Shin Sekai Yori – 20

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I should have learned by now never to doubt Shin Sekai Yori in its capacity to go to dark places, because it seems to up the ante every week.

I have to comment again about the pacing with this series, though it seems like I do so every week.  This wasn’t a perfect episode by any means, but it once again demonstrates that marvelous and infuriating ability of SSY to make 22 minutes feel like 22 seconds.  I could hardly believe the episode ended when it did, and it’s going to be torture to wait a week to see what happens next.  Though it isn’t hard to guess that it will be pretty awful for the humans left alive, and you don’t even need the preview to tell you that.  As well, the cinematography continues to be really superb – this is not a lavishly budgeted series, but it is lavishly creative and filled with beautiful and terrible imagery and clever animation.

As for episode 20 itself, for me it was very strong at the beginning and the end (the last five minutes were really spectacular) but the middle section left less of an impression on me than this series usually does.  I’m getting a bit frustrated that just when we should be seeing the most development in the relationship between Saki and Satoru, there seems to be less intimacy between them than ever.  I’ve seen enough comments by novel readers (avoiding them is like trying not to see the score of the Super Bowl you recorded) to know that there seems to have been a conscious decision to tone down the feelings between Saki and Satoru in favor of Saki and Maria, and I confess I find it a bit puzzling.  Satoru is alive and present, Maria is certainly not one and probably neither of those things. 

Why is this an issue?  We’ve seen Saki and Satoru go through hell together as 12 year-old innocents and 14 year-old nascent young adults, and both those arcs showed a level of emotional – never mind physical – intimacy between them that’s oddly absent here.  As I said a couple weeks ago that  their scenes together seemed oddly sterile – a rare failing for this marvelous series in my view, but an important one.  Just as things are ramping up to a dramatic crescendo so they should be with Satoru and Saki – the only two people in the world who could possibly understand what the other is feeling.  Even if it isn’t a romantic love things between them should be deeper and more intimate than they are, and that they aren’t robs their scenes together of some of the intensity they should have.

I confess I’m also a bit puzzled by the complete lack of concern for Mamoru. Admittedly he was always the odd boy out in the group, a fifth wheel – but there always seemed to be a strong level of caring among everyone in the group for each other.  When Saki commented that “That’s not to say I forgive them for what they did for Maria…  I can’t believe Maria is dead.  And then there’s our other friend – the boy without a face.” it broke my heart – especially when Satoru had nothing to offer but agreement.  If Shun is the boy without a face, I guess Mamoru is the boy without a past – because it appears that it doesn’t take meddling from the Board of Education to make Saki and Satoru forget about a lost friend.  Is Mamoru so trivial to the plot that he’s simply being ignored, and so trivial to Satoru and Saki that they can’t spare a word for him?  Whether this is the same in the novel I can’t say but again, this is a flaw for me – it makes Satoru and Saki seem somewhat cold and uncharacteristically heartless to abandon a friend this way, even in their memories.  I admire Saki’s desire not to die without remembering Shun’s name, and it even has a touch of poignant poetry to it – but how sad for Mamoru to have disappeared from existence through nothing greater than indifference.  It paints Maria in a much better light, knowing she was willing to leave her true love and her home behind to support him, simply because it was the right thing to do.

OK, enough ranting – because there was an awful lot I loved here, and most of it was a lot of awful.  Goodness, things are bleak – Saki, Satoru and the surviving humans are truly caught between Scylla and Charybdis here with the Queerats on one side and a fiend on the other.  Saki says that they humans “perhaps” underestimated the danger from the Queerats – and this may be the greatest understatement of the anime year so far.  Yakomaru seems to have thought of everything – not only has he somehow tamed a fiend, but he’s been breeding mutants to use as weapon too – including something like a giant leech that can exhale gunpowder and then flame to cause an explosion.  This was used to wipe out much of the village, which drained the canals to cut off the leeches – which in turn deprives the villagers of their main method of transport.  Yakomaru is one step ahead of the humans at every turn, and the irony in his using mutants as weapons against them is surely not coincidental.  It’s obvious that he’s been planning this war for many years – surely since his first encounter with the “young Gods”, and perhaps even longer.

