illegenes: Even after a devastating loss, Shinsekai gives us no time to despair. Far more dangerous monsters are lurking around, and it’s time to find out what’s going on.
While I may enjoy Shinsekai a lot, there’s no doubt that the show goes for a ‘don’t tell’ policy, which can be sometimes frustrating if you’re dealing with such a heavy setting and world. Luckily, Shinsekai gives us an episode or two to explain things, and that’s where Episode 11 and 12 comes in. As Saki finds herself face to face with Satoru’s grandmother, revealed to be the Chief on the Ethics Committee, we grasp important tidbits of information – the rise of the karma demon and the fiend, and how society is structured around these two monsters to prevent destruction. As Shun told Saki before he left – “The Barrier doesn’t exist to protect us from external threats – we are the threat.” And so, we find out the brutal differentiation between a Fiend and a Karma Demon, and how Saki is fit to serve the cruelest role of all: preventing these things from ever existing.
I’ll leave the nature versus nurture argument of these anomalies to Steven and Wendeego and return back to my religious perspective on these newfound developments. As I talked about in Episode 6, Dharma is the duty of all human beings to uphold moral, ethical, and natural law in the universe. In exchange for sacrificing our worldly pleasures, we are given the power of protection. And as said before, by abandoning Dharma, one corrupts his/herself, thus turning into a karma demon. But now that the two have been clarified, the reasoning I had explained in Episode 6 is actually attributed to a fiend. A Karma Demon is someone who has not abandoned Dharmist ideals. Rather, it is a person who cannot control their complete sense of self. Shun is a prime example of this. Did Shun follow the values of Dharma? Yes. So why then, did he fall to his doom, warped and twisted by chaos and corruption – the two main values of Adharma?
It is because people are not just fully composed of Dharma. Our life is a struggle to reach Dharma; Dharma does not exist by itself. We could think of it similarly to Yin and Yang; Dharma and Adharma coexist and are constantly fighting each other. The heart of that conflict is within the mind, soul and body of a human being. Because every action has a consequence, immoral and moral, a person is always trying to hold onto Dharma values. While the Fiend actively flushes Dharmist ideals out of his own self consciousness and vanity, a Karma Demon cannot control the Adharma thoughts running rampant in his mind unconsciously. The soul can be kind, forgiving and outwardly, seem balanced, but inward is a failing battle to follow Dharma ideals. This is not because Shun wanted to become corrupt. It was because of external factors (rejection of self; paranoia, pressure from society) that he was losing an internal battle. Interestingly enough, Saki on the other hand, has attained this balance, which is why she is chosen to lead. But the fact that Saki exists clearly proves that balance is possible. One can control the Dharma and Adharma within, and use it for the good of the people. The problem is, can everyone attain this balance, and how is this balance created?
What struck me the most in these past two episodes, however, wasn’t that some answers were revealed. It was about how twisted Shinsekai‘s world is. The most protected, valued and cherished individual right is not the body, but the mind. What are we but the summation and collection of our memories and experiences? Memories make us who we are; they build us up, the break us down, they destroy and create, much like Dharma itself. For Saki’s memories to have been played with – to insert Shun’s memories into a boy who is not Shun – and to do this with no second thought for the moral consequences is both tragic and incredibly horrifying. There is no doubt that the death of Shun would be traumatic for Saki. But we clearly saw a determination to live in her eyes even after witnessing his destruction. Despite this, she is forcibly hypnotized into forgetting this event and as such, her growth as a character is somewhat stunted. I still feel like Saki will be able to remember Shun – perhaps through willpower, or other means – and will have the common sense not to tell Maria or Mamoru, but at that point, it won’t matter. Mamoru is the next to fall, and there’s no doubt that Maria is also on the way. Like said in the Episode 6 review, the show focuses more on the continuous struggle of trying to reach a balance between our Dharma and Adharma selves. The thing is: will that balance be achieved? Can Saki save her friends? We have 12 more episodes to figure out how Shinsekai will offer a solution to all of this, which is so far, more than enough time. And so, for now, I’m comfortable with where the show is taking us, even if its into uncharted waters and territory.
wendeego: First off, I should note that the scene in episode 11 where Saki stands at the foot of Shun’s nameless grave gave me chills. Chills, I say!
