The Winter 2019 Anime TKO Grand Finals are here. Now it’s time to end this debate, once and for all. It’s Mob Psycho 100 II vs. newcomer, The Promised Neverland. FIGHT!!
EvilBob: Alright, time for me to win this thing!
Voyager: Eh. Something-something arrogant banter, something-something dismissive remark, etcetera.
EvilBob: Okay, I guess he’s soo shocked by my win that he isn’t going to say anything specific.
Voyager: …Yeeeah. Suuure. That’s it. I’m just… so utterly baffled by the outcome. It’s overwhelming. I can scarcely come up with any of my usual witticisms.
EvilBob: Good. So you won’t mind if we get this over with then? I have people counting on me this time. So the sooner the better.
Voyager: …Sorry, Riley. Actually, speaking of Riley, we’ve got a bit of a surprise for you guys, courtesy of the girls from the show! Enjoy!
WINTER 2019 ANIME TKO FINALS
Voyager: All right, it’s time for Killing Kids: The Anime vs. The POWER OF EMOTIONS: The Anime… on Drugs.
EvilBob: You know, I had my doubts about The Promised Neverland when I was… volunteered to watch it but it turned out to be really good. It’s the clear winner.
Voyager: Uh. Slow your roll, there, skippy. There’s still a psychic teenager for those kids to contend with. And (contrary to his demeanor) I doubt he’ll go silently into the night.
EvilBob: Silently, no. He’ll go kicking and screaming.
Voyager: Oh dear. Such arrogance. It’s as they say, my dim friend. Pride goeth before the fall. Anyway, you heard it from the twins. This time we’re going to approach things in a slightly more organized format.
EvilBob: You know what that means, folks. He can’t rig it, this time!
EvilBob: So, without further ado, let’s reveal the categories!
Voyager: We’ll start by looking at the characters on a basic level. Summarizing them, what seems to make them tick, all that good stuff.
EvilBob: Then we’ll look at the Plot and the Story – and yes, those are two different things, contrary to what some people might tell you.
Voyager: Though they’re not mutually exclusive. You do need one to have the other. Then we’ll look at the Art and Animation.
Voyager: Hmmm? Something wrong?
EvilBob: N-no, of course not! Then we’ll take a look at the atmosphere. How the story sets up and manages its mood and tone, overall.
Voyager: If, by then, we don’t have a winner, there’ll be a tie-breaking fifth category, the OP & ED. This is perhaps a tad misleading. So we’ll clarify.
EvilBob: The OPs are judged on two points – The Music and the Visuals. If that winds up resulting in a tie, then we just choose which series we like the OP of the most.
Voyager: So. If my associate is ready to embarrass himself, we’ll just get started.
EvilBob: So, who’s going first?
Voyager: You’re the one so very eager to show me exactly how screwed I am. By all means, go right ahead. I can wait.
EvilBob: Fine. So, The Promised Neverland it is, then. I’ll start off with the three protagonists of the show. We have Ray – the schemer, Norman – the mastermind, and Emma – the athletic one… and also the heart of the group. Sounds like a heist crew, but they’re only twelve and they’re faced with something so horrible that they have to escape the only home they’ve ever known. Ray’s smart but he sometimes fails to see the bigger picture and that gets him in trouble a few times. Like when Mom discovered what he was doing and locked him in a room by himself. Norman is the one who always seems to know exactly what to do, even if that means sacrificing himself to do it. That leaves us with Emma. She’s the glue that holds this team together and she also seems to be the moral compass of the ensemble. When Ray says or does something that is a little darker than what is needed it’s usually Emma that corrects him. But, by contrast, Ray is a realist. When Emma’s idealism starts to cloud her judgment, he’s the one who reels her in.
Voyager: Yes, yes, the two have a real Freudian Trio thing going on.
EvilBob: …a what?
Voyager: Id, Ego, Super Ego?
EvilBob: *blink* huh?
Voyager: God in heaven. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy!
