Shin Sekai Yori – 21

SSY - 21 - 11 SSY - 21 - 24 SSY - 21 - 28

What a remarkable and brutal series Shin Sekai Yori really is.

We’re presented constantly with shows that struggle with the mechanics of plot and character dynamics – the current schedule is littered with examples of good shows that can’t quite get the balance right.  There’s too much mystery and not enough explanation, or too little depth to the characters, big ambition that isn’t matched with execution.  Shin Sekai Yori is an example of a show that really nails it.  I said once before (who knows, maybe more than once) that this was a series that gave the impression of a finished story about a real place that was being told to us, chapter by chapter.  Some of that is the narration, but more than that it’s the remarkably consistent exposition and  – for my money – peerless pacing.  Within the episodes and in the series as a whole, SSY steams along at a steady and relentless pace that never wavers from the golden mean.  It’s crystal clear that this show was beautifully outlined from the beginning, and it makes me wish (not for the first time) that anime would turn to novels for source material far more often than it does.

Lest we gloss over it, I think the series is still guilty of what I consider the one real misstep it’s made in 21 episodes – the oddly clinical nature of the relationship between Saki and Satoru when it should be at its most intense and desperate.  The simple fact is, it’s not as though it got any better this week – rather, there was so much happening in this episode and it was so compelling that there just wasn’t much time to think about it.  That saddens me a little but if that’s to be the way it is, dengana mangana.  In the larger scheme it pales against the ledger sheet full of things Shin Sekai Yori is doing brilliantly, and many of them were on display in this ep.

Our much-anticipated battle of the century didn’t last long, as Shisei (as I certainly expected) proved no match for the fiend (I’m re-thinking calling him that, but I’ll get there shortly).  There’s the matter of the death feedback certainly, which as Satoru (he’s just fine without a word of explanation, a trifle conveniently) explains effectively limits Shisei to non-lethal attacks.  But more than that, I simply don’t believe his cantus would have proved any match for the little scamp, though I have no means of proving it.  The nature of the death feedback, as I see it, is such that it isn’t simply a matter of a human dying if it kills another human – a human simply can’t do it in the first place.  I’ve always leaned towards that possibility but the fact that no one in the village took out the fiend in a suicide run seems to be the final proof to me (that leads to some more interesting questions about the fiend, but that too I’ll get to shortly).

The fact is, it seems the humans have effectively disarmed themselves unilaterally under the assumption that no enemy would come along that would be able to turn that against them.  Arrogance is a major theme here, and we certainly see it in the interrogation of the Queerat survivor by Satoru and Saki.  They’re two of the brightest young minds among the humans, more experienced with queerats than just about anyone, but they’re guilty of the same ridiculous self-delusions that the security council was – all it takes is one human to wipe out every stinking queerat on the planet.  They just don’t get it – they’re no longer playing the game they rigged in their own favor.  Yakomaru changed the rules, and all those years of thinking that as long as they eliminated the enemy within everything would be fine have seemingly made the humans incapable of comprehending how to deal with a threat beyond their narrow world view.

There are no heroes here, really – not in the larger sense.  The queerat being interrogated is right – the humans have treated another intelligent species (one they created themselves to boot) as a disposable slave, and that’s morally and ethically despicable.  It’s no wonder that when Squealer showed up with a plan to change everything, he found willing listeners.  The queerat sounded basically like a terrorist – an extremist driven to right legitimate wrongs with acts of barbarism.  It’s a vicious cycle, and the humans are reaping what they’ve sown – an intelligent enemy with a secret weapon (not so secret now) and an army full of soldiers who have no qualms about dying to support the greater cause, even welcoming the chance.  Does that really sound so different from the civilized world of modern humans?

