On balance, it would be pretty hard to find much to criticize in the first three episodes of Shin Sekai Yori, which really hasn’t put a foot wrong. Perhaps the most remarkable element is that the episodes have seemed to fly by at incredible speed – in each of the last two weeks I was surprised at how quickly the mid-point eyecatch popped up, only to realize that the entire episode was over. That can only be a good thing, and it’s indicative of just how wisely the show is parceling out the story – every episode is self-contained, but brimming with information that builds the larger structure of the series. And the atmosphere is so captivating that I find myself lost in the world from the start.
The format has been consistent for the first three episodes. We have a highly disturbing flashback scene drawn in stylized ukiyo-e which cryptically adds to the mythos to start the episode, and this time it’s an event 570 years into the future (ours, presumably). We don’t get much explanation for these scenes – this time we see a group of assassins infiltrating a palace (or shrine), one of whom comments that “Now there is hardly anyone with PK left.” Their leader claims “We can change the future!” and tells the others “Spare all but the Emperor of Merciful Light.” Their leader apparently slays the Emperor, as a beam of white light explodes from the wound to his heart, and the leader joins his comrades in death with a satisfied look on his face. Cut to 1000 years later, and the “present”.
What these scenes do in addition to hinting at the nature of the series’ reality is to frame the scenes involving the children in a different and more disturbing light. The children are people and in many ways, their behavior is quite normal – yet we can never escape the perception that their world is very wrong, a product of a strange and terrible era following the collapse of our world that can only have led to a strange and terrible world hidden beneath the veneer of utopia we see. It’s a credit to Shin Sekai Yori that the contrast between what seem superficially calm and serene moments and the profound foreboding they instill is so stark.
As usual, it’s Satoru spinning the big fish stories and Saki belittling him as a liar (if I did have a complaint so far, it’s her abusive behavior towards him, which feels too clichéd for this series). Yet here’s something I’ve noticed – almost every story Satoru has told, no matter how far-fetched, has turned out to be at least materially true. He makes a very interesting comment in reference to his strange story about “blowdogs” – if it were a lie, wouldn’t they have come up with a more believable one? That’s a profoundly important statement about the world these kids are living in, though I doubt Satoru realizes that. If anything, I suspect the reality is even more scary than the scary stories told to keep the children in-line.
Satoru’s story of the “Evil Minashiro” on Mount Tsukuba certainly proved true – the first part, that is. As the kids are enjoying a canoeing trip into the mountains, their natural curiosity takes over and they decide to go past their designated safe zone and try to verify the existence of blowdogs and false minashiros (despite the legend that anyone who sees one of the latter will die). I almost wonder if these sorts of unsupervised trips might in themselves be a way to filter out the undisciplined or rebellious kids, but be that as it may, the children eventually land on an island and discover a very, very old shrine – Shun suggests 2000 years or more – and there have an encounter with the false minashiro. This eventually leads to a plan to capture the minashiro, a sort of goat kami-like creature which seems to have the ability to hypnotize via it’s many glowing horns – an effect Saki is immune to as a result of her red sunglasses.
With the help of a couple of giant crabs the kid capture the creature – and eventually, force the truth out of it. The false minashiro is an artificial being, a reservoir of the amassed human knowledge that was lost during the decline of our civilization 980 petabytes of it in fact (Google processes about 1/40 that much daily) including information on the terrible events that led to the fall of civilization, which its captors are apparently not forbidden to see. Is it so far-fetched to think that anyone who saw that information would be eliminated, once the powers that be discovered the fact? Again, Satoru’s story seems very feasible. The other new nugget of information in the episode is that “hundreds of new species” spontaneously (or nearly) came into existence after the fall of man – prompting the theory that these new species (like the minoshiro) came into existence as a result of “evolution accelerated by the collective unconscious of human beings”.
Do I know how all that fits together? Hell no, not yet – and I don’t mind a bit, because I want to draw out the experience of learning about this captivating and sinister world for as long as possible. The advantages of a story developed in the long-form novel medium are really showing themselves here. Structurally speaking there are strong similarities to Seirei no Moribito, another novel adaptation that didn’t bother with anime convention when developing its story and characters and building its world. As the fault lines between the kids are showing the character side of the series is really picking up steam as well, offering hints of what awaits after the first time skip. I’m intensely curious about where things will go from here but in no hurry to find out, because I’m enjoying the journey so much. That’s a rare achievement for any series and among the highest praise I can give.