Let’s start to catch up with the production of Mob Psycho 100 Season 2 – the staff’s creative intent, what happens behind the scenes and its consequences on the work itself – with a long post about the Keiji Mogami arc. Perhaps one of the best in action anime history? No big deal, really.
Key Animation: Naoto Uchida, Itsuki Tsuchigami, Takumi Sunakohara, Koji Ishida, Hiromitsu Seki, Yuichi Fujimaki, Takuya Yoshihara, Hayate Nakamura, Koichiro Ueda, Shota Goshozono, Remi Todoroki, Ken Yamamoto, Naoko Minai, Tamako Horiuchi, Tatsuro Nagai, Arisa Hoshina, Yasunobu Minami, Rina Ogawa, Tomoki Yoshikawa, Tatsuya Oka, Sute, Akira Miyamura, Akiko Aoki, Hiroko Oguri, Yuuki Igarashi (uncredited)
Paint on Glass: Miyo Sato
─ The time has come for the first proper two-parter in season 2, the one arc that all fans of the source material built up excitement for and that anime viewers knew to wait for with bated breath. And what a tense beginning this was! After introducing Mob’s new moral quandary in the previous episode – who determines what’s evil, can you maintain your humanity in the face of supernatural phenomena and our society’s insidious immorality – we’re immediately thrown into a conflict that draws from those dilemmas; the crew encounter an evil spirit of a former psychic Keiji Mogami that’s adopted an antithetical position to our protagonist’s beliefs, which leads to Mob being entrusted with the nearly impossible task of exorcizing an immensely powerful being that’s also trying to make him doubt his own principles. At the same time, he’s got to be careful so that they can still rescue the girl whose body’s been taken hostage in the process. What begins as a clash of psychic powers eventually turns into a battle of ideas, with Mob set to face the biggest challenge he’s come across so far: maintaining his own self in a fabricated world created to break it.
─ This time around, the storyboarding duties were split between series director Yuzuru Tachikawa and Masahiro Mukai. You might recognize the latter from our writeup about Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond‘s fifth episode, which he both storyboarded and directed. Once again he exhibited his knack for capturing atmospheres that fluctuate between solemn and unsettling; that’s best appreciated in the first half of the episode revolving around Minori’s situation, where her animosity is masked for the sake of the mystery as she’s framing herself as an innocent victim of an abusive father, yet her presence onscreen – which is what tips off Reigen – is kind of overwhelming. After she toyed with the other espers and the truth was out, Mukai opted for a bit of a breather in the form of a funny animated manga panels sequence with everyone’s failure to subdue the spirit that possessed her. A nice escape valve for all that tension, but also a smart example of efficient storytelling in an arc that had to pack many important events into two episodes. Tachikawa’s turn presumably comes with the final confrontation between Mob and Mogami, another highlight in the episode, as well as the start of a defining moment for our protagonist’s character.
─ This episode also marked another debut on the animation director’s seat: Naoto Uchida, who’d been working on the show since season one, took on the role for the first time and did quite a splendid job. His artwork might not be as instantly recognizable as some of his predecessors’, but making one’s first showing on such a prestigious production and maintaining a similar threshold of quality is an achievement in and of itself. Though of course, exceptional key animation lineups like those Mob Psycho offers are the best support a newbie supervisor could ask for. Captaining them all we found abstract animation master Yasunori Miyazawa, who earned a special placement on the credits by handling many scenes; among the highlights we find the teddy bear morphing scene, the second half of Dimple’s flashback, and master Kirin getting possessed by Mogami and attacking other psychics. This last scene in particular was full of Miyazawa’s usual traits, like the hilarious distortions and a general disregard of true to life body proportions in favor of nightmarish imagery. As a fitting complement, the first half of Dimple’s flashback was animated by the multitalented youngster Takumi Sunakohara, renowned for his idiosyncratic effects animation but capable of adapting that same skillset into characterful scenes if need be… but more on that later!
