This article picks up where Part One ended.
While his wife has gained new strength by encountering Shonen Bat, Keiichi is not doing well. The investigation ended up being too much for his methodical approach and rational mind.
Keiichi: My detective’s instinct? I ran out that a long time ago. A series of street attacks with no logical connection. A copycat who can’t distinguish reality from a game. I’ve had enough.
After being fired unjustly following Kozuka’s death, Keiichi got a new job in construction. This makes him feel somewhat both disheartened but also relieved to have fewer responsibilities.
Keiichi: I’ve had enough, actually. I put my ass on the line trying to find the bastard and they send me packing. And now look where I’ve ended up.
Coworker: But this job isn’t so bad, when you think about it.
Keiichi: Yeah, you’re right. It’s not bad. Just about any loser can handle it.
In this bittersweet context, Keiichi starts to take a liking to Maromi, the fictional pink dog created by Tsukiko Sagi.
This is the start of a regressive development. Recent events got the best of him and Keiichi finds refuge in a fantasy world.
Later, he will be joined by Tsukiko Sagi who is also trying to escape from the outside world for different reasons.
The purpose of this fictional world is explained by Maromi.
However, the absence of Tsukiko in the real world is creating a great deal of problems. Mitsuhiro, the assistant detective, attempts to shake Keiichi from his illusions to no avail.
Truth alone is not the right way to help someone out of a regressive period. Only the love of his wife will help Keiichi to remember his true identity.
The end of Keiichi Ikari’s arc drives home multiple points that have built up to now. We have finally reached the understanding that, when life becomes too much, people usually call for an external salvation (Shonen Bat) or seek refuge in an idealized and blissful fantasy (Maromi). But neither of these options is shown to be real solution.
Shonen Bat can only offer a fake salvation by taking the problem away, not solving it. If being able to snap one’s finger to get rid of an issue that is threatening us from within is very tempting, we must also acknowledge that suppressing the harmful symptom removes the potential for personal growth. Without confrontation (leading hopefully to integration), the personality will remain static, unchanged, untransformed, and fundamentally immature and dependent.
On the other hand, Maromi is a substitute for maternal comfort in the form of escapism and reassuring illusions. This is also shown to be a trap that prevents any introspection or self-knowledge.
If it is understandable why these alternatives exist and are needed, it has to be pointed out that they do not work. When we choose Shonen Bat or Maromi, we are evading ourselves and our feelings. We are fleeing from vulnerability and the authentic suffering that comes with human existence.
We can finally turn our attention towards Shonen Bat and Maromi who are, as the series reveal, effectively two sides of the same coin.
In his book Trauma and the Soul, clinical psychologist Donald Kalsched describes an eerily similar dual system which he termed the self-care system.
The thesis of the book, namely the existence of the self-care system, comes from Kalsched’s clinical observations. He came to notice that, as soon as some of his trauma patients were doing better, they would suddenly have major difficulties and fall back to where they were at the beginning of the therapeutic effort. It’s as if every substantial progress towards healing and integration was met with an opposite force that would defeat them, bringing them back to where they started.
Puzzled by this phenomenon, Kalsched turned to the dreams of his patients to see what was happening at the unconscious level. These dreams would show that the dreamer’s ego was being opposed by an inner figure who would usually choose one out of two roles: it was either a protector or a persecutor.
To explain this counter-intuitive inner resistance to change and growth, Kalsched refers to William Blake’s painting The Good and the Evil Angel to present the two sides of the self-care system.
All video extracts are from Navigating the Labyrinth of Affect and Defense.
Using a mythopoetic and symbolic language, Kalsched describes the self-care system as a pair of angels. On one side, there is a persecutory dark angel who dissociates aggressively and, on the other, we find a protecting light angel who provides soothing inner substitutes. These are exactly Shonen Bat and Maromi!
A bit further, Kalsched continues his description of the self-care system. This time, he discusses the problem of repetition compulsion, the unconscious tendency of reenacting trauma that is unremembered.
As we saw in the series, the self-care system is truly a “non-life system”. When one relies on aggressive dissociations or comforting illusions to get by, the process of psychological growth is halted, sometimes at the cost of life itself.
And yet it is necessary to emphasize the positive side of this system. According to Kalsched, the main purpose of the self-care system and its two driving angels is to protect the vulnerable and innocent core of the personality from further damage and fragmentation. For instance, fragilized trauma survivors must be protected against any further harm or their condition could deteriorate to an irredeemable state.
This need for protection is such an imperative necessity that the psyche might make use of impersonal forces residing in the collective layer of the unconscious. These forces are described as autonomous, daimonic spirit-complexes which should not be confused with soul-complexes!
