Shin Sekai Yori – 12

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This train has been bearing down on us for weeks now, but there’s just no stopping it.

In terms of pure emotional impact, Shin Sekai Yori is a show with few equals.  In a word, it’s ruthless – no measures are taken to soften the impact events have on the viewer.  We’re seeing these children in all their most vulnerable and sympathetic, and then being forced to watch their world crumble around them.  And what a world it is, too – I think the most interesting question emerging as the series reaches the half-way point is whether this society is worth saving at all, considering the price it’s paying to try and limp on into the future.

There have been several episodes already that I would rank among the finest of any series this year, and this one definitely falls into that category.  It was magnificent – full of beautiful and disturbing imagery, Komori Shigeo’s haunting soundtrack, and a powerful sense of tragedy.  It was scary, it was sad, it was moving, and it all made perfect sense from a dramatic standpoint.  As I’ve said before, what makes SSY so special is that achieves the rare feat of engaging both intellectually and emotionally at a very high level.  It also manages the dicey topic of exposition better than any series I can remember, managing to weave large downloads of information into the plot in a way that never feels forced, and at just the right intervals to keep the audience engaged without spoiling the sense of mystery that’s vital to the show’s success.

The first development of the episode was perhaps the least unexpected – the head of the Ethics Committee and Satoru’s Grandmother, Asahina Tomiko, does indeed have in mind for Saki to succeed her.  In fact, it was this that caused the group to be spared after their breach of the ethics code, not Shun’s potential as a cantus user or Satoru’s family connections.  Saki possesses not an extraordinary cantus ability, but an inner strength – an ability to see horror and not be broken by it.  That would seem to be a most precious talent indeed in this horrible world, but what a curse to be born with it if it means shouldering the responsibility for perpetuating this society at any cost.  Tomiko comes across as resigned, more than anything – not immune to the horrors she’s seen and the atrocities she’s ordered, but determined to do whatever it takes to prevent even worse things from happening. 

What she explains to Saki is fascinating and terrible.  It’s an interesting consideration that in neutering the ability of humans to use violence against each other, the leaders of this society affected a kind of unilateral disarmament – and when something like a fiend appears, the meaning of the “Fox in the Henhouse” label for Raman-Klogius Syndrome becomes apparent.  30 fiends in recorded history, 28 of them boys (make of that what you will) – with only theories as to why they turn into terrifying killing machines (“Boy A” appears to fall much closer to this category than anything else).  Then there’s Hashimoto-Appelbaum Syndrome, which claimed Shun – and Tomiko reveals that it tends to afflict the kindest and gentlest souls among the population.  Unlike fiends, karma demons have no control over what they do – their cantus leaks out of their subconscious on its own volition, turning the poor soul into a killer of a very different kind.  This, surely, is an even more tragic situation in many ways.

These truths are all among what Tomiko – and now Saki – must live with, as is the fact that after the fiend incident with “Boy K”, the age at which human rights are granted under the ethics code was raised from 22 weeks to 17 years.  This is an absurd, astonishing and utterly shocking statement – but it’s raised quite matter-of-factly by Tomiko and makes perfect sense in the context of the series.  The more of this new world I see, the less I believe in my heart it’s worth saving – but what is the alternative?  That’s the real tragedy here – I don’t think there are any good answers, or any paths that don’t lead to more pain and more atrocities.  Saki pleads to have her memories restored (those pleas are denied, at least until she succeeds Tomiko) but I’m not at all sure she’d be better off.

As soon as I saw the episode title “The Weakest Link” I assumed it would refer to Mamoru, and indeed that’s the case.  The reason Saki’s memories can’t be returned is not that she can’t handle them – it’s her strength and her curse that she can – but that those around her could not.  In despair over the events surrounding the others’ desire to seek the truth about Shun and his own failure at an assignment (the subs disagree about whether Maria made a joke at his expense or not, apparently) Mamoru has now disappeared, leaving what sounds like a suicide note, driven to who knows what course of action.  Things truly are going from bad to worse, and there seems no turning back.

The lessons we’re taught in life are that we should search for solutions, sensible paths that benefit everyone concerned.  As a result, we tend to look for them in our fiction – in our anime no less than anywhere else – but I think our conditioning leads us astray with Shin Sekai Yori.  There are no solutions to the questions this series asks us – only compromises of an ever-increasingly vile and unpleasant nature.  Unless I miss my guess this series isn’t a conventional drama about obstacles and overcoming them; it’s a diary telling the story of a dying society, from the perspective of someone who already knows how it ends.  What message it seeks to impart about the world we leave in is a matter of debate, but the emotional impact of the story is hard to deny.  As painful as it is to watch, this is a great series.

