Shin Sekai Yori – 23

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Cliffhangers are cruel to begin with, but at the end of these 5-minute episodes of SSY, they’re really brutal.

Only a show I love as much as this one is capable of making me rage so much about its flaws, but that doesn’t mean the feelings aren’t real.  This ep did so many things right – the pacing (as always), the choreography, the music (that remixed children’s chorus number at the end – spine-tingling).  I’ve rarely seen a show that could impress so much with presentation with so little budget (obviously) to work with.  I sense the “labor of love” quality to Shin Sekai Yori in the same way I did with series like Seirei no Moribito and Tsuritama (though they obviously had more money, in Moribito’s case a lot more) – it’s very clear that the people behind SSY care very deeply about delivering a quality product because they believe in the material.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t missteps, though, and because the standard is so high they really stand out for me.  Let’s start with an obvious and easy one – the ED.  It was a mistake to change from the brilliant “Wareta Ringo” to the thoroughly mediocre “Yuki ni Saku Hana” in the first place, and one than has the stink of crass commercialism to it.  In addition to the huge dropoff in the quality of the song itself, while “Wareta Ringo” was as thematically perfect for a series as an ED could be, this one has felt misplaced and disjointed from the start.  But now, as we’re getting to the agonizing final moments of the story, that ED popping up is practically a travesty – it diminishes everything that’s come before it.

That’s a straightforward issue, easy to fix (just drop the ED for the final eps) and not a deal-breaker by any means.  There are two other, subtler yet more troubling issues bothering me though.  The first, as discussed, is the oddly sterile relationship between Satoru and Saki.  It should have been the payoff for 20 episodes of buildup, but as adults their relationship is bland and lifeless.  The tragedy is that pairing off Saki and Inui in this episode really plays up just how off things are with Satoru, because she and Inui are much warmer to each other and their relationship has much more emotional depth despite the fact that they have no history to speak of.  It almost feels – and I admit I’m completely guessing here – as if the anime writing staff was afraid to show any emotional bond with Satoru because it would diminish the implied links with Shun and (especially) Maria.

The other problem is one I’ve mentioned briefly, but it’s been growing and really hit home this week, and that’s with Saki’s characterization itself.  For whatever reason she seems to have more and more been slipping into a damsel-in-distress role, and this road trip with the boys and the beast has really highlighted that.  It’s not as though Saki’s reactions aren’t “normal” for anyone enduring what she’s enduring.  But Saki isn’t supposed to be normal, for starters – she’s the exceptional figure Tomiko-san picked to succeed her.  And it’s troubling that Saki is repeatedly shown to be so much more traumatized and frankly useless in a pinch than pretty much every male companion she’s had of late – Satoru, Inui, Nimi-san.  Saki was always more “normal” than some of her more exceptional colleagues in the sense that she has understandable reactions of fear, sadness, and anger, and what was exceptional was her ability to keep her sanity and soldier on – and to be fair, Tomiko did point that out.  But it feels as if things have gone too far lately, and she really performs no useful purpose (so far) on this latest expedition apart from someone needing rescue.

I honestly worry about sounding too negative here, because even with issues like these, SSY remains my favorite show of the Fall season and a dead-lock cinch to be in my 2013 Top 5 list.  And it remains totally riveting, viscerally thrilling with an exquisitely crafted plot that’s screaming towards a finale in splendid fashion.  I thought the first line of the episode – via Saki’s narration – was an exceptionally interesting one: “The people living in Japan consider Tokyo to be a hell on Earth.”  Aside from the amusing subtext, it’s the word living that interests me – is this a sly foreshadowing that the ending of SSY is something other than a total victory for Yakomaru’s plan?  It also illustrates that Saki in the “present” is clearly remembering more and more of her time with Shun, as she speculates that it might be cantus leakage causing the bizarre mutations beneath Tokyo.  In addition to cockroaches (sly humor here – they haven’t changed at all) we meet more huge slugs, truly terrifying “shadow mites” that consume the innards of their victims as they hunt in a giant cloud, and a giant worm with a surprisingly human face (many of the creatures of SSY have suspiciously human faces).