Paradoxically, what these two angels are after is to protect the divine spark within, which is usually represented by the symbol of the divine child. And they accomplish this mainly by creating diversions, so we are prevented from remembering the past.
Why would the self-care system act like this? Why does it promote dissociation, denial, victimhood, and forgetting the past? To understand this, we must discuss what trauma is.
A trauma is the result of a damaging confrontation with the world. Something happened and it was so unbearable that it could not be processed adequately, if at all.
As a result, the memory of such an event had to be sequestered away from consciousness, because it is loaded with intolerably painful feelings that cannot be metabolized, as Donald Kalsched would say.
The self-care system then is the guardian of these unmanageable emotions, these split in our consciousness. From compelling us into a medicating addiction or forcefully altering our consciousness by psychological dismemberment, the two angels do everything in their power to prevent us from reaccessing the feelings that were and probably still are too much to handle.
But even in such extreme cases, these angels are not to be regarded as enemies. What they are waiting for is for us to show a mature attitude towards healing, which essentially means to be willing to relive the trauma again in a safe environment. This comes with one essential condition: the past trauma should no longer be approached as a victimized child but as a responsible adult. One needs to open oneself to the whole past experience again, feel what happened in its entirety, and reparent ourselves through what went wrong. Only this balance of empathy (feeling our own feelings) and wisdom (providing what was missing at the time) will heal these traumatic dissociations.
It’s with this framework of the self-care system that we can discuss Tsukiko Sagi, the main character of Paranoia Agent.
From the first episode onwards, she is believed to be the initial victim of Shonen Bat. But the actual circumstances around this incident will be revealed to be quite different from her testimony.
The revelation about the first incident coincides with Taeko Hirukawa’s arc. The simultaneous attacks on Tsukiko and Taeko show that Shonen Bat can strike anywhere at any time.
Confronted by the detectives about the truth, Tsukiko loses consciousness as if hit by an invisible force.
In this regard, Tsukiko displays the typical characteristics of a trauma survivor. Every time she gets close to remembering the trauma, the self-care system kicks in and attempts to divert herself from it. In this case, she is on the verge of a realization that is deemed to be too painful to integrate and so the self-care system knocks her out preventively.
The protective nature of the self-care system also happens in an externalized manner. When someone puts too much pressure on Tsukiko, Shonen Bat will strike them to defend her. This happens twice in the series: when the journalist Akio tries to get a testimony for his article and when one of the producers threatens her for missing deadlines.
Their punishment will be proportional to the amount of undue stress they have pushed onto Tsukiko. Akio is struck once without lasting damage, while the producer is killed in a car accident.
This uncanny phenomenon has a practical reality. When one deals with trauma patients, gratuitous or sharp criticism towards them can create a feedback reaction that can take a supernatural form.
In the last episode, Mitsuhiro finally reveals what happened to Tsukiko when she was younger.
This forces Tsukiko to confront her traumatic memory.
By fully processing the grief of losing her puppy in unfortunate circumstances, Tsukiko has simultaneously freed the self-care system. With her trauma healed at the source, Shonen Bat and Maromi no longer have to protect her.
Donald Kalsched puts it in the following terms.
In other words, Shonen Bat and Maromi were powered up by the enormous emotions resulting from Tsukiko’s unprocessed trauma. In this state of dissociation, these affects acquired a life of their own by being shaped by archetypal structures from the collective unconscious. They grew to monstrous proportions and started to devastate the city around her. It’s only by owning her repressed emotions that Tsukiko was able to pull the plug on the whole system, effectively restoring the balance outside and inside herself at the same time.
Without the need to artificially maintain equilibrium, the self-care system and its mythological figures have returned to their initial state of inactivity. The 880-volt emotions that were fueling them have been transformed and humanized through Tsukiko’s emotional maturity. She is no longer a victim of circumstances beyond her control, but a responsible adult who feels deeply for life’s fragility.
Lastly, we arrived at the most difficult pair of characters to explain: Mitsuhiro Maniwa and his relationship to the Mysterious Old Man.
Mitsuhiro Maniwa is the assistant detective of Keiichi Ikari. Compared to his chief, Mitsuhiro always showed interest in the irrational nature of the investigation, hoping to find the root cause that way.
This interest took a turning point in his interaction with Kozuka. He was deeply affected by the young boy and became convinced that there was a hidden logic to these matters that should not be disregarded.
Shown in a symbolic manner, Mitsuhiro’s mind is starting to attune to multiple, disparate signals from the collective.
