vucubcaquix: There’s a thematic contradiction brewing in Shin Sekai Yori. Last week we teased out how the show means to comment on the nature of conflict in humanity, and of burgeoning sexuality, through allusions and comparisons to dystopian literature and Buddhist dogma. The opening moments of the first episode showed a nameless child with psychokinetic (PK) powers lashing out violently and indiscriminately; the ensuing episodes seemed to reinforce the commentary that this type of power is corrupting. But whether its influence damns humanity into violence, or humanity as a whole is unworthy of this power to begin with remains to be seen. Either scenario is like some take on original sin, but with a different inherent perspective/locus on the Fall of Man.
We were left with two of the children still on the run, trying to escape a foreign colony of monster rats (aka queerrats, bakenezumi). While they were trapped underneath some rubble, Saki saw to it that she would return her partner Satoru’s power back to him. All children with power are given a unique mantra through a special Buddhist rite, which Saki had been able to trick Satoru into revealing to her. As Satoru slept, Saki returned his power via suggestion with memorized speech rites and the personal mantra she pried from him. Saki’s resourcefulness and memory are interesting and say quite a bit about her integrity as a person, but I’m also interested in what the dialogue of the rite itself implies.
“You have violated the rules and gone where you were not supposed to. Furthermore, you have allowed your mind to be poisoned by a demon. The real problem, however, weighs far heavier. You have violated the tenth Precept of the Platinum Code, the very basis of the Code of Ethics: The Four Tenets Against Evil. You have listened to the demon and turned against the Buddhist teachings. Therefore, I am left with no choice but to seal your [power] immediately. Look at the flames. Your power is sealed inside this emblem. Can you see it?”
“I will now cast the emblem into the fire. May your worldly desires be burned away. The ash returns to the vast and wild earth. Look! The emblem has burned away! Your [power] has been sealed here! Cast away your worldly desires. You must cast all of them into the purging flames to reach enlightenment. Asahina Satoru, you have shown great devotion and abandoned your [power]. Now I shall teach you a pure mantra, summon a new spirit, and bestow [power] upon you once more.”
She then whispers into Satoru’s sleeping ear, and he awakens newly empowered.
The dialogue of the rite implies that this power (or Cantus) is innate to the children and perhaps to humanity at large, but that we are unworthy of said power. Our worldly desires lead us astray and down the path of sin, and we need someone outside of us to guide us and use fire to purge all of the problematic aspects of our nature. The re-empowerment everyone must undergo is vetted through an externalized guide, one that can bestow upon us a “new” spirit that is untainted by the wild earth. We are not deserving of what we have, as there apparently is a sinful nature inherent in all of us. Thus through Saki’s suggestion, Satoru is granted a new spirit and is able to move forward.
But something isn’t right. While the children proceed to free themselves from the rubble, they’re still being pursued by the foreign monster rat colony. Satoru moves forward and engages the colony violently through his power, all the while succumbing to the pleasure of killing them and instilling fear in them. If he’s been given a new spirit to engage his power, why then does he seem to revel in the baser aspects of it now more than ever? Why do his actions contradict the supposed intent of the rites read to him?
ajthefourth: My partner touches upon conflict and the dual influences of power that have been debated for centuries in the annals of history, with society as the end response, or suitable enough result, of this struggle. Whether ruled by a governing body with a strict moral conduct code, or overseen by a violent absolute who condemns the last number of people at his crowning ceremony to death the moment they stop clapping, humanity tends to organize itself and give certain ones power, or defer to ones with obvious strength. This episode shows both Saki and Satoru casting off their social trappings with varying results.
Satoru’s is the more obviously precarious change and also the more apparent. With his PK powers awakened once more, his mind flips a switch. Prior to Episode Five, Satoru was seen as an arrogant, and rather bratty, individual who picked on others frequently. He loved being the center of attention and drawing others to him in order to show off. Once stripped of his powers, he becomes a bit more genuine and caring: the Satoru of Episode Five. Now, in the sixth episode, with his powers newly-restored, he takes pleasure in murdering the monster rats, telling Saki that they must all be annihilated.
Contrasting this with the opening scenes of the first episode which show acts of violence by PK users, as well as the information from the library, it would seem that the viewer is meant to see Satoru beginning to head down a dark path. The more interesting piece of the puzzle that lies in his actions is the way that this goes directly against his social conditioning and what he has been taught up until this point. It is important to note that, unlike the flashes of violence against other humans that framed the library’s expository speech, or the ancient emperor’s tyrannical ways of keeping his subjects in line, Satoru’s actions are borne from a want to survive, not a lust for power. Whether he has already crossed the line into reveling in his own power is yet to be determined, although his flair for the dramatic seems to fall parallel to enjoying his murder of the monster rats and it’s obvious that he craves an audience. His current position off of the social grid (in addition to him being the only one with psychokinetic powers at the time) allows him to explore these avenues seemingly free of consequence, until they inevitably return to society.
One cannot tell if Satoru is truly aware of his own actions, or simply caught up in the rush of displaying his power, leaving the idea of his purposefully attempting to abandon his own social conditioning up in the air. Saki, on the other hand, is very much aware of her actions, which make them all the more concrete. She purposefully returns Satoru’s psychokinetic powers to him. The fact that she attempts it at all, implies that her belief in the religious and social laws which she was brought up with has dwindled down to a minute amount. Her succeeding in bestowing Satoru’s powers upon him confirms her suspicions once and for all: it’s not just the religious leaders of her community that can give and take away powers, anyone can with the right amount of luck, conditions, and appropriate phrasing.
While Satoru has always had a natural want for attention, Saki has always had a curious nature. She questioned her parents after listening in on their late-night conversations. She badgered Satoru into revealing his personal mantra that unlocked his psychokinetic powers to her. And, it was this curiosity that led her to question the “false minoshiro,” which turned out to be an ancient repository for knowledge. Now, she conducts an experiment that confirms her suspicions about her society, which one could argue have been building since the first episode. This is her active turning point as a character. Just as she steps into the light ahead of Satoru when the two emerge from underneath the monster rat colony, she also is eschewing her beliefs in her former society.