It’s interesting because these two episodes effectively toy with our sympathies from two different perspectives. The first episode presents the society of Shinsekai as a terrifying entity, erasing or subverting the memories of its people in order to attain order at any cost. Shun’s grave in Saki’s dreamscape is just one of many, her sister included, a chain of human lives presumably going back dozens or maybe even a hundred years of oppression. Not even those outside of Saki’s gang of friends are safe–even Ryou, initially unrelated to any of them, is brought in and reprogrammed by society to become Saki’s love interest and replace Shun. But as implied in previous episodes, Saki is remarkably strong, too strong for memory tricks or even the insistence of her friends to work on her. Whether Shun’s spirit somehow reached her while she was sleeping or she came up with investigating her sister’s mirror on her own, she deserves credit for refusing to cave even with every conceivable pressure acting on her. It’s that quality that makes her both one of the most dangerous characters to the status quo of Shinsekai as well as the one most fit to be leader, as Satoru’s grandmother keenly points out.
Meanwhile, episode 12 shows us the reality of Shinsekai’s society from the viewpoint of its leaders, and what is revealed is terrifying. Looking back at earlier episodes of the series, it’s clear that Satoru’s grandmother didn’t tell Saki anything we, the viewers, don’t already know: after all, the very first scene of the series depicted young PK users laying waste to a city, splattering the blood and guts of civilians across the streets. All that’s changed now is that we know that we now know those who kill with Cantus purposefully to be called fiends, and those who corrupt with Cantus subconsciously to be called karma demons–the two greatest threats to the safety of Shinsekai’s future society. It’s interesting that even after presumably centuries of biological experimentation, with the killing impulse punished with sickness and stress rigged to be solved through sexual intercourse even among twelve-year-olds, fiends and karma demons still appear. People are malleable, Shinsekai implies, but some things cannot be reprogrammed or even repaired.
It’s difficult to know what side to root for. On one hand, the fate of Shun and all the others seems tremendously unfair, and society’s tampering with the memories of Saki and co. doesn’t come off as much better. On the other hand, in a sense it’s not difficult to see why the society of Shinsekai is so worried. Even in our present, incidents have occurred countless times in the United States, where people have just snapped and murdered dozens of people. Witness the Aurora shootings from earlier this year, or even the recent Connecticut shootings. Picture what would happen if a potential shooter got his hands on unlimited psychokinetic power, and you have an inkling of the danger that a fiend would cause in today’s society. It’s a difficult question: whether to systematically prune psychological anomalies from society, or risk having them use their powers to slaughter dozens of innocent people, none of whom are bred to defend themselves.
I think the answer might lie in the fact that the subjects in this case are demonized by society, referred to as “fiends” or “karma demons.” Names have enormous power, and referring to problematic children as monsters rather than people would likely take some of the load off of slaughtering them in droves. But I think it’s important to remember that whatever problems they might have, fiends and karma demons are ultimately people. Shun might have blown up a village and mutated everything around him, but he regretted his own actions to the very end of his life. I think that from this point on Shinsekai will be putting its cast in danger, slowly killing them off one by one as they succumb to sickness and stress. But in the end, the key to fully understanding the predicament of Shinsekai might lie not in regulation, but in empathy. I doubt there’s an easy answer, but demonizing anomalies without taking measures to understand the afflicted probably isn’t it.
gallifreyians: It’s interesting to note that all of the events of Shin Sekai Yori so far really can come down to one word: stress. Stress is a unifying aspect of human culture that rarely gets played out well on-screen as a facet of the text, but Shin Sekai Yori manages to take stress and deftly incorporate it and it’s dynamic relationship with daily life into it’s narrative.
