I just accused you of a pretty big crime. Sorry. It’s self-insert. But it’s not self-insert in the sense that you have to imagine yourself as a stand-in for one of the characters. Hear me out.
In January 2019, Mob Psycho 100 debuted its second season. We already knew the main character, Shigeo Kageyama (or Mob), was an esper—a person who’s able to see and communicate with spirits. He’s a middle schooler, working alongside a man named Reigen who prides himself as The Greatest Psychic of the 21st century despite having no supernatural powers. Basically, he calls on Kageyama to use his abilities to eradicate vengeful spirits as a sort of business.
For Mob, ghouls (or monsters) are far more human than we think—he can converse with them and therefore understand them a lot better than your average citizen in the show. Though we are introduced to the creatures as things we would normally fear like ghosts, snake demons, and writhing blobs, Kageyama is able to empathize with them and that allows a sense of humanity being a monster normally wouldn’t. Eradicating evil spirits is something Mob feels he must do for the safety of people around him. At times when he doesn’t want to, Reigen lures him and encourages him, enacting a slow, nearly selfish relation between the two. And we expect him to do this because that’s how the show works: Reigen lures Mob, the kid gets rid of the ghoul. Y’know. Episodic.
In season 1, Mob didn’t do much thinking when it came to the morality of getting rid of monsters. If he did it was on how he’d get rid of them, not why or if they deserved to be destroyed. Season 2 gave us monsters and morality. It shoved us back into the chair and said, “No. You’re gonna face the moral code.” And that’s where monstrosity gets fuzzy for Mob. That’s where we start to look inward.
A group of college kids report a ghost in the forest, and naturally, Reigen calls on Mob to tag along and eradicate it. As the audience, we expect the ghoul to be threatening as we haven’t been given a reason to think otherwise, but once they arrive on the scene it becomes clear that this is no ordinary ghoul. Instead, it’s a family of ghouls who live within the house they died in, and they’re causing no harm whatsoever. Mob sees this and descends into shock, standing between a nervous family of ghouls and a confused group of “clients” behind him. Form-wise, the monster’s in front. Narratively, though, it’s not so simple.
The ghouls are peaceful, but that’s not how this works. Mob gets rid of monsters. Monsters bad. People good. And the students act accordingly, becoming more and more violent in their protest for Mob & Co to do something since they can’t see the family. They only know the “hero” is allowing the “evil thing” to thrive, and they’re stressed because of it. Reigen asks his companion what’s wrong, and once he’s notified, something really interesting happens. Dimple, their green companion, forces us to realize that in order for this scene to progress as planned, there needs to be a monster. Just a minute ago, Dimple went over to the father ghoul and whispered foul things in its ear to make him act like a monster. Things like “why don’t you hurt the kids? [Mob] won’t have to exorcise you if the clients are dead, y’know” and that’s when the action starts. Father ghoul starts twitching and growing and heaving out swirls of black smoke and fog and for a minute we start to think he’s becoming evil.
I mean good, right? That is the way it was supposed to be. The ghoul couldn’t possibly be peaceful or else Mob would’ve been the villain and Reigen would’ve been evil too and … that doesn’t fit the narrative.
In fact, the show couldn’t function like that, and who let these creatures terrorize the forest anyway? I mean, it’s not like they were minding their own business and we sought them out to cause them harm because we perceived them as evil automatically because if that was the case then we’d be the monsters.
If you were wondering, the father ghoul shrinks back down into his subtle form and performs dogeza (土下座), a bowing position done in Japan to beg or thank the onlooker with respect. It is jarring, since he’s doing it for mercy, and we were teased into believing the ghoul would “return to its evil origins,” but no. The family is more caring than the group of angry students. So see? I lied a little. It’s not you. It’s the humans. Humans are the monsters in Mob Psycho 100 season 2. Better yet, in some cases we can’t tell who’s more monstrous: the creature destroying things cause that’s what it’s been cursed to do, or the humans who act as though there’s no empathy to be had. If it’s in the script, I guess that’s just the way it is.
Lauren is a 23-year-old cosplayer and writer from Chicago. Her favorite shows include Wolf’s Rain, Terror in Resonance, and Samurai Champloo. If you can’t reach her for whatever reason, she’s probably reading or figuring out how to turn her kendo skills into functional ones. She’ll be back in a minute.