examined these four characters, it is now worth looking at the show’s final arc surrounding the Claw organization to see how it provides closure for much of their conflicts. Starting with the remainder of the alleyway scene, a member of the organization suddenly interjects to kidnap Ritsu (whom he believes is Shigeo). As he grabs Ritsu and pushes him to the ground, Shigeo is instantly filled with animosity, and without a second thought he decides to make an exception to his moral code in order to save his brother. When he then gets nearly defeated by the opponent, Ritsu reaches a similar tipping point upon witnessing the beat-up of Shigeo. He offers himself to the enemy for the exchange of Shigeo’s safety, thus making a self-sacrifice. For the first time, his exercise in heroism is not for the sake of himself but for the sake of someone else. In a matter of just a few minutes, the threat of this third-party antagonist has wiped away all prior conflicts between the two brothers, reconnecting their bond while also pushing them towards major steps in their personal journeys. Shigeo selfishly diverts from his ideals for the sake of Ritsu whom he cares for more than anyone else, and Ritsu selflessly sacrifices himself for the sake of Shigeo upon realizing how much he matters to him.
The scene nonetheless ends with Ritsu getting captured by the Claw member. When Shigeo proceeds to rescue Ritsu, he gets offered assistance from Teruki. This is an act that marks the closure for Teruki’s character arc, as he comes to be of use for others instead of using others for himself (not mention that the person he’s helping out is the one responsible for this transition, as if returning the favor). While they, together with Ekubo, infiltrate Claw’s base, Ritsu is imprisoned together with his fellow psychics from the research facility. Under the initiative of Ritsu, they begin an escape operation which cleverly involves both utilizing each of their psychic abilities, as well as taking to advantage the low expectations put on them due to their lack of power. The sequence serves as a pleasant response to all of their desires to become special, as the little talents that they already have get highlighted. This is not least true for Ritsu, who with his bright mind makes use of the circumstances and leads the group.
The final piece to Ritsu’s character arc comes when he later ends up getting captured together with Shigeo and Teruki. As they’re trapped inside an isolated space in which psychic powers and nullified, Shigeo turns to Ritsu for help, since his talents lie beyond psychic abilities: “He’s really smart. Unlike me, who can’t do anything without psychic powers, he can figure anything out and solve any problem. Even without relying on powers.” With these words, Ritsu gets acknowledged for what he earlier displayed during the escape operation. He gets recognized for – and comes to terms with – who he is and what he can do; not who he wants or is expected to be. Thus, he is finally able to stand completely on his own two feet, without being controlled by personas, expectations or desires.
Meanwhile, Arataka arrives at the scene. Using his con abilities, he manages to infiltrate the Claw base by convincing its lackeys that he’s the place’s higher-up boss. With this large group of lackeys accompanying him, he proceeds through the building to rescue Shigeo. Along the way he encounters Ritsu’s psychic friends, and tells the lackeys to let them go – although not through a simple command but by lecturing them about the immorality of holding innocent people captive. When he then arrives at Shigeo, Teruki and Ritsu, he does the same thing. What we here can see is a brilliant culmination of what we’ve previously learned about Arataka’s character. He effortlessly performs a thorough rescue operation using only his sharp persuasion, thus placing his con artistry in the glorifying limelight and rendering all of its associated inauthenticity irrelevant. On top of that, he becomes an inspiring mentor for the group that he’s fooling, teaching them lessons on morality and to think for themselves. When it is then revealed that he isn’t the boss, he has already grown into an admired figure for the lackeys, even serving as a life changer by telling them to escape and start leading their own lives.
Finally, there’s Shigeo. During their final fight with the Claw division’s strongest psychics, our heroes find themselves cornered by the enemy’s power. While Teruki and Ritsu barely manage to hold them off, they tell Shigeo that the only way to get out of the situation is for him to unleash his powers. Arataka on the other hand objects this, alarming Shigeo of the danger and says that they should find another solution. As if responding to episode 2, we once again see Shigeo at an intense crossroad; should he break his moral code and use his powers to protect his loved ones, or should he listen to his master? He ultimately chooses the former, thinking that “If I can protect them, I don’t care what happens to my opponents!” – and as his explosion meter reaches 99%, we get a title card reading “Murderous Intent”. Out of immense pressure and desperation, he thus enters the same survivalist mentality that previously haunted his brother, thinking that “kill or be killed” is the only option. But at the last moment, he’s stopped by Arataka, who comfortingly tells him that in tight situations like this, “it’s okay to run away!” What Shigeo draws from this is that running away equals relying on his master to solve the situation for him, and so all of his psychic energy gets transferred over to Arataka. This is the final piece to Shigeo’s character arc and journey towards self-respect. If his crisis in episode 2 made him for the first time seriously consider his own wishes instead of others’ well-being, and the alleyway scene saw him making a selfish act to save someone he cared about, then this is where he learns to rely on others for help and support – to take and not just give.
With Arataka now temporarily being the immeasurably strongest psychic in the room, he is the one who singlehandedly defeats the enemy – although not through physical means, but by convincing them of their own powerlessness. Because indeed, even the show’s big villains turn out to be no more than sad people who want to become special through their powers in order to compensate for their lack of self-esteem. But Arataka as well as Shigeo teach them that psychic powers don’t make you more special than anyone else, and that you’re just as normal and ordinary as the person next to you.
This is ultimately the end message that Mob Psycho 100 leaves us with; just because you possess something that others don’t, doesn’t place you above them as someone unique or important. But if we turn this around, it also means that everyone is special in their own way. What our characters come to terms with throughout the course of the series is recognizing this, and thus become better people. By acknowledging the equal worth of oneself and others – that is how one becomes a true hero.