As he undergoes this transformation into “Radar Man”, Mitsuhiro is starting to intuit that the senile old man from the hospital, who is the Ancient Master of Kozuka’s fantasy, plays a major role in these matters.
This interest is reciprocated in a series of vignettes leading to a cryptic dream.
Let’s have a closer look at the dream.
The dream is divided into three parts. The first section is about sharing food and wine, an image of communion. This indicates the spiritual kinship between the two characters. As the meal continues, a black waiter brings “sautéed black swallowtails”. A swallowtail is a butterfly, a well-known symbol of metamorphosis. Remarkably, the word for butterfly in ancient Greek is the same as psyche (see Butterfly Lore). Therefore the black waiter who represents the other, the foreigner, the Ethiopian, is delivering the material to be ingested for psychological transformation.
The second part is a magic trick of “going through a wall”, a form of displacement, of going from one place to another. This means that the Mysterious Old Man is able to move in a non-material manner. This refers to the phenomenon of psychological contagion, or the fact that some things can be transferred to other people’s consciousness without material causality.
The third part is another magic trick of multiplication, akin to cellular mitosis. We see the Mysterious Old Man being multiplied, first on stage and then overwhelming the psyche of Mitsuhiro.
In summary, this dream communicates that the essence of the Mysterious Old Man, meaning its role and function, has spread to Mitsuhiro’s psyche.
After this dream, Mitshuhiro now operates with the intuitive abilities of the Mysterious Old Man, which is also a kind of madness. This uncanny intuition leads him to find Tsukiko’s father who will reveal the missing link between Shonen Bat, Maromi, and Tsukiko.
Interestingly, Mitsuhiro now carries a bat that is identified as a magical sword. In symbolic terms, Mitsuhiro is now wielding the logos (λόγος), the sword of truth and differentiation.
This sword allows him to fight Shonen Bat but the logos alone cannot win. As we now know, only Tsukiko’s conscious decision to face the truth of the past will heal the dissociation which initially gave rise to Shonen Bat’s hyperactivity.
The Mysterious Old Man appears to be a supervisor of the developmental drama on earth. Tuned with the collective and having prophetic abilities, he tries to predict, help, protect and contain the dangers of unbalanced development when it gets out of hand, trying to intervene wherever he can.
But we can go deeper into the analysis of his role.
The first thing we have to observe is that he has a special relationship to Tsukiko, as the first scene in the series shows.
He is also announced dead when Tsukiko and Maromi disappear into Keiichi’s fantasy world.
This special link between the Mysterious Old Man and Tsukiko is explained by the fact that she is the one who unintentionally originated Shonen Bat and Maromi. By being the source of a collective problem, she will need to be helped more than others. Indeed, when Mitsuhiro takes over the role of the Mysterious Old Man, he will play a crucial part in revealing that her father accepted her lie because he too felt guilty.
All this is to say that Paranoia Agent is a psychological tale seen from the female psyche, with Tsukiko being the central character. This means that the story mostly takes place from the perspective of the ego of a young woman. This remark is essential for the next point.
As the series’ opening shows, the Mysterious Old Man exists primarily on the moon and not on earth. So what is the psychological significance of the moon?
Typically, the moon is a symbol of the unconscious because of its mysterious darkness and remote existence. This is correct but only in the case of a man. If we are dealing with the psyche of a woman, it is the bright side of the moon that matters. Jung writes:
If, then, Luna [the moon] characterizes the feminine psyche and Sol [the sun] the masculine, consciousness would be an exclusively masculine affair, which is obviously not the case since woman possesses consciousness too. But as we have previously identified Sol with consciousness and Luna with the unconscious, we would now be driven to the conclusion that a woman cannot possess a consciousness.
The error in our formulation lies in the fact, firstly, that we equated the moon with the unconscious as such, whereas the equation is true chiefly of the unconscious of a man; and secondly, that we overlooked the fact that the moon is not only dark but is also a giver of light and can therefore represent consciousness. This is indeed so in the case of woman: her consciousness has a lunar rather than a solar character. Its light is the “mild” light of the moon, which merges things together rather than separates them. (Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, CW 14, par 222-223)
Therefore, the Mysterious Old Man is not only a moon god but a light-bringer!
By living on the bright side of the moon, he personifies lunar consciousness, a gentler form of consciousness than solar consciousness.
[Lunar consciousness] does not show up objects in all their pitiless discreteness and separateness, like the harsh, glaring light of day, but blends in a deceptive shimmer the near and the far, magically transforming little things into big things, high into low, softening all colour into a bluish haze, and blending the nocturnal landscape into an unsuspected unity. (ibid.)
