Suffice to say, if there was one word I never expected to hear in Shin Sekai Yori, it was “Roppongi”. For those who don’t know, Roppongi is the anus of Tokyo – a sleazy and glitzy spread of expensive and soulless shopping malls and dive bars designed almost entirely to feast on the dollars of foreigners. On any given night it’s full of hawkers for sex shops, drunk gaijin and locals who like to take advantage of them. None of that is likely to have any real connection to its use as a locale in SSY, of course, but it’s quite surreal to see my worlds colliding in such a comedically absurd way. I was lured to Roppongi once for a ¥1000 nomihoudai, and I think I prefer the subway tunnels with six inches of bat guano to the actual place. As for the giant blood-sucking slugs, that’s pretty much unchanged from reality.
Even in saying I don’t want to repeat myself when talking about SSY I’m repeating myself, because I’ve already said it more than once – but I can’t help it. I’m not sure I’ve ever watched an anime that could make 22 minutes feel shorter than this one does – it’s past the point of admiration now and almost at the disbelief stage. How in the world did that episode go by so fast? How can a series keep giving so much exposition without it feeling like overload, and still keep so many mysteries alive and viable? I’ve expressed my disappointment over the evolution of the Saki-Satoru relationship and the disappearance of Mamoru from his friends’ consciousness, but apart from that we’re just not seeing any missteps here. For a two-cour anime, Shin Sekai Yori is treading dangerously close to flawless in terms of getting the big things right.
An awful lot happened this week, but then it pretty much always does with this show. What we’re seeing is both surprising and quite logical, and every development seems in hindsight to have been the only possible direction events could have taken, even if it we didn’t see it coming beforehand. The first major order of business is the repatriation of Kiromaru, who’s languishing in the dungeons of the temple based on the Security Council’s order to kill all Queerats regardless of tribe. Why didn’t they just kill him then, it might be fair to ask? Perhaps it’s because he rescued Inui-san and brought him to the temple – indeed, Kiromaru has already saved Saki and Satoru once, though the monks would have no way to know that. Inui has a very interesting tale to tell, as well – he escaped the fiend by speaking in the queerat language as he fled. The implications of that fit in rather nicely with some of the notions floated in this space last week, though we’ll get to that shortly.
As for the other major development in the A-part, it’s that box from Saki’s parents. It contains an emotional goodbye letter, as well as a very important parcel – a false minashiro. That letter also tells Saki of a device called the “Psychobuster”, the last of the old human WMDs, designed in America as (ironically) by muggles as the last best chance to wipe out all PKs. It seems that its existence is kept as a “Class Four” secret, a kind of “do-not-open-till the fiend shows up” kind of last resort (it seems odd that Tomiko-san never told Saki of it, but it would be even stranger if she didn’t know about it), and it’s hidden somewhere in the aforementioned Tokyo neighborhood. Finding an address in Tokyo is impossible even now, never mind in a dystopian future where the city is a wasteland patrolled by mutants that even the queerats avoid – but that’s where the minashiro comes in. And so, the road trip arc begins.
I thought from the beginning that Saki and Satoru might ask Kiromaru along for the trip, as it only makes sense – especially as he’s ventured to Tokyo once before. Of course with everything else that’s happened in SSY, we can’t dismiss the possibility that Kiromaru is in league with Yakomaru-Squealer and has been all along. I don’t think that’s the case, though I can’t discount the chance that I simply don’t want it to be the case – Kiromaru seems like a noble creature (and being voiced by Hiroaki Hirata doesn’t hurt). If he is a double-agent, that means he willingly sacrificed his entire colony for the sake of Yakomaru’s plan – not impossible I suppose, but it doesn’t pass the Occam’s Razor test for me. Then there’s the question of the Psychobuster itself, which the false minashiro reveals is a type of supercharged Anthrax weapon with a 1-2 year kill switch. How is it that it targets specifically fiends – or does it not target fiends at all? Maybe it’s an accepted price to pay that there will be massive collateral damage, and the whole premise of the weapon is not that it’s specific to PK users, but that PK users can’t disable it as they would a poison (Anthrax is a living thing, seemingly much harder to use their cantus against).
In any event, it seems clear that Yakomaru – most likely through a false minashiro of his very own – has learned of the existence of the device, and it desperate to keep the humans from accessing it at all costs. He’s quickly on the heels of Saki, Satoru, Inui and Kiromaru, following them across the sea and into the subway tunnels of the ruined Tokyo. He’s leading the party himself too, showing just how seriously he takes the threat against his invaluable weapon. One thing I can say for certain – if it weren’t for Kiromaru the humans would already be dead, and they’d have no idea of the exact nature of the party pursuing them. In theory it could all be part of an act to get the humans to lead the way to the Psychobuster so it can be destroyed, but that seems like a stretch. As for the chase, the trip through the tunnels once again proves that SSY is willing to spare no labor to make its audience shudder – and I love the way Kiromaru keeps responding to Saki’s declarations that she must surely be passing through Hell by telling her, “This is still heaven.”
For me, the single most important moment of the episode comes when Saki finally reaches the point many of already have – wondering whether this “fiend” is really a fiend at all. I suspect that it was Inui’s story that started her train-of-thought, but whatever it was, what she suggests makes perfect sense – indeed, she makes many of the same arguments I and others have been making for why this being a fiend seems very unlikely. This raises the very troubling question of just how Saki and Satoru will feel about using the Anthrax bomb against someone who isn’t a fiend, but is in fact a little boy whose only crime was being raised to believe humans are devils that must be exterminated – and the son of Maria and Mamoru at that. They may have no practical choice but to kill him anyway – using the only means at their disposal that won’t trigger their no-kill barrier and death feedback. But the implications of the action will surely haunt them if Saki turns out to be right. Satoru doesn’t want to hear it, but there seems to be an element of willful denial there as much as honest skepticism – his course is much simpler if he convinces himself that the boy really is a fiend.
We’ve been presented with so many no-win situations, so many impossible decisions and so much existential despair in Shin Sekai Yori already that I see no reason to believe it will change now. I expect that the child is no fiend but simply a brainwashed boy used as a weapon by a brilliant extremist out to atone for the mistreatment of his species, and that his death will be yet one more debit against humanity in the balance sheet. There’s never been a question of Saki’s survival – she’s the one telling the story – but as with everything else, we’re left to wonder as to the cost. What price is worth paying to perpetuate what remains of humanity? All of its sins are being called to payment one by one, each new tragedy a product of the Karmic debts the survivors have accrued in fulfilling their evolutionary imperative. It appears from the preview as if Shun will appear in some form next week – be it in a dream of in reality – but even he can’t give Saki the absolution she’s no doubt desperate for. She and Satoru are good people who’ve done nothing to deserve the burden that’s been placed on them, but if we’ve learned anything in 22 brilliant episodes of Shin Sekai Yori, it’s that justice has no bearing in the pitiless world it depicts.