「消えゆく子ら」 (Kieyuku Kora)
Is this going to be a trend until we finally get some real answers about the backstory of this new world? The second episode of Shin Sekai Yori opens up once again to another short, foreboding flashback into the distant past of its setting, one that is set some 500 years after the gruesome psychic display of the premiere. Again, this is a scene that makes little sense, but it set a disturbing tone for the rest of the episode to follow. It’s a twisted scene, where the fifth Emperor of a monarchical society is stepping up to his throne, and after embracing his title as the “Emperor of Delight” proceeds to decree to the masses that the first hundred people to stop clapping will be sacrificed for his ceremony. Cue delightful blue flames. It’s a world gone horribly wrong, and we’re left wondering how society came accept this insanity, and whether or not that world is still a reality at the present time of the story.
It shouldn’t come as a particular surprise, but along with the developments in the episode, it makes certain that there’s definitely more to this world than the secluded village we’re seeing so far. Even so, the cloistered nature of the village means that there’s still very little we’re actually learning about the world beyond, but we’re getting our first glimpse here by way of the Bakenezumi, or Queerats, who hail from external colonies. They are the sub-human slaves of this world, the classic subservient species that addresses the Jyuroku-imbued children as gods, (in very distorted Japanese) and are tasked with menial duties like the construction and maintenance of the village.
From the opening moments, there’s seems to be a theme of control running this time, careful control that I can only describe as Orwellian in nature. Of course, the disappearances are the most obvious aspect of this, with Amano Reiko (Horie Yui) bowing out last week, Manabu this week, and we’re seeing both their names conspicuously marked in a list. Even the tournament that takes up half the episode here feels like a front for a more sinister purpose. Or, I could be over-reading into this stuff. Still, the moment Manabu cheated, and there’s no mistaking that the teachers picked up on this, the match was declared a draw due to accident, followed up by Manabu’s disappearance. The anime points us at one possible explanation: that Manubu’s actions of directly using the Juryoku supposedly broke the Code of Virtue, a set of rules that are carefully watched over, and his disappearance is seemingly attributed to this. But also interesting is the point brought up that when two Juryokus clash, the space around it is warped. (Yes, don’t cross the streams!) The way it was brought up immediately after the competition makes me feel as though there’s a connection to what they don’t want the children to find out about their powers.
Which brings to suspect the extent of Juryoku abilities itself, showed mostly by telekinetic displays up until now. While we did see how the children could use it to craft a painting last week, this episode hints at an extensive array of abilities, what with the pyrokinesis of the Emperor, and when we see a flashback of Saki’s father explaining to the young girl that the perceptions of the children are manipulated so as to prevent them from meeting the Queerats. So there definitely are powers more subtle in nature, and seeing as how there has been far too little fuss made over the disappearance of two closely related classmates, it’s a possibility that Juryoku is at work here with memory manipulation. Or another line of thinking could be that, like how the gang quickly turned around Saki’s question about her elementary school class last episode, that the children are being conditioned (be it through psychology or psychic powers) to deny this line of thinking. And again, there are strong, obvious vibes of an Orwellian level of control on life here. The adults certainly seem to be in the know about the reasons behind this, by way of how Saki’s mother continuously probes at her with questions. But since the only adults we’ve seen thus far are Saki’s parents and the teachers, the extent of their knowledge and actions remain a big question. (Keep in mind Saki’s father is also a Judge, which should still be a position of authority here, so they could be privy to more information than normal folks.)
Tagging along with this theme of control is also the idea of dissent. The history tale of the bad karma demon seems put particular emphasis on this, depicting an egotistical child that in his arrogance refused to pay heed to adults and teachers, accumulating bad karma from this and eventually turning into a demon. It could’ve been foreshadowing about Manubu’s case, where his open defiance of the fundamental rules (bad karma) led to his disappearance. Strikingly, the story here again reiterates the disturbing notion of unquestionable self-sacrifice for the village, a more than subtle nod to the disappearances, or that there’s a possible intent for these stories to subliminally condition the children.
There are stirrings of dissent among the characters as well, as we see Saki’s father making a remark about those that are quietly rebelling in the flashback, before it cuts to the scene of Saki saving the drowning Queerat by using her Juryoku when it’s forbidden for her to do so. Furthermore, when the other characters tried to dissuade her from her course of action, Shun has a change of heart halfway and encourages her on. Call it a gut feeling, but among the group 1 members his character feels particularly disconnected from the rest, from how his peers unanimously regards him as a genius to how he constantly has an overt air of cautious composure about him, and I’m halfway inclined to believe when Saki’s father brought up those who were quietly rebelling, the show could’ve very well be hinting about him. Or at the very least, that he stands to play a more significant role in the coming developments than the rest of the group.
The second episode also leaves us with a narration that’s even more foreboding than how first episode ended, a narration from whom I can only assume to be an older Saki. She states how Maria had a troubled birth two week after she was born, and that how countless lives could have been spared if she never survived that. It’s a statement that seems more telling about the kind of story Shin Sekai Yori intends to be, one strikes me as a science-fiction epic as opposed to a spook or thriller. Not that it can’t have those elements, and execute them damn well, as this first two episodes show.
The second episode of Shin Sekai Yori brings up more questions rather than answer any. It’s expected, of course; this show has two seasons to it to slowly expand, and I hardly have any qualms about the anime establishing its complex world and lore here before diving into the story proper. There’s little I want to complain about when the brilliant presentation of the show, with its disquieting, creepy atmosphere, made this world-building and the second episode as engrossing and immersive a watch as the first episode was. And can I just say how the lack of any OP at the moment is a really refreshing move to me!? I loved that the episode just jumps straight in, and I have wonder how long they intend to keep this up. To the very end, I’m hoping, but I doubt it’ll come to pass. Yes it’s childish, but I enjoy these little things.