「弱い環」 (Yowai Tamaki)
I had a very interesting conversation with a friend on Shin Sekai Yori the other day, where he noted how he knew well beforehand, but was still surprising to him that the show had another season’s worth of episode to go. Of course, we all should know the show’s barely done at any rate, with a great deal of questions and character arcs to work through in the storyline; but all the same I found myself with similar feelings. It was a revelatory moment where I finally had some sort of understanding of just how strongly Shin Sekai Yori has been driving its narrative forward, that even at its halfway point we’re getting these immense, strong climaxes to the story almost every other episode. Events like Shun’s death, that I wouldn’t have imagined have taken place this early in the story had it been just another show. And if what I’m hearing is true, the scale’s only about to get larger. With each event, the current state of affairs and the fragile peace Tomiko speaks of become even greater of a powder keg, one that’ll be set off by just the tiniest spark. And if this episode’s hinting at anything, it’s that the spark’s about to be lit.
I’d be quick to label this episode as the calm before the storm if it wasn’t for the fact that even as an expository episode the content was surprisingly intense. I’m having a hard time trying to organise my thoughts, because with an episode as dense as this it’s hard to figure out a good starting point. So let’s take things from the top, where Saki is summoned to a meeting with the surprisingly amiable Asahina Tomiko, head of the Ethics committee. The previews dropped the hints, but the kids aren’t there to be punished. In a twist, Tomiko wants Saki to succeed her as the leader, a decision that’s actually pretty grounded from what we’ve seen of her character. Saki is uncannily perceptive, smart on her feet, and has a strong mental fortitude despite the tragedies she confronted; traits Tomiko sees in a leader fit for their world, and more interestingly have been measured by the authorities who judged her a genius in these traits. The personality assessment test is another intriguing example in the ambiguity of their society, which I’ll get to in a bit.
The meat of the episode is where we finally learn of the truth behind fiends and karma demons, a truth far more horrific than the tales told during their younger years because of its tragic nature. We’ve learned the fate of the karma demons before through Shun, and the story behind fiends is equally depressing; people consumed by uncontrollable fear that they break through the conditioning and gene manipulation to turn in an unstoppable psychic berserker, destroying everything in their path.
What I’m really liking this here is the breadth of perspective that the series is showing. Their actions to rectify the problems aren’t any less twisted, but it’s hard not to sympathise with the “sinister” Ethics Committee and Board of Education. Not after we’re given a first-hand look at the magnitude of the disasters wrought by fiends and karma demons, courtesy of Tomiko’s experiences. The flashback to the fiend Boy K was horrifyingly visceral, and that every villager is biologically restrained from attacking him – hence fox in the henhouse syndrome – meant a rampage that saw nearly the entire Kamisu village decimated. And it’s made clear Boy K would’ve been unstoppable in his destruction had he not miraculously calmed down to consult the doctor, giving the man the chance to inject a poison under guise of penicillin, in a brilliantly tense scene. We’ve seen what karma demons can unconsciously achieve from Shun’s destruction of his entire village, as well as here where the farmhand Kutegawa Izumi pollutes and kills everything around her.
The circumstances of these events makes it a tragedy for all parties, but doesn’t make the inflicted individuals any less of a danger. Which again begs the one question the show’s been asking for quite some time: Were the ethics of the means taken to ensure society’s survival justified? We’re talking the most basic of instincts and of what makes us humans, survival, against human rights. The show’s treading on some great philosophical grounds here, with the measures taken by the Ethics committee and Board of Education bordering on the ethically absurd: Lack of any human rights until age 17, leading to secret personality assessments and the Board of Education having the jurisdiction to dispose of anyone showing even the slightest signs of turning. Certainly, it’s hard to agree with their extreme nature – Tomiko even remarks on how the Board of Education is ruled by its members’ paranoia, and minutely criticizes the blunt hammer approach to the problem – but the story does a very good job at portraying the ambiguity and necessity of their actions. There’s a dire lack of alternatives when dealing with a human of mass destruction. (Yes, the nuclear connotation was intended.) When the only cure to the syndrome is death at a significant cost to those administering, prevention takes the focus. No matter the means, it would seem.
I guess the subject matter from here on will be taken into Saki’s hands as she comes to her own conclusions on the machinations of their society and its justifications. But before that comes what this entire episode has been foreshadowing towards: Mamoru. When Tomiko started mentioning about the weakest links in the group, thoughts are bound to immediately turn to the fearful boy. And this episode with its explanation on fiends, has been a sort of revelation; we’ve been seeing Mamoru slowly grow into that submissive, introverted personality that’s now being connected to the characteristic of fiends. The signs certainly aren’t bright for him with his escape from home, and I probably won’t be as surprised if something similar to what happened with Shun should happen to him too. Furthermore, with Maria overhearing Saki’s wayward remark on the weakest links, character relationships are bound get further strained. And here I was thinking the signs looked bad before.