I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
-Pablo Neruda, 1000 Sonnets
illegenes: Watching this week’s episode of Shinsekai was equivalent to watching a Pablo Neruda poem come to life. (For those of you who haven’t read Pablo Neruda’s stuff, well, there’s no way to really describe it – you can read some of his stuff here).
Shigeyasu Yaumauchi has always been my most favorite director when it comes to aesthetics, and this episode clearly proves why. There is something visceral and powerful about his style that can’t be explained through conventional means, though it’s safe to say that he fully comprehends the understanding of using art as a medium to explore ideas, and thus his exploration comes off as incredibly satisfying. There were of course, some shots that were a bit off – see: around 5-9 shots of Saki’s crotch, which I’m assuming was for budget purposes, but everything else about this episode was so amazing it completely overshadowed that fault. That said, this episode conveyed a lot of information via Shun, but I also feel like there was a large amount of information regarding Shun and the world of Shinsekai conveyed through Shigeyasu’s imagery.
Episode 10 for the most part, focuses on Shun’s mask and Saki’s face. The nature of this is obvious; the episode, while in content, is about revealing the true nature of Shun and society’s demise, the imagery focuses on the relationship between Shun and Saki as well as the world from Shun’s eyes. This can be seen through two essential parts of Shigeyasu’s direction: the contrast of light/shadow against saturated/dull color, and spatial distortion.
The shots in Shinsekai this week can be categorized into two departments: color and non-color. One one hand, we have certain scenes that are either very light in color, or very dark. The beginning scene of Saki talking to Shun while in the forest is white and brilliant, in comparison to the grim and dark house with a few windows. There’s also the addition of lighting itself, with a sort of Gaussian Blur effect glowing every once in a while. While this could be another sort of extensive symbolism for the war between the light and dark within Shun’s mentality, I also believe that it’s a simple yet effective method to enhance the drama of the scene. On the other hand, we have Shigeyasu’s favorite color palette: dull greens and yellow, faded and rosy pinks, with a background of a dirty grey/brown. Right before Saki enters Shun’s house, the world around her is vibrant with saturated greens and blues – it’s only when she enters the house do these colors fade and wither. Interestingly enough, these colors are only the brightest and most vibrant when a direct confession happens between Saki and Shun, and fade under the darkness during the more bleak scenes where emotions aren’t as heightened. This is reversed at the end, when Saki leaves Shun to destroy himself, and color seeps back into the world.
Because Shigeyasu mainly spends the episode with closeups, we’re left with an almost uncomfortable sense of intimacy, as if we were stumbling into the privacy of two characters in their most vulnerable and desperate moments. We’re also left with the inability to map out the actual surroundings and their relationship to the characters in terms of distance. Because of this, our perception of the world around us is skewed and twisted into something unfamiliar and confusing. It’s almost chaotic how things seem close up or very distant in these shots, but they’re like that for a reason. They represent the corruption of Shun and everything around him, in balance with Saki’s steadfast determination through her love for Shun. As seen with the picture above, not many shots actually feature an actual vanishing point created from straight lines. Most angles are curved, creating a sort of spherical dimension where gravity and center are nonexistent. This only serves to emphasize the distortion that Shun creates. On the other hand, when we zoom into Shun and Saki’s faces, there are no curved angles; on the contrary, its brutally straightforward and direct. This contrast can be disorienting at times, admittedly, but it pinpoints the relationship and disillusionment of Saki and Shun, or rather an insight of a bond crumbling under the weight of something more cruel and unordained.
In the midst of this seemingly incoherent direction is the heart of the two things that remain constant: Shun and Saki. Shigeyasu’s direction here is a love poem; a love poem in its bleakest but truest moments. Even as reality disintegrates and Shun slowly destroys himself, Saki holds on fiercely, and the animation only paints this without judgement. Just like how e.e. cummings uses unconventional prose to convey his emotions and view of the world, Shigeyasu uses unconventional, artistic direction to paint a surreal, and tragic love story. He strands together disjointed scenes, and weaves in colorful but also stark images to breathe life into his tapestry of passion and sadness. What is the result?