All of this is encountered on the way to find the psychobuster, which is apparently hidden somewhere near Exit 19A of Roppongi Station (for the record, the real one has no Exit 19A).  Shun is making his presence more and more of a factor, intruding on Saki’s thoughts, and he basically confirms what we’d more or less guessed – that the “fiend” is no fiend.  We’re also getting more and more evidence that Kiromaru is in fact double-crossing the humans (a heartbreaking development, if true) – Inui offers as evidence the fact that he seems to know far too much of what to expect in Tokyo, and has been less than forthcoming about his reasons for being there before (and being willing to sacrifice 1/3 of his army).  That being the case, it disturbs me that Inui would be so willing to follow Kiromaru’s suggestion that the party split up when they reach a dead-end and need the submarine to continue, and to let Satoru go off alone with a queerat he’s convinced is a traitor.  I also find it puzzling that when Saki finally locates the psychobuster in the safe of what looks like the station manager’s office (thanks to Inui-san apparently sacrificing himself rather ignominiously) , along with a note – she apparently never reads the note.  Maybe this is a narrative trick and we’ll discover the contents next week, but if not – that seems like a seriously odd thing to do.  As for the buster itself, it appears to be white powder inside what looks like a Rosary or similar – confirming the likelihood that it’s some sort of super-anthrax designed as a last, desperate countermeasure against PKs.

Whatever issues I have with characterization (and that ED) in terms of plot, this is setting up as a truly compelling finish.  Despite the evidence of the last moments of this episode I don’t believe Shun is truly alive, but rather that he exists more in the manner he describes, as a kind of fragment of Cantus in Saki’s heart (a rather beautiful and symbolic notion) and that by finally remembering his name, she’s projected an image of him as a physical manifestation of what she imagines he’d look like if he’d been allowed to grow up.  If indeed Kiromaru is part of Yakomaru’s master plan (and what a plan, if so, implying that Kiromaru’s entire colony was willing to sacrifice itself to defeat the humans – a kind of ultimate terrorist mentality), he’s been angling to get the psychobuster all along.  Why?  Either because he believes queerats are immune to it and he can use it to finish the job of exterminating humans, or because he wants to use it as his method of disposing of his own pseudo-fiends when he’s done with them.  Perhaps most interestingly, I strongly sense that Saki is going to resist the notion of killing Squealer’s “fiend”, but rather to try and “turn” him – and what a weapon against the Queerats he’d make.  I don’t know if this is possible or practical, but in principle I think she’s absolutely right to want to try – he’s just a little boy who’s been groomed from birth as a weapon, not a fiend at all.  Perhaps this is the ultimate irony of Shin Sekai Yori – that while humanity may have lost it’s humanity by way of its willingness to pre-emptively murder its own children, it might be redeemed by Saki’s willingness to risk it’s survival by saving one innocent boy.  And one who’s already committed the acts whose prevention was used as justification for the murder of those other children.

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19 comments

  1. G

    One more thing to remember in all this…. Saki narrates the story from a much older voice (possibly even a senior citizen) so we all know she survives whatever happens (unless the writers go for some twisted out of this world ending like she is an old slave in a cage telling the story to younger human slaves).

  2. R

    SakiSaki is a survivor, a real survivor, not a "ghost" like Inui.
    She cries, she panics, but thats the way that Saki always deals with her emotions, she doesn't allow this life changing events change her.
    For me that's her biggest quality and the fact that she gets the job done even if she is afraid.
    I believe this are the reasons that Tomiko thinks so highly of her. is a survivor, a real survivor, not a "ghost" like Inui. She cries, she panics, but thats Saki, she has been always like this, she doesn't allow this life changing events change her. For me that's her biggest quality and the fact that she gets the job done even if she is afraid.

    I believe this are the reasons that Tomiko thinks so highly of her.

  3. R

    Sorry I made a mess of my post, its suppose to look like this:

    Saki is a survivor, a real survivor, not a "ghost" like Inui.
    She cries, she panics, but thats the way that Saki always deals with her emotions, she doesn't allow this life changing events change her.
    For me that's her biggest quality and the fact that she gets the job done even if she is afraid.
    I believe this are the reasons that Tomiko thinks so highly of her.

