Shin_Sekai_Yori_Cover

  • 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.

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this would have been better…

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.

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there is no way simple images will properly convey it

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. 

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I didn’t know how to illustrate blocking so here’s some yuri instead

 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.

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important lesson: cats are bad – dogs are good!

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.

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oh no…what’s happening now….

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…

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this show isn’t the best for inspiring witty one liners

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

Shin Sekai wallpaper

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!

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39 thoughts on “Shin Sekai Yori – The Lessons of the Bonobos (Countdown to Halloween)”

  1. Shin Sekai Yori is one of my all-time favorite anime. It’s truly something else, and the novel is wonderful, too (but SKIP THE MANGA for the love of god.) I just started my own rewatch of it, too. I just love the characters so much and how the atmosphere shifts so quickly between gorgeous and disturbing. Though my favorite thing about the anime is the costumes. I don’t think I’ve seen any other anime that’s had me going “I want to wear THAT and THAT and THAT” so often.

  2. Since I’m never going to review this show because it’s way past my cut-off period, I might as well tell you why I didn’t like the show six years ago and why I didn’t like it when I finally finished the entire thing two weeks ago. Consider me the blogger version of Adam Conover with my “I Ruin Anime” comment.

    1. The story felt non-existent a lot of the time. It has that Dragon Age II problem in that I’m just watching the lives of a bunch of random characters whilst taking too long to answer how humanity devolved when psychic powers became a thing, and then it doesn’t seem to do anything with that knowledge until the last act. First act is basically a lot of slice-of-life ending with a conflict that isn’t relevant to the story until much later. Second act ups the stakes, but then it just sort of fades away. Which may be more tolerable if it wasn’t for my third point below.

    2. The camera is annoying. The first few minutes of the first two episodes had blurry cam that hurt my eyes, and the majority of the show is always shot so close to the characters so I can’t actually see anything that’s happening. There’s leaving things to the imagination and then there’s just covering up for your limited animation. Speaking of which, the animation was off-model a lot and I noticed a lot of background people standing perfectly still while in class.

    3. Despite following these characters since childhood, we learn absolutely nothing about them aside from how they were used by the adults. They’re completely reactionary and have no distinct characteristics that make them unique. I don’t remember anything about Saki besides her romantic trysts and future occupation. Squealer was interesting because he had a goal and he had reasons for them, but he doesn’t become important until way late into the story.

    1. You know what the weird thing is…I don’t remember Saki’s romantic trysts…maybe I watched a different show. I remember her favourite colour is pink and she was afraid of the dark until her tenage years which she was very embarrassed by so she tended to front and be a bit overconfident as compensation. The fact that she noticed at an early age that her parents were lying to her but still loved her very much is why she is less hurt by betrayal than average, making her more emotionally apt to interact with the rat monsters…i could go on but basically i thought the characters were quite fleshed out and well developped. Eye of the beholder and all that.
      Obviously I disagree but I think it’s awesome you took the time to write a mini counter review.

    2. I pressed reply too soon. I am illequipped to comment..I probably shouldn’t be analyzing complex anime…As I was saying…Thank you for taking the time to give your counterpoints, very few people bother to do that. It will give readers a much more complete idea/review of the show!

  3. Good post!

    I actually didn’t like this one when I first watched it on a weekly basis. I found it dull and confusing. But when I got the reveiw discs and had to watch it again I was engrossed by it and found it a curious and often disturbing work. 🙂

  4. I never consciously noticed how colors were used in the series, how certain colors dominated a given scene in the tinting, but now that you mention it I agree, and thank you for pointing it out.

    If I may, have you watched Higurashi no Koro Ni (When the Cicadas Cry).
    The first season is great horror, similar structural style in some ways to Shin Sekai Yori.
    The second season actually goes on to explain, and bring things to a more satisfying conclusion. It’s a long road, but I found it very potent.

    1. I really loved all the Higurashi games. I’m afraid i never finished the anime. Since the story was the exact same in the early eps, i sort of lost interest.. I should probably watch it again. Personally I prefer From the New World

  5. I also have a LOT of respect for this show. If you want to categorize it as a horror, it would probably have to be my favourite horror anime title of all time.

    I remember one of the creepiest details for me personally being the music that played throughout the town every evening marking curfew – primarily because a) it sounded just the tiniest bit off key, which of course always makes any piece of music ten times more unnerving, and b) it’s something I literally hear every day, since most Japanese villages and small towns (sometimes even small cities) do actually play music every day at around 5 (or sometimes 6) in the evening.

    1. Respect for the show is a good way to put it. I also think the show respects its audience and trusts them which is always great if the plot can support it.
      Actually the idea of curfew music playing DOES sound really creepy for some reason… I just imagined it and got chills.