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  1. L

    I'm starting to regret picking up this show. Not because it's bad. It's great. Best show of the season, imho.

    But it's just way too brutal for me. Worst thing is (I haven't read the source material, btw), there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for these poor kids.

    I guess it's just to do with the expectations before it started. I was sort of expecting something like Dennou Coil, but ended up getting the full-on Mayan Calendar instead.

    Now I shall sit in a corner and cower till the next episode.

  2. A

    "Maria casually joked about a cat being sent for him after he failed the master an assignment"

    Watch a better fansub. This is a mistranslation. It was Mamoru himself who made that joke, to cover up his fear in front of Maria.

  3. UTW got that wrong? Interesting, if confirmed.

  4. A

    It is a mistranslation. It was Mamoru who said that, he tried to make it seem like a joke but Maria could see that he was seriously afraid.


  5. A

    By the way, it's Maria, she who asked Saki and Satoru to avoid disturbing topics in front of Mamoru. She wouldn't make such cruel jokes at his expense.

  6. j

    Technically not wrong, though the nuance is kind of lost in the translation. Not sure how Kuromitsu here arrived at his conclusion that it was a mistranslation, but according to my mediocre Japanese, "nekodamashi ga kuru n ja nai kate joudan boku itte dakedo" means, "However, despite me saying that it was a joke as a tainted cat couldn't possibly come, …" Well I don't think anyone actually made a joke about tainted cats, but instead it's a case of Maria trying to preemptively comfort Mamoru in case he thinks about the cats, but instead does the opposite and scares Mamoru because she talked about the cats.

  7. w

    If anything, I am loving this show more than ever. Maybe it's because I've been desensitized so much, or maybe because I just love how brutal and somehow irreparable it can be (I guess I might become a fiend if I lived in that kind of world with what I'm saying about myself). But, I love stories when characters are almost hopeless. I guess I'm being influenced by how Japanese usually make "active destruction" as something beautiful. There's something fascinating about falling petals…or the fall of man in whatever way because what comes out of it may be unpredictable…and interesting.
    That 28 fiends were boys seem to me something that can be inferred that boys are more consciously violent (that's just what it seemed to me, guys, no offense). I can't help but remember one of my classes. With some statistics, guys who commit suicide use the most brutal weapons/equipment, and they succeed the most. Such violence to themselves…Idk.
    You know what? This story actually reminds me of another sci-fi Japanese novel—another that has an amazingly built world like SSY. It's entitled Harmony and was written by Project Itoh. Haikasoru has it translated. Anyway, it's a literary novel that's also like SSY wherein "becoming a fiend" is given some measure. Psycho-pass also has a similarity on it, but I remember it when watching SSY the most. I guess it's the tone or whatever.

  8. S

    I know how you feel! I love dark stories. Maybe it's in due to my melancholic blood, maybe it's because it has a fundamental need to tell more and important truths. I crave it, and I've missed it from most animes I've watched.However, I don't particularly like brutality and violence, but I don't mind it if it is needed to tell the story. I'll look into Harmony, thanks!

    I don't think there's a controversy with the link between testosterone and violence, I do think there's more difference between to individuals than the two groups men and women. But let's not have that debate, the anime just went with that proportion, with no facts surrounding it whatsoever, so why bother

  9. V

    Not really a new concept in anime if you consider Claymore and Dual! as examples where they depicted men as being inherently more violent. Its not exactly rocket science. They don't have to delve deep to explain why boys are more likely to become Karma demons.

    Although we may as well get to see Maria turn in the next episode if/when she finds out that something horrible has happened to Mamoru.

    She was freaking out in the preview.

  10. Actually she didn't say boys were more like to become karma demons – she said they were more likely to become fiends.

  11. S

    Should the society be saved? No. In an attempt to maintain their "humanity", they've taken on a human facade and sacrificed it all. This is a very basic, logical result of the power of Cantus being in all people. Some weeks back, I made a joke with "May the Queerrats inherit the Earth". It really wasn't a joke. That's simply the end game.

    Though, for how good the series is, it strikes me this is probably a better watch in 1-2 sittings. I only watch it fully every few weeks, as it's quite dark and watching that week over week for 25 weeks is pretty rough.

  12. C

    Personally the earth should be purged and start life anew. If cantus can distort reality, then wielding it should purify the earth of pollutants and restore logic.

  13. C

    Alternatively Enzo, with the reality distorting properties of Cantus, it could turn out like this >>

  14. P

    Yes, you only say that since you are not one of those people living in that world. I dare you to say the same thing when you're a part of it. It's so easy to say things like "the earth should be purged" when you personally don't have to die or suffer while doing so.

