It’s no secret that one of the hottest-selling authors in the manga and anime world right now is ONE, the creator of both One-Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100. While One-Punch Man certainly had its time to shine with its absurd action, Mob Psycho isn’t that far behind in hype. Actually, in my opinion, I actually like Mob Psycho more than One-Punch Man. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. I’m here to talk about everyone’s favorite spiritual exorcist, master of the psychic arts, table salt thief, and residential con-man, Reigen Arataka.
For those unfamiliar with Mob Psycho and its titular Dynamic Duo of Shigeo and Reigen, here’s a short synopsis. Reigen Arataka is a spirit consultant who runs an office to help those who feel like they’ve become victims of spiritual negativity. Reigen of course takes up whatever claim to investigate with his middle-school assistant and sorta-secretary Shigeo, of whom is called Mob by Reigen. Only problem is that Reigen is a through-and-through hack and con-man, who through mystical mumbo-jumbo and trickery convinces people that their problem is gone. Unfortunately, sometimes it turns out that there are real spirits to exorcise, and that’s where Mob comes in. Unlike Reigen, Mob is an esper, and a very powerful one. Whenever Reigen gets in over his head, Mob steps in to clean up the mess. While Reigen tricks everyone into believing he’s psychic, even making Mob believe it, the two go around exorcising and making a quick buck at it.
The only thing is that Reigen, unlike most con-man characters, also serves as a bit of a mentor to Mob. Although his teachings are thorough lies to cover up his lack of spiritual power, a lot of Mob Psycho 100 bases its narrative around Mob in this critical stage of growing up. In that sense, the show masterfully combines a lot of laughs and a lot of heart, and at the center of this is Reigen and his surprising insight.
A common thread with con-man characters is their blatant lack of empathy. They screw over whoever they want whenever they want to make some quick cash. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of the same plot. The con-man is really good, ends up getting in over his head, lies are revealed, characters sulk, con-man reconciles and the story ends with a one-liner and you feeling like you wasted money. At the start of Mob Psycho 100, Reigen completely fits into that sort of archetype, and I was rolling my eyes at how obvious the story was going to go. Or at least the way I thought it was going to go. Only Reigen seems to actually have some sort of charisma and likeability that doesn’t make him seem like a complete ass. Not only that, but Reigen, despite utterly lying out of every orifice about spirits and powers, often leads and scolds Mob about his use of powers. Mob’s powers circulate around his emotional state, and when his emotions reach 100% (hence the title) he unleashes everything he’s got in a spectacle of destruction and chaos. It’s possible Reigen is keeping Mob in check for the sake of keeping up the facade of the con-game, but it also lends itself to the idea that Reigen actually does care about Mob and other people.
Why this matters is that the tired story of the con-man getting busted is completely thrown out the window. It may very well still be in play, but the idea of it being the sole focus is doubtful, and may not be a focus at all. Reigen’s use of Mob may not be solely for the sake of duping rich customers into buying his bags of table salt, and somewhere along the line he actually began to care about the kid. Despite using Mob for his exploitative schemes, Reigen gives him a strict rule of not ever using his powers against living people. Hence, a lot of humor and drama comes from the fact that, despite being blessed with amazing psychic powers, he hardly uses them and doesn’t show off. In early episodes, this lends more to the side of humor, where people are stupified about his gross under-usage of his powers, but it takes a dramatic turn later on. Recent episodes have had Mob’s use of his powers become more and more liberal, completely going against what Reigen said. Through some sort of unexplained aspect, Reigen knows how dangerous Mob can be if he really wanted to be. And even though he could easily milk Mob for all he’s worth by exploiting his full set of powers, he doesn’t do that.
Teacher-like characters are always a tough subject to nail, especially when the teacher is a fraud. The only type of plot that even fits that description is the one where they get exposed and everyone hates them, but then they apologize and then no one hates them. Again, it might still happen, but Reigen’s sympathy keeps the plot from getting stale. It also aids itself in making Reigen a more likable character, and his mistakes are less of a hoodlum getting what he deserves and more of a humorous scam that just went awry. It always helps to have characters that genuinely care, which is why con-man characters, despite being enjoyable to watch because of their wit, are much harder to perfect in the long run. Eventually the wit gets old and tired, and their supplementary backstories feel weak and tacked on. To put it simply, con-man characters start great but can self-destruct at the drop of a hat.
Reigen’s unique insight, in the face of an overwhelming possible goldmine, is something that isn’t seen too often. Yes, he’s not much of a role model and he still uses people’s gullibility to make a living, despite having quite a repertoire of other skills he could put to use, but his blatant strictness and concern for Mob is genuine. A con-man who hasn’t taken the quickest dollar is one who still has a soul, and Reigen’s watchfulness over Mob and his teenage quirks is less of taking care of merchandise and more of caring for a student. His unique charisma has a place in this strange show for strange characters, and his teacher-like aura is stronger than meets the eye. Just make sure you don’t take everything he says to heart.