Human history was full of blood and terror. The new world was not so different except that in this new world, we were better at covering up the blood and terror. This article contains major spoiler. You have been warned!
The primer: Shin Sekai Yori followed the stories of five characters (Saki, Satoru, Maria, Mamoru and Shun) born and raised in the peaceful Kamisu 66 district of futuristic Japan. The world as we knew was gone and the past was clouded in mystery. The anime slowly guided the viewers deeper into this new world which was filled with all kinds of surprises. The first half of the series focused on Saki and her friends’ disturbing school lives. The second half was mostly about monster rats’ rebellion. I knew it sounded absurd but it was actually very interesting.
Shin Sekai Yori was not the usual sci-fi anime and it did not look like one. I have recently written about this point in another post which would serve as a good complimentary to this review. So, please check it out as well.
I would say that Shin Sekai Yori had some pacing issue but the problem did not directly caused by its sluggish pacing. The anime covered extensive length of time starting at Saki’s childhood and concluded at Saki’s adulthood. It was incredibly slow, often lingering on idle talk, travelling and daily activities for a long time. But the anime was actually building up, slowly feeding the viewers with bits and pieces of information regarding the world and the happenings around them. Once I could familiarize myself with the show’s pacing, I realized that every trivial event meant something and was part of much larger mystery. There was always a sense of terrible things looming above and lurking around this apparently beautiful world; the rumors of impure cats, ogres, nameless missing children, questionable spiritual barriers, the troubles monster rats and glowing animals which talked about terrible events in the past. It took up more than half of the series before anything really made sense. Thus, there were several moments in the first half of the show that felt a bit incoherent and possibly irrelevant. Shin Sekai Yori required the viewers to be patient and pay close attention to details. Not everyone was ready to do that, unfortunately.
In addition, the rather complex back story of Shin Sekai Yori also resulted in arguably overuse of voiceover and exposition for few key events and scene transitions. Generally, too frequent use of such technique might reflect poor writing. But personally, I thought that the anime did not do this often enough that it became a problem.
An ideal education system
I wrote this section based on the education system that I had encountered here in my country. Though I believe that each country’s education system shared several common traits, this part of the article might not be applicable to the situation in every place.
Watching Shin Sekai Yori made me reflect on the oppressive nature of my country’s education. Of course, the anime took things to the extreme to create dramatic impression but the real message remained clear. The children under 17 years of age in Kamisu 66 district were under the sole jurisdiction of educational committee. The committee’s influence to the children included everything they learned in school, how they dress, how they behave, their personalities, adaptability and down to their emotional status. The children were also genetically modified so that their bodies would suffer severe reaction when they harmed other human. The committee went as far as controlling the student’s memories and could legitimately eliminate students who they deemed potentially dangerous to the peaceful society.
In other words, the education committee made sure that the children turned out exactly the way they wanted. The adults feared that the next generation would throw everything they had built out the window. They feared what the children could become if left unchecked. This was the society in which the people left nothing to chances and freewill. However, Shin Sekai Yori made strong arguments against this idea through its main protagonist, Saki. She was one of a few who was not mentally altered and was allowed to keep part of her own freewill and ideal. Through her, we were able to see the world in a different light and Saki herself was also groomed for leadership.
The classic question; do you believe in freewill?
Similar to other science fictions, like Minority Report or Psycho-Pass, in which people were arrested or judged when they had potential to commit crimes, children in Shin Sekai Yori were eliminated when they showed signs of instability. It might be reasonable considering the chance of these people becoming grave danger to others. But was it right to take away people’s chance of not becoming bad? Saki had struggled with this method of keeping the peace all her life as she had lost many friends and even her own sister because of the system.
I was surprised to see how little had changed in the social system during the final scene of the series. Adult Satoru was shown tending to a litter of ‘Impured Kittens’ and adult Saki was nearby looking quite calm. By implication, it looked like Saki had ultimately resolved to keep the old system. It was hard to say if Saki’s choice was the right choice. Every decision came with a price. If I were in Saki’s position, I might make the same choice rather than risking emergence of an ogre. What do you think?
Other remarks: Shin Sekai Yori kept itself in rather dull earth-tone color. I suspected that the dimness added subtle heaviness and unsettling feeling to the general atmosphere. Animation was nothing spectacular but serviceable. The original scores were mostly in the background and nothing really stood out. But like I said before, production was never intended to be the anime’s selling point.
In conclusion, Shin Sekai Yori was not made for everyone. It was slow, serious and thoughtful. Certain amount of commitment from the viewers was required in order to get through the initial part of the series. But Shin Sekai Yori delivered in the end with so much more than just entertainment.
Title: Shin Sekai Yori (aka From the New World)
Genre: science fiction, fantasy
Released date: September 29, 2012 – March 23, 2013
Animated by: A-1 Pictures