The Burden of Being Normal

Let me wax philosophical about one of the greatest heroes I’ve seen recently. His name is Reigen Arataka and he is a master of the salt.

No, he’s not the main character of Mob Psycho 100. But he is it’s heart. The titular character, Mob, is a taciturn, antisocial kind of person who is hard to relate to. That’s kind of his schtick. But Reigen is his mentor, his source of morals, his emotional core. He frames Mob’s understanding of normal people and, as such, tends to serve as the audience’s point of view into Mob’s mind as much as he’s Mob’s view into other people.

Which is initially terrifying, since Reigen is an atrocious con man. Mob is a legitimate psychic with telekinetic powers, the ability to see spirits and who knows what other kinds of absurd abilities and, as an elementary student, he comes to Reigen’s entirely fraudulent psychic medium business in the hopes of finding some help in understanding his powers and abilities. What he gets instead is a very simple principle to live by – psychic abilities are talents just like athletic ability and academic skill. It’s an interesting point of view, especially given who it comes from.

Reigen fits an anime mold I like to call “The Omnicompetent”, a person who has literally every skill a given situation calls for other than the skills the rest of the cast bring to the table. He gives perfect massages, photoshops brilliantly and out cons conmen in between helping Mob keep his powers under control by diffusing the emotional time bombs that cause them to run rampant. There’s very little that can keep Reigen from getting what he wants besides his own rotten personality.

Reigen is not a great role model for Mob. He is a con man, after all, and no amount of good life advice changes the fact that he’s using Mob as ludicrously underpaid exorcist for the occasional client with a real supernatural problem. Reigen lacks honesty and purpose, beyond being life coach for a middle schooler of apocalyptic power, and that’s why he hasn’t moved beyond being a simple con man and actually made something of himself.

Reigen is normal. In spite of all his unbelievable number of professional level skills, he is normal. Changing, becoming someone truly exceptional, would require hard work, sacrifice and other hardships that he can’t bring himself to make. At least, not on behalf of himself. Mob is a very different story.

When the two first meet Reigen tells his newly minted pupil that his powers are just like the ability to study, to sing or to run fast. They are a talent, and they can be nice to have, but they don’t make him special. Psychic powers will let him do some things, but they aren’t a panacea.

Mob takes this lesson to heart and sets out to achieve his goals by developing whatever set of skills will take him that way, rather than bulling his way through with psychic powers. He wants to be charismatic and get a girl to like him so he joins a bodybuilding club and starts trying to understand how people work in spite of his own insular nature.

This dynamic is written large when, at the show’s climax, Reigen winds up as Mob’s surrogate against a group of super powerful espers who seek to rule the world (of course!) and be worshipped for how special their powers make them.

“Normal” versus “special” might very well be the central conflict in Mob Psycho 100. It might strike you as odd, then, that the protagonists, who are one in a million deviations from the norm, are making the case for normal. But as Reigen weilds Mob’s powers, strolling effortlessly through dozens of building wrecking attacks, and lecturing us on how anyone who is so arrogant as to think they’re special and entitled to anything hasn’t lived in the real world we can’t help but find his argument compelling. After all, he’s many times more powerful than they are and still a commoner.

Reigen has a very simple message, and in our day and age it’s a useful one, too. If you think you’re special you haven’t lived yet. If you fail it falls to you to improve. That’s the burden of being normal. And it’s what makes the dedicated commoners who work to change, little by little, truly special.

For a story with a nuanced message – but absurd action – Mob Psycho is worth a look.

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