Two quick thoughts for starters…
- I actually muted the sound and played Wareta Ringo over the ED animation. Wish I’d thought of it weeks ago.
- I was sure there were 26 episodes of Shin Sekai Yori, and only found out after the preview sent me scampering in fear to Syoboi that I was wrong, and next week is the finale. What a cruel way to end a Saturday.
It’s always hard when really great shows come to an end, especially two-cour and longer ones. SSY has probably been the best series of the last six months, an amazing ride. What’s more the story is so big that it seems almost impossible to believe it could actually be ending – which is fitting, because that’s exactly the way really great novels have always made me feel. I really wish anime would use the novel as a source material more often, because it’s been the source of some of the finest anime we’ve seen over the past five years (starting with Moribito, though that was hardly the first). I suppose that bodes well for Red Data Girl in the coming season, though that’s small consolation as we prepare to say goodbye to Shin Sekai Yori.
The flip side of that is really great series are hard to end, too – coming up with those final acts is always the hardest part of any story. It helps me feel optimistic that this comes from a source that seems to have as solid a narrative foundation as any we’ve seen adapted since Moribito, but I’m still on edge heading into next week. There’s a lot to be done, and on the surface it might seem as if not enough of it got done this week. But I believe this episode was constructed for more purpose, and that was to set up one specific scene that symbolizes what I’m now convinced is the key element of the conclusion.
The use of abandoned subway tunnels beneath a ruined Tokyo was really a master stroke by Kishi Yuusuke (though he likely wasn’t considering what an effective device it would eventually make for anime). The last couple of episodes have really had a “Mines of Moria” quality to them – claustrophobic and epic at the same time. And the symbolism of this last fight for civilaztion in the stinking bowels of the last one (I mean, really, Roppongi – that’s just too delicious for words) is perfectly suited to what’s happening in the story.
There was a very interesting contrast set up between Queerats and humans in this episode, though the person of Kiromaru. I must say I’m very glad he turned out not to be a traitor after all, because I’ve always profoundly wanted to believe he was the noble creature he seemed to be. We’ve been jerked around very effectively on that score over the last couple of eps, but it seems clear now that he’s thrown his lot in with Saki and Satoru quite sincerely. He finally admits, too – at Saki’s questioning – that he went to Tokyo in the hopes of finding WMDs that the O-Suzumbachi themselves could use against the humans, to ensure their survival. He says this very matter-of-factly, with no shame and no malice – it’s simply a fact, and it seems perfectly logical thinking for a species living under the reality that their masters could annihilate them on a whim (and often did). That’s the reality of the post PK world. He also scolds Saki for her species’ tendency to give up when things look darkest, declaring that his kind will always attempt to find a way to turn the situation in their favor, even if all hope for their own lives is lost. What’s to be lost in the trying, after all? Again this is said very simply and directly – a statement of fact and not a condemnation. And Saki can do nothing but agree.
It seems to me that as vile and merciless as Yakomaru is, all of the energy and motivation in this battle is on the side of the Queerats. There’s a fundamental difference between humans and they, in that Queerats will willingly sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the species, whereas humans will sacrifice their own children in an attempt to preserve their own lives. Is it entirely without justification? No, of course not – it’s the natural imperative of any species to try and survive. But that doesn’t change the fact that humanity has been on a downward spiral, more and more paranoid and venal and willing to do anything to ensure that it might crawl onward for a few more years. I’ve never had the sense that I really knew what the humans in this story were fighting for, which has always placed them at a disadvantage to the Queerats. Their motivation is very simple – adapt. If that meant serving the humans – which it most certainly did when no means were available to fight them – that’s what they did. If that meant availing themselves of the opportunity to try and throw off their oppressors, so be it. The humans in the story, by contrast, seemed to be surviving merely for its own sake, without any clear goal beyond that. Their dying civilization is the result of bad choices leading to worse choices, towards an inevitable end where no choices remain except to accept oblivion with grace.
That’s why I see Saki’s act in, at the very last moment, foiling the attempt to kill Maria and Mamoru’s (his name was actually mentioned!) child with the Psychobuster as the crucial moment in the series. It was completely irrational, illogical by any standard we’ve seen used over the course of this story. Yet it was a completely human act too – done out of compassion for the child and out of love for Satoru (sort of – while their relationship still lacks the depth it should have, there was a glimmer of their old mutual trust and dependence there this week). It was done out of a fear of being alone, too – but then that’s also a very human frailty. It seems silly to think one small impulse could stem the tide of history, but this is fiction and those things do happen in fiction – symbolism is important and this feels like a moment of huge symbolic importance. Her people have ruled under a principle of complete, irrefutable Consequentialism, under the justification that no act was too harsh if the survival of civilization was on the line. What Saki has done here (admittedly I don’t think either Kiromaru or Satoru approved) was to act on her own moral compass alone – to do something solely and completely for the reason that in that moment, to her, she was sure it was the right thing to do. I can’t say it will mean anything in the final analysis, but it feels like the first step on a long and difficult journey.
I couldn’t help but notice that the narrative of Shin Sekai Yori finally folded in on itself at the end, as Saki’s thoughts at the moment of decision were not spoken by Taneda Risa but by Endou Aya, who gives voice to the adult Saki as she looks back as the events of the story. This only lends credence to the notion that this moment was the junction at which Saki’s personal story turned, for better or for worse. What will happen next week? It really is hard to imagine this story ending, but end it will – and all we really know is that at the moment of telling, Saki is alive. I find the usage of Shun as an inner voice of wisdom a bit too convenient, truth be told, though I’m curious if we’ll ever find out just to what extent he exists as something apart from just a fragment of Saki’s mind. “He” seems convinced that Kiromaru is the key to everything, and I think that Kiromaru made it clear he’s more than willing to lay down his life for the greater good – which now seems to mean putting and end to Yakomaru. The mirror gambit has clearly scrambled the child non-fiend’s mind (is that really a boy?) but to what end we can’t be sure – but if he can’t be saved, then Saki’s grand gesture will have amounted to nothing. As cogent and purposeful as Shin Sekai Yori has been since the very beginning, I have to believe we’re going to get an ending that frames the entire series in a meaningful way.