There’s some irony, certainly, in the fact that it was the village’s decision to murder Mamoru (remember him?) that gave Yakomaru the key to his plan.  As well, there’s irony in the fact that it was Kiroumaru’s act of mercy – giving the Robber Fly Colony a few of its infant spoils of war to rebuild themselves – that led to his own downfall (he turns up next week, apparently a chained prisoner of misguided and angry human survivors).  As for the fiend, it’s obviously what most of us thought it would be – Maria and Mamoru’s (remember him?) child.  Saki has an instant moment of recognition when she sees that fiery hair, but the face is as much Mamoru’s as Maria’s – and it cements the notion that those kind, lonely children likely met a grisly death at the hands of Squealer as soon as he could steal their baby.  But the true nature of Squealer’s twisted genius only becomes clear when the escaping Satoru and Saki meet up with Inui-san at the temple.  He reveals the most disturbing element of all we’ve heard – in the queerat tradition, Yakomaru is stealing the human infants as spoils of war.  His intent, presumably, to create an army of PK child soldiers with which he can achieve his goal of wiping humans from the face of the Japanese archipelago – and maybe not stop there.

And that, finally, takes us to that “shortly”.  The nature of the being that attacked the village – and indeed, of fiends themselves – is a fascinating one, and at the heart of the drama playing out in SSY right now.  I’m not sure that Mamaoru and Maria’s child is, in fact, a fiend at all – is it not possible that simply raising a human child as a queerat, with a deep hatred of humans, might produce a being capable of doing what a fiend can do?  I don’t know the answer, truthfully, but it would explain certain things.  I don’t really understand how Yakomaru would be able to cultivate a fiend for starters, when it’s been exceedingly rare among the humans – and what makes him think he can make more of them with his prisoners.  But what that wouldn’t explain is how a non-fiend would be able to avoid the death feedback simply by conditioning – I assumed it was a genetic flaw in fiends that managed to override their genetic engineering.

There are unanswered questions then, certainly, but SSY has done a remarkable job of giving us answers at a perfect pace, keeping us in the know while raising new questions at the same time.  How many times have dramatic anime been undercut when the top boss’ master plan turns out to be lame?  Yakomaru’s genius doesn’t just live up to the events of the plot, but it surpasses them – with each revelation a new element is revealed, like the layers of an onion.  It’s a masterpiece of careful design, much like the series in which it appears – and A-1 is also demonstrating just how to make a visual masterpiece without throwing massive budget at it.  Nimi-san’s death – a moment of true noble sacrifice amidst this morass of brutality – was nothing more than a pastiche of lovely shots of the landscape, with the “New World Symphony” playing in the background as Saki thought back on the memories that music triggered in her.  Yet it was powerful for all that simplicity.  A moment of terrible, beautiful sadness – and that’s the essence of why Shin Sekai Yori is a great series.

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  1. C

    Can't be blamed since SSY is a complete book.

  2. T

    "Terrible, beautiful sadness"

    That phrase alas, describes the abysmal sales of this anime

  3. R

    I think I will stop watching this show. It's absolutly excellent, except for the relationship between Saki and Satoru, but mann is it a depressing experience.

  4. C

    Same…I literally wave my hands in exasperation at every dark twist 🙁

    However I'm dying to know how Squealer is cultivating fiends that can bypass centuries of human genetic engineering and stopping said fiend's subconscious Cantas leak from harming the queerats themselves. Also Maria & (yeh mamouru's) no doubt crap deaths and Saki and mankind's fate. These mysteries and the fact I've made it so far are what keeps me going.

  5. S

    As mentioned in this post, I don't think they're actually fiends either. By being raised as queerats I'm sure they simply don't see themselves as human. That way any death feedback would only occur if they killed queerats not humans.

    As to the long term future of these children in squealers plan? Well once he's wiped out humanity then they become disposable tools. That way he doesn't have have to worry about leakage.

