「新世界より」 (Shin Sekai Yori)
“From the New World”
How do you end a show that went to the places Shin Sekai Yori did? A couple of episodes back, I started pondering this question, but up until the moment before I watched this last episode, I still didn’t have a clue what kind of a world it would eventually bring out characters to, or whether the final outcome would adhere to the themes and characterizations in the story. Having watched this final episode now, I find myself wondering why the conclusion to the series feels strangely predictable, but by no means is it any lesser than the alternatives they could have brought out.
Coming off the mixed feelings I had about the two Noitamina endings to this season, there are two things I am immediately grateful for in this conclusion. The first is that in being adapted from a full proper novel, Shin Sekai Yori had a definitive ending to its story. Of course, I lament the fact that there remains so much potential story in Shin Sekai Yori’s world just waiting to be explored, but in this era dominated by incomplete adaptations and sequel hooks, (coughcoughpsychopasscoughcough) it’s ridiculously fresh to find a series definitively concluding on a particular note, after telling the story it needed to tell. The second, of course, is that the series didn’t rush headfirst into its conclusion. I personally didn’t think any less of it, but some might find the fiend’s death too rushed, maybe a little less bombastic or epic than it should’ve been when it ended in the opening minutes of the episode. Regardless it is thanks to that we got something arguably better in exchange, something I all too rarely see in a show when it’s one of the most important things an ending should get right: a proper conclusion to the story. Where every major character, dead or alive, is conclusively addressed in the aftermath of the failed invasion. Too many times I’ve seen a show puts its climax right at the very last moment, and as a result ends up a rushed, disappointing affair (coughcoughroboticnotescoughcough) that only offer brief glimpses into the aftermath of its characters, which is why I’m really grateful for Shin Sekai Yori using its final episode to give us proper conclusions on the remainder of its characters.
In the end though, Shin Sekai Yori remains as unrelentingly nihilistic and cynical as it started out, which for some reason I always felt might’ve ended up being the case. Humanity has averted its most dire catastrophe yet, and the village will eventually rebuild itself, but by no means does the story want us to think humans have changed for the better. More than that, the show outright vilifies the remainder of the village’s humans as they mock and demean Squealer in his hearing. Even if the queerat is hardly a saint, the display was easily the cruellest in the show; stripped naked as the animal he is perceived to be, his intellect demeaned and mocked, the hearing being made a farce of, and being subject to a torturous fate worse than death. The actions of the villager are downright disgusting, and highlights just how little really has changed in human nature over the millennium since the fall of the old civilizations, and over the course of the series. That the queerats are really non-pk humans after all (finally confirmation of that on-off theory!) only deepens this feeling of humans already having gone beyond redemption in their actions. Really, who are the animals, and who are the humans in the end? You could make a case for both sides, and no one ends up on the moral high ground. If anything, the ending somewhat of an anti-climax; with the eradication of the queerats, that rift between the remainder of both species only grows larger that ever, and both sides end up worse for wear.
But finally, the show leaves us with something new: Hope for any kind of change, even if minuscule. Humanity has been characterised by tragedy and loss, abhorrence in their actions, but in Saki and Satoru, we see small steps of a new direction. “There are things more important than the rules”, muses Saki, as she burns the miserable lump of living flesh that was Squealer out of pity. To me, its more likely the statement implies there are more important things than survival, the traits that separate humans from animals, the aspects that give us our humanity, and this is embodied in Saki’s actions to spare Squealer his fate, as well as in repaying the debt to Kiromaru and saving his colony from eradication.
The new life conceived by Saki and Satoru, now wedded, becomes symbolical of this new hope. For this first time there is something undeniably positive in the outlook of story, even amidst the bleakness surrounding the characters. And as we find, within the story that has just been recounted to us is a small prayer for a better future. It’s incredibly fitting then, from a symbolic and emotive standpoint, that Dvorak is the one to play this show out, as the piece by now is synonymous with loss and tragedy in the show, but at the same time the end of the day and the possibilities of the unknown future. As we’re treated to a haunting final sequence of the time where the children were in the prime of their innocence, a time now lost to the unforgiving world, the show leaves us with one final statement: “The power of imagination is what changes everything.” A testament to the tale we’ve just been told, and the new hopes Saki and Satoru are left with. Because when humans can’t imagine anything beyond survival, when humans can’t imagine a better way of life, how can it ever be attained?