Voyager: Right. One of them is the emotional center of the trio, one of them is the more cerebral side of things, and one of them exists to reconcile the two. Which is interesting, considering Norman is kicked off the island in the final few episodes. Leaving Ray with just the hyper-emotional (but still smart, not to take anything away from her) Emma. How fitting, though, that this is a Shounen series and the first one to get the boot is the brain.
EvilBob: …Now that’s just unfair.
Voyager: Is it wrong?
Voyager: Okay then. Meanwhile, we’re left with the embodiment of EMOTIONS and a very confused psyche, trying to figure out what the actual hell to do with what he’s got left. Luckily, the brain is still actually there… in spirit, I guess. Try figuring that one out. So he’s not totally lost. But it’s not gonna be the easiest thing.
EvilBob: Y-yeah! That’s the power of the characters in The Promised Neverland! They synergize perfectly and complete one another as an ensemble!
Voyager: And the beauty of it is that you didn’t think of any of that until I said it for you.
EvilBob: N-no! I have no idea what you’re talking about!
Voyager: Uh-huh. And speaking of EMOTIONS, let’s talk about a certain psychic teenager who has to constantly struggle to keep his own in check, lest he destroy… well… everything.
EvilBob: C’mon. Are you really trying to tell me you think Mob is that good a character?
Voyager: On his own? No. But if that was a concern for you then, congratulations, you’re officially certified for the Gold Medal in “Missing the Damn Point.” Mob is not an especially compelling character in a vacuum. But the entire main theme of the show is that we are made better through our interactions with others. Most notably our friends.
EvilBob: Wait! So it’s the SHOUNEN that doesn’t use the power of friendship!
Voyager: Invalid. Mob Psycho 100 does not advocate the idea that the power of friendship (or even trust, really) are inherently enough on their own. Quite the opposite. Mob is already immensely powerful. More powerful than… pretty much everyone else, frankly. He actively makes things harder on himself, however, by trying not to rely on his powers to impose his will on others, instead trying to turn enemies to allies. It’s a brilliant deconstruction, but it only works so long as Mob has an equally brilliant supporting cast to back him up. And he does. Sure, the ones to focus on the most are probably Reigen and Dimple, both of whom are great.
But even the seemingly ancillary characters are all vibrant and have an impact on Mob. The Body Improvement Club, the Telepathy Club, Ichi, Tsubomi, the list goes on. All of these characters breathe life into the series and boost Mob up as a character. And Mob, in turn, boosts up characters like Reigen and Dimple through his implicit trust of them and overall outlook. It’s a masterfully carved character tapestry.
EvilBob: Exceeept for the villain.
Voyager: Excuse you?
EvilBob: The villain of the final arc. Toichiro. Bit of a one-note guy, am I right? A standard megalomaniac?
Meanwhile, The Promised Neverland has Mom. On the surface, she seemed like a straight-up evil person. But there’s a deeper layer to her. She’s doing all of this not to be evil, but to survive. She is the perfect example of a sympathetic villain. And it’s made all the more heartbreaking when you see more of her backstory.
Voyager: Yes, yes, it’s all very touching. Except for how it’s all a load of bunk.
EvilBob: …Excuse you?
Voyager: Mom is a very fine example of a Sympathetic Villain… Done Wrong. Yes, yes, she has a tragic backstory and her motivations are understandable. But “Understandable” and “Sympathetic” are not the same thing. And, make no mistake, they wanted the sympathy points. They wanted to show us her backstory so we’d feel for her. The problem is that it just doesn’t work. The Mom we see in the last episode or two is just utterly inconsistent with the Mom we had the the entire first three-quarters of the show. That Mom was not some sympathetic, misguided antagonist. She was a devil. A demon hiding behind a motherly mask.
That is not the behavior of a “sympathetic” villain. A sympathetic villain would still be susceptible to guilt, remorse, and so-on. They’d know what they’re doing is wrong – especially in this case – and angst about it. They would not walk around with a grin that looks like it was loaned out by Satan, himself. If they ever smiled, it’d be a smile of sadness, not smug satisfaction. Really, this has “novice” written all over it. You wanted to surprise your audience so much with “how sad Isabella’s character is” that you overdid it with trying to paint her as a complete monster. You did much too good a job of it. And thus we now have two completely different Isabellas whose behavior patterns contradict one another, rather than seeming like they’re one dynamic individual. So while Isabella certainly had the potential to be a great, sympathetic antagonist, the execution woefully holds her back.
