- Genre: Dystopian, horror, science fiction, romance
- Episodes: 25
- Studio: A-1 Pictures
It seems pretty clear that humans are destined to muck things up. Whether individually or in large groups, we seemed determined to make every mistake for ourselves before we learn a single thing. And let’s face it, we manage to learn the wrong lessons half the time. It’s not that we’re *bad* exactly, we just have some pretty glaring blind spots. We can ignore the unpleasant and inconvenient until well past too late. We can trick ourselves and each other to our own detriment. Even before clawing our way to the top of the food chain we were always our own biggest enemies, and everybody(thing) else’s. We’re human after all, if we go down, we take everyone with us. All things considered, it’s a heck of a good thing that we’re limited creatures. Can you imagine the damage we could do with just a bit more power?
In the spirit of Halloween, I’ve decided to dedicate the last anime reviews of October to anime that fall loosely onto the horror genre. Last year I chose Mononoke, Flowers of Evil, Shiki and Hellsing. This year I’m starting things off with a bang, with the phenomenal From the New World.
I write reviews as I finish shows, there’s one I should be writing before delving into Shin Sekai Yori. I’m also a couple of paragraphs away from finishing an essay post. My OCD is yelling at me with all its might. I feel actually uncomfortable at the lack of order of this writing schedule. But I had to tell you about Shin Sekai Yori right now. I filled up half my notebook watching this show. I haven’t been so engaged with a series in a long time and I have a zillion thoughts. Mostly though, I have this odd feeling that if I don’t get something, anything, down on digital paper right now, I never will. I have no clue why but I’m convinced of it.
This post is going to be a challenge. It’s fitting: this show is a challenge. Not for the weak of heart. A story covering up awe-inspiring depths of fridge horror with twisty layers of psychological terror all under good old fashion suffocating tension. And it looks very pretty.
Visually, The New World is stunning. My notes say :There’s something unusual in the visuals that I can’t quite put my finger on…. It looks like a movie. Get ready for this to become a theme. My takeaway from Shin Sekai Yori is a collection of abstract not fully understood but deeply impactful impressions… Well deeply impactful to me.
Anyways, the technical merits are clear. This was obviously an expert and expensive production. It’s stellar in pretty much every aspect. Instead of boring you all with this was great and also that was great…let’s just focus on those elements that were so remarkable they managed to shine through in a field of diamonds.
Design! Shin Sekai Yori is a masterclass in design elements on just about every level. The carefully chosen traits of the Monster Rats and their visibly different subspecies shows both detailed attention to and knowledge of evolutionary physiology. The pseudo naïve architectural designs of buildings harken back to primitive towns yet betray advanced building practices. The balanced blend of nature and man-made civilization is perfect. And the clothing…is downright spectacular. I wrote down how interesting the clothing is on no less than 6 occasions in my very many notes. Not only is it absolutely unique and very pretty, creating unusual silhouettes we rarely see anywhere, but it’s also clearly functional. You could imagine most of these looks on a runway, if they were created by a supremely talented designer. Nothing is too loud or in your face, you have to take a second to really appreciate it. But when you do, you realize that someone behind this show had a truly exceptional eye.
Colour language of the narrative. Once again, this is an understated element but the default palette of Shin Sekai Yori skews just a little blue. By this I do not mean that there are a lot of blue elements, simply that all the colours chosen have a touch more B than average on the RBG scale. As a result everything looks just a tiny bit more glum and foreboding even when absolutely nothing bad is happening. And once your eye gets adjusted to that, elements that need to stand out get a touch of red thrown in to clash just enough with their surroundings. On top of that subtle colour filters are used over scenes to convey character emotions in lieu of exposition or physical expression. With such an expansive plot, information needs to get conveyed quickly, so using colour was a great choice that allows characters to explain something else while the animation is telling yet another story.
Finally, although movement is decent, what truly stands out is the camera framing and scene blocking. The way elements are laid out in every frame carefully directs your view to exactly what the director wants you to see. Sometimes the effect can be quite cryptic but always ends up with a great payoff. Some of the best visual composition I have seen in a while.
I haven’t even started on the story yet… this is going to be a long one kids. Right from the start I was hit with how much the anime reminded me of a YA Dystopian novel the likes of which were everywhere a few years ago. But the best possible example of the genre. As I write this I’ve already written one post on Shin Sekai Yori, which I will publish eventually. In it I refer to the series as dense with meaning. I believe this to be a fitting description. The themes and ideas explored through the story are tightly coiled together making it difficult to penetrate. If you think about it for too long, the depth numerous thesis could give you vertigo. I have difficulty writing about these types of shows. I can never figure out what to leave out but even skimming over most things this post will likely end up a novel. Together we are about to do an exercise in self restraint…
The main themes of the series for me are social conditioning, the inevitable moral Mexican standoffs brought about by unexpected changes in natural conditions, the weight and responsibility of power, the traumatic cycle of slavery, the limits of love and the limitlessness of hope. Like I said those are just the main themes to me. Shin Sekai Yori also explores the benefits and natural state of joyful and fluid sexuality. The instinctive power structures humans repeatedly construct. The deep rooted nightmare of simply becoming other, for both sides. See…..See? I just named a few things and it’s already way too many words. I’m not going to attempt discussing any here (feel free to DM me if you want to do so). What I will do is assure you that in a mere 25 episodes, Shin Sekai Yori explores all of those topics in some detail and quite a bit more without feeling rushed or crowded.
