Shin Sekai Yori – 05

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If I had to write a one-word of that episode, for me it would be pretty easy: “Intense”.

The first thing you may have noticed about this episode was the rather significant visual shift that took place.  This was due to the presence of episode director Yamauchi Shigeasu, a very big industry name with a very particular visual style.  In fact I found myself thinking that a time-skip had taken place (even from the preview last week) and then wondering why events seemed to have picked up where last week’s ep left off.  It soon enough became clear that it was simply a matter of Yamauchi’s jerky, close-up driven signature look and some pretty fundamental changes to the character designs, especially Satoru’s – more angles, and generally more mature faces with a certain lack of baby fat.

Whatever you may think of the look Yamauchi-san brings to a show (I find it interesting but ultimately a bit too radical for this series) I think it can be argued that a change in visual style dramatic enough to cause confusion is a questionable choice.  That aside, the episode was a cracker – nerve-wracking, violent and sometimes shocking.  One thing that really did work for me visually was the darkness of the episode – matching what was happening on-screen both symbolically and literally.  Some of what we learned last week was brought to life with real immediacy, and some interesting questions of free will were added to the already fascinating intellectual stew going on.

With Rijin the Monk apparently dead thanks to exploding blowdogs – one thing that’s very clear is that evolution is spiraling madly out of control in this world and I’m convinced there’s a reason why that we haven’t heard yet – the kids are on their own, facing the hostile tribe of Queerats.  Shun and Satoru exert the most influence here, with Satoru (who seemed more confident and cleverer generally, to match his new look) sagely arguing that the children should hide the fact that they’ve lost their cantus.  When the queerats again Shun orders the group to split up, leaving Satoru and Saki paired up after he comes to her air after a fall.  After a brief chase they’re captured by the queerats, who for whatever reason are hesitant to kill them, but not to rough them up a little as they take them to their nest.

What happens next is sure to be pretty controversial, both because it features a fumbling sex scene – the foreplay anyway – between 12 year-olds, and because it’s so jarring in terms of the series itself.  For me, though, not only was it tastefully handled by Yamauchi – just intense enough without being graphic – but it made sense given what we were told last week.  Put two genetically-engineered humans – even (just barely) preteen ones – together with no other humans around and put them under extreme stress, and the bonobo hormone kicks in.  In fact the way the scene came about, with the two of them forcefully drawn to each other despite their innocence of sex and the danger they were in, was very natural and believable. 

But I think what didn’t happen is equally important as what almost did.  The fact that Saki felt the urge as strongly as she did and managed to remember the library’s words and stop herself seems to imply that it’s still possible for these humans to overcome their programming.  In this instance it may seem like a good thing (though perhaps not to poor frustrated Satoru) but given what we know about what the human race has done over the last thousand years and are still capable of, perhaps it’s not such a good thing after all.  A race built on murder and enslavement, now quite possibly caged to prevent them from destroying what’s left of the rest of humanity, might not be the first group you’d want to see regain their free will.  As always free will is both a blessing and a curse, and my sense after this ep is that’s going to be one of the significant themes going forward.

Also obviously significant is the war between the domesticated Robber Fly tribe of Queerats and the warlike Ground Spider Clan, the ones who attacked the children and the Priest.  I’m convinced as I can be that these are directly connected to the human race, though whether it’s simply a matter of that hyperspeed evolution or some kind of mass hypnosis is involved I can’t really say.  It seems very clear that hypnosis is a large part of the society where these children come from and the struggle to maintain order in it – in fact it seems likely that Rijin did nothing more than hypnotize the kids into thinking their powers were gone.  But for all the queerats to be actual humans who appear deformed to the children only for this reason now seems unlikely, especially after the episode where Squealer, the savior of Saki and Satroru, “introduced” them to the revolting Queen of the Robber Fly ColonyWar between queerat tribes with humans involved is obviously a new factor here, possibly indicating a larger change taking place in the larger world.  More and more, the society at the center of the first three episodes seems to be built on sand.

