Shin Sekai Yori – 02

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Not wanting to bathe in false modesty, I’ll just say right out that my track record for picking out the best shows of the upcoming season is looking pretty decent lately.

I can’t pay this episode a higher compliment that this: I was completely immersed in it from start to finish, and despite the fact that there was relatively little action, the episode really did feel about five minutes long, cliché though that is to say.  When the title card came up before the ED (which I love BTW) I thought “Wow – is it half-over already?”  Nope – forget half, that was 22 minutes, Mate.  That’s good anime that can do that, and especially considering my mind is a whirl of excitement and anxiety, I was completing lost in this world for the entire episode.

We still don’t have enough information to piece everything together, but the world-building has been terrific so far – the atmosphere feels incredibly real to me.  We have another creepy and cryptic pre-open, this time a deification ceremony for the new “Emperor of Delight” (I sense that this is his personal title, rather than that of his office) who hovers above the crown and declares “The first hundred people who stop clapping will be the chosen sacrifices” – at which point those people are consumed in blue flame.  A metaphor for the maniacal ego of our leaders and celebrities?  In any case, I suspect this scene is some sort of bridge between our current day and the time frame in which Shin Sekai Yori is set – perhaps the beginning of the rule of humans with “cantus:” over the muggle masses (though Delight is referred to as the fifth Emperor).

If we’re going to throw “Potter” terms around we got a look at the Sage Academy version of Quidditch – a game where the children use their powers to try and roll a huge boulder across a course, while the opposing team tries to stop them.  The game is interesting in itself, but more interesting is the sense that there’s so much more at stake here than just winning (as is true of much in this world) and the contrast it provides between the children.  Shun again proves himself not just powerful, but clever – he finds a workaround in the rules, technically legal but deceptive.  By contrast his opponent Manabu not only cheats outright, but breaks the “Code of Virtue” – which seems to be the ultimate taboo – by directly opposing Shun’s cantus with his own (this can apparently warp time).  The teacher seemingly overlooks this, declaring the game a draw – but later, Manabu disappears just like poor Amano Reiko (Hochan, nooooooooooo!) did last week.

I couldn’t help but reflect back to the scary tale Shun told at the beginning of the episode, of the boy who turned into a “karma demon” because of his arrogance and refusal to listen to the grown-ups.  It could certainly refer to Manabu, but at the time I thought it might refer to Shun himself – who, despite his serene competence and kindness, strikes me as a suspicious little boy.  There’s something deeper going on with him, and while he may not be evil himself, I think he’s connected to the evil that lurks just below the surface here in some profound way.  We see another glimpse of this in the encounter the children have with the “Queerats” – a sort of sub-human (or mutated human) species the locals seem to use as slaves.  They worship adults with cantus, but they’re kept hidden from children because no one knows how they’ll react to humans without cantus (no, nothing dark or ugly there).  It’s Saki who feels pity for one of them that’s fallen into a crude fishing net, and uses her cantus to save it over the objections of the others.  They pledge to keep it a secret, but there’s surely trouble brewing here.

I don’t want to paint Shin Sekai Yori as perfect, because there are a few rough spots.  I’m not crazy about the interplay between Saki and Satoru, which basically consists of his being a smartass and her beating on him – it’s pretty silly for a series that otherwise has a lot of gravity to it (pun intended).  I wouldn’t say we’ve had great development with any of the five leads yet, but I’m fine with that because this is a two-cour show and it seems clear that the story is built around the mythology first, with the characters following.  And I do care about what happens to them, especially given the menace lurking everywhere.  Saki’s final words of the episode are foreboding indeed – she speaks of the girl named Maria born two weeks before she was, and how “countless deaths” could have been avoided if Maria had never been born.  This world seems to have been born under a bad sign itself, and I think we’ve only scratched the surface of the tragedy and terror that it has to offer.

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  1. e

    Considering your situation atm you have earned some extra slack on the ego stroking. It's good for the morale. *strokes strokes strokes until it shines XD*

    I don't really think Shun is evil, but I'm definitely having a feeling he knows a lot more than he lets out. And that his words to Saki when he saved the queerat could also been seen as a cautious probing&approval of her attitude. Speculah: he has smelled the fishy and he's looking for allies.

  2. A

    Sounds like ego's not the only thing you're stroking.

    Nice work on all the reviews Enzo. Must be hard.

  3. e

    @Anon: LOL. Believe me, if it was intentional I would have phrased it differently and with some more panache. Even a groupie has standards :p .

  4. e

    P.S.: I might be misreading your phrasing, but the 'Maria' Saki mentions at the very end is the redhead, not just 'a girl' :).
    Anyway, ominous lines are ominous. Next episode where? *ç*

  5. Yes, that was awkwardly phrased on my part. Changed it.

  6. D

    I agree that this Shin Sekai Yori is a keeper. So far I liked this show, Code:Breaker (it's a classic Shounen show AND it looked like it's from 90s and YET somehow managed to sell it to me. It's an achievement), and maybe Sukitte Ii na yo.