EvilBob: B-but… well, that doesn’t stop Toichiro from being a lame, one-note villain!
Voyager: Frieza is arrogant, remorseless, sadistic, and pretty much every other possible word for “evil.” And yet we still find him interesting. Why is this?
EvilBob: He’s… he’s Frieza. You know. It’s because he’s… uh…
Voyager: The word you want is charismatic. Now, I will certainly grant that Toichiro is definitely no Frieza.
EvilBob: No kiddin’.
Voyager: But the thing that makes Frieza so interesting, on top of just being undeniably charismatic, is that he is the absolute antithesis of the main hero. Frieza believes he is the strongest in the Universe and there can be nobody stronger. Goku believes that he can always become stronger than he currently is and can, therefore, overcome any limit. That is the kind of villain Toichiro is. He’s the exact antithesis of Mob. Someone who believes that all of his incredible power makes him the main character of reality. And while Mob is more than capable of proving him wrong by force, that’s Toichiro’s method. He believes he got as far as he did because of nothing more than his own power and forcing others to rely on him. By contrast, Mob believes that his powers don’t make him special and that he can always become better through others and by relying on them. The two perspectives run directly opposite to one another. And so seeing that clash is interesting.
EvilBob: But Mom does that too. She’s a representation of what happens when we allow despair to overtake our hope and try to take on, ourselves, what we could only do with the help of others.
Voyager: Sure. But Toichiro does all that without a sloppy dismount into “sympathetic villain” territory, by the end. While the sympathetic bits we get of both villains are handled well, Toichiro’s isn’t followed by a sudden 180 in terms of character direction. It’s a much less pronounced change in behavior that marks a slow turnaround for his character.
EvilBob: Well… well what about Sister Krone?
Voyager: Oh, please don’t get me started on that walking stereotype. Though I suppose, to be totally fair, she was more consistent than Isabella.
EvilBob: Uh… well…
Voyager: Yeah, I think we’re done here. Point – Mob Psycho 100.
Voyager: This is a tricky subject since you can’t really have one without the other. Story is essentially character. Or, more specifically, it’s the change in character over the course of the sequence of events. Plot informs characters and character drives plot. You can’t have one without the other. So you have to talk about one if you intend to talk about the other.
EvilBob: The problem is that the two shows follow completely different formats, when it comes to plotting things out. The Promised Neverland is a story that, sure, is told over the course of several arcs in the manga. But this season of the show only covers one arc – the escape.
Voyager: By contrast, Mob Psycho 100 features several sub-arcs within its broader premise. The Dragger, Mogami, Reigen’s Ousting, the war with Claw, all micro-stories within a greater whole. I’d go as far as to argue that neither format is exactly better than the other. It really comes down to personal preference. One longer story, or several smaller ones. It’s similar to the complication we had with Yagate Kimi ni Naru and Bunny Girl Senpai, last Fall.
Voyager: Yeah. Because they use different styles, we can’t exactly compare them directly to one another in that regard. Because the approaches are different.
EvilBob: So it’s a draw, then. Hm. Yes. That sounds most reasonable. (heh heh)
Voyager: Buuut there’s one thing that impacts a story no matter what form of plotting it chooses to indulge in. The pacing.
EvilBob: oh crap…Um… can we maybe… you know… talk about something else? C’mon, who actually cares about the pacing anyway, right?
