Shin Sekai Yori – Series Review

A beautiful world of hardship

 From the New World, Shin Sekai Yori is a beautiful world of ugly realities.

Hello everyone, new writer Highway here and I’d like to welcome you to the series review of Shin Sekai Yori. If you made it through the show, you know what a roller coaster it was, and if you haven’t watched it yet, you really have a treat in store for you. First a warning, there are spoilers in this post, so read on accordingly.

 Deciding their trip topicShun blows right by Saki like she's not thereSaki plans

Storytelling: The story focuses on Saki Watanabe and her classmates in Group One, who live approximately 1000 years in a future from our time. The major development in this world was the emergence of psychokinetic abilities among a small portion of the population, leading to all out war, severe depopulation, cruel and capricious empires, and ultimately a ‘stable’ society that is far from perfect. The world we’re introduced to is one of low population (a world population of about 250 *million*), sequestered villages, and paranoia.

We follow Saki through three portions of her life: age 12, just as her PK powers have awakened; age 14, as the children start to turn into young adults; and age 26, when the choices of the past return to affect the present. We see her relationships with the other members of Group One, and what happens to the other members through the years. We eventually come to learn that Group One is special compared to all the other children, which both grants them some leeway but also puts them at greater risk. And that risk manifests itself in the death of 2/3 of Group One before they are 16 years old. But that doesn’t mean that the survivors are home free, just that they’re the ones who are left to deal with the greatest threat of all.

Watching Shin Sekai Yori was more experience than mere entertainment. I found myself making plans, clearing out other things, to have uninterrupted time to watch this series. Nearly every episode kept me engrossed from start to finish and I found that most of the episodes of this show felt far shorter than 22 minutes. There’s no OP sequence, and the end of the show is announced by a title card that frequently made me think it was the mid-episode break, only to have the ED song play, and realize that the show was in fact over.

Golden AgeCapricious killing of his subjectsThe light erupts

Masterclass in World-building: This is the biggest strength of Shin Sekai Yori. Based on a novel, I found the story itself to be nearly airtight, with few, if any, plot holes and no contradiction. The methodology used to tell the story is extremely effective, especially early in the series, at building this fully realized world. Using flashback sequences to times hundreds of years before the show, as well as a thousand years ago to a time analogous to ours (referenced as the “Golden Age”), the start of the PK war is graphically shown, as well as the intermediate empires that spring up after the PK’s win the war against non-PKs, glorious in their cruelty, and spectacular in their demise. After we’ve gotten the picture of this previous world, the show does move away from these flashbacks to focus on the current events in each of the time periods, ultimately culminating in a fight for humanity’s existence.

K becomes a fiend

As I said, this is not a friendly world. The presence of PK abilities is likened to each person being a nuclear bomb. Any one person could, with mere thoughts, kill hundreds or thousands of others. In order to deal with this threat, this society has tried to defuse these bombs, using hypnotic methods of control, and genetic methods known as Death Feedback, a psychoactive feature which condemns anyone who knowingly kills another human to death, even if they didn’t know it was a human at the time. And to make sure that everyone who is in the society is compliant, they use ruthless culling of children, a concept whose mere existence is abhorrent to us, yet is carried out to an unimaginable extent.

Music Remembrances

Music: The primary ED for the series, Wareta Ringo, sung by Saki’s seiyuu Risa Taneda, is a stilted, jarring piece that almost always fit exactly the ending mood of the episode. The second ED, Yuki ni Saku Hana by Kana Hanazawa, was not quite as perfect of a fit, and that may have been better if they had used the intro from the single version which features a similarly dissonant opening. The rest of the music for the series was excellent as well, using the second movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony to great effect throughout the series, as well as a haunting piece of music that featured a children’s chorus over powerful guitars and percussion at dramatic parts of the show. The remainder of the background music and OST is well selected, and never gets out of place with the mood of the show.

The isolation house

Staff: Perhaps the most disappointing part of Shin Sekai Yori is the animation quality. It was obvious from early in the series that the show was fairly low budget, and while A-1 Pictures does a very good job with the backgrounds and scenery, the animation of the series tends to be pretty static, lots of closeups, low detail characters, and very few action scenes. But while in some series this would be a fatal flaw, in SSY it merely turns out to be a minor quibble. The show is well-directed around the known limitations in budget, and minimizes the damage this causes, while playing up the things the show does well.

