ESP (short for Extra Sensory Perception or Extrasensory Perception, depending upon the spelling) is the as-yet-to-be-explained phenomenon found in a select number of people in the world that gives them abilities to affect the world around them by means of the mind alone. It is considered a supernatural force that serves an important role in all incarnations of Akira, both the manga and the anime.
At some point during the mid to late-Twentieth Century, the military instigated a secret project where they performed what would've been regarded as unethical experiments on individuals who possessed ESP. Most of said individuals who were subjected to such experiments were orphaned children who were taken in as wards of the state. These child test subjects would later become called the "Espers" ("Numbers" in Japan).
Eventually, the military discovered a person who possessed a high level of ESP and tried to control him, but the person grew too powerful to be contained and unleashed a psychic explosion that obliterated the original Tokyo. But even this didn't stop the government from experimenting on ESPers, as thirty years later after the explosion, they later experimented on a youth who was a member of a teenage street gang, the Capsules.
Theoretically, ESP is believed to be possessed by all humans, albeit in a dormant state. In the anime, the Espers frequently refer to it as "the power" and believe that everyone will awaken to this power, eventually. It is implied in both the manga and anime that ESP is achieved through natural evolution, though the exact process is currently unknown. Those who took part in the goverment's project tried to exploit ESP for their own ends by accelerating human evolution through science, with disastrous results. The dangers of doing such a thing is explained by Kei, who compares giving the power of God to a human to giving an amoeba the power of humans.
Due to Akira's destruction of the original Tokyo, the government created drugs that suppress ESP to controllable levels to prevent future catastrophes. In the manga, these drugs also awaken ESP in those who take them, though they mostly cause fatal overdoses. As shown in the case of Tetsuo and Takashi, going a certain amount of time without consumption of these drugs will induce agonizing withdrawal symptoms and result in their ESP abilities going out of control.
It would seem that the level of ESP varies between individuals; the stronger the person, the greater their feats of ESP are if not the best.
List of abilities attributed to ESP
- Telepathy: Certain ESPers can use this ability to read the minds of other people and even communicate telepathically.
- Mind Link: ESPers who possess telepathy are able to connect their minds with other minds, allowing them to share thoughts, feelings and memories. These people tend to have a deeper understanding of those they are linked to than anyone else.
- Mind Control: Some with telepathy can take it further by forcing their will onto others, effectively taking control over them, depriving them of their free will, making them think or do whatever the telepath desires.
- Empathy: Not often utilized as a power, this ability is interpreted as the power to understand others by their emotional states.
- Telekinesis: Sometimes, referred to as psychokinesis. ESPers with this ability can move objects, even people, through the mind alone, regardless of weight.
- Levitation: Advanced ESPers can use their telekinetic powers to levitate themselves off the ground and fly.
- Precognition: The ability to perceive future events before they occur. This often includes visions of death and destruction, events that can be as soon as the next day or as far as years ahead in the future. Sometimes called premonition.
- Retrocognition: The ability to perceive past events.
- Pyrokinesis: The ability to create and control fire by thought alone. Sometimes, people with this ability are called firestarters or pyrokinetics.
- Hydrokinesis: The ability to manipulate water in its three phases (gaseous, solid, liquid) through telekinesis.
- Geokinesis: The ability to manipulate stones and rocks through telekinesis.
- Teleportation: ESPers with this ability can instantly move themselves from one place to another, removing the traditional method of physical travel. It is noted by Colonel Shikishima to be an extremely rare ability that only a few ESPers have access to.
- Mediumship: The ability to channel spirits through one's body. Although mediums do not have powers of their own, they can use the existing powers of those who possess them.
- Clairvoyance: The ability to psychically gain direct visual information that is outside the use of sight and hearing. All ESPers are able to sense the presence of other psychics, regardless of their location or power level. This may be a sub skill of precognition.
- Psychometry: The ability to obtain information from objects belonging to someone else.
- People have been studying ESP for many years, and so have the government powers in existence.
- ESP has been attributed to the limited access of the brain's potential.