「闇に燃えし篝火は」 (Yami ni Moeshi Kagaribi wa)
“The Bonfires in the Darkness”
I think I now understand what exactly draws me back to Shin Sekai Yori week after week, funnily enough one week before this whole series is gonna end: that factor of unpredictability in the show. Okay, no, it’s not the entire reason. But it is a pretty big one! This is a show that never feels particularly orchestrated, and like in real life when you get a bunch of characters all making their own decisions and pursuing their own agendas, nothing ever quite plays out as it was intended. It’s episodes like this that really bring that flavour out, where scenarios play out with an almost emergent nature: Yakomaru and his forces using the topography of the area to counter Saki and co.’s plans, the B tactic of using the mirror to confuse, Satoru’s attempt at a suicide attack, and then Saki stopping him by burning up their only weapon against the fiend, the one thing that sent them on this very quest to hell on earth. Now that, I didn’t see coming.
And, man, I said this a couple of times, but they did a really good job building up the threat of the “fiend”. Watching him in action was always a gripping affair as he strode around killing everything in sight, but when the two characters I’ve grown to connect with the most had to face him off within the claustrophobic tunnels, well then shit just gets real. It being the climax and all, the growing fatalism in the show got to me, and I was constantly on the edge of my seat wondering if it was time for Satoru to finally bite it. (Not so much for Saki because of her narrative plot armor.)
It being the second last episode and all it was also about time to finally tackle the existential difference between human and queerat head-on once and for all, which Kiromaru was surprisingly open about. Responding to Saki’s growing resignation about their doomed situation, he underlies that between the two species, humans had a weaker will and a greater tendency to give up when the situation turns south.
I admit that at first the larger subtext of this statement confused me. After all, hadn’t the humans’ desperate struggle for survival been a driving theme of the show up until now? That certainly didn’t seem like “giving up”. As he went on about the queerats always looking to survive, I wondered again: “Hadn’t the humans been doing this as well?”
I ended up taking that the concept of survival meant something quite difference to each species. True, the humans committed multiple taboos, killed children and brainwashed people all in an attempt to stay alive; extremes that that can’t quite be waived off as “giving up”. But it doesn’t feel that this perpetuation of life is quite the same thing as what Kiromaru mused on about the survival of his species. In the 500 years of the Dark Ages prior to the story’s setting, humanity didn’t choose to expand in the same manner as history and repopulate the planet, but kept itself in a restrained state of life. On the flipside, the queerats has been characterised by their growth, and their survival of the fittest mentality. Kiromaru, himself representative of the queerat species, was willing to sacrifice his troops in an attempt to find a WMD that can be used against the human species. Without humans murdering them on a whim, his species could ensure survival and prosperity.
Both sides sacrificed plenty in their struggle for survival, but the fundamental difference seems to boil down to a single point. Humans sacrificed in hopes that things remain constant, which more often than not seems to end up with diminishing returns. Queerats sacrifice in hopes that things would be better off. It’s no wonder Kiromaru thought of the humans as giving up, if it appeared they never wanted a better tomorrow. Honestly though, this is open to a lot of interpretation (as is every other philosophical point raised by the show) and I’m sur people have their own thoughts on the matter as well. Looking at you philosophy majors to impress with your big words.
Interestingly, this also ties back into what has always been said about Saki’s character: that for all her insecurities and flaws she was special in her strength to never give up, and that clicked with what Kiromaru said about “giving up”. Her actions in destroying the psychobuster to save Satoru was a discourse from the state of perpetuation humanity arrived at, and really highlighted this difference about her in a way the show hadn’t quite managed before. The bigger implication isn’t lost; if the fiend had died along with Satoru like that, humanity would’ve just return to as it always was. In acting on her fear of being alone, Saki made a personal gamble for a better tomorrow in her life. This really is the culmination of what has been an amazing character arc for the girl across this entire series, and I daresay at this point, she’s entered the ranks of best protagonists I’ve seen in an anime series. (Been a while since we saw this level of intimacy from them too. I really enjoyed the relationship they’ve built across the entire series, from two bickering friends enduring through tragedy and loss to end up as two people who now can’t live without each other.)
And so we arrive at our last cliffhanger for the series. With the psychobuster destroyed and the mirror plan to confuse seemingly having no effect other than riling the fiend up, according to “Shun” the onus has fallen onto Kiromaru as the key to resolving the situation. This is the moment I’ve been waiting the whole series for; to see through their actions what kind of answer Saki, as the story’s representative of humanity, will finally arrive at. Will the half-dead but undying status quo be maintained, or can Man change, and if so in what manner?
And once again, man, I’m really gonna miss the weekly dose of Shin Sekai Yori.