The textual discussion of the concept of stress was introduced into the narrative of Shin Sekai Yori rather subtly in episode eleven with the discussion of Maria and Mamoru’s inability to deal with their own repressed memories. As per Maria’s own admission, Mamoru and she are not as capable as Saki is in dealing with the situation. When one talks about stress one must build upon the aspect of stress known as cognitive appraisal; the idea that a situation is stressful based upon one’s own view of the situation and one’s ability to adapt or cope with the situation. Following this idea behind the psychological workings of stress, while confronting the notion that their society has been tampering with their very own memories may not be stressful for Saki, it most certainly is for Maria and Mamoru due to their own perspectives of the situation.
Stress was further elaborated upon in episode twelve, when Asahina Tomiko introduced to Saki one of the fundamental philosophies that influence the operation of their society’s government: “A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.”. In the context of Tomiko’s speech, she is here postulating that their entire society is a psychological organism who is also susceptible to stress like any human being and whose stress threshold is determined entirely by the stress threshold of the individual most susceptible to stress. The reasoning behind this conclusion being the conclusion that the person most susceptible to stress is individual most susceptible to becoming a fiend or karma demons. The ramifications then of this conclusion are clear: fiends and karma demons are caused because of the immense psychological stress an individual could be under. The difference between fiends and karma demons is then the method by which one relates to one’s stress.
With fiends we see the effects of stress more easily. As people are like to do, a fiend simply cracks one day and decides to kill everyone. The natural response is to refute that statement and take a more optimistic approach to human nature, yet is it not true? How many times a day does a person have violent thoughts? How many times a day does a person think “Oh screw it, fuck you all!”? How many times a day do you think those thoughts; I’ll tell you, it’s probably more than you’d like to admit. It’s a natural facet of being a human to want to resort to violence in the face of frustration or stress. And when coupled with the fantastic ability to make anything you want come to life with just a thought? — the temptation is irrefutably irresistible to someone who has become psychologically unstable. And as I mentioned before, the relationship between a potential fiend and their stress is the key in the determination of wether or not someone will become a fiend; the specifics of that relationship being so: a fiend externalizes their stress and stressors. In less psychological, laymen’s terms, a fiend is someone who views all of their stress or stressors (and thus the source of all of their frustration [because the path of unresolved stress leads inevitably to frustration]) as coming from events and people not caused by and other than themselves. Fiends blame the world for their problems, and so actively turn their Canti against the world. Fiends are in essence Shin Sekai Yori’s counterparts to (mass) murderers, serial killers, and rapists. Karma demons, though, are the flip side of fiends. While the effects of both of them are equally as dangerous due to the in-universe presence of PK, the source of a Karma demon — the relationship that an individual who may become a Karma demon has with their stress/stressors — is the exact opposite of the source of a fiend.
An individual who becomes a Karma demon internalizes all of their stress and stressors, making them apart of their identity and sense of self. To internalize one’s stress without coping or adapting to it is to essentially try to function in spite of it; externalization of stress results in a shutdown of activity due to overt frustration while the internalization of stress results in internal duress and mania that does not impede functioning, but rather slowly degrades psychological integrity. To conceptualize this difference, think of these situations as such: a fiend who has externalized all of their stress became frustrated to the point of the secession of function, which was then followed by a large, overt, and violent ‘cracking’; a karma demon who has internalized all of their stress tired to keep going along in their lives as normally as possible before suffering from increasing psychological instability resulting in a slow, internal, collapse of self. To say that fiends can be thought of as murderers and serial killers means that karma demons can be thought of as people suffering from depression, low self-esteem (and it’s related issues), and/or thoughts of suicide whose complexes have been unwittingly given voice by their Cantus.
In episodes nine and ten we saw Shun go through the process of becoming a karma demon — which in our previous post I described in terms of Jungian individuation — because of the stress he was under due to his unresolved issues with respect to his own conflicted view of society, which undoubtedly caused the stress that ultimately turned Shun into a Karma demon. Now however, given the circumstances of Mamoru’s disappearance, it would be interesting to see the paths of which our characters will travel: fiend or karma demon? I would say that when looking at Mamoru’s outburst in episode eleven, he will probably go down the path of a fiend, ending up intentionally hurting the people around him because of his own shattered mind which we’ve seen continually fracture. With this new insight into the textual workings of stress in Shin Sekai Yori, I honestly look forward to the continued development of the narrative, no matter what dark, saddening places it will take us.