Once again it’s finale time for the season, and I confess, I had a lot of trepidation going into the final write up for Shin Sekai Yori. For one, this is the first double-cour series I’ve fully covered, and after some 6 months it being a constant part of my life, only now do I realise how hard it is to have to finally close the book on a show I’ve grown to really connect with. And how hard it is to actually close the book itself. Which brings me to my other point, that when a series as dense as Shin Sekai Yori ends, my thoughts end up a dazed mess. I haven’t the faintest where I should be starting from, not even as I’m typing this. There’s so much to discuss about that I feel anything I end up writing would be a disservice to what this wonderful show actually brought out.
In which case, I feel inclined to restraint myself. First of all, the philosophy in the show is perhaps better left to the discussions in comment boxes and forums; framed in the ambiguous ethicality of the humans and their coexistence with the queerats, we saw existential ponderings of our humanity and base instincts, explorations of social paradigms and conventionality, even (brief) challenges to our preconceptions on the highly personal topic of sexuality. There’s no lack to what Shin Sekai Yori brought to the table, and similarly so of the many opinions it provoked. Trying to summarize the entirety of that intellectual experience would then be doing the show a true disservice. Rather, letting the audience explore its numerous themes by themselves seems the better alternative, as the show had so challenge us. As I’ve said at the start, this is a show that goes places, and it reaches quite a few that’s been going unchallenged in anime for far too long. For the intellectually curious, you could certainly do worse than Shin Sekai Yori.
Instead, I really just want to talk about show did right by me, and the first on that checklist is that it tell a fantastic, compelling story. Which, surprising as it may be, doesn’t come quite as often as I would like it to. Much of the credit really should go to novelist Kishi Yusuke here, who realized this tragically beautiful tale about the human nature that provokes not just intellectually, but emotionally in equal amounts. This is a story of some very human characters in a very inhuman time, and as we chart their life journeys over the span of 14 years, as we watch the group suffer through the loss of members and the tragedy brought about by their world, it gets intensely dramatic. I’ve talk at length about this before, but this is also a show that breaths believability into its setting in a way few show actually do so, where the heft of a millennium in time (and not just during the Tokyo climax) can actually be felt throughout the presentation of this familiar yet alien world. It’s here where the intricacies of Kishi Yusuke’s novel shows; details about it’s history, environment and society, both implicit and explicit, really helped flesh out this setting that he’s built. As a storyteller, Kishi Yusuke’s a genius at keeping the story completely unpredictable while never quite making it too far-fetched; solid exposition and foreshadowing, and a remarkable awareness of the plot direction makes the story stay true to its vision as his spins his tale of a world gone wrong.
But really, equal credit should go to director Ishihama Masashi here, who in his breakout directorial role here got skyrocketed to my list of “to-watch” directors. Don’t discount the efforts of his team simply because this was an adaptation; contrary to the popular opinion, I often feel adaptations are far greater a challenge to produce for than an original screenplay. The way I see it, greater constraints are placed when translating a story between two different mediums as opposed to a story crafted specifically for the medium. Kishi Yusuke’s sci-fi epic at 3 volumes long, with its world and themes and characters and all its little literary details, was far from simple to adapt into a 24 episodes series, the same way it still boggles the mind as to how the game of thrones was condensed into 12, or the way the Lord of the Rings was cut into 3 feature lengths. What to keep in, what excess to trim, and what to do in order to adhere to the vision of the story? It can’t have been an easy task asked of Masashi’s team, especially given the fact that they were working on a skeleton budget –and I’ll get to this shortly– but still he rose to the challenge magnificently. Shin Sekai Yori wasn’t afraid to experiment and break away from conventional storytelling paradigms to tell its full breadth of its scope, and damned if it actually cared whether people could follow it. I’ve wrote at length before, that the show’s direction is at once its greatest strength and weakness, and I still stand by that. Shin Sekai Yori can often take on a wild, erratic direction in an attempt to get its as many of its points across, and more often than I liked, these were lost on me and -as I suspect- many others. At the same time, it’s because the direction ended up being so unique that made Shin Sekai Yori as compelling a watch as it was; explicit and implicit details often intertwine in unexpected ways –such was the case when we first found out about the mindwiping– and a barrage of foreshadowing and misdirection kept up that air of ambiguity till the very end of the show.