After escaping the pursuing fiend with some mirror trickery and then barely surviving the explosion from the mutant leech (Satoru’s whereabouts and condition are unknown) Saki ends up back at the village.  Along the way she meets a young survivor, a boy who to my eyes looks eerily like Shun, though I suspect this is a character design issue and not a plot point.  There she finds a scene which is eerily reminiscent of the grainy black-and-white footage of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb – all buildings leveled and smoldering, victims burned down to their shadows, the wailing and pleading of the dying for water.  It’s truly terrible and gut-wrenching, and all the credit to Shin Sekai Yori for earning the emotion these scenes elicit from the audience – this is not clumsy shock horror, but real existential dismay after we’ve reached this point in such a compelling and believable way.  Even Tomiko seems to have finally reached the end of the line, with serious wounds her cantus magic can’t heal and the fiend on the way to the village, seemingly to finish the job of extermination.  She chooses this moment to pass the baton of leadership to Saki (thanks a lot) and sends her off to the temple, where Shisei and the remnants of leadership are regrouping, and awaits her fate.

There doesn’t seem to be much reason for hope here, though to be honest there never really has been much reason.  Shisei still lives, but there’s every reason to think Yakomaru has a contingency plan for this, too, since he has for everything else – and really, even Shisei would seem to be helpless against a fiend to begin with.  As if that weren’t enough, there are hints in the preview that we have a karma demon to worry about in addition to a fiend – and even that it might be Satoru himself.  If Saki weren’t narrating the story I’d be skeptical that any of the humans survived, though what sort of world she’s living in is another matter.  Largely forgotten but possibly significant is that Kiroumaru still lives, and surely thirsts for revenge against Yakomaru – perhaps he’ll have some role to play in this tragedy before it’s played itself out.

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  1. G

    If I could choose one word to descrive this series it would be intense. This is a well made fascinating series and probably the series I look forward to the most each week (along with Psycho Pass).

    It can be downright scary as well and I bet at the end of 2013 this series will be in the top 5 of best anime series.

  2. l

    Hmm , maybe we'll get a Saikano-esque ending? Just saki and nameless faces, forever living together …. in her heart.

  3. K

    I keep expecting Satoru and Saki to be more intimate. There was so much sexual and emotional tension between them as kids and it feels weird for it to be missing here. For example, on the boat when he reached for her, I thought he would hold her hand but he tugged on her sleeve instead. It's seriously aggravating sometimes. I wonder why they're only downplaying it now that they're adults.

    I think I'll die a little bit inside if Satoru becomes a Karma Demon though. It was hard enough when Shun died and when Maria and Mamoru ran away, but Satoru… I don't doubt this series would go there too.

  4. K

    I am completely with you on the Saki/Satoru scenes and the lack of Mamoru.

  5. K

    On another note as for the preview with Satoru I was like please no. I am still praying he will make it to the end but that is what the preview also led me to believe. But I am hoping the preview is misleading us.

    But can you even become a Karma Demon as an adult?

  6. I wondered that too. Maybe it's actually the bishie Saki met on the way to the village?

  7. m

    I am not going to be surprised if Mamoru turns out to be the kharma demon. It would be poetic if, starting with their encounter with the Queerats during summer camp, all of this misfortune can be traced back to their good intentioned but ultimately misguided meddling.

  8. K

    That is a possibility (which might actually explain why he might look like Shun).

  9. Y

    Well if you can become this Karma demon when you are over 20 something, then the whole plot of SSY doesn't make sense anymore. I clearly remember the kids regain rights after turning 19 or something and that's why the board can kill off any weird child, but not adults; if anybody can just turn into Karma demons at any time, they why aren't they killing off anybody, but the children? So I don't buy it.

    Although the preview clearly did say Satoru saying his power leaking or something, which does imply being a Karma demon… For now, I will think this as misleading preview as SSY has demonstrated many, many times in the past. I hope they won't try to inject some cheap drama while destroying the whole premise they've carefully built so far!

  10. t

    The preview implies it's Satoru but it doesn't have to be. If the queerats have a Karma Demon too it could explain their ability to create such bizarre and distinct mutants. After all, selective breeding alone would not give Yakomaru creatures like that gunpowder leech thing, certainly not quickly enough.

  11. H

    The main reason for the Board of Ed's powers is Fiends. Karma Demons are a completely different problem, with a different solution, one that is far more community oriented to try to fix, because Karma Demons are not sociopaths. They are just people who have what's basically an illness and still have the volition and motivation to take care of it, after they realize what the issue is.

    Karma Demons do present an existential threat because their destructive effects can happen with less warning than would be desired (such as Shun's destruction of his home and family), but they aren't really the 'we need to nip this problem in the bud' issue that Fiends are. The Karma Demon will voluntarily remove themselves from society. The Fiend will destroy society.