I’ll be very interested to see where Shin Sekai Yori goes next week, both in terms of visual style and story.  There are so many avenues that seem worth pursuing now that anything is possible.  It’s very rare for a series to connect with me on both an emotional and intellectual lever as completely as this one does – it’s endlessly fascinating and absolutely riveting at the same time.  I’m more willing to forgive a little too much experimentation from a show like that (especially when it’s the work of a talented director) because only the society at its center, the series itself has built a rock-solid foundation.  This one is truly special.

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  1. A

    This is the best storyline I have come across in a long time… tbh part of me wishes it could be turned into a 48-52 ep series (err … assuming they could keep up what they have thus far through the first 5 eps). I have a feeling they could do a lot in terms of character development and world building. Really excellent.

    For me thus far this season this, Chuunibyou and Sukitte Iinayo are in the "A List" for me series wise. 🙂

    – Flower

  2. A

    it kind of surprises me that everyone thought that there would be a time skip this week just because of the shift in art style; i guess people thought is was that radical a shift. Regardless its great to see just how resourceful these kids are when it comes to surviving; i was very impressed with the fact that saki and satoru held their own for so long without their powers.

  3. T

    I thought it was a time skip because although the new character designs look really cool they no longer look 12. The (almost) sex scene lost a little of its punch because the new designs made me forget they were 12. Other than that confusion this episode was great. The wait on this show is almost brutal at times.

  4. S

    Why the sudden drastic visual change and director though? And will this style continue consistently for the remaining episodes? Personally I think I prefer the old style but I could potentially get used to this if it stayed that way. I was also pretty confused over Satoru's personality shit, way too different especially with how he normally interacts with Saki in general (even taking into account the Bonobo programing) There were also a few strange moments/expressions like Saki's face at not being able to run

    Overall I still really love this show. Plus I agree the fumbling sexual scene was done well, I especially like the BGM too. The new style really makes me wince though :/

  5. A

    weird unneccesary movement, out of place expressions, too many close ups- the directing this episode was rather annoying. sometimes it was hard to figure out what exactly is happening. the pacing of certain scenes and moments were a bit weird too.
    the material presented in this episode were great as always, but that director…seriously.

  6. J

    I'm with you on that. Seriously, who thought this was going to be a good idea? I was super excited to see this episode – imagine the delight turning into frustration as I realized what was going on. I don't know the industry animators' names, but this was all too familiar with TTGL's episode 4 – around the same number as in SSY, actually.

    Maybe it's a planned thing? Get your audience excited with the first episodes, then deliver a craptastic follow-up, lower their expectations to again amaze them with what's to come? If that's the case, then bravo, it worked for me. You couldn't understand even the simplest stuff at times, like where they were, or just what happened. Episode felt slow, confusing and downright frustrating. The only thing that was the same thing as every week were the VAs – even the script didn't match in quality.

    Horrible, horrible God, why. Maybe they wanted to save some budget…Whatever the case, luckily we are returning to the usual animation next week, judging from the preview. I'll pretend SSY's episode 5 never happened.

    PS: Also, your mind is still healing after all those mind-breaking revelations, you see countless beasts be slaughtered, an actual human die in front of you for the first time, and you don't know the whereabouts of yours friends…And you go for some sex? Uh, no. Unless they were programmed to do so almost as mechanical thing, which would be stretching it too much and also poorly showcased here if so, IMO, is just not believable.

  7. J

    Animation sloppiness also looked like Dantalian no Shoka's episode in which the heroes went inside a book. In that case, though, the use of a radical change in animation was understandable: they're in a parallel worlds of sorts, in a different time and age, so it makes sense the shift in style. It also looked prettier in comparison to this piece of work; at least Dantalian no Shoka's episode had some filters and shiny effects that made up for the lack of frames per second.

    lol, I just can't get over how butthurt I am after watching this.