In contrast to the animation, the voice acting in the show is another strong point. Because of the time skips, multiple characters have multiple seiyuu but the transitions happen seamlessly. Aya Endou’s ‘Future Saki’ sounds exactly like you think Risa Taneda’s Saki would sound in 20 years, and Yuki Kaji, playing against his typically weak protagonist character type, is strong as post-pubescent Satoru. We also get solid performances from newcomers Mai Toudou and Ayumu Murase as Shun, the first main character for both. But some of the characters keep the same VA throughout, and they all do a tremendous job, particularly Daisuke Namikawa as the scheming, duplicitous Squealer and Hiroaki Hirata as the noble Kiroumaru. The show also features Hana Kanazawa as Maria and Yoshiko Sakakibara as Tomiko.

Yakomaru and Kiroumaru

Perhaps the biggest hook the series has is the ability to provoke thought and discussion. Exploring the ethics and morality of this future society can be an endless topic of discussion, and it really helps that the characters in the show become aware of the moral issues that the rest of us are looking at, and struggle with them throughout, both on the side of being at the mercy of the adults and later on the side of making the decisions. While this show often depicts a pretty world, it masks darkness, fear, and inequality. And these things cannot stay hidden forever. We’re left with the question of what can the members of this society do? Should they fight on, or should they give up? Do they deserve to be supplanted by the bakenezumi? And does that opinion change upon learning the truth behind the bakenezumi?

Shin Sekai Yori is really an early candidate for best show of 2013. It sets the bar pretty high for the shows coming up to try to clear with peerless storytelling, a well-imagined and deep world, and a thought-provoking morality. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it and would recommend it for everyone.

And as a last note here on my first post for Metanorn, I’ll give a small introduction. I’ve been a regular commenter on Metanorn for the last 10 months, so if you’ve been around here, you’ve probably heard of me, but I am really happy to join the team of writers here. I’ve been blogging for about 6 months at another site, and watching anime only for about 18 months, but I think I’ve watched a good number of shows in that time, and while I might miss some old show references, I’ll enjoy learning more about them (and maybe going back to watch them). I look forward to writing about upcoming shows, giving my perspectives, and interacting with everyone. Thanks for reading!

About

Proving that you don't have to be young to love anime, I enjoy all genres and styles of shows. If it's not hurting anyone else, you should never be ashamed of what you like!
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29 Responses to “Shin Sekai Yori – Series Review”

  1. Liza says:

    Congrats Highway, for your first Metanorn post! :D

    This anime was amazing. It’s one of the few that I think was perfect in every which way. Every single episode was a ride and had me holding my breath and hoping that the characters make it out alive. It’s also one of the shows that seem to have a cliffhanger every single episode.

    Also, another thing I love was the reveal in the final 10 minutes of the series that put everything into perspective about Squealer and what he was doing. It made his plight more…I wouldn’t say sympathetic but it helped make him more…human(lol).

    • Highway says:

      Thank you very much!

      I don’t know about perfect in every way, given the low quality animation at times, but besides that it was well put together. And you’re right, it was very consistent with, if not a strict cliffhanger, a continuation and reason to keep watching next time.

      I do think that Satoru’s reveal at the end, while related to what Squealer said, was not really integral to it. I think that metaphorically, whatever the bakenezumi were genetically, Squealer had a significant point by saying that he was “human” anyway. As he argued, the bakenezumi were just as intelligent, just as volitional, just as sentient. And just as capable of great and terrible works. In all those ways that counted, they were human. Their genetics didn’t really matter to me, or to Saki.

      • Alexandre says:

        However, he may have learned (as is conjectured in the series by Saki and her friends) about how the non-telekinetic humans were genetically altered by the scientists clan to produce the bakenezumi from a false minoshirou.

  2. Mint says:

    I loved how I could tell this was a novel adaptation. Something about the way the narration/exposition was handled and how the characters could seem like plot vehicles at times, but it didn’t bother me at all. I thought Saki was a great lead.