    So-so/wait-and-see: Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, BTOOOM!, Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! and Zetsuen no Tempest. I didn't get Little Busters! at all nor on its hype (I had an impression that it was a magic/fantasy show, but turned out to be a school teen show), but it wasn't god-awful like K, so I will it give a few more weeks.

    Forgettable/hated: 2 harem ecchi shows and the god-awful K.

    There are still 3 more shows I haven't watched like Jormungand 2, ROBOTICS;NOTES, and PSYCHO-PASS.

  7. A

    So a childhood friend disappears followed by a bully and you just forget about them? Yup, I'm shivering under the bed covers :S

  8. D

    That's because the world's changed in their time. And so did their culture. If you ask me, it really seemed like children disappearing is not that uncommon there. And I think they don't just forget because they don't care. I think something there makes them forget things faster or something. And the adults definitely know these things kept secret from the children.
    These are all just speculations though…

  9. K

    This show gives me similar vibes to Another. There's nothing overtly frightening, but the uncanny sense of foreboding really sets the atmosphere. You can't help but feel something bad is going to happen every-time a character does something. This is even more pronounced since the character designs are in direct contrast to the theme and atmosphere of the show.

    It's really unsettling how the adults just seem to mark of the kids who disappeared, while the kids themselves are completely oblivious to it (and don't give it a second thought).

    I was on the fence after the first episode, but ep2 is really drawing me in. With the promise of 2 cours, I'm definitely looking forward to this.

  10. R

    I think the teacher definitively didn't overlook Manabu's action. He knew exactly what happened but painted it as an accident. That's what they want the children to think. That the rules were not broken. It says a lot about how that society works.

    Going back to Saki's feeling that the school felt like a farm. I wonder if the game was designed to entice that course of action from students with "bad karma". I wonder if the whole education system works as a filter of people "born bad", just think about it: In a world where anyone could behead anyone with their thoughts, how can people coexist? What kind of society would that be? How would you deal with bad people?

  11. B

    Really digging this show so far but I did find it odd how none of the characters even passingly mention one of their friends disappearing. Whether this is bad writing having the characters get over it shockingly fast or a subtle hint that this kind of thing happens all the time and they are used to it remains to be seen.

  12. I see indications both that children disappear fairly often, and that the remaining children sometimes have trouble with their memories. I don't think it's a coincidence.

  13. A

    judging from the PV and spoilers that I will not mention there will be more Saki and Satoru "interaction" later on….

  14. K

    Have you try to dissect the ED? It was credited to one person only for the animation, specifically Yamashita Shingo ( which is pretty crazy … (then again K only had 6 gengashi for episode 1, but GoHand is very special studio considering how it was found). Anyway sakuga aside, I thought the entire sequence was very stylish and heart-wrenching, which should be apparent even to the people who does not understand the story told.

    As expected of "impossible to animate", they are axing a lot of details from the novel. The dictionary helped somewhat, but I ended up digging a lot of extra info myself because the director said in one of the interview (sorry can't pinpoint which one) that reading the novel first is probably a good idea.

    This is a primarily science fiction/thriller first and foremost (obviously there are quite few sexual/philosophical discussions along the way), I hope people don't get disappointed if they approached this as horror/mystery.

    Maa … everything should be cleared up soon.

  15. e

    @Kunagisa: I love the ED sequence as well. And while this time I've preferred not to spoil myself on the novel source beyond the little ANN spotlight blurb, it does seems like the ED is full of both visual and textual clues. It's a neat package really.
    I've taken note of a few details from it already (the rows of [paper?] lanterns, the bridge, the water and the ferryman&boat for instance: the idea of crossing – rites of passage, trespassing, literal and/or figurative death, a perilous voyage of discovery – ; the white [Noh?] mask resembling the one in episode #1 we see overlap with Shun's face in a scene cut, the ED's lyrics themselves) but I'm waiting a few more episodes for those clues to 'gel' in a more specific manner.

  16. H

    Yeah, this society apparently aggressively culls out all sorts: the powerless who cannot develop a Cantus; the weak who cannot make an adult cantus; the twisted who cannot abide by the rules of the society. The question I'm left with regarding the culls is how they are dealt with? We hear that there were many more children in the Harmony School, but none of them will graduate to Sage Academy. We know that apparently fine children disappear from Sage Academy as well (Reiko, and Saki's parents are certainly still worried about Saki). And we know now that those who break the serious rules are not given the opportunity to rehabilitate within the society. So where do all these children go? Apparently they have a stable society, but it seems like a very difficult way to go, with such aggressive reduction of the population. It's no wonder they have to turn to other sentient beings for physical laborers.

    For the open this week, my take on it was that it was not the beginning of the rule of those with telekinetic powers, but it was showing the complete contempt that ruling 'class' had for all the others. The capricious murdering of subjects who don't clap enough. And set halfway between the first cold open (1000 years before the story) and the 'current time' of the show, to me I think it's showing that there's soon to be a spark of revolution, given that the current society is at least a couple of centuries old (for instance the 180 year old parable from this episode). But I love the amount of information they're putting out, and the way they're doing it.

    The show's just great all the way through.

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