  8. j

    I found the "sex" scene less believable and more forced. His actions seemed more by conditioning than hers. Wasn’t Saki the last one to go on the the next stage of conditioning (education)? Not to make excuses, but his reaction to the situation was probably more ingrained than hers? And her choice to stop overcame what little brainwashing she had? IDK, regardless it was all very awkward.

    To me, it seems like these blowdogs and queerats have been bred or engineerd to be a direct threat to anyone that uses cantus. The world has evolved to counter the TK threat.

  9. s

    I hate the new art style and the animation looks sloppy this week. Why on earth would they change the director? Anyways, I was pretty much lost throughout the episode, but I'll just let the show take me where it wants to go.

  10. A

    I don't understand the decision to change the art style so noticeably and arbitrarily. Whatever effect this was supposed to have was completely lost on me. This kind of stuff should be reserved for flashbacks, where it makes more sense. Maria's appearance looked so off to me, and the animation overall was of mediocre quality. Very stiff, slow movements (like Satoru and Saki falling), lots of strange expressions, poor lip-syncing, and the number of closeups just seemed lazy to me.

    I was very disappointed in this episode. Especially when the last four totally hooked me, the production of this ep as well as the shift in story really interrupted the flow and turned me off. I am far less interested in whatever modern day drama is going on between the bakenezumi than the kids' society and THEIR past/customs/relationships; hopefully there is some meaningful intersection soon.

  11. B

    As much as the art threw me off I'm actually glad it happened because while we were like wtf so were the characters as they ran for the lives in this world they didn't know. Also they had a great use of purple and red throughout the episode which really made the world feel alien. Just be thankful there wasn't a lot of talking because the visuals were distracting more than ever and reading subtitles would of been hard because of the art confusion. Next week everything will be back to normal again I'm sure.

  12. i

    This. I thought the art style matched the intensity and craziness of the episode. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am surprised by all the hate. If it was on a previous episode it might not have worked but i thought it was great!

  13. This is not a "change in director" – shows use different episode directors all the time. It just so happens this one is rather idiosyncratic.

    This looks a lot like the reaction to the TTGL ep directed by Kobayashi Osamu (who also did the bookworm ep of Dantalian) and some of the style shifts in Noein. Viewers tend to like consistency over radical change. As I said in the post I think the change was probably too extreme, but for a show anchored with a strong plot and characters like this one I'm OK with some experimentation.

    I wouldn't assume this is going to be a permanent change – they'll probably keep rotating episode directors, with Yamato Naomichi likely doing the lion's share of the job.

  14. J

    Well, why is everyone so freaking out over little face change? They go back to the usual kiddie faces next week again as indicated by next week's preview. GO BACK and re-watch the preview for cryin' out loud!

    I like these more realistic faces than the kiddie moe faces -although realistic in human anatomical sense, not realistic in age appropriate sense since the new faces are a bit too old and aged for a bunch of 12 year old puny earthlings… then again, did you all know that girls and boys hit poverty starting at 10 these days!! That's right, girls with boobies at 10. Mighty disturbing thoughts (you're welcome). So on that note, maybe in this 1000 years in the future, these 16 year-old looking faces are totally passable as 12 year olds.

    I hope they stay in this designs, if anything just to give a fat middle finger to people who are freaking out and being generally annoying over this, but… we all know it won't happen as evident in the next week's preview. Damn it.

  15. B

    This was a good episode of a so far fantastic show but I'm starting to feel like the world they are building is too big lol. We just got a massive info dump last week and already I feel like I need another one so I can understand what the hell is happening.

  16. l

    Solid episode. Out of all the shows which started this season, this show continues to be my main focus.

