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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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!