  4. s

    so i wasnt the only one whose been pissed at the characterization between Saki and Satoru as of late..thank god (seriously, why did it seem that Saki had more chemistry with inui than with her best friend..what are the anime staff writers doing???); you pretty much expressed in words all the gripes i have been having with this arc even though i am completely absorbed in the lore.

    About Shun existing as a piece of Cantus in Saki's heart…i dont know how i feel about that..i kind of feel like its a cop-out. The whole point of shun's death was to deliver a sense of emotional despair and loss because of the finality it held…he was suppose to stay dead period (without existing in any form whatsoever). I know hes not alive or anything, and for all we know, Saki could have just deluded herself into thinking that a piece of shun lives in her heart (I think that should be taken figuratively and not literally) but a part of him living within her just kinda…errrrr….i dont know how to react to that…good episode though, i seriously cant wait till next week.

  5. K

    I whole heartedly agree that the new ED is at odds with the show. The only good thing is that I can freely associate the frustration of the episode ending with the mediocre ED.
    I think one of the reasons(among many) the ED sticks out like a sore thumb is that it has no instrumental intro. The ED jumps directly to the song lyrics, thus making the transition from the episode into the ED that much more jarring. The audience is still very much engrossed with the events of the episode, but then someone immediately starts singing s song that clashes horribly.

  6. K

    Will this story lead to a reformation or a revolution? Will the queerats stood victorious or will the humans emerge triumphant or will the ending ends with a third option?

  7. S

    The thing with Saki you need to remember is that her powers are actually pretty meager. She was almost fed to the cats because her cantus developed so late. In the manga version the cats had actually been released that day, but in the evening her cantus activated and so they were recalled. She has to rely on the cantus of those around her.

    As to her relationship with Satoru, to me it looks like both of them simply cannot get over the memory of Shun who they both loved, especially bcause they cannot remember it clearly

  8. S

    Wow, this is great review. I shouted in anger after the cliffhanger and I despise that ED, too. I kept thinking how great it would be to play Wareta Ringo after this episode, and thought about doing some editing to make sure it happened in my collection of SSSY.

    I haven't even read the entire review yet, but the Damsel-in-Distress, didn't she more or less singlehandedly kill that nasty green-blooded beast in the water? The most dangerous creature in Tokyo? It was only until afterwards she learned that Inui was alive.

  9. I'm pretty sure it was Inui that killed that giant worm, not Saki.

  10. k

    What I really don't understand about the anime's handling of the Satoru&Saki relationship is that they had great chemistry when they were kids, better than they have in the book. From all the relationships within the group, theirs was the one that stood out the most (to me, anyway), they clearly put a lot of effort into it. And yet, now that they're adults it's all gone as if it never existed, and they even went out of their way to avoid showing them being close. I really don't understand why. Maybe you're right and they thought it would lessen Saki's relationship with Maria and Shun… :/ In any case, it's a shame, more so because I actually expected them to do this relationship more justice than the book, but apparently I was wrong. (After a point the book gets so focused on the plot and the various issues it's addressing, that it kind of ignores everything else, which is pretty frustrating.)

    About Saki being a damsel in distress, though, I can't agree with that. For one, I don't think that just because a character doesn't kick ass while everyone else does she's a damsel in distress. She doesn't need to be rescued all the time either, and for Inui rescuing her in this episode, it's easy to see why it happened that way, with Inui's training and superior abilities. And despite everything that happened, she went on, found the psycho buster, got out of underground with it, etc. so it's not like she's useless and only there for people to save her.

    I think people have expectations for Saki that she was never meant to fulfill. People want her to fight and kick ass, even though she was never a fighter. They want her to be calm and collected when we have been repeatedly told and shown that she's not that type. And yet her main strength, for which Tomiko picked her, gets dismissed. As RuiCosta said above, Saki is a survivor who gets through hell, even if she cries and panics during the process, and doesn't fall apart or lose sight of herself… and also gets the job done.

    Also, she's very young. Anime rarely has adult main characters, so I think her age also gets dismissed often, but for someone like Saki, 26 is not really an adult.