In its original meaning, being a light-bringer is the task of Lucifer, astronomically the morning star that is Venus. This task has later been ascribed to the figure of Christ.
In this tension between Christ and Lucifer, both charged with the same duty, we already sense that to bring the light is a delicate undertaking, as dangerous as it is necessary. Jung ascribes this dual function to the ambivalent Mercurius of the alchemists.
Mercurius as the shining and shimmering planet, appearing like Venus close to the sun in the morning or evening sky, is like her a Lucifer, a light-bringer (ϕωσϕóροζ). He heralds, as the morning star does, only much more directly, the coming of the light. (Carl Jung, The Spirit Mercurius, CW 13, par 273)
Mercurius is by no means the Christian devil—the latter could rather be said to be a “diabolization” of Lucifer or of Mercurius. Mercurius is an adumbration of the primordial light-bringer, who is never himself the light, but a ϕωσϕóρος [phosphoros] who brings the light of nature, the light of the moon and the stars which fades before the new morning light. (ibid., par 300)
Mercurius, that two-faced god, comes as the lumen naturae, the Servator and Salvator, only to those whose reason strives towards the highest light ever received by man, and who do not trust exclusively to the cognitio vespertina. For those who are unmindful of this light, the lumen naturae turns into a perilous ignis fatuus, and the psychopomp into a diabolical seducer. (ibid., par 303)
In this sense, Mercurius (or any light-bringer) is both a preserver of the world (Servator Mundi) and a savior of the world (Salvator Mundi).
In its Christic dimension, Mercurius brings the Logos.
Christ as the Logos is from all eternity, but in his human form he is the “Son of Man.” As the Logos, he is the world-creating principle. This corresponds with the relation of the self to consciousness, without which no world could be perceived at all. The Logos is the real principium individuationis, because everything proceeds from it, and because everything which is, from crystal to man, exists only in individual form. (Carl Jung, Transformation Symbolism in the Mass, CW 11, par 400)
At the other pole, Mercurius “plays the role of a “Luciferian” (light-bringing) principium individuationis.” (Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, CW 14, par 40, note 37)
In both cases, the light-bringer brings forward the principium individuationis, or the principle of individuation.
What we are really discussing here is not Mercurius as such but the eternal task of bringing the light, of raising consciousness out of unconsciousness.
If the name “Lucifer” were not prejudicial, it would be a very suitable one for this archetype. But I have been content to call it the archetype of the wise old man, or of meaning. Like all archetypes it has a positive and a negative aspect[.] (Carl Jung, Archetype of the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i, par 79)
This ever-present transpersonal role is a necessity as mankind, when left to its own device, does not seem to succeed by itself. The majority of people will either reject the task or fail along the road.
This is why individuation has to be monitored and supervised at a collective level by a wise old man living on the moon or in the sky—that is until one recollects this most difficult burden onto oneself.
So if we translate it into psychological language, the fairytale tells us that the mercurial essence, the principium individuationis, would have developed freely under natural conditions, but was robbed of its freedom by deliberate intervention from outside, and was artfully confined and banished like an evil spirit. (Only evil spirits have to be confined, and the wickedness of this spirit was shown by its murderous intent.) Supposing the fairytale is right and the spirit was really as wicked as it relates, we would have to conclude that the Master who imprisoned the principium individuationis had a good end in view. But who is this well-intentioned Master who has the power to banish the principle of man’s individuation? Such power is given only to a ruler of souls in the spiritual realm. The idea that the principle of individuation is the source of all evil is found in Schopenhauer and still more in Buddhism. In Christianity, too, human nature is tainted with original sin and is redeemed from this stain by Christ’s self-sacrifice. Man in his “natural” condition is neither good nor pure, and if he should develop in the natural way the result would be a product not essentially different from an animal. Sheer instinctuality and naïve unconsciousness untroubled by a sense of guilt would prevail if the Master had not interrupted the free development of the natural being by introducing a distinction between good and evil and outlawing the evil. Since without guilt there is no moral consciousness and without awareness of differences no consciousness at all, we must concede that the strange intervention of the master of souls was absolutely necessary for the development of any kind of consciousness and in this sense was for the good. According to our religious beliefs, God himself is this Master—and the alchemist, in his small way, competes with the Creator in so far as he strives to do work analogous to the work of creation, and therefore he likens his microcosmic opus to the work of the world creator. (Carl Jung, The Spirit Mercurius, CW 13, par 244)
Anyone who watched the show knows how uncannily close to the beginning the end is.
