「神樹③ ~エクボは~」 (Shinju San ~Ekubo wa~~)
“Divine Tree 3 ~Dimple Is~”

When you have a subtextual relationship in anime completely right, there are basically two ways you can interpret that. It’s tempting to pay yourself on the back for being a brilliant observer. But the truth is, in a case like this you just have to give credit to the writer. It’s ONE who’s exceptional, not me, because he tells us everything we need to know about his characters without spelling any of it out. It’s kind of an anti-light novel (and much of anime these days if we’re honest) way of writing, and it’s getting rarer and rarer in this medium we love.

Let me just harken back to what I said this week, because it really needs to be said now:

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.

This is the truly notable thing about the business with the monkey shirt – Mob’s reaction. He was sitting on 99%, power percolating like water on the boil, but Ekubo’s words didn’t set Mob off. Just the opposite – they snapped him back into the moment by convincing him that Ekubo was still Ekubo. Still his friend, in fact – the friend who tells him what he needs to hear when even those closest to him won’t. I said last week that Mob would have been willing to go as far as Ekubo pushed him if he had no choice, but now I’m not so sure. At the very least, I don’t think there was ever any real danger of that eventuality coming to pass.

In fact, Mob trusts Dimple so implicitly in that moment that he basically shuts off his own power, leaving himself totally defenseless. Once he’s sure of himself there’s no doubt in Shigeo’s mind that he’s in do danger. He even apologizes to Dimple for blowing him off when he tried to sell Mob on the idea of ruling side-by-side from the broccoli. Ekubo is certainly right that Mob is too modest, but that’s just who he is. This small transgression he allows himself – to momentarily feel as if he’s become popular – is enough to give him total empathy for Ekubo’s goals and desires.

As for Ekubo, things are pretty straightforward. In effect all of this Divine Tree/Psycho Helmet stuff was him acting out. It was a cry for attention, and what’s really heartbreaking about that is that while theoretically Ekubo’s whole existence is about seeking acclaim from the masses, the only one whose acclaim he really wanted was Mob. (again) As I said last week, ” Shigeo is actually a sort of parent to Ekubo too – because Ekubo is very childlike in his wants and desires (and self-image)”. He did all this to make Shigeo notice him, acknowledge him. I hate to keep self-referencing here, but as I noted earlier, the relationship between these two rivals that between Mob and Reigen for subtlety and depth (and that’s saying something).

It’s really heartwarming to see these two finally acknowledge each other this way, but it seems almost too good to be true. And indeed, it’s at this point that things start to turn in an ominous direction. Dimple stands down from controlling the Divine Tree, and Shigeo passes out from his extensive power consumption. This was just what the Tree has been waiting for – with all the believer energy flowing into it, it’s attained consciousness, and once freed from Dimple’s control it begins to assert itself. And it’s hungry, with Shigeo being as nourishing a psychic meal as it could possibly ask for.

Ekubo is never going to allow that, obviously. And thus begins another in a long line of Godly Mob Psycho 100 (and indeed Bones) sakuga explosions. The truth of it is, when Bones goes all-out there’s not many in TV anime who can hang with them, and the showdown between Ekubo and Psycho Helmet is another jewel in their crown. It’s truly spectacular, completely hand-drawn, an explosion of animation and choreography to remind us that this is the series Bones chooses to show off their greatest glories. And for good measure, Ohtsuka Akio also reminds us why he’s without an ounce of exaggeration one of the greatest seiyuu in anime history.

By the time Dimple returned to where he’s stashed Mob for safe keeping, I had a pretty clear idea of where this was headed. That last conversation between them was one of the most gut-wrenching things I’ve seen in anime for a long, long time. Ekubo is so proud of Mob, especially now that he has a sense of just how remarkable a boy he is to be able to live with what he does and never lose the essence of himself. That “You’re a man!” and hair-tousling, that lingering hand on Mob’s head as Mob’s eyes fluttered with exhaustion, the realization of what Ekubo was about to do – well, it just about broke me to be honest.

Ekubo may have tried to spare Shigeo the pain of remembering that moment and what followed, but the bond between them is too strong. Ekubo finally achieved his goal of exerting his control on Mob in the end, and he used it to save his life and try to protect him from grieving too much. Whatever karmic baggage he was carrying with him, Ekubo could not have (apparently) passed from this world in more redemptive fashion – he sacrificed himself to save a person he loved and protect the world he was leaving behind. I don’t know if this is truly the end for Ekubo, and I’m torn about that – I desperately want to see him return, but how could a character possibly ask for a better exit than that?



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