….Shin Sekai Yori… I’m not sure I was prepared. I don’t know if my review for the series will be published by the time this post goes up. In any case, let me just say, Shin Sekai Yori is one dense show. It’s heavy with meaning, dripping with allegory, ruthless in its judgment and harsh in its assumptions.
Despite being completely devoid of jump scares and traditional monsters, its possibly the tensest horror series I’ve seen in a long while. To me it was more deeply terrifying in implications than a show like Shiki and more difficult to watch as well. This is a big deal, Shiki is wonderfully suspenseful.
Among the many layers of terror folded around Shin Sekai Yori, is the casual, almost banal way the plot treats the recurrent disappearance of young children. We see kids vanish out of the narrative, never to be seen again, without so much as a mention. It’s almost confusing at first. You could think it’s simply a plot hole, a classic failing of a bad writer, or a script getting lost in rewrites and edits. After all, everyone acts as if nothing happened.
This, like so many things about the series, is misleading. It’s not smart to let your guard down when watching Shin Sekai Yori. You think everything is honky dory and you’re watching a psychological sci fi with some occasionally more suspenseful scenes, nothing you can’t handle… and bam – you’re waist deep in a tar pit of nightmares.
The first real clue I had that I was in more trouble than I thought was Reiko. The series opens on a class of middle schoolers in a indeterminate world at an indeterminate time. We know that humans in this world have certain psychic abilities which are vaguely defined and referred to under the umbrella term “power”. As soon as they are old enough to learn anything at all, children are taught how to use and control their power, just as they would learn math or writing in school.
The story focuses more specifically on class 1A made up of 6 kids, namely Saki, Shun, Satoru, Maria, Mamoru and Reiko. Through the course of the series these kids go through a lot….a whole lot. Once the realities of the world catch up with them and Shun suffers some extraordinary consequences, it became impossible for me to consider this show as anything other than a thriller. It really hit me like a truck. I still need a moment.
In retrospect however, the series tried to warn me very early on, almost from the very beginning really. With the quiet and unassuming character of Reiko. Reiko is a shy but apparently sweet girl in class 1A. She’s a nice kid and a good friend. We see her do her best in school, but she simply isn’t as naturally talented as the others.
That’s all there is to it though. She isn’t rebellious or a problem in any way. She’s in all things obedient, hard working and sociable. A lovely little girl really. And one day, she’s just gone. Completely. Not only is Reiko physically missing, it seems she was never there. At least as far as anyone in the story is concerned. And that’s truly terrifying.
In time, we learn the reasons behind such extreme measures. But you see, either the people of this town are eliminating young children that don’t live up to their expectations and erasing all memory of them for no real reason, or they are doing so for a very good reason. Both options are completely terrifying. And that’s what Reiko represents.
She isn’t a character really. We never get to know her at all. We see the few interactions she has with her friends that’s all. In hindsight, she’s almost unnervingly normal. A sweet little girl prototype. That makes it so much worse, doesn’t it? The fact that no one is safe. The fact that a cruel and unusual fate isn’t reserved for the wicked, the chose or even the special.
If I haven’t made this clear enough, Shin Sekai Yori is a cruel plot. It assaults our core beliefs never allowing the audience to get comfortable for even a moment. But it is equally as ruthless with its own cast. Reiko was a sacrificial lamb, she never had the slightest chance. But her life wasn’t forfeit to advance the plot or impact the characters at all. Her very existence was simply thrown away by the plot, because it could.
This was the type of story that could destroy innocent characters for no reason at all, and then never even mention them again. The type of story so uncaring and monstrous, that if the viewer at home doesn’t make the effort to remember Reiko, it’s like she never existed at all. Such brutality is rare to come by and almost admirable in a way. There’s something gutsy about being so openly heartless.
Time and time again, Shin Sekai Yori will show itself capable of surprising viciousness. However, right at the start, before we are ever given a glimpse behind the curtain, as the world still seems peaceful and beautiful, Reiko clearly told us all just how frighteningly savage the story was, and just like everyone else, I ignored her and forgot about her.
Good job show, you win this one.
PS: I know my header gif is Saki but it’s impossible to find a gif of Reiko. I think this proves my point!