「血塗られた歴史」 (Chinurareta Rekishi)
The first thing I’d say is that episode 4 marks a definitive change of pace from what we’ve seen of the show. Picking up immediately from last week’s cliffhanger of an ending, the cryptic flashbacks – which are probably gone for good and which I’m really going to miss – finally give way for a boatload of exposition on the history of the world that Shin Sekai Yori has been teasing us with. So before I go on, I first ought to state that infodumps aren’t exactly my favorite storytelling device, even in a show like Shin Sekai Yori where it was an eventuality. It’s a credit to the show’s immaculate foreshadowing and teasing in its first 3 episodes that I was hanging on every word uttered by the False Minoshiro, even as I’m left pausing every few minutes to try and make sense of the heavy handed, terminology-laden dialogue. Episode director Naomichi Yamato obviously did his best to make the scene as palatable as possible, expanding on the visually striking flashbacks while giving us the concise answers we craved. Could it have been done better? In my opinion: Certainly, given the incredible cinematography of the first few episodes where we saw how well the showrunners managed to integrate exposition into their storytelling. That display of finesse seemed somewhat lost here. But for what it’s worth, these few episodes had been very well thought out in their structure, making the exposition here not too far displaced. It’s not something many shows can attest to, and they’ve done a pretty bang up job in this regard.
This was half the reason why it works for me, the other half being that, like any kind of meaningful exposition, it grabbed me with the implications and ramifications for the story. The rich exposition here along with the events that followed in the second half gave me plenty to happily digest in this episode.
Most of the points raised diverge little from what has been shown or could’ve been inferred. The bloodstained history of how modern civilization came to an end is one example: Humans awakened to psychokinese some time in 2011, reaching some 0.3% of global population, and their abilities set off a disruptive chain of events that eventually led to the complete collapse of societal order. Destruction was on such a magnitude that human population was reduced to a mere 0.2% of the 7-odd billion today, and the war ended with the victory of PKs.
Nothing much surprising there, but with these confirmations came some intriguing revelations, their ramifications for the story immense. It’s best to start with the 4 factions that took the place of contemporary (ancient) Japan: the PK-ruled slave empires, the PK-less hunter-gatherer tribes, the PK bandits and the scientists. We’ve seen the first in flashbacks before, specifically the Holy Cherry Blossom Empire, and saw how they came to their demise at the end of the dark ages some 570 years later, but it’s surprising to learn of 3 separate groups that I suspect are all still present in the storyline.
Of particularly focus were the scientists, initially observers of the dystopian world. It is implied that they possessed PK and thus understood its volatility in society, which prompted them to later take leadership over the remnants of the PK empires and bring societal stability to the PK populace. By extension, this would also prevent Fiends and Karma Demons from appearing.
This stability is achieved via the prevention of attacks against humans, the truth behind the disquieting and sinister facet of the village. Yes, the children are being conditioned with their education, and yes, through psycho-analysis (conducted in the form of the activites and competition we’ve seen) there’s an enforced removal of children like Manabu who display dissent, all in order to prevent the violence that would cause society to spiral out of control. I suspect the removal of PK-weak individuals like Risa are likely for a similar reason of maintaining this illusion of uniformity.
More intriguing was the reveal of two other methods of control introduced by the scientists: Ethology, where the scientists studied how Bonobo communities vented stress through sexual activities in order to prevent strife, eventually introducing the concept to the PK society. There are clear allusions to the kids by way of how they make mention this sexual intimacy occured even among immature primates, and its likely this point will be brought into stark focus sooner or later. The second was genetic manipulation, with the scientists introducing a trait of personal restraint into the genome as well as a “death feedback” that shuts the body down when PK is used against a human. There’s a disturbing, cryptic reaction to this information from Saki, who recalls a moment where she seemingly attacked an old priest and suffered from the feedback, showing us the first signs that these children aren’t as innocuous as the first few episodes made them out to be.
