「神樹② ～ピース～」 (Shinju Ni ~Piisu~)
“Divine Tree 2 ~Peace~”
Some of the most powerful memories I have in anime are of times when great series were seemingly one-upping each other non-stop. Spring 2012 is an obvious example – at times it felt like a torrential downpour of quality washing over you. A much more recent – and relevant – case is Winter of 2019. It seemed as if Dororo (in its first cour, when it was especially magnificent) and Mob Psycho 100 were firing tour-de-force episodes across each other’s bow every week (on the same day, yet) – a battle Dororo eventually won by a whisker. It’s one of my favorite times in recent anime.
Golden Kamuy and MP100 are airing two days apart, so I don’t have to make that decision about which to watch first (and a hellish weekly quandary that was). But maybe, just maybe, we could be building towards that kind of scenario again. In October they weren’t quite up to that 2019 standard, but both fired absolute bangers this week – episodes that epitomized what makes both series great. I had a feeling after GK’s masterpiece that Mob was poised to answer in kind, and happily it did.
Like all the relationships in this series, when it comes to Shigeo and Ekubo, it’s complicated. In an episode full of jaw-dropping hand-drawn action and emotional haymakers, one of the most powerful moments was when Dimple told Mob “we could have a blast together”. It was kind of heartbreaking actually, if – like me – you see Ekubo as basically a tragic character. He’s kind of broken, but Mob saw something decent in him and in his inimitable fashion, chose to focus on that. In the end Mob considers Dimple a friend, and Dimple considers Mob a disciple – someone who needs a friend like him around to tell it to him straight when everyone else is BS-ing him. And if he didn’t care about Mob, he wouldn’t bother doing so.
Ekubo is doubly tragic because he doesn’t realize how broken he is. His worldview is seriously skewed but to him that’s because no one else sees things as clearly as he does. He’s weak, desperate (by nature) for acclimation – and more from Mob than anyone else. None of the things he values hold value for Mob, and that’s the eternal gulf between them. He keeps trying to tempt Mob with things that he would find irresistible. And Mob just gets sadder and sadder, because he’s being forced to do things he doesn’t want to do. He’ll only go as far as Dimple pushes him – but he’s willing to go as far as it takes, if he has no other choice.
The thing about Shigeo is, he’s guilty of what some critics of this show accuse him of – he’s OP. But it’s not a writing flaw like those critics claim, because the whole drama of Mob Psycho 100 is Shigeo dealing with the fact that he’s OP and in the end, it gives him no satisfaction whatsoever. Ekubo thinks he understands Shigeo’s limits better than anyone – that he can fool him by stalling for time while the broccoli drains his power and Ekubo sucks it up. He throws Hanzawa at him first (knowing Mob will hold back), and various increasingly grandiose versions of his Psycho Helmet founder cosplay. Eventually he even presents himself as a literal golden God. But it didn’t hold true for Ekubo any more than it did for Robert Plant or Russell Hammond.
Funnily enough, I felt really proud of Mob here. This is a brutally difficult situation for him, so much so that it drives him to tears – he’s fighting someone he kind of loves, praying he won’t be forced to do the unthinkable. He has to face it alone, without Reigen or Ritsu at his side. But this is a clear theme this season – our Shigeo is growing up. Forget his psychic powers – Mob is as emotionally fragile as any 14 year-old kid. But his growth is a clear theme of this season. Part of the effect of Reigen’s stewardship has been Mob’s growing ability to get by without it – a painful and powerfully bittersweet realization for Reigen (as it always is, for any good parent).
It’s a turnabout and a very interesting one, but Shigeo is actually a sort of parent to Ekubo too – because Ekubo is very childlike in his wants and desires (and self-image). Mob is absolutely right about the reason why Dimple won’t show himself. Of course he’s scared – he may be juvenile but he’s extremely clever. Mob is also right that Ekubo is holding back against him, which is a tell that the real Ekubo Mob thinks he knows is still in there. Right up until the moment Ekubo finally loses it and does go all out – and is immediately struck by remorse that he might actually have killed Shigeo. And then terror when he realizes that no, he’s underestimated him again, and all he’s really done is piss Mob off.
For all that Dimple has done to piss Shigeo off – including using Tsubomi against him and then telling him he has no chance with her – Mob doesn’t break, emotionally or mentally. He could end Dimple at any moment, I think that’s obvious, but he doesn’t want to lose himself. Mob knows better than anyone how strong he is – and how dangerous he could become if that happens. ONE really doesn’t miss a trick, and that callback to the monkey shirt at the end was a perfect way to pop the bubble of tension that’d been growing for the entire episode. And, perhaps, to remind these two of what existed between them before the World Tree and Psycho Helmet religion came along.