  6. L

    After confirm that the fiend is really Maria and Mamouro child,I can´t stop thinking about the bones sent to the village by Yakomaru.If the bones are really from Maria and Mamouro,how that psycho-kid is their son?There is no time for have a child in the period,so I guess there´s a piece missing in this puzzle and Tomiko knows the truth.Maybe she was lying when she told about the dna test to protect Saki friends, and in that time they´re actually alive.Which leaves me to the question:Are Maria and Mamouro really died?Or Yakomaru killed Maria in the instant she had the baby?Or maybe he cut off their arms and legs as a solid evidence of their deaths,and keep the rest alive?(he could sended the intire skeleton of Mamouro actually)and of course,can we still wait for a hero to save the day?

  7. G

    Wouldn't it have made more sense to keep the 2 alive and keep them breeding more babies to turn into fiends?

  8. S

    Squeeler said it would take time to find the bones. My guess it was at least 9 months! So yeah they're very much dead 🙁

    As to keeping them as a breeding pair? No way on earth could they manage that. The only way they could take the baby would be to kill both of them in their sleep. If they woke and suspected anything then the colony would have been toast.

  9. t

    I think it might be possible that Kiroumaru will be the one to kill the fiend. He's the perfect cipher for the role: loyal to humans, doesn't suffer from death feedback, and is a bakenezumi, so the fiend won't off him automatically.

  10. s

    @enzo: I think your on to something about maria and mamoru's (remember him?) son not actually being a fiend, and here's a thought that i have had since speculation began floating around regarding the identity of the fiend and death feedback. I think the answer to this puzzle has been death feedback all along, which is why this arc has so much of a focus on it. First, one was must understand what death feedback truly is and what defines a fiend. If i am not mistaken, a fiend is a cantus user gone beserk whose most defining feature is their ability to undermine death feedback. Now how does death feedback work? I think there are two things that compromise death feedback. again if i am not mistaken, death feedback is in every human being through genetics; chidren are born with the gene for death feedback. The other constituent has to be psychological ad environmental. One has to understand why death feedback was implemented in the first place; it was so that violence within a species would be non-existant. If humans grow up with other humans,their psychology and environment would then associate humans with the death feedback gene. I think the reason why every one in the village believes so strongly that they are dealing with a fiend is because he is not inhibited when he attacks humans or dies when he kills them. I still think maria and mamoru's (remenber him?) child is not undermining the death feedback and that the death feedback is still in tact; he's just a psychic without any conditioning regarding his powers. If you have been following my rant since the beginning i think you know where i am going with this and i really think this theory fits. Although i could be wrong considering the many twist and turns this dark and depressing series has taken.

  11. G

    Maybe it takes some sort of an activation at birth or infancy to activate the death feedback thing? They are born with it and it needs to be activated and because the baby was born with the queerrats there was no one to activate the switch in the baby's body?

  12. Good theory, Sonic – it makes some sense. If the feedback is effectively "I can't kill my own species" then what if the child is raised to believe he's a queerat?

  13. S

    If you remember the episode when as children they got lost in the wilderness the image that formed in the sky caused the death feedback to partially trigger in the monk. If their self image corresponds to a queerat then there is no need for anything else.

    The conditioning that they receive from early age is to make then not even able to think of killing, after all the death feedback happens only after they kill someone. That is why noone is stepping up to do a suicide mission. They have been conditioned against murder.

  14. F

    I think the death feedback was stablished by conditioning during that ritual that the little kids had to pass at the temple. The base is probably genetic engineering (hepatic failure apon a certain stimulus from the Cantus) but a conditioning is also necessary so that this stimulus is triggered when and only when attacking a human (it's possible that this conditioning also makes it very difficult for them to attack a human, as you reasoned here).

    If it's like this, normal(?) fiends would be those that suddenly stop viewing other people as human (something pretty common in some mental diseases like schizophrenia) and therefore the stimulus wouldn't be triggered. This would explain why the children's behaviour is constantly observed, if being a fiend was genetically determined they could know with a single ADN analysis, without having to kill any suspicious kid. In the case of the abducted children, they would never receive the conditioning and all of them would be false fiends.