Once the city has been reconstructed, the inhabitants of Tokyo go on about their day, preoccupied with the same matters as before.
But some things have changed. First, we notice that not all of the characters have survived. Indeed, most of them have been swallowed by the black stuff that Shonen Bat had become. From a psychological perspective, they were unable to transform the blackness within and so were engulfed by the blackness without.
Harumi/Maria swallowed by the black ooze.
Out of the four characters that survived, Tsukiko changed for the better. Her new looks show a more independent and proactive personality, a step forward compared to her previous passivity. Her coming into consciousness was a success.
On his end, Keiichi is still a construction worker, which is a job far below him. Despite the fact that he managed to escape the illusions of Maromi, his coming into consciousness was a demoralizing process and he remains stunted on the side of life.
Our third character is Akio, the journalist. Like many other passersby, he belongs to the category of people who remain virtually unchanged throughout the story. This means that their journey of psychological maturation has not started but their turn will inevitably come one day.
Finally, Mitsuhiro took on the task of the Mysterious Old Man but this came at the cost of his own individuality. His personality has been overtaken by an impersonal, collective, archetypal role. He did not individuate but became a mana-personality, which is why he is shown upside-down in the opening.
Mitsuhiro in the epilogue of the last episode.
In the same manner that the role carried by the Mysterious Old Man has been renewed by Mitsuhiro, the giant cat Fmeow is the new Maromi. This directly implies that a new Shonen Bat must also exist.
With these three archetypal tasks passed on, the wheel of life can keep on turning. The Ouroboros bites his tail anew, devouring and regenerating itself in the process.
The primordial theriomorphic serpent-god is endless potential; is whatever comprises being prior to the emergence of the capacity for experience. This potential has been represented as the self-devouring dragon (most commonly) because this image (portrayed in Figure 29: The Uroboros – Precosmogonic Dragon of Chaos) aptly symbolizes the union of incommensurate opposites. […] The uroboros stands for, or constitutes, everything that is as of yet unencountered, prior to its differentiation as a consequence of active exploration and classification. It is the source of all the information that makes up the determinate world of experience – and is, simultaneously, the birth-place of the experiencing subject.
The uroboros is one thing, as everything that has not yet been explored is one thing; it exists everywhere, and at all times. It is completely self-contained, completely self-referential: it feeds, fertilizes and engulfs itself. It unites the beginning and the end, being and becoming, in the endless circle of its existence. It serves as symbol for the ground of reality itself. It is the “set of all things that are not yet things” – the primal origin and ultimate point of return for every discriminable object, and every independent subject. It serves as progenitor of all we know, all that we don’t know, and of the spirit that constitutes our capacity to know – and not know. It is the mystery that constantly emerges when solutions to old problems cause new problems; is the sea of chaos surrounding man’s island of knowledge – and the source of that knowledge, as well. It is all new experience generated by time, which incessantly works to transform the temporarily predictable once again into the unknown. It has served mankind as the most ubiquitous and potent of primordial gods[.] (Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning, pp. 118-119)
Figure and extract from Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning
Conclusion: the Necessity of Individuation
As the series ends, one can rightly ask oneself: “Was this all about a puppy?”, recalling Keiichi’s line from the final episode.
And, against all odds, the answer to this is yes. Tsukiko’s ability to accept what happened to her without lying to herself, without blaming others, and without dissociating from her wounded feelings is a remarkable achievement whose invisible reverberations will echo far and wide.
In the history of the collective as in the history of the individual, everything depends on the development of consciousness. This gradually brings liberation from imprisonment in ἀγνοία, ‘unconsciousness,’ and is therefore a bringer of light as well as of healing. (Carl Jung, On the Psychology of the Trickster-figure, CW9i, par 487)
Donald Kalsched’s conclusion touches the same notes.
I’ve subtitled this article “Failed Stories of Individuation” because, in my estimation, everyone but Tsukiko failed their coming into consciousness. One exception could be Misae Ikari but her life-affirming earnestness was still met with a fateful death.
It has to be said that individuation is not just about coming into consciousness. In fact, coming into consciousness is the necessary precondition for individuation to take place. Without a resilient, responsible, and mature ego capable of handling our own emotions and the fragility of life, relating to the unconscious is too dangerous. One can easily succumb to the blackness found within (Harumi), lose one’s identity to archetypal roles (Mitsuhiro), or end up demoralized by an increase in consciousness (Keiichi).
But there is no real alternative to the dangers of individuation. The process has to take place, or we will remain asleep in the arms of the regressive longings of the self-care system.
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