He gives animation a life of its own. A living entity that functions with the story and without it. The animation has its own story to tell; certain Buddhist symbols that stand out more than others amongst the scenes. As wendeego will explain further, the landscape in this week’s Shinsekai is an extension of Shun’s own desolate nature. The environment is ever-changing for reasons; it is a transforming Zen garden, which ties back to Zen Buddhism. Zen gardens are meant for meditative purposes, as are the white pebbles that splash out from the water early in the episode and the beads that circle around Shun. While the landscape reflects Shun’s corruption, it is also an attempt to restore balance and peace to his frame of mind and to be cleansed of sin. In my post about the ED theme of Shinsekai, I talked about how the symbolism was derived from Mahayana Buddhism, one of the main branches of Buddhism. Zen Buddhism is an offshoot of Mahayana Budddhism – it is “the idea that all human beings have the possibility to awaken” and that “all living creatures are supposed to have the Buddha-nature, but don’t realize this as long as they are not awakened (…) The doctrine of an essential nature can easily lead to the idea that there is an unchanging essential nature or reality behind the changing world of appearances.” Shun has awakened, and has told Saki about the unchanging nature of human beings: that the unconscious exists, and worse, that it prevails over the conscious. It’s here that Shinsekai brings out the essential question that has been asked since Episode 6: is it our inherent nature to crumble from within? Are we all doomed to awaken ourselves – the monster inside of us, and betray our own minds? Or is there a balance in the world, and that struggle to reach that balance is something one can only determine for oneself? Is the route to nirvana – possibly enlightenment – nothing but an inversion, as we reach that almighty understanding, and then flare out, never to burn bright again? Shun in this way, functions similarly as an inversed god; a star that becomes a black hole. He perishes under the own weight of his shadow, crushed by this realization.
But Saki leaves, determined to live and carry on. Her mindset overpowers her despair, and she leaves behind the only remains of Shun; a fragile, broken mask. Her last sentence – just like her line in Episode 6, with “We aren’t monkeys” gives us a glimmer of poetic hope. And so, I leave you with that scene, and this.
If suddenly you do not exist,
If suddenly you are not living,
I shall go on living.
I do not dare,
I do not dare to write it,
if you die.
I shall go on living.
– Pablo Neruda, The Dead Woman
wendeego: The question of how to make psychic powers visually interesting is one that has dogged artists for years. A fistfight, a sailboat soaring across the waters, two men dancing: these are all invested with a tactile physicality that makes them immediately interesting. But it’s difficult to convey that energy when your cast is just standing there, making funny faces at each other while the air twists itself into shapes. The best of these artists, of course, found a way. Katsuhiro Otomo made psychic powers a horrifying force of nature in Akira, capturing the viewer’s attention through horrifying but awe-inspiring visuals. Hirohiko Araki of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure made his psychic Stands immediate by representing them as costumed boxers slugging each other in the face. This episode must have presented a tall order to the staff of Shinsekai: animate the power of a character whose thoughts literally shape the world around him. Most film resorts to the real in order to illustrate the inner self: a man replaced by a jack-in-the-box, a rainy city within dream that becomes a snowy guarded fortress. These effects were effective in both The Twilight Zone and Inception, but I think that Shigeyasu went a bit farther than either in these episode by attempting to animate Shun’s subconscious instead. Episode five of Shinsekai, Shigeyasu’s previous work in this series, was controversial among many, but I don’t think anyone would doubt the effectiveness of his style here.
Shun is literally at the center of his own little world this episode, the entire fabric of the universe warping around him no matter how hard he attempts to keep his powers in check. It’s an order of magnitude beyond the fire ceremony in the first episode of Shinsekai, but think of PK less as thought control and more as thought influence and the scope of the show’s universe becomes clear. Up until now Shun’s fears and anxieties have remained trapped behind his face, his mask if you will, separating his inner thoughts from the physical world. But by becoming a karma demon, those thoughts were released into the world, rebuilding and destroying it constantly to express his inner turmoil. Picture a constant state of dream if those dreams were constantly playing themselves out in reality and everyone around you were caught up in them, and you have an idea of Shun’s condition. It is not an easy one, and there is no cure. At first glance Shun’s world appears illusory, a festering mass of vines and lights and shattered houses. But what makes episode 10 of Shinsekai so heartbreaking is how closely it is rooted in the real. Shun’s confession and last testament to Saki is scored by his gradual disintegration, his environment conveying what his own words do not. Look:
Somewhere in between the beginning and the end of Shun’s last words to Saki, he gives up. Maybe he realizes that this is the last time that he will ever have control of himself. Maybe he is crushed by the realization that he either must abandon everything he’s ever loved, or corrupt it all entirely. What’s significant about all this is that while the mask-wearing kid in the robes with the longish hair is Shun, the crooked house and the northern lights are also Shun, all operating simultanously. In this sense, Shun is no longer a person. He is a place, a sphere. Possibly a god. He will never be human again, and it’s that creeping realization that this might very well be the ultimate outcome of PK use that makes this episode. Could the old PK civilization have failed, not because the government was incompetent, but because PK users are by nature glass cannons? Useful for only so long before their unconscious overruns their mind and renders them dangerous but ultimately solitary forces of nature? There have been better and more consistent anime than Shinsekai this year, but I don’t think there have been as many to ask this many questions, fascinating and horrifying in equal measure. This episode was a doozy, probably the best of the season and one of the best of the year. It takes skill to ground the shamelessly conceptual in the human, but I think Shigeyasu pulled it off with flying colors: a portrait of a heart leaking into the earth and corrupting the soil with blood of the soul.
gallifreyians: Just as the environment is representative of Shun’s mental-emotional state, so is Shun’s mental-emotional state representative of the Jungian process of individuation.