    In any case, SSY is a really interesting and thrilling anime, too bad the pacing was kinda bad in the first 4 episodes and a lot of people dropped it…

  15. K

    "There's some irony, certainly, in the fact that it was the village's decision to murder Mamoru (remember him?) that gave Yakomaru the key to his plan."

    But if it was just Mamoru and not Maria who ran away, this would not have happened. That to me is the key and why Saki says that line about Maria being at fault. Certainly Maria did not intend for this to happen and I am sure she could never imagine it would, but this is what her decision lead to.

  16. How does that change my point, though? Would Maria have run if Mamoru hadn't been targeted? Not in my view.

  17. K

    But Maria still made the ultimate decision to run away with Mamoru. Even if you can argue that Mamoru had to make that decision because his life was threatened, Maria did not.

    I am not saying Maria is the only one who made the wrong choice but the point is Maria condemns her society in that letter and yet now we (and Saki) see first hand why the society took such drastic measures.

    I am not judging Maria because I don't fault her for making the choice she did but I believe that choice is what is key here, not what happened with Mamoru.

  18. H

    It's still very possible that Maria would have run from the village even if Mamoru had not left at that time. Her letter shows a lot more frustration, distrust, and discontent with the life among humans, and it seemed that she was on the verge of leaving anyway. Yes, Mamoru's death sentence was a catalyst, but without all that background, Maria would have been bringing him back, not escaping with him. And honestly, I think it was a poor one, more driven by "we need to get Maria and Mamoru to leave the village for the story" than any evidence provided by the show, since Mamoru never really showed anything at least to me that he was even a precursor for a fiend.

    But without Mamoru leaving then, who knows what would have happened in the future, when some other catalyst comes up. If it wasn't that, I think it would have been something else.

  19. g

    After getting my head plunged into the waters of critical analysis, I can now see myself arriving to the idea that Shin Sekai Yori, along with Psycho-Pass, is essentially a brilliant manifestation of human civilization's instability regardless of any period. Surely, human beings can becalm themselves and subsequently attain harmony by simply abiding by the laws cemented with falsified yet necessary elements. The real problem, however, is how long they would be able to sustain everyone's serenity as there will definitely be those in the likes of Yakomaru and Makishima Shogo, who're in the brink of burgeoning forth sooner or later. And just as what you've pointed out in the review, their world, in any account, is no different from ours.

    In terms of this series' pacing, it is undoubtedly a couple of tiptoes away from perfection. Perhaps, this might be the only series in the anime industry which is capable of swooshing off Steins; Gate and FMA Brotherhood from my list of gems.

  20. R

    The death feedback is mainly biological, with additional psychological and hypnotic conditioning. It works like the imprinting mechanism of a duckling: the first thing it sees moving, it regards as the mother. Similarly, with cantus-users I think their imprinting is made upon humans (well, the 'human form'), from when they are little.

    I, like you, think the fiend is not REALLY a fiend, in the sense that it went bunkers and kills everyone in sight. He has not developed a psychose or anything like that. His mechanism just doesn't work with humans, because he was raised by rats. He considers himself a rat. The imprinting was done on rats, hence, he can kill humans without the death-feedback kicking in but he can't kill the rats.

    You may point out that, in that case, he couldn't have killed the other clan of queerats neither. Which seemed a flaw in my reasoning back then, but now I've rewatched what they said about it; it's not actually said a cantus users directly killed those rats. Only that the arrows were undamaged, which pointed to a cantus-user. They also said the bodies were mutilated, but they didn't argue that this could only be done by a cantus-user, so maybe the mutilation was simply done by the other rats/clan, while the fiend just disarmed them and made them powerless.

    This would also serve Squeelers' broader plans. As long as he keeps the human offspring separated in the beginning, and let the imprinting be done on himself/rats, the 'fiends' will not be able to kill rats. But contrary to human cantus-users now, the rats have no such quarrel; they can easily try to kill humans and rats alike without risking a death-feedback. And even when a true fiend would emerge; he can just let the other 'raised' fiends deal with it, and kill that one off, since they wouldn't have an imprint on a human.