─ Following that, Hayate Nakamura animated Mob’s unsuccessful attempt to exorcise Mogami, another spectacular showcase of 2DFX in which he even used brush strokes to paint facial features on Mogami’s evil aura. The hand-to-hand combat between two spirits possessing human bodies was animated by one of the sakuga aces of the production: Itsuki Tsuchigami. He made sure to emphasize the difference between the bizarre puppet-like movement of Mogami who didn’t care about the well-being of Minori’s body, and the rather human-like movement of Dimple who didn’t want to hurt the body of his host. The confrontation between Mob and Mogami in the mental world was another highlight as a whole, but the part that stood out the most was the cuts drawn by Ken Yamamoto, who recently made himself known for his work on The Promised Neverland‘s first episode. His work here wasn’t as extensive, but the careful timing and physicality of the bodies are remarkable and almost makes you feel the same pain Mob did. Unfortunately for us, the next episode had multiple artists who happen to be upsettlingly good at conveying pain like him, so Mob’s – and our – suffering was far from over at this point.
Key Animation: Jin Oyama, Itsuki Tsuchigami, Tassei Karibe, Fumie Kobori, Yuki Yonemori, moaang, Toya Oshima, Kazuto Arai, Hironori Tanaka, Toshiyuki Sato, Naoki Miyajima, Takuji Miyamoto, Takumi Sunakohara, Masami Mori, Shun Enokido, China, Keiichiro Watanabe, Kazuhisa Okuine, Tomoko Sugidomari, Ken Yamamoto, Reiko Nagasawa, Takahito Sakazume, Ken Takahashi, Kanako Yoshida, Naoto Uchida, Weilin Zhang (uncredited), Yuuki Igarashi (uncredited)
Yasunori Miyazawa, Hakuyu Go
─ I don’t know where to even begin with this one since I’ll be doing it a disservice no matter how I sum it up. Carrying on from the previous episode, Mob gets forced into extreme situations by Mogami with the intent of gradually breaking his empathetical worldview, to make him discard his humanity as well. But our ultimate good boy, who happens to be surrounded by other understanding individuals, awakens to his senses right at the last moment and rekindles his beliefs. And in Mob Psycho fashion, that ideological conflict takes the form of a battle of worldwide proportions that’s resolved for the better when Mob defeats Mogami via unyielding kindness. The villain here wasn’t necessarily trying to hurt Mob in the first place, but rather make him submit to the view he thought was the right one… or the least bad one, rather. And as explained at the end of the episode, Minori’s nasty personality in the artificial world was quite faithful to her real-life one, so we’re lucky that the story considered Mob’s thesis to be correct and gave her a chance for self-improvement thanks to her encounter with a soul as kind as our protagonist’s. The idea that it’s up to us and those who surround us to become good people even if harsh circumstances might lead us astray might be a bit of a naive thought when applied to real life, but damn if it’s not a nice thing to believe in.
─ As it should be, an episode this special had the luxurious line-up of creators it deserved. The driving force behind them all was none other than Hakuyu Go; if you’re a big Mob Psycho fan, you might remember him as the person who key animated a large part of the fight in S1 episode #11, but more notably, he’s the prodigy who debuted as episode director during fight between All Might and Noumu in My Hero Academia and more recently handled a momentous occasion in Japanese animation in the form of episode 22 of Fate/Apocrypha. Quite the pedigree for someone without all that much experience in the industry! The common thread behind all his major achievements so far was being able to channel intense feelings into overwhelming, bombastic action of the highest caliber. If that sounds like a perfect fit for this show, it’s because it is.
─ But while the smart staff allocation was meant to play to obvious strengths, that wasn’t the be-all-end-all – if anything, it was the material that forced Go to use creative muscles he hadn’t trained before that left the strongest impression. The first half of the episode was, in contrast to his previous grand work, an introspective look at Mob’s feelings as he weathered an unfair emotional storm. The cinematic aspect ratio and subtle gaussian blur that Go implemented ever since the last shot of the previous episode gave a new visual identity to the mental world, one that evoked a feeling of otherworldliness among the audience. All layouts, which were drawn on special sheets to make good use of the wide format rather than cropping standard drawings and hoping things work out, attempted to capture the uncomfortable nature of the events. The framing constantly emphasized Mob’s feelings of isolation and pure despair, while at the same time having some voyeuristic undertones that reminded us of Mogami’s surveillance.
