「冬の遠雷」 (Fuyu no Enrai)
It’s not a particularly standout episode of Shin Sekai Yori after the last two’s double dose of awesome, but this will go down as the episode that gave me confidence the team knows exactly what they’re doing. If you’re no stranger to my thoughts on the series thus far you’ll know I’ve been harping on the memory issue of the kids. One moment we’ll have the kids questioning the strange happenings and disappearances around them, but the next there’s barely any acknowledgement of these events. The question’s been hanging on my mind, me deliberating if it was poor adaption on the part of the production team or if the story was being deliberately ambiguous on this point. It might have taken the death of a key character for it to happen, but I’ve finally got my answer. And it thankfully was the more preferable one.
A re-watch of the previous episodes might be in order to understand the execution, but suffice to say, this episode shows that the memory manipulation has been an ongoing process for the kids. Like that scene with the adults on their return from the camping trip making some proper sense now. And no time is wasted going into this; the episode opens with our kids in group one suddenly having new member Ryou take Shun’s place, who’ve somehow been there in their group all this while. Any memory of the events from the previous two episodes or of Shun has been wiped from the minds of the kids. Still, it doesn’t take long for Saki to know that something is amiss. Chalk it up to her strong feelings for Shun, but her uncanny perception (with some prodding from her subconscious in a dream) soon picks up the inconsistencies and she dig up an old mirror with her sister’s name hidden on it. Some clever questioning later and she is convinced Ryou wasn’t the person she knew, so she forms a duty pair with Satoru, who seems as keen as her on finding out the truth behind their missing memories.
I’m not exactly sure how the duty pair system works. I assume the dominance of homosexual relationships a couple of episodes back was a school-enforced rule preventing boy-girl relationship, and the same-sex pairings was an advocated alternative of an outlet for the bonobos conditioning. With the duty pairs mostly being formed of boy-girls couples, it seems that where feelings are concerned relationships are far more normative than we might’ve thought, with a couple of exceptions like Satoru, who is shown to have had honest feelings for Shun. It’s interesting to learn here about Maria’s popularity with the boys, along with a semi-confirmation of her feelings through the reciprocation of Mamoru’s love by forming a pair with him, and her protective nature of the boy seen in the later part of the episode.
I think this here is where we see the first real cracks of the group. As the kids follow the trail of Boy X (Shun) based on their vague memories, they come upon an increasingly unnatural world the same way they did before, going from an abandoned village up north to massive fractures in the earth, before reaching a lake that I’m pretty sure was the crater of Pinewood Village we saw in episode 09. And they start digging deeper into their memories, recalling to some extent of the sixth member who disappeared first, Reiko. But Mamoru doesn’t want to group to dig any further out of fear and completely breaks down. It’s a very interesting observation that Maria makes about his character: He needs to be able to trust the people he knows, but above that, he needs to also be able to trust this world. Quite the telling statement for where we might be headed to with this, when we consider the fact that their village-nay, their entire reality is built upon machinations and lies, but it’s not hard to sympathize with him. Would you rather live in blissful ignorance or reach out to the hard, cold truth that wouldn’t make you any better off? It’s a theme reiterated across many works, and I wonder how Shin Sekai Yori plans on executing it. But yes, first real cracks. Maria hasn’t shined like this as a character until now; her protective actions concerning Mamoru and her warning to Saki that the rest of the group didn’t have the mental fortitude to deal with the betrayal of their reality were both brilliant insights to her characterization. It feels like the show has drawn what’s perhaps the first clear line between the group’s relationship, with Maria seeming like she’s determined to protect Mamoru and his perceived reality at any cost, contrary to Saki and Satoru’s determination to pursue the ominous truth. Further fuel for the foreboding narration back in early episodes which warned of the disaster Maria will bring, and continues to support the notion that this’ll end anything but well for the characters.
The real twist of the episode is when we learn Satoru’s grandmother, Asahina Tomiko, (Sakakibara Yoshiko) is the head of the Ethics Committee that’s been working their machinations in the background of the show all this while. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe otherwise of Satoru’s loyalties; the Ethics Committee seems secretive enough that they’ll conceal their involvement from anyone, let alone kids. But it certainly puts an interesting spin on how his character might proceed from here if a relative is part of this secret group. There’s plenty of speculation to be had by the end of this cliffhanger. Have they bordered on the truth far too many times that they’re finally being dealt with? The preview seems to suggest Tomiko need the kids help in some sort of dangerous plan, but could this actually be the delayed punishment Shun was talking about? As usual, it’s an excruciating wait for the next episode.
My apologies for the lateness of this post. I’ve been cracking on with two semester-end reports since the weekend for Monday/Tuesday deadlines with barely any room to catch my breath. This’ll teach me to manage my schedule better next time. I hope.