「風立ちぬ」 (Kaze Tachinu)
“The Gale Came”
Make no mistake, Shin Sekai Yori hasn’t exactly dropped in its intensity or quality over the last couple of episodes. Neither did it let up on the foreboding narrative and provocative themes – hell, they’ve steadily been ramping it up – even as we came to the action-packed climax of the first act. (And I’m pretty sure that last polarizing episode is still fresh in people’s minds.) But damn, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this return to its premiere episode form here. Shin Sekai Yori really is at its best when working its creepier side, and this episode magnificently delivers a near-flawless package of suspense and thrills.
Driving much of this episode is the mystery surrounding Shun’s disappearance after his foreboding final message to Saki last episode, and in their quest to uncover the truth behind it and his whereabouts, they’re stepping dangerously close to the secrets of the village, secrets that have been holding a significant background presence in the show up until now. That presence is finally being brought to the forefront, and what we’re seeing here is as disturbing and crytic as it’s been alluded to. In their attempt to get to Pinewood Village where Shun was living in order to investigate, Saki and Satoru find every path into the village blocked by rope cordons. (Which funnily enough, are marked by yellow and black cloths. Old traditions die hard it seems, even in a post-apocalyptic world one thousand years ahead!) And after passing the cordons they come up to a newly strung holy barrier, hiding a very different world behind it. Tree trunks are dyed blood-red, the fauna is dead, and the ground has frosted over. I really loved how the scene played out, disquieting imagery and all; there’s an increasingly sense of wrongness conveyed as Saki and Satoru walked further in, and it all brilliantly builds up to the disturbing reveal of a massive crater that has taken the place of Pinewood Village. Conspicuously, the epicenter seems to be the temple where Shun lived at, further fuel for the audience’s guesswork.
Rounding out the circle was what Maria and Mamoru found out from their poking about; that all Pinewood students were absent, which seems to imply that the entire village was taken out with its inhabitants. But it doesn’t seem like Shun is dead just yet – even though his fate grows dimmer every second – when Maria and Mamoru both find out that the adults are sending a nekodamashi after him before he turns full karma demon. Yes, we’re finally given a good look at the rumored creature, surprisingly kept in the storage area that was mentioned in passing all those episodes ago, and Saki also comes face to face with one at the episode’s close. (How the hell did that pair fly in there? You’d think with a massive safe door like that they would bother making sure that the room was fully enclosed.)
It’s brilliant that the show is finally bringing together its disparate foreshadowing and doing so in a very smart manner, especially when it came to Saki and her parents. I really wished we could see more from the adults’ perspective, because the exchange here stands as one of the show’s best moments thus far. Saki’s desperate questioning drives her mom into a panic, who then lets slip her fear of losing yet another child, and her father tries to placate her best he can but while keeping her from the truth. It’s that teenage belief come to ironic realization here that one’s parents cannot be trusted, as Saki plays back and affirms her many suspicions before the memory of her lost sister, Yoshima, quickly and suddenly returns. It seems likely that foul play at work here with the memory loss, the same way it has been for the other disappearing kids. Once again though, I’d have to reiterate my question of whether or not there’s a coherent plan to what we’ve been watching, especially with the hazy point concerning the kids’ memory of disappearances. This episode was probably Shin Sekai Yori’s best effort on the show’s storytelling, and the gradual refocus on the dormant plot points indicates that they’ve definitely had a clear picture from the start on how the plot is supposed to be coming together, especially with the way events now parallel the stories we saw in early episodes. So the question should probably now be: Will I be satisfied with how it’ll come together? Signs might point to a yes, but with the increasingly complex and branching plot, it’s hard not to be the least bit skeptical about whether or not the revelations will meet the high expectations from all this build-up, the one aspect where so many other series have failed. I’m optimistic though.
But really, holy cow, the team at A1 is on fire. Inconsistent visuals and animation aside (notice how Saki’s clothes magically became clean halfway through the family argument?) the cinematography of this show is on a level where I would compare it to a theatrical production. The imagery and artwork here stands as some of the show’s – and season’s – best yet, and the team displayed some really outstanding directing and audio mixing which gives that cinematic quality to the show. (That intense scene with Saki sneaking past the boat comes to mind.) This was easily the single best episode of Shin Sekai Yori since its stunning premiere, and considering the consistently high quality of this show it’s definitely something when upon finishing the episode I found myself considering if it was the best twenty minutes of the season I’ve been treated to by far.
Interestingly, the preview of the next episode seems to suggest a return of the controversial artstyle which episode 05 was animated in. Whether or not you’re looking forward to it (I can’t say I’m crazily enthused about it either) it’s sure to be an interesting watch regardless.