I love me a good time jump, not only in the way it can strongly reinvigorate a narrative but also in the way it can completely change it up. There’s something’s incredibly appealing about taking the foundations that the story’s being built on and completely flipping them over, and that’s what the episode of Shin Sekai Yori tried to deliver. What I can honestly say is that as prepared as I was with the hints and rumors I’ve been exposed to, I don’t think I could’ve ever been prepared for stunning turn of events here.
There really isn’t any way around it, so I’ll address the elephant in the room first in my crackdown of this episode. Specifically, the show’s portrayal of homosexuality. With little preamble about it we’re thrust 2 years into the kids’ future – now aged 14 and unscathed from the camping trip incident – to suddenly find the Shun-Satoru pair (now voiced by Murase Ayumu and Kaji Yuki respectively) and the Saki-Maria pair in open relationships. And it’s not just them; the opening minute of the episode shows the corridors of their school lined with same-sex couples all over, with nary a normal couple in sight. Not a scene you’d typically see, and as we get to the explicit displays of intimacy between characters, to say the episode was shocking would be an understatement: This was going to be a polarizing episode of Shin Sekai Yori.
To be blunt, if you’re looking for a fair and sincere take on the topic of homosexuality in anime, you won’t find it here. I’d agree that the portrayal of the subject was tastefully approached by A1-Picture, and I really appreciate that they didn’t shy away from honest depictions of the characters. Neither did they play it for gags – it wouldn’t be fitting for such a story anyway – or fanservice. (Though some might disagree with me on this.) But Brokeback Mountain this ain’t; the show might not demean the subject, but it doesn’t make it a priority. Instead, like much of the developments in the series it’s well thought-out with regards to the ongoing sci-fi narrative first and foremost. I’ve mentioned before that this was a world with sensibilities very much displaced from ours’, and the events of this episode seem to be hammering down that point. Homosexual relationships are viewed no differently from normative-hetero relationships here, and to these bisexually-orientated people it might just as well be the same thing. It’s a point made acute with the distinct lack of any standard couples in the school, or if there were any, their presence was so minimal I didn’t notice. The very public displays of affection – with butt slapping and lots of soft petting – are striking in the same way, and it’s a behavior that’s pretty alien to us. Now throw in what we’ve learned of the Bonobos conditioning, and apart from what we’ve seen of the main characters we’re finally looking proper at a society that has been twisted by it. The openness to sexual orientation and intimacy shown by the students here seem to stem from the ingrained conditioning.
It’s only contrasted further by how grounded the characters are emotionally, their portrayal not far off from a teen in puberty once you strip away sexual dispositions. And to be honest, the relationships plays out rather simply here. Saki’s still in love with Shun but hasn’t approached him, most likely because of his intimacy with Satoru. (Who seems to take their relationship and subsequent breakup pretty seriously.) So she seeks solace in a relationship with Maria, who seems to truly love her back. Outside of all this sits Mamoru (Takagi Moteki), who carries a torch for Maria one-sidedly and silently follows her with his portraits. Change up the genders here and there, and you’ll won’t arrive too far away from your typical teenage romances. It makes the whole scenario strangely familiar yet hugely unsettling in its partially displaced nature, and if that’s what they were aiming for, they’ve succeeded pretty well on that front.
Keep in mind the characters all knew about the Bonobos conditioning, but still conformed to the norms of their society 2 years on. It seems that under the assumption that their transgressions were kept secret from the adults, they’d largely returned to their normal lives, and I liked that they did. Knowing the truth didn’t change how the kids were brought up to live, and helps further set Shin Sekai Yori’s world stand distinctly apart from ours. The only exception is of course, the one boy that’s been telegraphing all sorts of signs since the start: Shun. While the other characters seem to be emotionally invested in the web of relationships, only Shun seem detached from it, and his relationship with Satoru strike me as a failed attempt at conforming despite the knowledge from the False Minoshiro, especially when breaking up with Satoru he said that he was “fed up of being his little doll”. The top juryoku user Kaburagi is somehow alarmed by Shun as well, who hatches an unknown but disturbing creature out of an egg. It’s a display of incredible but dangerous power, and along with him being pegged as a genius, there are strong parallels to the karma demon tale, asides from A1’s own visual cues.
We then come to the end of the episode, where Saki learns that he’s not only leaving for rehabilitation, but is also warned by Shun that their transgressions were always known and that their punishments was only delayed. He tells her to watch out for the Nekodamashi, and gives her a protection charm. Is this dangerous knowledge what’s affecting him, or is it something biologically-related to the Hasimoto-Appelbaum Syndrome (which results in Karma Demons) that’s driving him off the deep end? I guess the point where they reveal what’s actually affecting Shun is where we’ll get some big answers.