  11. k

    By the way, as for the note next to the psycho buster, perhaps they're going to read it later (or flash back to Saki reading it). But even if that's the case, it's a pity we didn't see her reading it in this episode, it's going to be difficult to replicate the chilling atmosphere of reading that letter in that room.

  12. e

    @kuromitsu: I quite agree about Rui's and yours about Saki. The only little touches that made me rise an eyebrow in these episodes were that whenever there were complains among their party about smells or icky things at large those were voiced by Saki… because the one girl in the group must be the picky one among the manly males you know X,D.

    ED and Satoru/Saki-related: indeed is regrettable they chose to downplay the closeness (both romantic and otherwise) between Saki and Satoru that much. But going how even the anime series-related materials featured yuri shipping hardcore – the two EDs single cover and illustrations feature Maria and Saki only, holding hands back to back and looking soulfully either in the distance or at each other *headdesk* – I've grown surprised we still got some non yuri moments at all within the actual episodes…

    Shun ;_; <3 and the return of awesome choral music. AH <3


    'Perhaps this is the ultimate irony of Shin Sekai Yori – that while humanity may have lost it's humanity by way of its willingness to pre-emptively murder its own children, it might be redeemed by Saki's willingness to risk it's survival by saving one innocent boy. And one who's already committed the acts whose prevention was used as justification for the murder of those other children.'
    *a million thumbs up*

  13. R

    Maybe they are going to do something original with them like Saki will tell Satoru that she loves him, maybe even next episode by the looks of things (THAT'S NOT A SPOILER IN ANY WAY).

  14. d

    'Perhaps this is the ultimate irony of Shin Sekai Yori – that while humanity may have lost it's humanity by way of its willingness to pre-emptively murder its own children, it might be redeemed by Saki's willingness to risk it's survival by saving one innocent boy. And one who's already committed the acts whose prevention was used as justification for the murder of those other children.'

    It will be interesting to see this play out.

  15. H

    I thought the ED change was good when the story evolved around Maria for the middle of the series, but now that Maria's no longer a character of focus, it's out of place. But mostly, the two ED's for this show have let me know that it's time to stop watching, because I find the previews give too much away for the show.

  16. R

    I, too, dislike the ED — it has nice visuals, but what it's showing from the visuals and the singing…thumbs down. I really like the first ED way better.

    It's only two episodes left, and I really can't wait for everything to unfold. I keep hoping for Satoru to survive — I don't want him to be killed — and the preview doesn't hold up to my wish. Even when the creators are not thinking of pairing up Satoru and Saki, at least they can be companions for a bit longer…especially when they have shared and gone through so much together.

    Other things that I have been wondering — aside from worrying about the future of Saki and Satoru — are
    1) will Saki live a very long life like Tomiko-san given that they have similar capabilities?
    2) to whom is Saki telling this story…will there be humans left after this big catastrophe?
    (…and I can't stop repeating the question in my head, will Satoru be with her till the end…)

    Fridays are really the best — it's when I get to watch Chihayafuru and Shinsekai Yori in one sitting, and they complement each other well for me — one is heart-warming and encouraging, and the other is very dark and engrossing. I like the characters in Chihayafuru slightly better, but I love the storytelling of Shinsekai Yori. Well, both series come very close to my favourite, and I can't say enough good words to my friends about their greatness… To think about it, both series are based on award-winning materials…I guess I have started to understand why a strong source material matters. It's not a sure-win ingredient but one that will definite give the show an edge when it's in the right hands.

  17. As far as I know we've seen no indication that the old lady ever shared the telomere-repairing trick with Saki, though I suppose she had plenty of time to do so over the timeskip.

  18. R

    That's true — we were not told about that. It's only two episodes left…I know I will re-watch the show again in my spare time. Hope that Vertical Inc. get enough people to express interest and translate the novel…I will for sure buy it a copy.

  19. H

    I'm of the opinion that it's safe to assume that Saki did learn that ability, because along with her temperament, it's the most important thing to her becoming a leader of the human society. It's what Tomiko thought was the most significant portion of her 'power' and influence, and I would think that if Saki could not replicate the ability, that they would have agreed that she not be the 'replacement' for Tomiko.

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