Writing Wednesday: How to Master Irony by Watching Just TWO Episodes of Mob Psycho 100

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Promotional art for “Mob Psycho 100” via MyAnimeList

Irony.

We know it when we see it, right?

Or maybe it’s something you experience, like the goosebumps you get when you hear a really good singer.

It’s nuanced. It’s subtle. It’s there, but it’s not there outright until BOOM!

Irony.

In other words, it’s the figurative equivalent of a ghost or spirit coming out of a wall and scaring you, which makes it the perfect compliment to an anime like Mob Psycho 100.

What Is Mob Psycho 100?

Mob Psycho 100 is absolutely nuts. It is unlike any anime I’ve ever seen. Okay, maybe it’s like a few I’ve already seen in terms of off-the-wall art style (e.g. Puella Magi  Madoka Magica comes to mind). But overall, Mob Psycho 100’s comic, dynamic, I’m-going-to-do-what-I-want style is really, really, really bold and colorful and nuts. It might not look like it from the picture above this post, but trust me. It is.

Here is the opening, if you’re curious. And I know there aren’t any subtitles; I just want you to focus on what you’re seeing.

What the heck was that, am I right?

If you need to lie down after that, I don’t blame you.  The art style is intense and over-the-top. Nuclear-explosion-cloud-turning-into-broccoli-turning-into-spirit-turning-into-a-takoyaki — asjndakjsndasd. It’s an intense, controlled explosion of madness, and the art style changes on you whenever it wants.

And the anime’s story is like that, too, which makes it even better for irony to stand out and be effective, because irony’s effectiveness relies on not standing out, on not being direct, and not being overt. I’ll get back to this idea later, but keep it in mind. It’s going to show up again.

For now, let’s keep things moving by talking about the plot of Mob Psycho 100.

What’s Mob Psycho 100 About?

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Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama (left) and Regien Arataka (right)

Mob Psycho 100 stars a Japanese middle school boy named Shigeo Kageyama, nicknamed “Mob.” He has incredible psychic abilities that allow him to destroy ghosts and spirits quite easily, and with each use of his abilities or any amount of emotional buildup, he grows closer and closer to the 100% explosion of his psychic powers. The viewer is notified each time he grows closer to that percentage (which, totally unrelated, is a great use of a ticking clock and adding suspense to the story).

Mob is also an apprentice and part-time worker of Reigen Arataka, a self-proclaimed psychic who has absolutely no psychic ability at all, cons people with no shame, and employs Mob to get rid of actual dangerous spirits, all the while “training” Mob to hone his psychic abilities and paying him 300 yen (approximately $3 USD) an hour for his services.

Boom! Did you catch that?

That’s irony.

I, as the viewer, know from the first episode what Mob doesn’t. And I, as the viewer, know that in the end, something’s gotta give. I’m wondering whether or not Mob is going to find out that Reigen’s a hack, and I’m wondering how long Reigen can keep up the charade.

I’m invested now, and when I’m invested, that shows me a writer that knows what they’re doing. And in just the first two episodes, I can give specific examples where all the major types of irony are employed.

Wait, There Are Types?

Yes! There are three main types.

Dramatic

The type of irony I explained above with Mob and Reigen is dramatic irony. You see this all the time in movies and TV. And according to typesofirony.com, there’s even a structure to it.

Installation – audience is informed of something the character does not know about
Exploitation – using this information to develop curiosity among the audience
Resolution – what happens when the character finally finds out what is going on?

To fit each piece for Mob Psycho 100:

Installation — I know Reigen is a hack and Mob is the real deal.

Exploitation — I am now invested in watching the anime to find out if Reigen can stand the pressure of keeping up that front.

Resolution — Well… If I told you, that’d be a spoiler. So I won’t 😉 .

Pretty effective at pulling you in, right? That’s irony at work.

Verbal

The next type is verbal irony, and this arguably the most familiar type. When someone says the opposite of what they really feel or mean, you describe them as ironic.

Saying “Great, I get to do my presentation first,” when you really don’t want to do your presentation first, is verbal irony. Saying “Thanks for the homework, Teach! I can’t wait to do it!” when in truth, you’d rather be playing Breath of the Wild, that’s sarcasm, when you use verbal irony in mockery or contempt.

In the second episode of Mob Psycho 100, Mob and Reigen get contracted by two girls at an all-girls private high school to investigate some paranormal activity. Of course, being two boys, they have to dress up as girls to get in. Reigen’s poor disguise leaves him at the entrance and dealing with the school security guards, while Mob manages to get in by himself.

After being picked on by some rather masculine-sounding girls up on the top of the roof, Mob successfully meets with the clients, Mari and Chihiro, who happened to have watched the whole incident. They tell him what paranormal things have been going on in the school, and then Mari remarks to Mob *quoting the Crunchyroll translation here), “I can’t believe a guy was trembling so much dealing with some high school girls. You must be quite the reliable gentleman.”