Voyager: Everyone, apparently, considering it’s just about the one consistent criticism I’ve seen levied against it. The Promised Neverland has some serious pacing issues. I haven’t read the manga, but from what I’ve gathered, it’s cutting out a lot of stuff in the interest of cramming as much pertinent information into the 12-episode runtime as possible. And the show somehow still feels to be meandering, most of the time. It’s another example of a show that probably could’ve done with two cours. Hell, it might’ve even been a decent candidate for a non-seasonal anime a la Black Clover. Given that kind of time, imagine the depths it could reach. Unfortunately, it just feels like it’s plodding along a bit too much, at times, because of all the dead space. Things are most definitely happening, but there were probably better uses of the time given to it. And it’s Shounen Jump. It’s not like they’re an unproven quantity. You can probably take the risk on it. Friggin’ Shield Hero got two cours. This could’ve swung for it.
EvilBob: W-well… Mob Psycho 100’s pacing was the exact opposite.
Voyager: Of course it was. It had less time, per arc, to deliver each story. But it also didn’t try to cram way more than it could manage into each arc. The information conveyed through each one was easy to comprehend. And there wasn’t much of it, to begin with. Even when things started going balls-to-the-wall insane, you’d have had to be actively trying in order to feel lost. Because Mob is nothing if not incredibly straightforward.
EvilBob: Maybe, but you’ve gotta give it to them, even with the pacing issues, the story of The Promised Neverland is pretty solid. Emma and Ray, change so much over the course of everything. Emma remains true to herself but also finds a sort of compromise that suits her idyllic world view and the harsh nature of reality that Ray so tried to reconcile.
Voyager: I’m not saying The Promised Neverland failed utterly. Its story is exceptionally strong. And even better than Emma’s minor transformation is Ray’s. The kid went from being fatalistic and cynical to much more open to cautious optimism. Honestly, what I’m most interested in is seeing how the world view of these kids will end up affecting the world in which they live.
EvilBob: Right? So good.
EvilBob: Oh. Great. There it is…
Voyager: The pacing issues, unfortunately, make the journey of that transformation into far too much of a chore. It’s less enjoyable than it overall could have been. And that’s a problem. Especially when, this being a Shounen, the majority of your audience is young boys. Tell me, Bob. Do you remember being a wee lad? How was your attention span?
EvilBob: About the same as it is now.
Voyager: …I rest my case. Point – Mob Psycho 100.
Voyager: All right, now to-
EvilBob: Mob wins.
Voyager: Mob- wait, huh?
EvilBob: Look, the art part is subjective anyway and both of these shows have really effective art styles, but Mob’s animation is far and away superior in the action department. I would stupid not to admit that.
Voyager: …Well, okay then. Uh… Point – Mob Psycho 100.
EvilBob: …I’ve already lost, but I may as well talk about this, anyway. And this is where things get weird. The overall mood and tone of The Promised Neverland are extremely consistent. But instead of staying at one intensity, the entire time, it builds. Slowly. It creates this extremely tense atmosphere by the end that makes sure you feel it by the time everything just explodes. And it’s helped along by a few masterfully handled cliffhangers.
Voyager: Meanwhile, Mob Psycho 100 doesn’t have a consistent mood or tone. It bobbles around constantly, moving from one thing to the next, but in exceptionally fluid manner. The shifts between nailbiting tension and cathartic downtime are razor thin but smooth like butter. Each tone or mood shift is smooth so nothing’s jarring at all. It’s a show that can really handle having a ton of differently moods and tones all in one work, which add to the overall atmosphere. And it’s so much the better for it. But it doesn’t tend to linger on any one thing for any great deal of time. Long enough to get the point across and not much beyond that.
EvilBob: Well… are there any points where either series has shows a crack in the armor?
Voyager: Not… really? They’re both pretty good about it, overall. Even taking into account how they’re taking two different approaches, I can’t think of anywhere that, atmospherically, either show really falters.
Voyager: Well then.
EvilBob: Ladies and gentlemen, we have… a Draw.
Voyager: All right, let’s have some fun with this thing. The winner’s already decided, but we can still talk about this, right?
EvilBob: But of course. It’s our civic duty as anibloggers. So The Promised Neverland’s OP has some awesome music.
