Mob Psycho 100 is one of those anime you recommend to people who don’t watch a lot of anime. It looks cool, it’s funny, and its story is phenomenal. It also has Arataka Reigen, a criminally fucky con-man.
No, I really mean criminally. This is a bone of contention (pun grudgingly intended) with the fanbase, which just won’t let go of the fact that Reigen had a visual upgrade in translating his source manga to the anime. Consider:
Now that the anime’s in its second season, the “why is Reigen sexy?” crowd has gone from vague amusement to just straight up shouting. I could get into why a line like “the animators want to fuck Reigen” makes me uncomfortable from the standpoint of an asexual person, but it’s really less about that and more about willful misrepresentation of what animating is like. The notion that a fucky character necessarily means the animators personally want have sex with them is a bit like suggesting Alice in Wonderland was drawn on aci–
*touches earpiece* OK I’m getting word that actually the animators have been asked about this and yeah, they just wanna fuck him:
“So I made his movements somewhat sexy on purpose to avoid making the sequence too plain. I also talked with the female producing staff at [animation production house] BONES and asked her opinion, like what would turn them on. [laugh] So, I enjoy the reactions from Reigen’s fans, as I can see that the message is conveyed and that pleases me.”
Look, my point here isn’t that fucky Reigen is a free speech issue, that SJWs are trying to censor muh vagina bones, that there is something ethically correct about sexifying a character. Reigen is sexy, but he’s not “overactive boob physics and painful cameltoe” sexy. And even if he were, the animators at Bones are obviously free to draw whatever they like. My argument is actually more along the lines of: 1) please stop, the joke’s getting old, and 2) it’s not actually that hard to understand why things turned out this way.
To back up for those unfamiliar with the series: Arataka Reigen is a professional fraud, a fast-talking huckster of fake exorcisms and phony seances. One day, a young boy (nicknamed Mob, a term for an anonymous background character) shows up asking for help controlling his actually real, frequently destructive psychic powers. Reigen smells a business opportunity: he takes Mob on as an “apprentice,” promising to mentor him while in fact shepherding him out to take care of any assignment that ends up involving real spirits. Reigen pays him mere pennies while raking in huge premiums from desperate, gullible clients.
And, just to reiterate, this guy is one of the most beloved anime characters of recent memory. He’s got an entire hashtag on Twitter — #RedrawReigen — devoted to drawing him into as many outrageous memes and stock art as possible. And there is a frankly entirely believable amount of porn of him, mostly pairing him with an evil snot-ghost because that’s the only other adult character in the main cast. Why? How? What went wrong for things to turn out this way?
Reigen is sexy because Reigen was always sexy.
The thing is, even though Reigen should be thoroughly awful, he’s actually the exact kind of mentor Mob needs. Mob — an eldest son who lacks his younger brother’s gifts in academics, whose parents are ineffectual at understanding his powers and how they’ve emotionally stunted him, who is surrounded by toxic messages about masculinity — doesn’t need training to be a better psychic half as much as he needs training to be a whole and balanced person. Reigen, in spouting off Inside the Actor’s Studio-type cliches about tempering one’s talents with humbleness, accidentally ends up saying precisely the sort of things Mob needs someone in his life to say: that violence is not a solution, that you need to forgive your past mistakes, and that the greatest superpower is actually basic human kindness.
Reigen is sexy because he was always sexy. His character, the “crook with the heart of gold” archetype, was always there in the manga; the anime version just emphasizes this further in a way the original artist’s style can’t really permit. All media adaptations involve reinterpretation, and in the case of Bones animating Mob Psycho 100, the studio recognized (correctly) that Reigen is the emotional soul of the story. He’s a barely-functional adult who nevertheless holds fast to strong moral convictions and teaches a vulnerable child the sort of life lessons a lot of us wish someone had imparted to us at that age.
In the current season, there’s an episode that is almost entirely joke-free, wherein Reigen notices Mob increasingly torn up about something. It’s one of the few moments where we see Reigen completely self-aware of his role in Mob’s life and treating it with the gravity it deserves, but what I find most radical is the conclusion of the episode. After finding he’s accidentally forced Mob into a corner, Reigen steps back and realizes that while he can’t ever fully grasp just how much Mob has on his shoulders, he can have compassion for him. He can and should mitigate Mob’s stress however he can.
That’s what makes Reigen an attractive character. He has no business being a competent father figure, and yet, he sort of is. So just let Reigen be sexy already. He’s earned it. Probably.