  15. C

    The current world should also be purged hopefully the end will come soon. Either that a nuclear war either is fine with me.

  16. P

    I see… so you are one of those folks believe in mayan end of time or similar religious end of time theme. Care to wire-transfer all your wealth to me? After all, you don't need any materialistic wealth wherever you go. I will even donate a good chunk of that towards to Enzo's site. I eagerly wait for the transfer and i will think of you whenever I spend it (don't worry I will tell you where to send soon).

  17. A

    Cybersteel, how about you yourself alone get purged? Since you can't stand the world, it might be much easier that way than the whole world to do so to fit your narrative. You shouldn't object to that, after all, you won't know the difference either way.

  18. B

    Ah, nihilists, they're so cute in a way.

  19. x

    How THE HELL the grandma character here is only in her mid-30s??? Don't lie and tell me that face is over 40. HELL NO! Good gene? Fuck that! She's either botoxed so hard that her whole face is frozen except around the mouth or SSY has been all bullshit. Gosh I was so hooked to the plot, only to stomped by this illogical lie. A LIE I say! A LIE!

    Good day! (before y'll start to freak out, I'm being cheeky here, obviously).

  20. t

    Cantus is the new plastic surgery clearly!

  21. A

    Could the fansub have gotten おばあさん (grandmother) mixed up with おばさん (aunt)? It's a difference of one mora, and she really does look more like Satoru's aunt than his grandma.

  22. w

    That is possible Anon. After all they're pronounced the same way. But then the time was 30 years ago in her story?? I forgot. So I think, rather than having Cantus, some sort of DNA manipulation is at work or whatever because if she took that long to find an heir to her position…well she need to be as youthful as she can be. I wonder if Saki's sibling Yoshimi(?) became a fiend or karma demon or she broke some ethic code that made her a candidate for elimination.

    As to Mamoru…He's…kind…so maybe he'll become a karma demon?? Or I don't know if it's right to judge just by his personality as the elders have always done. >.<

  23. A

    @Anon, I doubt it, she mentioned she have known Saki's mother since her birth, and seeing that she used to be a nurse (as shown in her recalling of the fiend event), she might have been present during her birth. I would assume Saki's mother is around 25~30s years old, meaning Tomiko would be at least in her 50s.

    Still, seeing the way she phrased the karma demon incident as "merely 20 years ago", I would think the fiend incident happened at least 40 years ago (she didn't mention the time), which would put her in her 60s. Maybe cantus user enjoy a longer life span and will look young for a longer period of time? Idk, just my 2 cents.

  24. A

    Now that I think about it, seeing that the kids are getting paired up at the age of 14, and their rights will only be granted by the age of 17, maybe a lot of them are getting married as they turned 17. If that's the case, and seeing Saki has an older sister (was it one year older? I forgot), that would mean Saki's mother is around 17+1(birth)+14+1(Yoshimi would be age)= 33 years old. Just a guess though.

  25. A

    Anyone else find the brainwashed Saki disturbing? She's so brainwashed that she doesn't even know it while reciting things in a zombie state towards the end there, only to be surprised by catching herself doing so.

  26. L

    See, I was kinda confused why they were staring at each other, because it was really ambiguous whether Saki was thinking it or speaking it, since the frame cuts out her mouth. I'm not so sure she was brainwashed as much as lost in thought… but you're right she was surprised. And so was Maria.

    But assuming she was saying it out loud, Maria might just be shocked at Saki's un/consciousness suggesting Mamoru, as the weakest link, may have killed himself or something to strengthen the rest of the group. I can totally see Maria doing something rash to find Mamoru/try to save him, so I'm calling the death flag now. That's my take on the last scene, and I really love how powerfully ambiguous it was and how abrupt that stare turned out.

  27. A

    I dont think mamoru is dead yet, but this is starting to seem like Maria's breaking point; It was hinted in the previous episode that if things seemed like they were getting too dangerous, Maria would pack up everything and bail from the cause. And now that mamoru is in danger and considering Maria's frantic searching of him in the preview, it's more likely that its gonna come to a point where she is gonna throw away her pursuit of the truth with Saki to be with and protect mamoru (pun intended). After all, she is showing signs that her feelings for mamoru runs deeper than her bond with saki. And what of Satoru? will he continue to stay with Saki if Maria happens to bail or die? They are childhood friends so lets see how deep their friendship runs

  28. w

    I could see the pun. It seems like the real author named Mamoru not because he's the one who protects but because he's the one who needs to be protected.