    Other things that I enjoyed about SSY: timeskips that kept things interesting, like you said FANTASTIC world-building (my favorite parts were the flashbacks lol), Kaburagi was hot, and the way all those arcs lead up to that ending, the last few hopeful notes of New World Symphony and all. ;__;

    Kiromaru’s death kind of bothered me, I dunno, it seemed to support how even in the end the lives of queerats didn’t seem to matter as much with how quickly they handled it. I didn’t care enough about Maria or Mamoru (I put it aside for a few months because I got bored of their runaway arc). Squealer reached Kyubey levels of creepy manipulativeness, but that last scene with Saki in the museum was so great. All in all this was a really good show! Did I mention I loved that ending? I loved that ending. ;___;

    • Highway says:

      Well, remember that Kiroumaru had an ulterior motive for helping Saki. She vowed to protect the Giant Hornet queen, and she could only do that if he helped to get rid of the “messiah”. If Saki had lost in Tokyo, then nothing would have saved the Giant Hornet queen, or even if she defeated the girl but died in the process. But having survived the war, she was in the best position to follow through on her promise, especially being able to say that Kiroumaru had given his life to help them win. I think his life and death were very significant, even if they didn’t state it explicitly or dwell on it much.

  3. Lena says:

    First of all, very nice review, I enjoyed reading it.

    I have to say that when I started watching Shinsekai Yori, I almost dropped it, the first 3 episodes weren’t really that exciting, I would even say boring, but I’m so glad I didn’t drop it since it really developed into a top-notch anime.
    Like you said yourself, the story is great, it’s thrilling and best thing about it, it makes sense and doesn’t contradict itself.
    Until the end this show surpirsed me with unexpected twists and turns, making this one of the best if not the best Anime this season.

    • Highway says:

      Thank you!

      It’s interesting that you were pushed over the top by Episode 4, since that was the big infodump episode. I found that one riveting, because it was just absolutely great world-building. But I know a few people who weren’t as invested in the world that just didn’t get through that episode.

      • skylion says:

        Infodumps are often a notorious factor in sci-fi and fantasy. I thought the show made it more than riveting. They managed to evade the rather thoughtless “As you may well know” approach, and instead displayed across the spectrum of those characters, the reaction, and ultimately, how the world changed as a result.

        • Highway says:

          That may have been the key to it. It wasn’t one character explaining all of this history to the audience. It was the audience listening in as these kids entire lives changed, both with the realization that the world isn’t nearly as safe and pure as they thought and the realization that they now knew things that put them in direct conflict with the adults.

          • skylion says:

            …for me it ties into the very real world. How much of us benefit from so many sacrifices, some of them dreadful, that has been made in the past? The characters learn it, we learn it, both resonate on a personal level.

  4. skylion says:

    Glad to see you in the ranks of Team Meta, Highway. Kudos.

    Very well handled review. You’ve managed to cull a great deal of detail down to key essential points, especially the narrative on World Building; always a pet and pet peeve of mine. I think the staff did very well to remember that the characters were the most fascinating, and essential parts of the story, and the world, in effect, supported that story.

    Goodness, but this show managed to make me shiver something fierce nearly every episode. I recall feeling nothing short of sickness when Shun “leaked out”. It was a punch to the gut, a stab to the heart, and sharp blade in the mind. This is coming from someone that has become fairly jaded over the years.

    I look forward to reading more from you sir.

    • Highway says:

      Thanks for commenting on my post! :)

      This show certainly did ramp up the atmosphere. It was one I really enjoyed, because it wasn’t just horror or jump scares. It was more a general anxiety that anything could happen. Nobody seemed safe, no situation was necessarily going to work out. I even was worried about Saki through the final arc, because even though we’d gotten the ‘Future Saki’ voiceovers, I wondered if they could be someone in the future reading what she’d written as she waited to die. And man, did Endou Aya do a great job with those. One of the reasons I love her work.

  5. skylion says:

    It’s seems only appropriate that Spammy eats my first comment on Highways first article……he’s such a dear, that Spamster.

  6. Overcooled says:

    Highway’s first post! :D

    I really enjoyed SSY, although I found it hit a bit of a road block when it started to focus on the homosexual romance. Even though we were kinda warned about it, the sudden onset was a bit jarring and seemed unimportant in the grand scale of things. Then again, I generally tend to regard any time devoted to romance as being time wasted :B Other than that small stain, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The world-building really was top notch.

    What did you think of Squealer? I thought he was an amazing villain and I loved where he was on trial, naked and being looked down upon by everyone. Every second of screentime with him made me feel uneasy…What an amazingly slimy, creepy guy. Err..rat.

    • Highway says:

      I didn’t mind the official condoning of same-sex pairs to allow the kids to explore post-pubescent sexuality. Given the things we learned about their more intimate natures due to learned behaviors for stress reduction, when you get to that stage where kids are now fertile, but you want to not have a bunch of 13 year old parents, it makes sense. It’s somewhat clinical, but it’s an approveable outlet. And then to have an actual ceremony where they essentially declare partners, again, calculated and clinical, but a smart move.

