I must confess there were times in this episode when I had absolutely no idea what was happening. Given the fact that I probably wasn’t supposed to, that may not be such a bad thing – but for the first time in a while, there were elements of a Shin Sekai Yori episode that seemed out of synch, and a couple of moments that seemed quite out of character for the series. This is all relative in a series this good, and there was still plenty that was outstanding – including the amazing pacing that SSY seems to bring every week.
It’s a week full of mysteries, really – starting with just what happened to the O-Suzumebachi army that was utterly wiped out. “Reduced to lumps of flesh” is how Satoru described them – with no weapons to be found, only a few undamaged arrows. Theories abound – one of the defense council, Hiromi, theorizes that perhaps the Robber Fly have gotten their hands on one or more False Minashiro and learned how to make WMDs. There’s evidence later in the episode that might be true, but for the matter at hand it’s the one member of the council that seems to have the most sense, Shisei, who speculates that they have a cantus user on their side. He even speculates that it might be Maria or Mamoru, but Tomiko insists they were confirmed dead by DNA and dental testing of the skeletons delivered by Yakomaru (clearly, more than a little scientific knowledge remains in the hands of the chosen few). There’s also word that Kiromaru probably escaped, which is welcome news both for the humans and the audience I suspect, as he’s quite an interesting character.
I’m not sure what to make of Tomiko’s “proof”, to be honest. Maria and Mamoru might well be dead, but based on what I’m seeing it seems that Shisei’s instincts are the most trustworthy and he seems pretty sure it was a cantus user who stopped the O-Suzumebachi arrows mid-flight and roasted them. It could be their child, I suppose, but it doesn’t sound as if there would have been time for that if indeed those were Maria and Mamoru’s bones – and then there’s the matter of some mysterious writing in the sky which appears later in the episode. It might have been a bit of random mind-screwing by the anime staff, but I took it as a warning to Saki and Satoru – someone associated with the Queerat attack (which we’ll get to momentarily) who wanted to see them escape death.
Now, as to that attack. It’s no surprise that the Defense Council would decide to annihilate the Robber Fly based on what they know, and based on what we’ve seen over the first 17 episodes, it’s really no surprise that they would so grievously underestimate the danger that the Queerats pose. They ignore Hiromi’s suggestion to postpone the summer matsuri (most pointedly the absurd Hino Koufuu) and that’s when the Robber Fly choose to attack. At this point it seems pretty clear that if not WMDs, the Queerats have at least figured out how to blow stuff up – either by conventional weapons or cantus, I don’t know (but suspect the latter). I think the attack on the village is handled very well generally, with some interesting cinematography and live-wire tension – but it’s undercut somewhat by the preposterous Koufuu. He’s such a sore thumb amongst this generally dignified cast with his ludicrous facial expressions and bombastic way of speaking that I’m not sure just what to make of him. Clearly he and Shisei are the strongest canti among the villagers, but I found Koufuu to be mostly a distraction.
Fortunately, everything Koufuu is Shisei is not, and vice-versa. He’s a serious badass, and no fool – and has very creepy double-pupil eyes to show he’s no ordinary human. Shisei is able to pretty much beat back the attack single-handedly with the most impressive display of cantus we’ve seen from anyone in the series so far, though Koufuu is killed in the process – and here’s another mystery I don’t know what to make of. Just what or who was the white apparition of a woman that apparently escaped Koufuu’s body as he died? What are we to make of that? To be honest I have to revert back to, “I have no idea” – again, maybe it’s just a mind-screw or maybe it’s significant, but based on what we’ve been shown I really don’t think there’s any way to know for sure. What’s abundantly clear is that things are in lockdown, Shisei and Tomiko aren’t going to be caught unawares so easily next time, and Tomiko is pissed. In fact, as she described what she planned to do to make Squealer really earn his name it occurred to me just how little she sounded like one of the advanced humans who’ve supposedly abandoned violence, and how much she sounded like a fiend (while I don’t think it’s related, it almost looks from the preview as if there will be a fiend in the next episode).
The last of the major mysteries is Maria, and her role in events of the episode. Did Saki really see her at the matsuri, at the beginning of Obon, or was is simply her desire to see Maria that caused a mirage? The strange little monologue from Maria at the end of the episode doesn’t clarify things so much as cloud them further, and it was pretty awkward narratively too – I’m not sure what purpose it was supposed to serve. If Maria and Mamoru are still alive – and I hope they are – perhaps some of this seemingly odd material will bear fruit later. But for now, it’s Saki and Satoru who’re alive and present in the here and now – and given all that they’ve been through together, I’d really like to see more focus on the depth of feeling between them. Their scenes together felt oddly sterile to me this episode – as if he weren’t really present in her perception somehow. It’s really the first time I’ve felt that the dynamics among the Group One principals were off, and I fully expect it to be an aberration rather than a trend. I don’t think they’ll ever love each other romantically with the intensity that they both loved Shun, or Saki Maria – but there’s always been a connection between them that seemed wholly distinct from romantic love, and I hope we get to see more of that in the weeks ahead.