─ It wasn’t until the second half that we saw Go lead the team’s efforts for the register he’s best known for: a nonstop action inferno where the two opposing ideologies clashed in a big way. While this kind of conflict is conceptually similar to those in his past directorial efforts, this still felt like the most special fight he’s ever handled; be it because of compatibility with ONE’s material or its sincere, clear quality, Go managed to make this work his own in a more spectacular way than ever. And he wasn’t alone! Before we even get into animation, I want to say that the astonishing polish wouldn’t have been possible without a stellar job by the compositing and background crews – the episode clicked just right for all of them, and the result was something on the level of a high profile theatrical production. A very interesting bit of trivia in that regard is that this episode was actually the first one to get made in season two’s non-chronological production, and was finished by August of last year. Outstanding conditions allow for outstanding creations.
─ If you assumed we were done praising Hakuyu Go, think twice. After all, the Taiwanese portent isn’t only an extraordinary animator and director, but also a strong magnet for other talented creators from his generation. Since the animators for this episode were hired almost exclusively through his connections and he had a hand in managing it all, there was no production assistant credited for this episode, just one person who helped him out somewhat. And thankfully for us, he still had some energy to spare to kindly detail the work of all the companions who helped him put together this episode. Let’s take an extended look at the animation then, for authorship purposes and to enjoy all the mind-boggling artistry once more!
─ The scene where Mob gets robbed by the bullies we’re familiar with from episode 3 was animated by Korean animation star moaang… whose name was mistyped in the credits once again, as has happened in many amusing occasions in the past. Similarly to Yamamoto’s work on the previous episode, moaang’s strength here lies in the precise timing and three-dimensionality of movement, which ground the otherwise rather surreal drawings to convey the suffering to the audience in believable manner. Minori spilling milk on Mob and the subsequent bullying was animated by Masami Mori, Toei Animation’s outstanding newbie who loves to sneak away from the studio for his friends’ special episodes. He recently gained attention for his work on One Piece episode 870, but contrary to what that might lead you to think, most of his work revolves around subtle character acting scenes with refined movement and angular drawing style – exactly as we see in his scene here. And speaking of acting specialists who sometimes branch out: the following cut of a fly landing on Mob’s cheek was handled by Jin Oyama, whom I suspect also animated the very beginning of the episode.
─ Following up two new stars, we’ve got veteran Yasunori Miyazawa handling his specialty and animating the overhead fish lens shot of the classroom morphing into darkness. The show’s regular animation director Kanako Yoshida the handled an unspecified part of Mogami’s flashback, with Science Saru-affiliated flash animator Tassei Karibe drawing this short zoom-out cut. The terrifying aura emerging behind Mogami was animated by Ken Yamamoto, who showed a very different skillset than the one he put to use in episode 4… albeit not a very surprising one, since it was clearly inspired by his idol Keiichiro Watanabe. After this sequence we return back to the real world with appealing drawings by the previous episode’s supervisor Naoto Uchida; I’m fairly certain that the man himself would agree if I said that this scene’s got one damn sexy Reigen profile shot.
─ Dimple preparing himself to invade Minori’s mind and the subsequent scene with Mob getting bullied into emotional explosion featured especially loose drawings from the pencil of Takuji Miyamoto; as we always remind people, he was a student of none other than the expressionist master animator Shinya Ohira, whose legacy wasn’t only noticeable through the animation itself but also the coloring choices. No one is better to animate pure emotion than the members of the artistic school that always shape characters according to their psyche! Yuuki Igarashi made another uncredited appearance to draw Dimple successfully slipping through the barrier, right before yet another outstanding character animator Yuki Yonemori depicted the furious Mob threatening Minori and getting smashed in the head. The distribution of cuts in the first half of the episode was very spot on, with the acting specialists handling most of the workload. In fact, it was so good that I still feel like I didn’t highlight nearly enough beautiful pieces of work!