  17. G

    Great episode and things are getting very interesting. I think the queerats probably evolved from humans, which is both fascinating and totally creepy. Maybe like the PKs, those humans have also gone through some kind of genetic programming, that would explain how much they have deviated from the original human race. But damn, that was one creepy episode. I haven't see an anime this original in a long time. I can't say I'm a big fan of the animation in this episode though, faces look distorted and the drawings are too simplified in some scenes.

  18. H

    Dear Enzo, I have gained another level of my respect for you, prompting me to comment. Here, please take my sincere bow m(_ _)m.

    I find your analysis consistently great as always, but this post really got me. I have seen many comments and posts about how this episode's animation had gone down the drain and inconsistent with the first four eps, having scoured the English and Chinese side of things, but you are the only person I have seen to know the reason to that. I find it rather amazing that you have such deep knowledge of the anime you watch. Understanding your anime is one thing, but by putting it in context for us humble readers is the reason why your posts are a work of art in themselves. How do you know these things anyway?

    I love how you always rationally argue out your points, instead of just going for superficial touchy-feely, though you have such great sense for anime as well. I guess the amalgamation is what makes reading your posts so satisfying. Here is another bow for that m(_ _)m

    So thank you, Enzo, for your grade A analysis and grade S posts.

  19. Well, I appreciate that HoB – and I certainly thank you for commenting. But it's not as if I had to do painstaking research or anything – the information has been public knowledge for a while. Maybe there's a general tendency to underestimate the importance staff (especially directors) have on an anime, I don't know.

  20. a

    I think the visuals served the content of the episode really well. Quite creepy. If this show wants to be profound I think taking more visual liberties like this is just the way to go.

    Can't imagine that sexual exchange being handed quite as well in the normal directing style.

  21. e

    Oh, wow. Seems like this episode visuals left a lot of people unsatisfied. I wasn't really expecting this kind of reaction honestly.
    2 main reasons: 1)I thought it suited the episode and 2) I'm well used to art shifts according to directors and/or chief animators for single episodes – if anything because some of my favourite anime feature this element quite prominently: the already mentioned Noein, Sailor Moon (to the point I could recognize and pinpoint at first glance which team was working on it and had my favourites also as a clue on how important that episode was likely to be. This at 13 yo mind you, with basically zero technical knowledge on animation and minimal info on staff ) and Rose of Versailles : when they switched to Dezaki Osamu the whole mood and the feel of characters shifted to the next level, and so did the chara design – .
    On reason 1):
    there is one aestetic bias too admittedly as I like my characters better when they have some actual nose and lips. I don't dislike the 'regular' SSY design, but this episode was an improvement for me.
    On a more 'objective' side, it matched the confusion and both emotional and personal growth of the characters. When it's confusing it's because is meant to be. I think we were supposed to feel as disoriented as the characters were, being thrown in a dangerous unexpected situation with an unknown outcome, emotions spiking. Ditto on the expressionist colour palette.
    The amount of close-ups also was especially effective. It was really as if you were inside the characters, seeing through their eyes or at most distant from a over-the-shoulder camera lens. The extreme intimate close-ups of Saki and Shun embracing as they run and fell were already preparing us for the tree scene imho for instance no less than the minoshiro's revelations had. <— even if my ShunxSaki inner shipper was squirming a bit :p.

    In terms of th other character's interaction I like how they managed to show Mamoru stepping up to protect (<— well, nomen omen I guess? ) Maria in his own way with those little gestures when she's afraid, hesitant or in danger. In this episode when he took her wrist to lead her away, but also earlier at the entrance of the minoshiro cave, she stopped out of fear and he immediately and quietly took her place.
    I really wonder how Shun and these two are faring.

  22. a

    You seen Utena? Sounds like your cup of tea.

  23. e

    I've red Utena :p and I have a love-hate relationship with Ikuhara Kunihiko honestly. Ironically enough, one the Sailor Moon season he directed (season #3) was arguably the best – and by far my favourite – in the franchise, some key episodes are really outstanding even without nostalgia goggles.
    Thanks for the suggestion anyway.