  12. Y

    Well if we feel pity for the forgotten Mamoru, then what about Reiko? Now THAT's the truly forgotten friend. Guaranteed, she was eliminated way earlier than Mamoru, but she was childhood friends to these kids (in anime, at least) and the original member of the group 1, which is said to be the special group. Oy, poor Reiko and
    Yui Horie with 3 lines.

    And as long as we're speculating, I predict that Shisei, the strongest human alive, will take out the fiend and die with him. Last time I checked, nothing prevents a human from the act of "attacking and killing another human" itself; you just die with the death feedback afterwards. Am I wrong? I think I remember this correctly. So he will take out that boy, allegedly since I don't know it's a boy or girl yet, in a suicide mission and that will somewhat help leveling the playing field for the rest of humans. Then that what-his-name, dog-faced good Queerat suddenly appear and will take care of Yakomaru (otherwise, why leave him alive and keep him off-screen all this time? The logical conclusion will be that he takes out Yakomaru). Problem solved.

  13. k

    Thanks for articulating perfectly why the downplaying of the intimacy between Satoru and Saki irks me so much. I mean, it's to the point where they wrote out of an instance of them holding hands in a situation where most people would hold hands, without any romantic implications… (While they're hiding from the akki after they got off the boat.) And even in the boat they went out of their way to show him touch her arm instead of her hand, really, wtf. It's messing with their characterization and I don't understand why the anime is doing this – especially since this only started after they became adults.

    As for Mamoru, yeah, it's pretty sad, though again I have to note that this is also partly an anime thing – in the book Saki usually says "Maria-tachi." Obviously she leans a lot more toward Maria especially after a certain point, since Maria was a lot more important to her. But it's a bit less annoyingly "Mamoru who?" ^^;; In the same scene in the book she says she doesn't believe Maria is dead, and that she can't forgive Hiromi what she did to "Maria-tachi" (as in, Maria and Mamoru).

  14. S

    I think the anime is motivating the lack of intimacy between Satoru and Saki with these two sentences alone:
    Satoru- I feel the same, Saki. I can't get over my feelings for [Shun], because my memories were taken from me.

    Suggesting you can't have closure and a new love interest when the memories of the one you loved were taken away from you. Which is what happened to both Satoru and Saki.

    Anyway, this show is too great to need to be defended by the likes of me. Take it to be whatever way you like.

    The preview teased us for the umpth time of the arrival of Maria in the Plot, but this time I believe it's really going to happen.

  15. That really only applies if you're talking about romantic love, which isn't what I'm talking about. There are other kinds of intimacy besides sexual, and I'm quite disappointed to see none between these two when there was so much on display during their earlier trials together.

  16. k

    I agree about the issue of closure and moving on, romantically as well as generally dealing with something that's been haunting them for so long.* But also, as Enzo is saying, these two have a history of non-romantic intimacy. Regardless of whether they have romantic feelings for each other or not, Satoru and Saki are first and foremost friends who are very close to each other and share a profound bond.

    *As it would've been more obvious had they not cut most of what Satoru was replying to with those two sentences…

  17. H

    Mamoru always was an outsider within the group. Neither Saki nor Satoru really had strong feelings for him. In fact, for Saki he was a rival for Maria's love (and an obvious loser for that love, even if Maria ultimately left Saki for Mamoru). Saki loved all three of the others: Shun as her possible future husband, Maria as her soulmate, and Satoru as the second-best choice after Shun died. There's really never been any idea that she loved Mamoru any more than just as a fairly close friend.

    And Mamoru really didn't try to change that from his part. He was utterly devoted to Maria, even as she treated him as second fiddle or fifth wheel. Yes, his devotion was 'rewarded', but I always felt it was rooted in pity on Maria's part.

    So I think it's natural that from Saki's point of view, Mamoru is just another guy who's gone (if not worse than that, because he stole away her soulmate).

  18. L

    I think the preview was just misleading us.Back then,on episode 12, Tomiko told Saki that she was going to replace her in the near future,and when she does,the memories about her friend(Shun)would come back.So i guess the time comes and probably the preview was showing Saki telling Satoru about Shun and what happened to him,and explaining about the Cantus Leaking and the karma demon stuff.I really hope that be the case,because imagine Satoru convicted to such a fate would be to cruel,even for this show.

  19. H

    The question comes up: Will there be anyone left to remove the hypnotic block on Saki's memories? Or will she be forever doomed to see only the masked faceless boy that she knows she loved? Also, will the rest of the village elders recognize the authority that Tomiko has tried to pass on to Saki? And will she try to use it? I find it interesting that through the intervening 12 years, Tomiko has kept the same opinion of Saki, and still believes in her ability.

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