  21. m

    So everything is basically Saki's fault.

  22. d

    Sadly an unintentional yes.

  23. e

    Sorry to be dense here but can someone explain to me the series of shots that signified Nimi-San's death? I didn't understand that moment of epiphany when Saki realized that Nimi-San had sacrificed himself. I thought Saki had said something to the effect of Nimi-San escaping. But then you had the water wheel, empty canal, and black-and-white scenes in tandem and all of a sudden, Saki knows that he's dead? Thanks in advance! SUCH a fan of the series, they can't roll out these episodes fast enough ~(;_-)**~~

  24. S

    The place where the music is played from is powered by a waterwheel. Because the canal had been drained the waterwheel no longer worked so Nimi-san was turning the wheel with his power. When the music suddenly stopped saki knows he's dead because the wheel is no longer turning.

  25. K

    There is also another possiblity – hypnosis. It could be that the child was a normal kid that was hypnotize somehow breaking the death feedback. That would explain how he could do all that and not be a fiend. Hypnosis also grants limits and purpose allowing the Queerat to be protected from repercusion simply by giving the right orders. Either way, I predict that everyhing is going to end with Shun coming back and save the world.


  26. K

    Alternative theory – the child is hypnotize! That would explain how death feedback is being bypass and him not being a fiend.


  27. S

    It's not like this story is as bright and warm as a summer day, but boy, stealing infants and raising them as slaves? And what Squealer did to Maria and Mamoru? That's horrific. I shudder by the thought.

  28. G

    I wonder if we will ever see what really happened to Maria and Mamoru?

  29. M

    How did Shisei's hair change colour?

  30. e

    Assuming it's not a continuity issue (someone botched the colourizing) or a status wig/headpiece or a consequence of the chemicals+explosions when the suicidal queerats attacked him during the festival… angry super Sayan mode :,D? *dodges bricks*

  31. H

    Not that it helps Kamisu or anyone in the show, but Yakomaru's grand plan as outlined by Saki and Satoru has the exact same problems that the human society has, which leads me to think that it would be destroyed from within far before it got that far. Despite Tomiko's analogy of humans and nuclear weapons, you can't really stockpile humans in an inert state the same way. So an army of uninhibited humans would be very likely to burn itself up when one person got upset with the others and goes on a rampage.

  32. J

    Saki & Satoru just aren't in love, and so the series doesn't emphasize their relationship, is that a problem?

    I guess we'll see in the future if they still try to play it up, but to me I don't think the show has ever really been about them as a couple.

  33. And neither have my complaints about the way their relationship is depicted. But I'm getting pretty exhausted with repeating that.

  34. s

    it isnt really a matter of whether they are in love or not; the fact is that they are supposed to be best friends and in a situation where normal people would seek emotional support and rely on each other, saki and satoru are more distant than they have ever been in the series. If you want a good example of their display of emotional dependence on each other in dire situations, go back to the episodes when they were 12 yrs old and it was only the two of them pretty much on the run from the queerats. The closeness they had in those moments is exactly what we should be seeing now and it should be at its strongest this late in the series regardless of romance; Saki and Satoru are the closest of friends…period and we as the audience should not be having any doubts about their bond whatsoever; and yet the anime staff is taking a hot dump on everything that has been built up between saki and satoru.

    Oh and other commentors on randomc who have read the novel have stated that saki is in love with satoru and he feels the same about her yet for some odd reason the anime staff is shafting their romantic development in favor of "other character developments" (cough maria and shun cough). And you know what, that would not be such a bother if it wasnt for the fact that the staff writers are undermining everything that saki and satoru have between each other and this late in the series, it's quite jarring. It doesnt break the series as a whole but it would be a lie to say that its not disheartening.

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