      The promotion of same-sex intimacy also helps reinforce the use of intimate touching as a stress-relief outlet for later in life, as it prevents the squickiness from settling in as children grow up. So I think there was more depth to it than just being gratuitously shocking, even if it was a bit jarring. I think it continued to assist with the world building, even if it wasn’t very explicitly stated.

      The trial was one of my most uncomfortable moments in the series, because it was just such a rotten display of the vengeful side of cruel, petty people. I think the words I was using to describe it were farce, kangaroo court, star chamber, vindictiveness. Like most ‘War Crimes’ trials, the charges depend entirely on what side you were on. I like to think that Saki was equally disgusted, that’s why she left the room.

      • skylion says:

        Ah, you got to this before me, Highway. But spot on. I cannot add a drop more.

        Saki is such a thought provoking character; as nothing she does is easy for critics to break down, she exemplifies and defies character tropes so well.

        I was taken aback by her confession. She lied by telling the complete and utter truth. She took vengeance and granted mercy in one swift stroke.

    • Kyokai says:

      You mean ningen, Cools! :D

  7. BlackBriar says:

    Man, I’m late to the party. Congratulations on being part of the Meta Team and on your first post, Highway! You officially are a Meta Resident.

    Shinsekai Yori proved to be quite the intriguing and thought provoking series. It’s one of the many candidates for best anime of 2013. We’re going to have trouble making a final decision. One of its strong points is its conviction to create a unique story and world by diving in without the need of a music themed opening. If anything, it’s replaced by background music which complements the eerie setting.

    What remains on mind is justification of the society’s methods on queerats and themselves. What they do, based on a point of view, would seem cruel but in the end, it proves necessary to safeguard their way of life which makes it difficult to determine whether their choices are right or wrong. Especially on the students to prevent the rise of a fiend. I was appalled at first that they would try to dispose of a student the minute they showed anything the was beyond their parameters of normality but I later had to accept that if it was to maintain order and safety, then these kind of sacrifices would have to be made. In retrospect, it’s debatable that council’s methods share similarities with Psycho-Pass’ Sibyl System.

    Yakomaru is a troubled, detestable villain but you can’t ignore the reasoning behind his motives. It wasn’t totally in the wrong. He acted out of fear for his kind and if any of us were in his place, we’d utter the same words. It fits the saying “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. A reality that is as real as it gets.

    • Highway says:

      That may have been the most shocking part of the series for me, to realize the extreme culling they were doing with their own children, and that the society accepted that. It’s something that is completely unfathomable for us in our current day and age. And yet, as the show progressed, and they explained more about the history of the world, and also the situation they were in, it started to make sense, a harsh, crappy sense. By the time we got to Tomiko’s first conversation with Saki, regarding fiends and karma demons, I had already determined that their methods, while reprehensible to our sensibilities, were one of the few paths they could use (and I personally loved that episode as I felt vindicated in my thoughts on it). And even though my personal freedom-loving sensibilities found it horrifying, I was, like you, forced to admit that this world is fundamentally different from ours, with different risks.

      I think that Tomiko’s comparison to nuclear weapons is good, from a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ standpoint, but the horror of a fiend might even go farther than that. PK as demonstrated is almost the ultimate offensive weapon, but cannot be defended by PK, as we saw in the demise of the strongest PK ever, Shisei. There was nothing he could do to prevent the twisting of the cells within his body, or the combustion of the other humans.

      But there was also the point made that perhaps Hiromi and the rest of the school board had gone too far. And I’d agree with that. What is the danger of a girl like Reiko? What is the danger of a boy like Mamoru? They sowed the seeds of their own demise by deciding to dispose of him, and pushing Maria to go with him. I’m not certain that Maria would have stayed in Kamisu if she hadn’t left with Mamoru, but she wouldn’t have left then.

      Squealer was definitely a freedom-fighter, and in the end paid the same price (or worse) than most of them. And yet, I can’t see where his world would have been much preferable, because the specter of PK still exists.

      • Gecko says:

        The school board went too far in removing not only danger but also those they thought were weak. I wonder maybe if their train of thought with Reiko had been that she would eventually get very frustrated with not having much Cantus power, and then develop into a Fiend of sorts.

