New sensei on the block: ‘Mob Psycho 100’ and the rise of Reigen Arataka

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“Mob Psycho 100” is only partway through its second season, but its fiercely appreciative fan base has already deemed it a contemporary anime classic. This is significant, coming from an industry that churns out show after show with only a select few ever gaining comparable traction. And while the titular character is a socially awkward 14-year-old-boy with OP psychic powers, it’s impossible to discuss the show without giving a nod, or several, to its moral heart and only significant adult figure: Reigen Arataka.

Looking in from the outside, Reigen’s life is hardly something to scoff at. He’s a businessman, he’s a suave jack-of-all-trades, he’s the “greatest psychic of the 21st century.” He’s a wildly popular fan favorite, he’s the revered mentor of Mob (or Kageyama Shigeo). In a fictional universe filled with world-weary middle schoolers, Reigen is decidedly the authoritative locus of the show, and he has all the confidence necessary to fill that role. The catch? He’s a fraudulent con man with absolutely no psychic powers. None whatsoever. Zilch.

Why, then, is he Mob’s teacher?

As we saw at the end of season 1, Reigen wasn’t really looking to rope a middle schooler into his dubious pursuits. The opportunity just comes (literally) knocking at his door. Mob, in search of someone who can relate to the powers that trouble him, visits Reigen’s office under the impression that he is also a psychic (not an uninformed presumption, given that the name of Reigen’s business is literally “Spirits and Such Consulting”). Society in “Mob Psycho 100” is only vaguely aware of the existence of psychics (or “espers,” as goes the in-world lingo) because they’re relatively rare.

As such, Reigen doesn’t initially believe Mob. Still, he sits down to chat with him after seeing how visibly stressed out the boy is. Reigen motivates Mob, affirming that having these abilities does not make him any less human. This is clearly something that Mob needs to hear. It’s only after Mob flexes his telepathy to save Reigen’s hot tea from spilling that Reigen offers him a job at his office, clearly set on taking advantage of the boy to exorcise ghosts for paying clients.

And yet to say that Reigen is “taking advantage” of Mob is to fall headfirst into the easy, surface-level interpretation. There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to this partnership — and, make no mistake, it is a partnership. It won’t do to undermine Mob. While his emotional smarts are nothing to write home about, he’s always been well aware that Reigen is lacking in a very important department: the psychic one. Season 2 confirms this when it gives Reigen the redemptive arc he never needed, given his status as a fandom icon. In the parting ways that shook the anime world, Mob quits his job after Reigen tells him that he should value his work as an exorcist over anything else — not the con man’s best moment.

But this show of assertiveness actually proves the effectiveness of Reigen’s mentorship. Mob’s powers are inherently tied to his emotions, and Reigen claims to be helping him control his powers. Reigen is then, in effect, guiding Mob toward a reality where he has better control over his emotions. This includes learning how to stand up for himself and formulate his own beliefs, which is exactly what Mob does when he leaves Reigen. By the next episode, Mob reunites with Reigen and announces what the show was always arguing: “What my master really is,” Mob says, after admitting he knew from the beginning that Reigen is not an esper, “is a genuinely good guy.”

Indeed, per the show’s internal moral compass, Reigen is exemplary. Despite being powerless, his overwhelming charisma and emotional intelligence have allowed him to save Mob multiple times. Say what you will about his lack of honesty, it’s evident that Reigen always has Mob’s best interests at heart and wants to help him use his powers for good.

What’s more, he never fails to show up when his student is in trouble. For a kid whose powers go bonkers whenever his feelings get out of hand, Reigen’s guidance is invaluable. “Mob Psycho 100” tells a story of the challenges and triumphs that come with personal growth, and Mob’s development — a central part of a character-driven show — is a direct result of working with Reigen. It is through his job as an exorcist that he becomes more in-tune with his abilities and slowly realizes he has the power to control his own narrative.

As one of my best friends jokingly observed, “Reigen reminds me of an uncle that would ask me for money to pay his rent and never pay me back.”

Reigen Arataka may not have his financials completely in order, but there’s no pretending that his heart isn’t in the right place. And if you doubt his merits as a mentor, you might just have an extremely powerful (and adorable!) middle schooler to deal with.

Contact Alex Jiménez at [email protected]. Tweet her at @alexluceli.