Fact is, Masashi and his team were short-changed, and it shows in the inconsistencies in animation and varying production values. But it doesn’t change the fact that its presentation is one Shin Sekai Yori’s strongest suits. If animation wouldn’t work, the team would show mastery over other aspects of the cinematography: artistic direction, audio mixing, camerawork, among others. I cannot emphasize enough how important it’s been to this show, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have felt quite as strongly had the cinematography not been so effective in conveying the show’s palpable atmosphere. We talk about tension and fear, of tragedy and loss in the show, but without the beautiful, sometimes terrifying imagery –really, kudos to those unsung artists– and the amazing score to punctuate those key moments, Shin Sekai Yori would’ve been so much lesser. Masashi and his team’s contribution to the work cannot go amiss in crediting the realization of Shin Sekai Yori’s world. Case in point: What was the last show you remember where a piece of music could become as symbolic and iconic as Dvorak’s New World Symphony was here?
And of course, rounding out the holy trinity are the voice actors themselves. The main cast was populated with typical big names, with fan-favourites like HanaKana rocking the solid performance you’d expect. But really, as I’m sure anyone would agree, the queerats were the real stars. You just can’t go without crediting Namikawa Daisuke – who comes from roles like Fate/Zero’s naive Waver to chillingly deliver the show’s standout performance as Squealer – and Hirata Hiroaki – breaking away from his lovable joe typecast and showing similarly amazing range here as the majestic and noble Kiromaru. Fresh faced Taneda Risa, the most unnatural of choices out of the entire cast, also proves her chops amidst these stars by bringing a weak and flawed Saki through an emotional maturation process into adulthood.
It’s always hardest to put the final line on a wrap-up. What to say to sum up the experience that was Shin Sekai Yori? I could say it is the most creative, provocative and compelling piece of work I’ve seen in the medium for a long time, but that’s 3 buzz words too many already. I could say that ranks among the Tatami Galaxies, the Dennou Coils and Ghost in the Shells, those shows that had the perfect blend of complexity and depth in their themes, those shows that were impeccable in the presentation of their creative vision. But that’s just describing my own taste in shows, and besides, I bet a number of you never watched a single one I mentioned.
Why is closing the book so damn hard?
Screw objectivity then. I love this show. I love its incredibly flawed cast of characters. I love the world it has so amazingly realized, a future vision of our world that is indescribably beautiful, and yet completely horrifying at the same time. I love how it constantly made me ponder, think and question this vision. And I love those damn queerats. Hell, I love Squealer, for all his ambition, twistedness, and flaws. There’s quite simply nothing like Shin Sekai Yori that I’ve ever seen in the medium, and it’s been a long time since I felt so strongly this way. It’s the shows like this, the show that pushes the limits of creativity in anime to deliver something truly fresh, that resound with me long after they end. It’s this experience that made me start on animes, when I first saw the extents of the medium’s creative power in Spirited Away, and it’s for experiences like what Shin Sekai Yori delivered that I continue to watch them.
Sorry folks! Normally, I’d pull an overnighter and get the entire post out in one go, but I’ve got work in the morning. Rather than waiting for the final impressions to be done, I’m putting up the post with the episode review first, so knock yourselves out with the ending discussions. Check back at the same time in the next two days for an updated episode review and a proper final impression! Final Impressions are up! And thanks to all you readers for following my ramblings these past 6 months! SSY’s been one of the most amazing shows I’ve had the fortune to watch and blog, and its a blast writing the posts and reading all your insightful comments!