It does feel heavy though. When I say some episodes took my breath away, I mean that almost literally. I was left trying to catch my breath with a pain in my chest. The oppressive atmosphere almost physically manifest throughout my living room for hours after the TV had been turned off. I had to go through no less than 6 separate comedy series to get through this show. It sounds like I’m giving you an ominous warning. I guess I am. Among the anime I have seen, this is probably the series that has most diligently earned its horror tag.
Shin Sekai Yori is a horrific morality tale. It’s full of terrifying and tragic events. It’s wrapped in fear and blood. It also features smart well rounded characters that act and react in perfectly logical ways. The main character Saki for instance, stubbornly refuses to become a victim archetype no matter how much the plot punishes her. In fact, Shin Sekai Yori features one of the most well rounded and fully realized casts, which it follows throughout their entire childhood and part of their adult life as well. This allows the audience to get to know everyone on a very real and very intimate basis. The worst(best) part of it all, is that they’re all good people. There have been tales of somewhat grey morality in the past but none as completely grayscale as Shin Sekai Yori. Those kids who we grew up alongside, who we trust and understand, who we probably see ourselves in, are ultimately no different from the opponents they face. No more righteous or misunderstood. They are both almost incompatibly different and the same all at once. That’s really part of the moral.
I’ve said time and again, Shin Sekai Yori is uninterested in making things easy for the audience. It doesn’t offer clear answers or the security of right and wrong. In one of the first episodes, there is a line spoken in voiceover as the closing credits go by that basically spells out the ultimate reveal of the series. You can easily miss it and even if you don’t, it isn’t referenced in any way until more that a dozen episodes later, and then only obliquely…
Isn’t that incredible!? This is a story can afford to plainly explain its own punchline right from the start and it doesn’t matter. Because even if you see it coming, you still won’t be prepared. There’s simply no way to avoid the shock. That’s how powerful that punch is.
I’ve painted a pretty grim picture here. And honestly, I cannot stress enough how tense this watching experience was for me. A few episodes from the end, I tweeted out: “Shin Sekai Yori is a wonderful and breathtaking anime which I will never rewatch again”. I meant it. This took a toll on me.
And yet, I am probably one of the very few people to categorize this as a romance, I also talk of hope as a central theme. Fact is, relationships both romantic and platonic are central to everything that happens in the story. Creating ties with those around you is given the utmost importance and every event set in motion can be traced back on the ability or failure of forming basic connections with each other.
Ultimately, Shin Sekai Yori takes all that darkness, all that pain and bathes it in beautiful light. Saki and Satoru are one of the most fantastic couples I’ve ever seen. These are two people that truly know each other very well and respect each other. They’ve seen the bad, the good and the just plain boring. They love each other for who they are. The events of the show do not concentrate at all on their relationship, it’s one small aspect of the big picture, but their journey mirrors humanity’s as a whole. And as painful as it may be, it’s ultimately very beautiful.
In fact, the entire series is structured to leave you with a message of hope. The kids start of in the summer, innocent but scared of ghosts and things that go bump in the night. Not able to understand the world around them filled with adults keeping secrets. Full of potential but also irrational, as children usually are. They grow up into teenagers and we see them during fall. A time of personal revolution when they question everything trying to find their own place in the world. As they finish up their schooling, in that space between adulthood, it’s winter. Snow and cold everywhere. It dawns on them that the world is harsh and cruel. That everything they took for granted may not be quite so. The darkness which looms ahead is making itself felt. Their adulthood is devastating. The unsustainable strain finally made everything snap. Everything is destroyed, for a chance to be reborn. The series ends in a peaceful spring as new understanding is spread through the world and there is undeniable hope that the new generation will do better.
Now, two episodes after that tweet – I can say that I will probably rewatch the series some day. If you haven’t, I certainly think you should…
Favorite character: Kiroumaru
What this anime taught me: take good care of your telomeres
Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.
Suggested drink: New World Cocktail
- Every time we see a blessing spirit – take a sip
- Every time Satoru and Saki bicker – take a sip
- Every time some one mentions a “cat” – take a sip
- if we see it – gat under a blankie
- Every time anyone says “power” – take a sip
- Every time we hear a cautionary tale – pay attention
- Every time we see fire – take a sip
- Every time Saki takes the lead – cheer
- Every time we hear of the Death of Shame – take a sip
- Every time any one mentions Saki’s siblings – wonder
- Every time we see a spiritual barrier – take a sip
- Every time people speak wordlessly – worry
- Every time you’re anxious – get some water, booze is bad for that…
- Every time anyone says Saki – take a deep breath
While looking for images for this post I came across a lot of great fan art and I just couldn’t resist getting a few together to share with you guys!