To which Mob says, “Thank you.”

And Chihiro says:

That was sarcasm, duh! She wasn’t complementing you!

Mob, who already feels humiliated in girls clothing and emasculated by older high school girls, is definitely feeling out of sorts right now. Everything seems to be the opposite of what it seems to be, and he has to navigate the choppy waters of adolescence and professionalism all by himself.

Boom! Irony.

Situational

The third and last major type is situational irony, and it depends on what is expected to happen and what actually happens. A pig-owner eats bacon. Someone steals from a thief. That kind of thing.

Also in the second episode of Mob Psycho 100, Mob’s school has a telepathy club that stands on failing legs. If they can’t get enough members by Friday, they have to disband. Ironically, only the president of the club is actually interested in telepathy, but only for the purpose of communicating with aliens. The rest of the members just want a space to chill.

So the club happens to recruit Mob on a whim, not believing that he’s an actual psychic and not actually wanting to do anything with telepathy. Still, Mob is on the verge of adolescence. Joining a club could help him develop himself even further.

But in an unexpected turn of events, Mob joins the Body Building Club instead.

You see, when he was in elementary school, he developed a crush on a girl named Tsubomi. And like any boy with a crush, he impressed her time and time again with his psychic abilities, making things float and move.

She quickly got bored of it.

And what impressed her next was the most athletic boy in Mob’s class, Akira.

Mob, while a great psychic, has no physical aptitude whatsoever, which leads him to join the Body Building Club instead of the Telepathy Club, so he can get buff to win over Tsubomi. Even though the episode has you expect that Mob will join the Telepathy Club, he doesn’t.

Boom! Irony, folks.

All three types, and all three types used effectively for humor, character development, and suspense in the plot.

Okay, Where Do I Start 😀 ?

Okay, so now that I’ve showed you all three types of irony, you’re probably thinking how you should use irony in your own stories to make them more effective. Maybe you want to have a more sarcastic or sardonic character. Maybe you want to employ dramatic irony to keep readers on their toes, or use situational irony to surprise them. All of those things are certainly good tactics.

But in case you want to use all of the types, or want to test the limits of irony without sacrificing its power, just remember what I said earlier:

Irony’s effectiveness relies on not standing out, on not being direct, and not being overt.

Mob Psycho 100 is a great example of an anime and story that stands out, that’s very direct, and obviously prides itself on being overt. So how is it possible that irony, which requires the complete opposite of things a show like Mob Psycho 100 would contain, is working so well? Why bother employing irony at all? Why not make it a super serious and dark show with no comedy at all?

Well… if I had to answer that in the manner of answering a thesis on a college/high-school paper, I’d answer it like this:

Zen and the Art of Irony

In a world that’s growing increasingly dark and serious, irony is needed now more than ever. Irony, like art, is a language that allows us to communicate what we are feeling without directly communicating what we are feeling. It encourages empathy. It does without doing.

Being serious all the time is a lot of hard work. It’s taxing wearing that blank, gray mask for so long, and irony, every-once-in-a-while, lets us take a peek behind that mask**. And by not taking ourselves so seriously, we, unexpectedly, take ourselves even more seriously.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should all become sardonic bedfellows and say ironic things all the time. There is a time and place for seriousness, and there is a time and place for irony. But in order for the world to function, irony and seriousness must co-exist on the same plane.

And Mob Psycho 100 portrays this extremely well.

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The Scent Spirit in episode 2 of Mob Psycho 100 (Mob is in pigtails on the left)

The spirits that Mob has to deal with in the anime are sometimes scary, sometimes pitiful, and sometimes gigantic and powerful. But at the end of the day, these spirits were once human beings whose unfinished business molded them into serious creatures. Often, when Mob purifies them or weakens them, the viewer gets the spirit’s backstory or a hint at their former life, which further strengthens the core theme of empathy in the show.

We don’t expect these pesudo-human-looking spirits to have any amount of humanity left, but they often do.

We don’t expect our classmates who get As in class all the time to be struggling, but they often do.

We don’t expect a lot of things, but often, they do happen.

And irony is a reminder of that. It’s a reminder that there is always the possibility that there are wrinkles beneath the surface of everything you come across. It’s a reminder while certain things are as they seem, not everything has to be.

That, dear readers, is the power of irony.

That is the power of writing.

That is the power of art.


Hey, there! Thanks for reading this post ^_^ ! I hope you found it entertaining, informative, and/or inspiring. If you did, please consider buying me a coffee or give whatever you can so that I can keep writing more posts like this one.

And as always, see you next post!

**Kid you not: The time I started writing this post, I had only seen the first two episodes. The third episode, surprisingly, has Mob dealing with a cult of happy-face mask-wearers. Don’t believe me? Go watch it for yourself.

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