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 Colony. War 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.