  24. D

    I gathered you had. You obviously aren't a fan of his deliciously creative (or crazy) film then? Won't ask about MPD… doesn't seem popular around these parts.

  25. D

    Oh yeah I watched sailor Moon S and agree that some of those episode stood above the rest. It was let down in the end since they had too tight a leash on Ikuhara. The ending sucked!

  26. e

    @Derek: ahah, you're correct, I'm not. When it comes to creative and trippy I'm more at ease with Yuuasa's anime series for instance (especially Kemonozume and Kaiba. Tatamy Galaxy was relatively accessible compared to the former two), or with titles like 1001 Nights and even Kanashimi no Belladonna XD.
    About the S season… I liked the 'actual' ending actually – the battle against the Big Seasonal Bad was a battle of ideas between the Inners and Outers as much as it was against the alien enemy boss du-jour and it had the whole father&daughter angle at play with Saturn too. It managed to both tug at the heartstrings and engage me intellectually back then -, what I didn't like was the 1-episode aftermath, it felt superfluous and even a step backwards/reset for some of the characters. People who are dissatisfied with the SSY art&character shift would have recoiled at that shift, it was even more radical in said aftermath episode.
    Ikuhara managed to retain and enhance some of the darkness of the S season – already quite bleak in its manga form -. On a more fundamental level what I missed compared to the manga source was… Mamoru actually taking part in the fight and developing his own powers and his own crystal instead of being the rose&haiku-on-lamp-post tuxie boy XD. On top of this Ikuhara didn't like him it seems and he ended up being too much of a token male in the anime for my taste, wherein the manga series tried to at least contain and occasionally level the gender imbalance ^^".
    'The ending sucked!' In case you were referring to the Stars anime series ending instead of the S season one: yep, in this case I quite agree with you. Ikuhara had long left the production at that point though.

  27. D

    I'm also a fan of Yuuasa's work (haven't gotten through kemonozume) liked Kaiba a lot. Belladonna is…drool…fantastic caught that back in February. Hope to grab it in R2 sometime.

    I read the Sailor Moon S manga counterpart first since I was curious about the outer senshi. Neptune is probably my favorite character. Anyway, I think I preferred the manga to the anime towards the climax becuase they really trivialised Saturns appearance and you don't get as clear an idea of what's going down. Also too many final bosses as always. I enjoyed the quirky and silly episodes leading up to it – especially the one when chibi-moon turns up.

  28. MPD was my #8 series of 2011, in fact. It seems there's a perception that any criticism of a series is tantamount to a blanket condemnation…

  29. D

    Oh wow, a wild Enzo appears! Relax. My comment on MPD's population referred more to the general perception left in the comments section, not your overall impression.

  30. And mine less about your comment and more to the general tone of the comments at the time – that seemed to indicate that I was down on the series, despite what I felt were generally positive posts.

  31. e

    @Derek: no kidding about Neptune. I had a huge girl-crush on her to boot. I'd still go bi for her actually, ahah.
    Belladonna has beautiful art, some of its scenes made me squeamish but the hand-drawn animation and colouring themselves were great.
    Also.. your wild Enzo is giving me some funny mental images.
    *sorry Enzo :,). But I can reassure you on one detail: no glitter*

    @Enzo: in the sense you intended it and talking also from forum mod&rec experience it's a pretty common phenomenon regardless of website and country. It can be a hassle sometimes but it is what it is in the social media age I'm afraid.

  32. w

    Idk if somebody has thought of it, but I think they made the children look.older for that scene. Their slightly mature appearance was meant to make that scene less disturbing; I think—considering their ages and their original child appearance.

    Intense ep indeed. I love this show. I wish I can read the novel someday. It won an SF award or something, so I'm curious about the literary style…

  33. e

    It was part of my 'style matching content' perception of the episode as well. You're not alone.

    I really wish to be able to read the novel as well ^^.

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