        Squealer’s world, for sure, would not be much better. Just look at how they treated their Queens. Eventually the children they abducted would have been determined useless (after all humans are dead) and they would have been thrown off to the side, even though they would have done the bulk of the work in killing all those people. Not to mention all the damage left behind from war. It would take a while to reach their full goal.

        • Highway says:

          That thinking is where they definitely went too far. Tomiko mentioned that the fiend “K” was the first one that had been experienced in something like 80 years (and the show was set 200 years after that). Up to that point, they hadn’t been culling kids, they hadn’t been hypnotizing them so thoroughly. And yet, one in 80 years. Going from that to the current situation of “Let’s get rid of any kid that’s somewhat frustrated” is a complete overreach.

          Now, they did have a lot more attrition out of group 1 than most of the other groups did. Reiko and Shun were probably more than most other groups had, and then to have Maria and Mamoru gone as well would look like Group 1 was cursed. So perhaps the grand experiment had to do with that. But the strength of PK ability argument for culling really seems to be a huge misstep.

      • Alexandre says:

        I think it’s not that PKs cannot fight other PKs, but that humans are genetically conditioned not do cause harm to other humans. Shisei either could not truly fight against the false Akki, being paralised by his death-of-shame conditioning. Of course the doctor that killed K is an exception that violates this rule: he would not have been able to inject K with the posion, but then…
        I believe, however, that the whole direction of the story is toward a world were they would stop doing those horrid things to their children. After all, their very system of culling caused the disaster that wiped out Kamui 66. Also, they should learn that, if an Akki ever came up again, the death-of-shame would prevent them from being able to fight against it.
        And I believe Squeeler is totally in the right. He is in the exact same position of the cantus-less warriors that had killed the mad PK king 500 years before. Actually, I read that episode in hindsight as showing what happened to those warriors and the other cantus-less humans: they were turned into bakkenezumi and enslaved even more than they already were. After all, they proved that normal humans could kill PK users, and I think the scientist class just decided that was not a good basis for an ideology. The horrific society that we have in the story is a product of a bunch of very scared people who came to believe that had to do whatever it took to ensure their own survival, and damn the rest. I’d be curious to see how the situation was dealt with in other cultures, like in European countries and the US.
        Anyway, very insightful review. Thanks!

  8. Kyokai says:

    Welcome to the team, Highway!

    SSY was pretty good and being a two-cour series, it sure handled its revelation marvelously. About animation, I won’t say that it was that bad, it was just not consistent through out all episodes. In some it was amazing, while some just sucked. Overall, a good series.

  9. anaaga says:

    What I like about SSY is the fact that every episode is effectively used for the plot of the story. Marathoning SSY would be enjoyed greatly because not a single episode is unimportant, and every single one of them contributes to the climax of the story.
    Although A-1′s animation is the major drawback of this anime, I give them applause for sticking with the novel as close as possible. There might be some minor changes, but they stay true to the major plot and did not create their own ending.

    Welcome to the team! *shove yaoi*

  10. Gecko says:

    Great job on the first post Highway! I’m a bit late because of wifi issues, but oh well.
    SSY is easily within my top 5 of anime. For sure. Only Mawaru Penguindrum had me trying to get the new episode each week faster than SSY probably.
    You brought up a lot of points and I feel like I’m in agreement with most of what you said.
    The story was well done, a sort of coming of age but at the same time, not really. The characters were also well done in that they covered a good spectrum of types of people found in this future. The ones with strong Cantus, medium, weak. And the personalities that were unfavorable as well, to see how they got eliminated within those first few episodes.
    The world was so flawless. Everything fit together, everything had a place.
    The animation, indeed, was not too great, but it had times when it felt like they had an artistic director calling some of the shots. Those scenes ended up looking cheap but I took them as more artistic than anything. And the simple characters, I think, is like a reminder that it could have been any “Group 1″ that saw these things happen. At some point, a “Squealer” would rise up. And so on.
    Best show of 2013, I’d say for me it will be, unless something comes up later on that I haven’t seen coming.

  11. […] as vehicles for telling the exact same story we’ve seen a million times before. For every From the New World or Psycho-Pass, there’s a Campione! or Vividred Operation. Sasami-san@Ganbaranai wasn’t […]

    • Alexandre says:

      Sorry, Sasami-san, I didn’t get that. How are they even remotely similar? What same story? The only similarities I can see between SSY and Vividred, for instance, is that both take place in a future world. And Campione! doesn’t even relate on any level at all…

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