      1. To be fair, the music they play in many towns throughout Japan isn’t curfew music as such – it was originally put in place to let people working in the rice fields know that it was time to finish up. It’s kept going today largely because it’s a good test of the town loudspeaker systems, which also broadcast alarms and instructions in an emergency situation (e.g. if there’s an earthquake, tsunami, or some other kind of disaster that might require evacuation or other action from residents). I think in this anime through, someone actually refers to it as something like ‘curfew’, or that if people didn’t go home when the music played, they would get into trouble/something bad would happen. And since curfews are generally a sign of some kind of police state-type environment in any given dystopian work, I just generally associate that trope as creepy.

  6. Ooh, I was looking forward to this post and it didn’t disappoint. I’m especially impressed how you managed to avoid spoilers. So I’m going to save my content-reply for the coming post.

    I’m a huge fan of SF, but I’m also hard to please in that genre. Anime tends to be not so good with it (there are still plenty of great shows, mind you); when it comes to anime, I tend to prefer fantasy. But Shin Sekai Yori? Oh boy. The amount of detail and imagination that went into the show is astounding. I remember watching the show, and whenever I had minor quibbles they’d turn out to be addressed later and be important. The major twists were often pretty obvious, but the show was so packed with little things you didn’t expect.

    And it’s important that the show isn’t all doom and gloom all the way through. There are cute moments, fun moments, and moments of breathtaking beauty. One of the early scenes I remember is when child Satoru finished a task and was visibly proud of himself, which annoyed Saki so she smashed the thing (can’t remember what it was). Satoru had this crestfallen what? why? look as he looked down at the ruins of his masterpiece, while Saki looked away with that serves-you-right look. That was so cute! (I hope I don’t misremember.)

    It’s also amazing how a show with such a bleak outlook on human nature doesn’t just wallow in despair. That said, the horror in this show is some of the most horrifying I’ve witnessed, especially the hospital scene. But there are also the scenes of surreal horror that mix a sense of fear with a sense of awe.

    Can you understand how this show ended up one of my all-time favourites?

    1. Since it seems we agree on everything, I can understand perfectly.
      I think what Satoru was building is a playing card castle. He finished second after Shun, of course.

  7. So I’m reading along and thinking another one for my queue (I love psychological horror) and then things suddenly sounded familiar. I went and looked and that reminded me (I have memory issues). I got to episode 15 and couldn’t take it anymore. Taking a little break from it led to wandering off completely into other things. I never got back. I think that while I could remember it, I couldn’t face it. It’s a hard one to watch. Which only means it is THAT good. Yeah. Hmm. Finishing this could work nicely into a Halloween theme. Between old kaiju movies. Maybe I could take it that way…and I am watching some sort of cutsey stuff. I could intersperse… maybe then I could take it. I’m in a good space in my life ATM, maybe I can make it through this time. Thanks for reminding me of all the ways this series is great.

    1. Ooh, so you stopped before the final time skip. Ep 17 is when things start to come to a head. All that set-up. I can understand that you couldn’t take it anymore. Well, it’s… not getting easier. But it’s worth it.

  8. Excellent review for a phenomenal show! I had forgotten how horrific some of the scenes were (namely, the queerat cave part and lying flat on that boat to escape from the hospital…and poor Reiko and the cat) until you chose to talk about it during the right season.

  9. From the New World is one of those very rare series where pretty much every aspect of it clicked with me. There seemed to be so much packed into every episode, making every scene feel deliberate and necessary. (It’s apparently a dense and lengthy novel the show is based on, so that makes sense.)
    I recall one review saying From the New World is a standout anime if only for the fact it actually takes things seriously. Kind of made me realize how rare of a thing that is for anime, to fully commit to a subject matter and not rely much at all on any of the tropes of the medium.
    I also recall another review saying the show stands out as a piece of dystopian fiction in that it’s one of the very few times where the society that is set up actually makes sense, and even feels necessary, given the circumstances–all to the viewers’ great discomfort.
    One aspect of the show I personally liked was its use of time-skips. I can’t think of many fiction series that work with that structure (Act 1: children, Act 2: teenagers, Act 3: adults), but it seems like an excellent way to show how the characters have grown (or not) over the years, and to make changes in the setting feel more realistic.

    1. Well I would argue that there are quite a few animes that treat their subject matter with deference (although just like any other entertainment medium it’s not necesarily the norm).
      I agree – this show had many great elements, I seem to have actually forgotten to find anything wrong with it in fact…

  10. Okay…I’m not kidding here. Right after reading this post, I checked if this one is available for me on Crunchyroll. And…it is. So..guess what the next anime is going to be that I am going to be watching now: come on…guess 😂😂
    Seriously though, great post!! This is a series that sounds exactly right up my alley. Will of course let you know my thoughts on it ASAP 😊😊

  11. Wow, I have never heard of this show. This looks like an interesting watch. I tend to only watch a show “like” this in between lighter fair so this might be a good choice for my next one.

    1. It turned out really long and rambly and I didn’t even touch on the the philosophical themes but I still kinda like it. Thanks Scott!

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