  29. E

    Since this is a series that kills its main characters (in a good way), I think Mamoru is the next one to die. Most probably he would turn into a fiend because he has so many bottled up emotions like 'Boy K.'

    I think this would be the turning of point of the 'friendship' between the two girls. Saki will have a big role in Mamoru's death and Maria will blame Saki for this. Maria will rebel against this society and Saki, as the next head of Ethics Committee, must protect it.

    As the series continues, it shows that this world is more cruel than the Sybil System, or as the time goes the world becomes more cruel. In this world, you don't have human rights at the age until you've reached 17 and you won't be given any sort of rehabilitation unlike the latter. If you've shown any sign of turning into a fiend or karma demon, you'd be executed in no time. Well, the kids have psychic abilities. So, yeah, it's pointless to debate.

    Also, the Ethics Committee and its actions are somewhat ironic.

    There are a lot good and great shows this year and I hope for it to continue next year but the list of the shows of the upcoming season tells me otherwise.

  30. A

    I actually loved the ending, because it was serious foreshadowing that Maria might be the group's weakest link.

    It doesn't seem likely, unless you take into account of the ominous narration of Saki about Maria at the start of the summer camp group.

    That combined with the content of this episode, makes me believe that Maria will turn into a fiend (which I think relates to the story she read in class earlier in the season, but I could be recalling that wrong).

    Anyway. Enzo thanks for the blog. This episode was good, I just had to put in my two cents.

  31. B

    I don't really agree that whether the society is worth saving at all is the most interesting question here. Cantus or no Cantus these people are human, so they're going to try to save it whether they should or not. Why spend time debating over a pointless question that will never need to be answered?

    For me the more interesting question is, does it have to be this way? Is there a better way to deal with Fiends and Karma Demons that doesn't require literally considering children to be non humans? Is there a way to hold this society together that doesn't need widespread brainwashing or cloak and dagger style troubleshooting? The tone of the series is pretty dark so my best guess to the answer is "No, this stuff is necessary for them to survive" in which case I would caution people against knee jerk reactions. It's FAR from our idea of how a society should be run but none of us have ever lived in a place where we're threatened with extinction every time one of our neighbors has a bad day. So maybe cut the people a little slack and realize that they are probably doing the best they can in a crapsack world that they can't do anything about.

  32. H

    This is what I've been saying, that it's crappy from our standpoint, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of choice for them. The potential costs from a single mistake are huge. And these costs have been visited on the society multiple times.

    I think the key thing I'm seeing in the show is that the people there have not lost their humanity. This isn't Btooom! where people are reveling in the depravity of their actions. The loss of children hurts these people. It's not just a trivial cost of doing business. It's a harsh, crappy, reality. And they're stuck with it. It's not like they could breed out PK abilities. That just shifts the focus of the culling, with always the potential for PK to arise again. So basically, it's doing the best they can with what they've got.

  33. A

    I am also thinking that Maria and not Mamoru might be the group's weakest link … Its foreshadowed rather heavily. But we will see.

  34. Let's not spoil.

  35. P

    Wait, Enzo, why delete my post as well? All I did write was a simple question. Did kuromitsu write some spoilers? If so I didn't read it before you delete his, but still why what I wrote you considered a spoiler?? Go back and re-read the post, it was absolutely no spoiler.

  36. P

    For the record, in case my post is gone forever, all I wrote was to question the sudden convenient disappearance of death feedback on individuals who turn to Fiends and Karma Demons; they proceed to kill pople with glee (or reluctantly) with no consequence at all for them, which was just too convenient for the plot in my view. …How is that a spoiler? Or could it be that it was censored because I dared to question SSY's plot hole?

  37. A

    Mindless censoring at Enzo's site? Why am I not surprised?

  38. Timothy – yes, there were spoilers in the response and not in your OP. But the problem is there's no way to answer your question without using a spoiler – and when you suggest a plot hole exists that isn't actually a plot hole, it's going to be very hard for novel readers to resist correcting you.

  39. A

    Yeah Enzo don't turn this site into AnimeSuki 2.0, it's already oppressive enough there.

  40. P

    ok. Fair enough, Enzo. I guess it was a question that can't really be answered without spoilers like "does X die or not?"

  41. J

    I can't be the only one that noticed that unsightly eye twitch, right?

  42. H

    Nope, you're not the only one. I'm guessing it's just a neurological by product of the memory blurring.

  43. k

    >Purple Timothy
    Actually no, I didn't write anything of that sort, just that it wasn't a plot hole. ^^;; I thought the reason was obvious even if the show hadn't spelled it out, whether one has read the novel or not, but anyway I'm sorry if it was spoilery.

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