Individuation is word whose meaning is readily apprehensible from it’s etymological composition — the process of developing an actualized, complete personal identity. Yet when once one throws the term ‘Jungian’ into the mix, things become a whole lot more complicated. As with any school of psychology, Jungian psychology is complex and hard to comprehend, but is very integral to understanding just what exactly is happening to Shun in this episode. While many people look towards a Freudian/popular psychology view of the world, Jungian psychology and its successor, analytical psychology, are not only much more viable schools of psychology but also more widely accepted considering the vast amounts of Freudian theory that have actually been disproven and fallen completely out of favor with the psychological community.
Both Jung and Freud identify three parts to the human mind: the conscious, the collective unconscious, and the subconscious (also known as the personal unconscious). It’s the way they perceive the importance and function of these parts that are different. Freud based his view of the psyche around the conscious mind, defining it’s behavior with his structural model of the psychic apparatus and rationalizing that anything the conscious cannot or will not deal with gets dumped into the subconscious. Furthermore, Freud only peripherally acknowledged the existence of the collective unconscious and reasoned that it functioned only as an appendix to the personal unconsciousness. Jung, however, envisioned a more complex give and take system of the mind, especially about the two halves of the composite un-/sub-conscious division of the mind: the collective unconscious and the personal subconscious. Jung believed that just as humans all share a basic genetic code, we all share psychological functions as humans that are buried deep within our minds and function on a fundamental level, and thus these basic functions play out over and over again in fiction (most specifically myths) and interpersonal relationships. Jung identified five of these functions as the most basic and universal, calling them ‘archetypes’; the “innate, universal prototypes for ideas and that may be used to interpret observations.” They are listed here:
- The Self: how one sees oneself, the awareness of an individual with regards to them as an individual, personal identity
- The Shadow: everything not encompassed by the Self yet still present within a person, the things which the Self does not wish to identify with, “the opposite of the ego image, often containing qualities with which the ego does not identify, but which it possesses nonetheless”, everything about a person which a person does not know, wish to know, or tries to reject
- The Anima: how a man identifies/relates to women or the concept of women, the feminine part of a man’s mind,
- The Animus: how a woman identifies/relates to men or the concept of men, the masculine part of a woman’s mind
- The Persona: that which the Self sees reflected of itself in the environment, that about a person that he sees in others, how a person presents themself to the world, a protection from negative external images
Archetypes are the ideas upon which all ideas are based off of, and act as psychological functions that overall, guide psychological development. They work as a part of the informational exchange between the different parts of the mind. As people go about their daily lives, archetypes — these concepts of ideas — help us analyse the world; when we see things (including other people!), the collective unconsciousness tries to assign those things an archetype — the Self to someone you see, the Persona to the music on your iPod, the Shadow to the off-putting facade of Hot Topic, the Anima to the hot barista who gave you your morning cuppa joe. And these associations are past onto conscious and subconscious, who then decide to either accept the association and integrate it as part of the identity, or reject it and send that association to the bowls of the subconscious. The same process actually happens with the personal unconscious as well, which assigns emotional reactions and makes associations based on previous personal experience. These reactions and associations and then also handed off to the conscious mind, who either 1) accepts them and integrates them into the identity or 2) rejects them, burying them into the subconscious and essentially asking for reinterpretation.
This give and take that I’ve just described takes place all day, every day and is what drives change in an individual. And as per Jung, this change has a specific purpose — to push a person to the actualization of their personhood, their identity, their self. In other words, the activity of the mind lies at the heart of individuation and dictates where one lies on the path to true personal identity. The actual path of Jungian individuation is the development of the ego, the creation of the Persona as a mask, confrontation with the Shadow, the dis-/de-integration of the Persona with the Self and the identity, the development of the Anima in men and the Animus in women, the further spiritual transformation of the Anima and the Animus into the Wise Old Man and the Wise Old Woman, and finally the full awareness of the Self. And I know, that’s a lot of psyche techno-babble information to absorb, but I promise it is actually important to understanding Shun. For the purpose of being concise, I’ll do a very clean-cut breakdown of what these stages are.
- Development of the ego: the emergence of the idea within a person that they are an individual; typically occurs very early during childhood when the psychological mind initially forms.
