There’s a famous line in American superhero comics: “With great power comes great responsibility,” the implication being that having a superpower means you have the responsibility to use it well, and to help who you can with your gift. Mob Psycho 100 is built around asking a simple question in response to that idea: “Why?”
Sure, many superhero stories show what happens when a superpowered person uses his or her powers irresponsibly–we call them “villains.” But Mob Psycho 100 isn’t about a person using his powers for personal gain; it’s about a person who really doesn’t want to use them at all.
Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama is your average unpopular kid. That’s not to say he gets bullied or anything (though he is a total pushover), but he always seems to be in the background of his own life. He has no real friends, no driving life goals, and a crush on a girl out of his league.
He is also one of–if not the–most powerful superhuman on the planet.
Mob is a psychic with massive telekinetic and spiritual powers. He can destroy evil spirits on the astral plane, deflect attacks that could vaporize a normal man, and tear buildings apart with his mind, only to effortlessly put them back together. The classic story for someone with his powers would be about his road to being a hero.
But here’s the thing about Mob, he doesn’t want that life. He wants what every straight middle school boy wants: to be popular, especially with the ladies. And from his (admittedly limited) experience, psychic powers can’t grant him that. Nor can they give him muscles, let him understand the female mind, or help him fit into social situations. To him, his powers are just a talent, like being smart or athletic; they are special, but don’t make him superior.
That’s not to say he completely disregards his powers. It’s quite the opposite, actually. To make sure he can control his powers, he finds a master to study under–even if that master is a fraud seeking only to exploit Mob for profit. That said, his master does give him good advice on occasion like this potent little quip: Powers are like a knife–they can be useful but are never something you should use on another person.
Mob knows well what happens when his powers go out of control. He’s hurt those dear to him and so is only willing to use them against supernatural spirits–i.e., the already deceased. Those around him, from his brother and master to the monsters he fights and other psychics he meets, see his powers as something to be envied. Mob would rather just have a normal life.
It’s due to his shunning of his powers that the series gets its major conflict. By clamping down on them so hard all the time, he also clamps down on his own emotions, likely hurting his own potential popularity (though he hasn’t noticed this). And whenever he reaches an emotional breaking point, his powers rush out unchecked and act on his current emotional state. Mob is a ticking time bomb, and only by coming to terms with his powers will he have the control over them he wishes.
When it comes down to it, Mob doesn’t want his powers to be what defines him as a person. And it is this that drives him onto his own path. While something like joining his school’s bodybuilding club may seem silly, it is a momentous first step for Mob. Rather than giving in to peer pressure, he’s on the path to being the kind of person he wants to be.
And all that comes back to the theme of Mob Psycho 100. Powers though they may have, superheroes are just people. Just because you have powers doesn’t mean you have to use them in any way other than what you choose, even if your choice is to not use them at all.
Mob Psycho 100 can be seen for free and with English subtitles in the US on Crunchyroll.