Shun and Saki united for the final time
In the last episode, we had seen the effects of a Cantus gone rogue, as Shun’s village of Pinewood was cordoned off, and his home was now a crater. And in this episode, we get to hear from Shun himself what is actually happening. As speculated, Shun is transforming into a Karma Demon, but in his final talk with Saki, we not only get confirmation of this, but also explanation of what it means in a broader sense. Suffering from Hashimoto-Appelbaum Syndrome, Shun’s subconscious has overcome the hypnotic and conscious controls that the society attempts to instill in all children with PK power, and is now acting directly on whatever subconscious impulses Shun has. Uncontrollable and overwhelmingly strong, Shun has no choice but to seek relief and safety in death, but even in this endeavor he is denied by his subconscious.
Saki has Shun explain
For Saki, she has trouble understanding what has happened. And perhaps this is a consequence of such a tight-lipped society, where all information is seemingly doled out to children in parable and morality play form, and even discussion of some subjects are forbidden on pain of death. Even for adults, there is danger in sharing information, as Shun admits that Saki’s mother, a custodian of the library, acted in secret to give him the books written by other developing Karma Demons, that he might recognize what was happening to him, and also contribute his own experience.
Knowledge, possibly too much power?
For me personally, this is a difficult thing to accept as good for a society, since I firmly advocate the dissemination of information far and wide. But again, maybe this is due to the high stakes of this society: In our society, one person having the wrong idea is troublesome, perhaps even deadly to a few people. In their society, one person getting the wrong idea can result in the eradication of villages or even entire societies. But it still seems hard to accept that holding secret the information that could have caught such a problem with Shun earlier, or even allowed him to recognize it earlier and self-report it, is a good thing. And the cultural conditioning is working for Shun, as he has tried hard to resist it, he has tried to abandon his family, he has tried to rein in his subconscious, and ultimately he tries to suicide, all to be thwarted (even using every poisonous drug he was given fails, as his Cantus metabolizes them harmlessly). And even when they send the nekodamashi after him to try to kill him, his subconscious dispatches it with ease (the question arises that if both had found him could they have teamed up to overpower him? But Saki defended herself against one reducing their strength by half).
The destruction grows around him.
Shun also gives us more information about the workings of this society, and the interaction of Cantus with the subconscious and with the natural environment. The rapid evolution of animals noted earlier in the series is related to ‘leakage’ of PK subconscious impulse, affecting the environment around those with PK powers. And because the subconscious is before the rational thought areas of our brains, it sometimes cannot be reliably overridden by the reasoning portion of our minds. This is the fate that has befallen Shun, where he is almost powerless to stop his subconscious from using PK, and the only way he can fight it is by consciously exercising and focusing his power on a trivial task. And going back to the beginning of the series, we remember that the learned method for dealing with this is the hypnotic suggestions that all of the children go through, “sealing” their wild Cantus and giving them a conscious mantra to invoke their powers.
Emotionally, this episode was powerful, as any episode dealing with the demise of a main character is wont to be. Saki’s obvious love for Shun is not enough to save him, as desperately as she wants it to be. Her feelings definitely come through, and Shun’s for Saki, as his last thought is to express his love for Saki. Saki also has worries that her meddling with Shun’s power following their adventures two years ago to restore his Cantus contributed, and who knows, it may have. But Shun assures her it wasn’t (even if it was, this is something he would almost have to say), and thinking back on it, Shun showed a much different attitude about his power back then, and had willed himself to remember his mantra through other means.
And technically, there were some very interesting visuals, some that worked for me, and others that didn’t. I didn’t quite get where Saki was when she first encountered Shun, when he appears to pull her out of a puddle. But later, when he took her to the ‘house’ he was staying in, I found the progressive warping of the exterior to be very evocative, twisting and shearing as Shun plunges deeper into his personal abyss.
I wonder how much some people’s expectations of this episode has colored their view of it. It was known early on that the director of this episode was the same person who directed episode 5 (Saki and Satoru’s escape from the Ground Spiders, and finding of the Robber Fly colony). In this case, it might have actually depressed expectations, because so many people didn’t care for that episode, and the reaction to this episode has been much more positive. So was the reaction to this episode more positive because people’s expectations were low? Or was the reaction still less enthusiastic because of the low expectations, perhaps because people were actively looking for flaws? For me, I don’t really pay too much attention to staff, especially beforehand. This episode certainly had more emotional impact than episode 5, and I’d have to say that it fit the art style a bit more than episode 5 did with a similar one, given that this was a far more static episode, while 5 was trying to impress upon the viewer that there was a lot of movement and action. I do think that the reaction to this episode is pretty universally positive, with most people feeling that it dealt well with the emotional side of a final meeting between Saki and Shun.
Ugly is the changes wrought by Shun’s subconscious on the environment around him: the building, the changed lifeforms, even his beloved dog Subaru. Making it better, and worse at the same time, is that none of it was intended, none was volitional. But it just points to the necessity that Shun be removed from the world.