- The Persona as a mask: the inception of presenting a personality that isn’t necessarily true, at this time it is done unintentionally and done not by projecting a facade but by changing oneself entirely depending on the situation; typically occurs during the late childhood/early puberty
- Confrontation with the Shadow: the Shadow represents everything that the Self does not know or does not wish to know, and so the confrontation with the Shadow is someone coming to terms with the less-savory aspects of their identity (most importantly including all of the ideas that they have relegated to the subconscious over time); typically begins during adolescence/young adulthood
- De-integration of the Persona with the identity: this is simply the stage where one makes the divide between the personal self and the public self, repurposing the Persona from being an involuntary, uncontrollable psychological function into a conscious decision; typically occurs during adolescence/young adulthood, sometimes concurrently or before the confrontation with the Shadow.
- Development of the Anima/Animus: The Anima/Animus is always present within an individual as per the collective unconscious, but during this stage of individuation it becomes more fleshed out and understanding of the opposite gender and how the opposite gender is present within oneself; typically occurs during late young adulthood/middle-age
- Transformation of the Anima/Animus into the Wise Old Man/Wise Old Woman: Only when one understands ones Anima/Animus and thus the dual-gender nature of identity can they then completely branch out into spirituality and concepts of religion with complete confidence; typically occurs during late middle-age/old age
- The full awareness of the Self: the final stage of becoming a person where one reaches self awareness of all aspects of themselves, where one is aware of their own identity and its roots, awareness and control of one’s own psychological functions; due to the unpredictable nature of the process of individuation, some people never reach this stage
It’s a complex process, and often unpredictable; the stages of individuation (apart from the emergence of the ego) do not necessarily happen at the times I described, nor in the order I’ve them listed. With Shun and his own journey, however, I can say that he has followed the Jung’s model extremely close.
When we met Shun all the way back in episode one, his ego had already emerged and his Persona had already developed as a protective barrier between Shun and the world around him. The Twelve Years of Age arc then followed Shun’s confrontation with his Shadow, all the way from its very inception. As the Shadow encompasses all that is unknown or repressed, everything that Shun inferred about his society became a part of his Shadow complex. So, when the False Minoshiro came out in episode four and flat-out told Shun and company about the horrible history and truth about the world in which he lives, where did it go?
It never vanished. Shun never accepted it; if he had, he would have rejected the society and go back with an entirely different attitude about the whole situation (or simply not have gone back at all). So does this mean Shun did reject the information that the False Minoshiro gave him? No. As evidenced by Shun’s obvious strife about the situation and by the attitude he held toward the society at the end of the Twelve Years arc, Shun did not simply toss all of his perception out the window. Instead, he exact opposite of what should have been done. As Natasha said in her post about episode eight, Shun had been using Satoru as a distraction from the horrible truth he knew about the world around him. Instead of accepting or rejecting this external idea (and thus all of it’s internal ramifications), Shun repressed and tried to ignore the elephant in the room, thus making it a part of his Shadow complex.
In Jungian psychology (as seen in the explanation above), trying to ignore or repress something simply isn’t going to work if you want to be a healthy, fully self-actualized individual. By ignoring everything that was going on around him, Shun built up his Shadow complex repeatedly, creating something of a monster of unresolved issues that, in the end, simply could not be ignored. Like I said before, the confrontation of the Shadow is the ultimate confrontation of everything you wish you could ignore, and the only way to win the confrontation and really get through that stage of individuation is to actually choose a path to take: acceptance or rejection. Yet when you are Shun, and your Shadow has become so big and encompasses so much of you life, do you even have a hope of winning? Well… Shun certainly didn’t. From the beginning, it was almost Shun’s fate to lose to his Shadow, because out of all of the protagonists, his issues with the truth and ignorance were the greatest. Saki and Satoru rationalize their denial, and try to deal with reconciling their personal feelings about their culture with the truth of the situation; Shun makes no such attempt and distracts himself from doing so with delighting in a relationship with Satoru. The denial that Shun bred created a Shadow that he could not defeat, and in not defeating the Shadow he ultimately lost the hope of having a complete, aware identity, instead attaining a sort of anti-nirvana which (when combined with his PK) turned him into a karmic demon, a fallen god.
Having seen the road of individuation that Shun went down — becoming destabilized by his own inability to process information (which is ironic considering how Shun is typified as the “Smart One”), leading to the anti-nirvana of failing to form an identity — the question is, could this happen to Saki and the rest of the protagonists? Shun is not the only one living in deep denial, as every one of them experienced the horror of the Minoshiro’s exposition dump yet chose to retain their roles in society. The true breaking point now rests squarely on each their shoulders. After seeing Shun’s journey to the anti-identity, Saki, Satoru, Mari, and Mamoru have to make the conscious choice: do I choose to try and hide what I know and become a monster, or do I dare to try to break free of the artifices of our society for the sake of my sanity? That’s a question yet to be answered by Shin Sekai, but I’m sure we’ll find out the answer in due time.