With these, the anomalies from previous episodes click into place, most prominently the Code of Ethics rules that prevented Juryoku, or PK abilities, to come into contact with each other or to be used on humans. There are notable questions raised by the 430 year gap in the terminal’s records, one of more immediate ones being how religion came to the forefront of the current society. Is it yet another means of control introduced by the scientists? Perhaps more importantly, was this course of action taken by the scientist morally justified in spite of the ethical implications? It’s the classic exploration of the moral grey zone that sits at the heart of dystopian science-fiction stories, and this is likely a point that will get expanded further into the show.
There’s very little we actually learn about them in the episode, asides from attaching their equivalent scientific terms. Fiends are people suffering from the Raman-Klogius Syndrome, also known as “Fox in the Henhouse” syndrome, while Karma Demons are those suffering from Hasimoto-Appelbaum Syndrome, but we get cut off before learning anything conclusive. It’s plenty of food for thought, especially how both are explicitly mentioned to have existed before the fall of contemporary civilization, alluding to a possible relation. “Fox in the Henhouse” has some intriguing connotations as a name; its sinister “hunt and hunted” quality is immediately obvious, with PKs illustrated as the fox and the hens as normal humans.
Before we’re given the full story from the false minoshiro, we’re cut off by high priest Rijin (Tomokazu Sugita) who incinerates the interface with his PK. It’s not made clear who he is – be it an enforcer, scientist or religious follower – and how much he knows about the agenda behind his doctrine, but his actions are unmistakable in the intent to suppress the truth the children learned. Rijin immediately takes charge to seal the children’s juryoku (through a similar method of hypnosis as the one from the first episode) and escort them to the Temple of Purity for judgement. His presence here also serves to give us a visual representation of the PK’s destructive potential that the bloodstained history alluded to; when confronted with the aggressive queerats, there is an immense display of force in his fracturing of the earth to create a safe pathway, and the summoning of a calamity to reduce the queerats into a mountain of corpses.
The queerats featured prominently in this episode, but where they were portrayed as slaves before, the ones we see in the episode gives the immediate impression of barbaric and fiercely independent community with little qualms about starting fights. Compared to subservient queerats, these were larger in size and with noticeably different features, from the lack of a brand on their foreheads to the pinkish skin and yellow eyes. Rijin makes an interesting remark that these queerats are foreign to the region, a statement I believe can be taken quite literally to mean these queerats aren’t even native to Japan. (Wild stab here, but they could even be western in origin. I’m half-convinced this one screamed “What the fuck!” when his bow was incinerated.) Another telling statement is where Saki remarked how they appeared human from afar, which I suspect isn’t far from the truth given how Rijin suffered from the feedback after his attacks. Thinking back to the hunter gatherer tribes that was mentioned, the depiction of the queerats with their display of intelligence but crude weaponry are suspiciously similar, and it might not be that far-fetched an idea as to think that somehow or another, normal humans might have evolve – or devolve – into these creatures.
It’s a lot to take in even for us, and for the kids no less than an earth-shattering revelation as their lives are deconstructed piece by piece. Their varied reactions were a brilliant touch of character that’s been largely missing in the show; Mamoru is utterly terrified as a 12 year old kid rightly should, Satoru wallows in denial and resignation at their fate, Maria seems completely overwhelmed, and Shun grimly presses on to complete his understanding. The most interesting reaction is again Saki’s, who is heavily disturbed by the connections she’s making between her life and the truth being presented. The cliffhanger of an ending places our group of characters in a perilous situation with the rumored Fuusen-Inu, (literally, balloon dog) or blowdog, and it’ll be interesting to see how the kids continue on from what we’ve seen of them here. (It also didn’t strike me quite so much until now, but the awesome-looking blowdog really brings to attention how wild and distinct the monsters are compared to a traditional fantasy.) The preview suggests that the group might even be splitting up, which is sure to bring a new dynamic to the show.