Even by Shin Sekai Yori standards, the events of this week’s episode have “disaster” written all over them. We really don’t need voice-over Saki’s occasional reminders about how the mistakes she and her friends made had tragic consequences – it’s pretty obvious from the outstanding exposition the series provides through the narrative itself. And if you thought a long timeskip (12 years) might have allowed for things to get better – though I don’t know why you would – you can think again.
First things first – we did indeed get our second scene change of the series, and this one was much longer. I was prepared for things to lose their momentum just a little, because when a show does a major reset it’s almost like having to start over again from the premier. But on balance SSY definitely hit the ground running and didn’t miss a beat, delivering an episode that might not have been among its very best but was solidly on par with the high standard the series has set. Saki is now 26 and working at the “Department of Exospecies Control”, where her duties include the investigation and regulation of queerats, and the selective breeding of naked mole rats – a strong intimation that the queerats of this world are a result of an intentional program by the surviving humans to create a slave species. In her own words, this 26 year-old Saki is a “paper pusher” – and someone who’s clearly lost much of her drive and motivation.
As for Satoru, it appears that he and Saki have had a falling out – we’re not told over what, but Saki says it was over something trivial – which will no doubt disappoint some in the audience who thought they might end up together after their night of desperate intimacy. We’re also not told just what Satoru does, though it’s clearly field work that Saki finds far more useful to the community than what she’s doing. For what it’s worth there’s no indication whatsoever that either of them has a mate – and the fact that Saki’s boss obviously tries to pair them off seems to support the notion. But there are bigger problems to worry about – no sir, no respites from SSY, out of the frying pan and into the fire. And it’s a roaring blaze – controversy between the Suzumebachi and Robber Fly queerat alliances over an attack on a colony closely aligned with the Suzumebachi. It’s this event that brings Satoru back into Saki’s life, and starts the wheels in motion for the last leg of the story.
There’s an awful lot going on in this episode – I found myself stopping and replaying several times just to keep up with names and make sure I was understanding what was happening – but I’ll focus on the overall impression, with is something along the lines of a tragic comedy. It’s clear that the humans are completely disconnected with reality when it comes to the queerats – it’s as if they’ve focused all the human restlessness that would normally go into weapons and technology and channeled it into bureaucracy. They’ve established a preposterous system of regulating the queerats through paperwork – they need to fill out an application to attack each other, to “whelp transfer”, “intracolony reorganization” – and meanwhile they seem blissfully unconcerned that the queerats are now marching into battle with guns instead of arrows and spears. As for the battles themselves, it appears that the humans treat them as a sort of spectator event, like the appalling socialites who watched thousands of men die in Civil War battles while sipping lemonade from a nearby hilltop. It’s a grisly, almost obscene spectacle.
Let’s be clear about something straight away: the Queerats are an intelligent, sentient species, and the humans of this world effectively treat them as disposable slaves. They ask no permission to terminate any or all of them at their own discretion, and clearly view them as sub-human, filthy animals. This is no story of noble and civilized humans being threatened by cruel beasts – whatever happens will be wholly of the humans own doing. Still, it’s chilling to see what’s brewing on the horizon, the true scale of the danger becoming clear when Squealer, ne Yakomaru and Kiromaru are called on the carpet to try and explain to the Gods what’s going on. It’s fantastic to have Kiromaru back, however briefly – Hirata Hiroaki is delivering a performance quite unlike anything we’ve heard from him recently, and his air of stern nobility (and magnificent appearance) contrast sharply with Yakomaru’s obvious treachery. The hearing is an appalling display – the absurd Sir Hino Koofu (Taniyama Kishou) of the “Occupations Department” is joined by the head of the Security Council, Sir Kaburagi Shisei (Hoshino Takanori) and by Tomiko – who at least seems to have a small sense of the danger looming.
It seems pretty obvious that the entire affair – an attack by the supposedly unaffiliated Goat Moths against the Spider Wasps, allies of the Suzumebachi – was set up by the relentlessly scheming Squealer to provoke the Suzumebachi into war – a war in which the true advances in queerat technology become apparent. Kiromaru and the Giant Hornets are thought by the humans to be invincible (and more trustworthy), and indeed an associate of Saki named Inui (Toriumi Kousuke) reveals to her on the eve of the first major battle (all paperwork has been filed) that the Suzumebachi imbibe a drug before going to war that inhibits fear and magnifies rage. But it appears Yaromaru has an even greater weapon up his sleeve – Inui offers his suspicion that they’ve somehow tapped into a wellspring of human knowledge (false Minashiro?) – and though Kiromaru is triumphant, Satoru later brings her the news that the entire Suzumebachi army has been wiped out.
Oh dear, what a mess. In spite of everything this society has done to make me feel they their fate, when I look at Saki and Satoru my heart really breaks for them – even as adults they’re still beautiful and kind people. It appears from the preview that Maria and Mamoru are going to factor into the next episode in some fashion, and I can’t imagine that will make the situation anything but even more grim. I can report the welcome return of “Kage no Denshouka Dai Ichi-bu”, the haunting Komori Shigeo piece that provided the main musical theme of the first arc, in re-mixed form. I’m less enthused about the change in ED – it is indeed “Yuki ni Saku Hana”, the insert song from last week. It’s a huge step down from “Wareta Ringo”, one of the best OP/EDs of the year, though the animation is quite lovely.