Voyager: Oh my god it’s good. UVERworld is brilliant when it comes to this stuff. Having also done the first OP for Season 3 of Boku no Hero Academia, I think I can safely say they are masters of the earworm. Odd Future took a bit to grow on me, but it did. This song, though? This one caught me instantly, especially upon hearing that awesome saxophone solo.
EvilBob: Yeah, that bit’s amazing. I just wish the visuals were as great as the song.
Voyager: They’re definitely not bad. For what it’s worth, there’s a lot of fun symbology in there, and some really good foreshadowing. Especially when it comes to the end of the series. The birds, while never really seen in the show, are also a great symbol, given what we know of the show’s overall premise and the whole objective of the kids, representing freedom from their metaphorical cage.
EvilBob: Yeah, not bad at all. But nowhere near as awesome as Mob’s.
Voyager: Oh, not even close. Visually, Mob Psycho 100’s OP is a masterwork of animation. And I mean that in as literal a way as possible. It’s putting so many different styles of animation on display that any animation student should immediately seek it out for reference. And that’s not even touching on all the symbology represented in that animation, itself. Things that are as simple as the placements of certain characters to simple objects, floating around in the background, and even the dichotomy between how it ends – 100% Mob putting the city back together – with how the first OP ended, back in 2016.
EvilBob: Musically, though, I’m not sure. The two OPs feature entirely different styles of music. And, if I’m honest, I like them both equally. I can’t really say which is better either. I lack any sort of musical knowledge.
Voyager: What little musical knowledge I have wouldn’t help me determine what’s probably superior. I don’t know enough Japanese to be able to determine lyrics. So it has to come down to personal taste in sound. And as they’re so different, but I like them both, I can’t really decide. As such, Mob takes an easy win in the visual department. And with a tie in the music, that means no tie-breaking ED (though that point would’ve gone to Mob too). So that’s a Bonus Point in favor of Mob Psycho 100. And, with that final tally in mind, it looks like we have us a clear winner!
Voyager: And that’s that. I’m glad we could see justice delivered. Not that we didn’t all expect it.
EvilBob: RIGGED! I’m telling you guys it’s RIGGED!!
Voyager: Blaming others for your own shortcoming again, I see.
EvilBob: No, I’m blaming an anime’s shortcoming on others!
Voyager: Then you should be perfectly capable of accepting your defeat gracefully. Riiiight?
EvilBob: Since when have I ever been graceful?
Voyager: …A perfectly valid point. I’m just glad we got to appreciate the best anime of the Winter 2019 Season.
EvilBob: Oh, blow it out your-
EvilBob: Waaait, what?
Voyager: Kidding, kidding. Mostly. Mob Psycho 100 and The Promised Neverland, narratively speaking, blow it out of the water. But, if I’m honest, I’d be lying to myself if I said I had more pure fun watching anything else, this Winter, than Kaguya-sama.
EvilBob: …Huh. Actually… yeah. It was a really fun show, looking back at it. Shame it didn’t get further than it did.
Voyager: It was charming, cute, funny, heartfelt, everything I look for, really. And there was some actual character progression. Plus the best ED of the season, hands down.
EvilBob: Oh yeah! No contest. At all.
Voyager: So it may not have won the Winter 2019 Anime TKO, but Kaguya-sama is still a winner in our book… even though the TKO is technically also our book, but that’s not the point. Yaaaay for Kaguya-sama!
EvilBob: Hip hip huzzah!
Voyager: Anyway, that’s it for our little tournament, everybody! It’s been fun!
EvilBob: Yeah, when it wasn’t so depressing…
Voyager: Aw, cheer up, sport. You’ll knock ‘em dead, next time.
EvilBob: That’s right! There’s still a chance! Next time I’ll finally have my revenge!
Voyager: Suuure. In the meantime, that’s all from us, everybody! But instead of having us sign off-
EvilBob: We’ll be letting the girls do that!
Voyager: As for us, we’ll be filling you guys in on our future endeavors soon. For now, thanks for reading, as always. Keep up the Awesome!
EvilBob: And Keep it Classy!
Voyager: Take Care.
Winter 2019 Anime TKO