Shinsekai Yori Is What It Means to Be Human

[First half of this post will have no real spoilers, but I want to make a point to explain the first half of this post using spoilers, so please watch the bold text indicating so if you are sensitive to it.]

For me, making sense of Shinsekai Yori is a lot of fun. It is the second most enjoyable thing to do with the show, second to enjoying the show’s kuuki-kei take on a twisted, science fictional setting. I think without a doubt the setting to Shinsekai Yori is far and beyond the most awe-inspiring thing in there, simply via its far-eastern marriage of cultural sensibilities, aesthetics and the things that made it warm and humane. Underneath all of that is still this ruthless, cold and calculating pessimism which drives the story forward, similar to most big concept, high science fiction story.

The problems to Shin Sekai Yori, like its strengths, appeared almost immediately as well. The first 4 episodes to the show were some of the most tedious that I had to slog through back in Autumn 2012. The production values were good, but nothing special. What perhaps kept things rolling was the unique art design (best summed by the first ED) and the story promises to be “my bag” so I stuck with it to at least the first major reveal, piercing through the facades that covered the eyes of the then-young protagonists and the viewers alike. From that point on, my imagination took over, less so the characters in the show.

But as we slowly unravel the pieces to the eventual climatic moments across two major time jumps, punctuated by moments of suspense as the kids kept getting into trouble with bakenezumi, it all feels like a chore. The story and plot largely focused on the intercharacter relationship between Saki and everyone around her, as to make a point. And it wasn’t until the very end of the last episode that this point has been pointed out, making a good two-thirds of the show a real bore.

I mean, it was just a pattern of: school, kids, school, people go somewhere, darkness and bakenezumi for a couple episodes, people go home, time skip, repeat. Maybe it makes sense from the POV of the adaptation manuscript, because it was from a book and what have you (well, maybe light novel also fits, in the classic sense of the term) and it can all build up to some pretty cool end-game. But when it’s a TV serialized animation, one episode a week, it’s really hard to do it with 25 episodes while still keeping people’s attention intact.

Some of the high praises of the show are rightfully due, and to its credit the TV animation did a pretty good job getting the messages and themes of the book across to a foreign audience. If I was going to ignore the fact that it was kind of a chore to watch this show until the final arc, I would rate it pretty highly. I suppose unlike Simoun, I guess Shin Sekai Yori’s world all makes sense, and that holds everything together. After all I don’t know how people would react to the character drama. It’s no K-ON for sure, but then again, it’s not K-ON.

While I think the sensible way to look at this show is from a kuuki-kei perspective, people who like this show are most definitely who like heavy and plot-driven crap, who can put up with Mamoru being Mamoru or Maria being a tease or all the gay sexorz. Or maybe not? I’m not sure. Take my opinion with a grain of salt, as you probably already do.

Spoilers.

Tomiko "the cat lady"

The thing that hangs with me with the fairly epic end to Shinsekai Yori was, as with many, Yakomaru’s claim about being human. I think it’s good to entertain the idea, much like how Satoru did. And I am in the camp of thought where Satoru is right. The bakenezumi are no longer human. The reason behind this has all to do with  the fact how the story spent all its time dealing with the characters around Saki, and showing us what it means to be human. Little things like showing us Saki’s parents being torn of having her older sister off’d, or the outbursts of emotion from the only other boy she loved–that is humanity in this bleak new world. That seems to be the main reason behind all that emotional pathos in the first dozen and a half episodes and in the end it dictates some major choices Saki had to make (eg., destroying the psycho-buster). Of course, this is just my interpretation of the text. I’m also biased to this interpretation because it gives meaning to the suffering I had to slog through, during the slow parts of the show.

Does that make sense to you now? Because there’s no “Houkago Teatime feat. Kiyomaru” in this anime. Instead, the rat-men are featured as advanced evolutionary bi-products, at most, maybe victims. Do you know how much I love looking forward to Wareta Ringo every week? It signifies that yet another week’s Shinsekai Yori has come to an end, that it’s time to think about the show, and I can’t wait until I’m done with the next one. So I can get to the good stuff, the “end of chapter SETTINGS QUIZ” in the form of some creative plot device. Like where did all the bakenezumi kept all the human babies it abducted.

And to be fair, there’s a great counter to my point: what does this make the people who created the bakenezumi in the first place? What does that make Saki and Satoru? Or their society? And I like to entertain an argument about Kiyomaru being the most human of them all, although his self-sacrifice seems no different than Yakomaru’s use of deceit, tech and tactics. It was just that Kiyomaru hasn’t evolved to the point, in his society, to where Yakomaru’s was.

End spoilers. And the post, really. I had a lot more fun using Shinsekai Yori as a springboard to talk about and think about other ideas than the primary thematic message presented in the story proper. Still, I had fun.

PS. While Vertical has published Shinsekai Yori author’s prior work, The Crimson Labyrinth, I’m not sure if that means anything to fans of this show. On one hand I’m sympathetic to Vertical saying they probably can’t license Shinsekai Yori without some proven sales to Kishi’s existing catalog, on the other hand I can’t really bring myself recommending it to anyone who likes Shinsekai Yori, it just seems like a different genre. Even before I read a word off of it, it’s already being “molded” by the greater powers of the internet to be a Battle Royale knock, without any hints of truth. It’s not even an impulse buy for me because there’s no e-book version available and my physical book backlog is yea tall as is.

But it’s good to be aware. Anyone read the Crimson Labyrinth? Is it any good?


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