Shinsekai Yori is my favourite anime; between its brilliant OST with impeccable sound direction, its excellent writing, its strong characterisation, its superb horror/thriller elements and its flawless direction, A-1 Pictures’ adaptation of Kishi Yusuke’s novel is a spectacular piece of televisual literature; it is very hard to point out flaws that the show has, and there is something about it that appeals to any audience. However, one of the things in Shinsekai Yori that really sticks out and intrigues me is the way that it handles one of its universe’s central mechanics: Juryoku (呪力). Better known by various translations in the west, such as Cantus, Psychokinesis, Cursed Power or simply Power, depending on which translation you watched, Juryoku is the series’ equivalent to telekinesis, and as a mechanic it is extremely well fleshed out by the end of the story. Both the risks surrounding it—namely Gouma (業魔; Karma Demon or Karmic Demon) and Akki (悪鬼; Fiend or Ogre), but also the need for Death Feedback (or Death of Shame in some translations)—and the more mundane uses of it are both shown and elaborated upon at various points throughout the story. However, the real strength of this aspect of the series lies in the way that both its effect on the world, its characters and the psychology of both the viewer and the characters with regards to their perceptions of Juryoku scales as the series progresses.
It starts out as a young children perceive it: protected by society’s façade. The extent of Juryoku in the majority of the first four episodes being used for mundane activities such as sand painting, telekinesis and competitive sports while also being a primarily social tool; the wider use of these activities is concealed by the adults, of course, as they are instead being used to weed out students with a high risk of becoming an Akki or a Gouma, but this is the perception of it at this stage in the story. That said, the interaction with Minoshiro Modoki (ミノシロモドキ; False Minoshiro or Psuedo-Minoshiro) hints at one of the key traits of humanity which isn’t really touched on that much until the final arc of the series, which I will get to later. There are sequences at the start of the first few episodes and a lot of exposition from the Minoshiro Modoki in episode 4 where we learn about the ways that power was used in the past; it acts as a means of gaining, retaining and exerting power over others, discriminating against those without Juryoku and for the creation of population-wide superiority complexes. The Minoshiro Modoki also tells us and the cast about the two syndromes which make power dangerous to those who use it, which I will get onto in a minute. More complex uses of Juryoku are explored as the story progresses—speeding up the rate of a chick’s development, repairing a glass jar fully and telekinesis are the most notable visualisations shown—and at no point in the story does it forget to continue fleshing out and elaborating on the mysteries surrounding Juryoku. We get a glimpse into concepts like Hashimoto-Appelbaum syndrome and Raman-Klogius syndrome (the syndromes which result in Gouma and Akki), including the story of the Akki “K” and of Shun becoming a Gouma, and it is also revealed that a person with Juryoku has the potential to be able to live indefinitely, as is revealed when Asahina Tomiko explains her ability to indefinitely repair chromosome decay through a process very similar to the jar mending visualisation. Juryoku is very much embedded in the story’s universe at this stage, and it has been shown to be a powerful trait with regards to the way that it affects the world around it and in the ways that it can both be used and how it can backfire when an inappropriate vessel has access to it.
As we enter the final arc, when Watanabe Saki is 26 years old, we are shown the way that humanity uses Juryoku to exert dominance over other races. Colinies of Bakenezumi (化けネズミ; Queerats or Monster Rats) need to hand in forms just to go to war with another colony or else risk having their entire colony purged, and if a colony poses as a threat to Kamisu-66 or disobeys any orders then they can simply be wiped out. However, what really reveals just how terrifying Juryoku is comes after the Robber Fly colony’s uprising begins.
The scariest part of Juryoku
While Akki are certainly the most vicious thing in the universe of Shinsekai Yori, with a small number of simultaneously active Akki having the capacity to completely wipe out humanity, what really stuck out to me was one scene in episode 19, which stands as one of my favourite scenes in any anime I’ve watched and revealed the extent to which Juryoku was so destructive even when not left in the hands of an Akki; it ultimately demonstrates that non-Raman-Klogius humans are almost as terrifying as the Akki themselves. Outside the hospital, the bugs have gone quiet and the people in the boat realise that the Bakenezumi are waiting in ambush in the fields behind them. When the character who is not in the boat heads into the safety of the hospital, the tone of the music shifts to a dramatic, lyricless Kage no Denshouka Dai San Bu as the four people who remain in the boat turn around and perform pyrokinesis—setting the entire field ablaze. There are a series of dramatic silhouettes as the camera pans behind the people in the boat, and more appear as as the Bakenezumi who were hiding stand up to retaliate. Arrows fly, all missing their intended targets but successfully spooking Saki, who quickly retaliates with telekinesis—ripping the Bakenezumi apart viciously, leaving us with an image of one looking in terror towards the exploding creature to its right. As the attack finishes, Satoru has tell the other people in the boat to cease their attack before they stop.
While when put into text this scene doesn’t really seem like anything special, it left a big impact on me as I watched it unfold. The roar as the field ignites; the looks of anxious focus on their faces as they start the blaze; the first silhouette to appear in the flames; the look of terror on Saki’s face as the arrows began to fly; she sheer intensity of the inferno; the exploding bodies of Bakenezumi in the field; the screams of pain and terror that the Bakenezumi let out; the focussed looks on the characters’ faces as the camera pans in front of them; the image of empty flames at the end of the scene. These are all incredibly potent pieces of imagery, and the scene tells you a lot as you watch it. Juryoku is immensely powerful, and it is used morbidly even by non-Akki; humans are no less powerful than Akki, their sense of morals are just as abhorrent, as a species they have not improved at all in the one thousand years since the appearance of Juryoku, and they feel they have the need to kill those who defy them, often losing control of themselves when they do. Some of these are made blatantly obvious in the series finale, where their treatment of Yakomaru is shown to have no moral footing and they are shown to be arrogant and morbid with their management of him in the aftermath of the Messiah’s attack, and the idea that people are immensely controlling and abhorrent is just made that much more apparent when we find out that the Bakenezumi were created to retain the social high ground by allowing for continued killing of those without Juryoku—but that is a topic for another day. Just minutes after that potent fire scene we are introduced to the Messiah—the fake Akki created from Maria and Mamoru’s child—and we are shown the sheer terror of an Akki encounter that the story in episode 1 and the story of K simply can’t compare to. The sheer devastation that the she causes remains apparent right up until her defeat.
If you want to watch Shinsekai Yori, it is available to stream on Crunchyroll: http://www.crunchyroll.com/shin-sekai-yori-from-the-new-world