The Catharsis Effect is more than just a power: it's a glimpse at what we all need
Hands up, who here would actually have a long listen to Ritsu's impromptu psychology lectures? No? That's fine. If you're on board with this season's adaptation of Caligula, consider a general education in psychology effectively snuck into your weekly entertainment, since there's a lot to learn about the human psyche when it comes to this series. That's not even counting the in-depth episode titles.
A lot has changed between the game and anime iterations of Caligula, but one thing that's stayed very much in place is the Catharsis Effect. For those reading along who may not be in tune with either the show or the game, a Cartharsis Effect is a dark (and rather painful) super power that erupts from within a person once they're in touch with their true self. In the world of Mobius, that's their forgotten -- and not necessarily good -- self.
If you happen to be a fan of Jung (and you may well be if you're watching Caligula), you might already be seeing the telltale signs of a "Shadow" story. If you're not... well, you've found the right series to lay the concept out for you!
Carl Jung defined the human unconscious as a pastiche of universal Archetypes, which appear in all our myths and stories regardless of culture or time period . Explaining all of them would take longer than even the Go-Home Club has at this point, so we'll zoom in on the focus of Caligula, which also happens to be one of the most daunting Archetypes to deal with: our Shadow. The reason it's the most daunting to deal with? It is, by definition, what we hate.
Everyone has a Shadow, no matter how good or kind or self-aware they are. In fact, dealing with it may be even harder for the best and kindest among us. Because our Shadow is a collection of those darker elements of ourselves that we don't want to associate with. They're the thoughts, motivations, and aspects that we don't want as a part of ourselves, and thus try to hide or get rid of.
There's just one problem: you can't ever get rid of a Shadow, and trying to do so just makes things worse.
Now look at the world of Mobius: a world where everyone can be their best, happiest, most perfect self. A world where, for as long as μ is awake and well, everything is fine. You don't have to think about whatever negative part of yourself you left behind in the real world. You can be yourself but better. You can be a cute girl instead of an older man, or a ladies' man instead of an awkward nobody. And you never have to think of the side of yourself you're ashamed of.
In other words, you never have to confront your Shadow. And if we never confront our shadow, according to Jung, we never mature. Which might well explain why the players of Mobius are living an eternal high school life.
Growing up, becoming your best self, requires you to confront your Shadow. Not to destroy it, but to accept it. Think of the Go-Home Club's Catharsis Effects: shadowy extensions of themselves that are painful to summon, but powerful when accepted. And they come, at least for the most part, from remembering and acknowledging their respective pasts.
But what about the Ostinato Musicians, the most powerful people in all of Mobius? Well... they're not, are they? We learn that when μ is asleep and Mobius is left to its own devices, only those with their own strength can hold up. Anything constructed by μ will begin to wither; but anything geniune, from within oneself, will thrive. The Ostinato Musicians shoved aside their Shadows, looking for fulfillment in the world of Mobius. So when that fulfillment fails, they have nothing.
Caligula isn't particularly unique for using Shadows as a major plot point, but the way in which they evoke the idea does teach us -- both on the nose and under the radar -- a lot about the concept. You'll see it show up in everything from high fantasy to buddy cop films, but using it as a central mechanic for gameplay and worldbuilding tells a whole different story. It's a fresh approach to a basic underlying concept of both storytelling and psychology. And even if you don't realize you're taking it in, you are.
Of course, listening to Ritsu's rambles will clue you in to other concepts in psychology. But even he seems to be slightly unaware of just how deeply his own story is steeped in one of the more all-encompassing aspects. And while our own real-world dealings with our own Shadows don't come with pretty flowers and sick weapons, they are very real and very important.
What have you taken away from Caligula in your viewing? Tell your fellow Go-Home Club members in the comments!
Kara Dennison is responsible for multiple webcomics, and is half the creative team behind the OEL light novel series Owl's Flower. She blogs at karadennison.com and tweets @RubyCosmos. Her work can currently be read in Stranger Tales of the City from Obverse Books.