─ The second half started with action right off the bat. The first five cuts were handled by Kazuto Arai, effects specialist who amusingly enough hadn’t been originally called in to help with this episode because Go assumed he’d be too busy. It wasn’t until he took a proactive role and contacted Go himself that he immediately got assigned a bunch of cuts – and considering the quality of the result, I’m glad that he took that step. Anime’s number one wunderkind and recurring Sakuga Blog guest China animated the continuation of that same scene, with slight assistance from his colleagues. After that we got to enjoy the work of another Ohira-inspired animator: Toya Oshima, who picked up the baton and animated the sequence starting with Mob getting swallowed by the spirit, ending as he reaches 100%. Oshima’s been departing from his master’s strictly expressionist style of drawing and trying new (albeit aesthetically more standard) approaches, as if he were trying to find his real voice, but despite that the suffering silhouettes of the spirits have clear traces of things he’s learned in the past.
─ Mogami sending myriads of spirits to attack Mob that he exorcized right away was the work of Itsuki Tsuchigami, this second season’s recurring ace. Hakuyu Go himself animated the duel of psychic powers between Mob and Mogami; the Yutaka Nakamura flair in the sequence is undeniable but doesn’t come as a surprise, as Go seems to be a longtime fan of BONES’ most popular animator. The freed spirits gathering and catching Mob marked Miyazawa’s return, as he once again showcased his loose body forms. Tsuchigami then followed with another scene of his, beginning with Mob destroying the spirits and ending with Dimple’s escape from the mental world. The morphing spirits and regeneration of Mob’s hand were animated by the aforementioned Keiichiro Watanabe, a very unconventional digital animator who also contributed to multiple scenes in season one. He’s instantly recognizable for his almost grotesque approach to animating creatures – and to a degree effects, though he doesn’t draw a line between them in the first place – making them look like sentient jello. His take on the spirits in this episode was easily the creepiest, and that’s saying something.
─ Naoki Miyajima was then in charge of the scene where Mob gets caught and thrown between buildings, until the giant spirit’s punch. The following destruction caused by that spirit was animated by Takumi Sunakohara, who put his outstanding effects animation on full display here. It’s hardly surprising that this is one of his all-time proudest achievements in his career, as the high density of detail in this scene was way beyond the scope of TV anime. Continuing with exceptional effects animation, Weilin Zhang aka. Golge handled the obscene FX extravaganza that I refuse to try to put into words. He worked on this scene and Boruto episode 65 at the same time, which earned him effusive praise from both episodes’ directors. I truly wonder how his name got lost in the credits! The final destruction of the mental world was animated by Hironori Tanaka, who also happened to animate the very first instance of Mob’s explosion in the series. Truly a fitting cut allocation! Back to the real world, the emotional dialogue between Mob and the now free Minori was the work of Toshiyuki Sato; not what we’re used to from a chaotic animator like him, but that only makes the delightful scene even sweeter. Compared to other instances of character acting in this episode, Sato’s approach was less delicate and rawer, which reflected the frank emotions that overflowed at this point. And before we wrap up: the entire credits sequence was then animated by talented Khara alumni Fumie Kobori!
─ We’re going to end this writeup on a slightly bittersweet note. Earlier on we mentioned that episode 5 was animated in advance, actually marking the start of season 2’s production and ignoring the standard chronological order. A major reason behind this is that Hakuyu Go had to leave Japan by the end of August because he was summoned to attend the mandatory military service in his country. Before you get depressed, I’d like to note that he’s actually enjoying it as kind of a vacation, which speaks volumes about the working conditions in the Japanese animation industry. Whether he’ll return to anime after his service is over is a mystery for now, but if he decides to come back, I’ll always be ready to enjoy another grand explosion of feelings like this one. And speaking of returning – you better be ready, because our Mob Psycho production catch-up continues and we’ll soon have a Reigen-flavored post ready!