Thoughts on Shinsekai yori (Spoilers)

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(All images were obtained via Google search.)

I had heard many good things about this series, but the full impact of just how good it was didn’t hit until I actually looked into my friends’ ratings for it. Three people, whose opinions I respect tremendously, gave this a 9, 10, and 10, with two placing it among their favorites. Some time after I started the series, the one who gave it a 9 confided in me and admitted that she didn’t know why she doesn’t just bump it up to a 10 and put it on her favorites. With that in mind, all three essentially gave the series a perfect score. As a curious critic, this is something I cannot ignore. So, after finishing my recent rewatch of Ano Natsu de Matteru, I placed this series as a first-priority watch.

It’s really quite ironic that I viewed this so soon after posting a piece on the phrase “It gets better,” because Shinsekai yori is a perfect specimen of its concept. Along with the vague “good things” I had heard about the series, I had also heard that it doesn’t “get good” until about episode 12 or so. Conveniently enough, this is true, as the first half of this series is muddled in inconsistent handling of both matters of intrigue and emotional empathy. Truth be told, I almost dropped this series around the ninth episode, as I felt all that they had shown felt forced and immensely abrasive, with little to show any sort of reasoning behind it. It’s a series that remains fairly intriguing throughout, but all the technical talk and fantastic mumbo-jumbo makes it a chore to take all of it in if there’s nothing worth truly listening for.

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One of the things argued in the linked piece above is that the payoff to spending so much time building up to something has to be worth it, or else one would feel let down by the time wasted. Shinsekai yori not only makes up for the time wasted, but by series’ end, it completely envelops any and all expectations it had set up for itself and unveils the portrait of a cunning and beautiful mosaic of creativity. Indeed, the first half of the series can be a difficult hurdle to jump across, as the foreshadowing and intricate lacing of seemingly meaningless ideas come up empty for long periods. Should one do that and persevere, they’ll manage to find that not only is the payoff wonderful, but the realization that every minute detail from before was absolutely, 100% necessary for the impending emotional climax of the series. Again, as said in the linked article, a series worth the wait needs to show that the wait isn’t something they set up to provide filler; Shinsekai yori is a powerful series because of the wait, and not in spite of it.

Oh, how captivating this series truly is! Ambitious isn’t even close to the type of praise this series deserves. Not only does it shy away from 99% of the clichés that make up modern anime, but it feels as though it creates every facet of its world and characters, leaving no detail untouched, no history underdeveloped. Almost similarly to A Monster Calls, its almost mechanical ability to control every twist and turn of the story and its characters reaction to them is like that of watching a mathematician write complex calculations in front of a whole country with speed and precision. Unlike the former, Shinsekai yori manages to remain almost entirely human (in the second half) due to an established understanding of how to sculpt the characters to appear predominantly genuine.

Characters are, however, one of the tricky aspects of the series. It was because of these characters that I almost dropped the series in the first place. One of the things I typically criticize of Gen Urobuchi’s writing (who wasn’t involved with this series) is that his characters better serve the plot than distinguish their independence through their personality. Series such as Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero are anime with near-universal praise, but are series I find severely flawed due to a lack of organic characters. Shinsekai yori faces this issue as well, especially within the episodes where they’re shown as teenagers. The prevalence of homosexual relations in the series is a topic that’s been debated to death ever since the series first aired, but it’s something I feel should be taken seriously. Not because it’s homosexual, but because it feels incredibly out of nowhere. The pairing of Satoru and Shun specifically is one I find to be incredibly random. Saki and Maria, fine. They seemed to be fairly close from the beginning, but Satoru seemed a much closer match for Saki, seeing as he went through the first queerat campaign with her and makes a good opposite of her serious hesitation. Seeing this all play out upon the eighth episode almost gave me an excuse to save myself the effort of going any further. The few episodes afterwards gave even more opportunity, as as controversial as this may seem, I was never a huge fan of Shun’s character.

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Shun is not a bad character, though he is the probably the worst character among the five in “Group 1.” His only purpose throughout the series seemed to serve as Saki’s main love interest. And when he eventually disappears from the group, his only appearances return via nightmares and psychotic visions, only to go full Jedi Master and is able to speak to Saki near the end. While I praise a good portion of the actions that are taken from a psychological viewpoint, Shun’s sudden appearance near the end is among the most illogical aspects of the anime. The one thing in my mind that could be considered a cheap deus ex machina. It is also my one true criticism of the series’s story, as while the subjective monotony felt during the build-up scenes is calculated into my overall impressions, it is ultimately justified.

One of the most enjoyable spans in this series was simply the first few episodes. Seeing the cast as children—playing, laughing, interacting, showing off their quirks—was great in establishing who they were and where their place was in the story. They felt like real kids and real people. Once the queerats became involved around episode six or so, it adjusted to this tense, darkened view that typically accompanies grittier popular Netflix shows. To see the characters react so readily prepared, hardly scared, and so stiffly wooden made it boring to watch. Satoru in particular felt he went from 12 to 24 in an instant, despite his laid-back, adventurous nature. This continued through until episode eleven or so, as characters simply filled in the blanks of what characters in their situation would do in general. It lacked so much dramatic tension outside of what the story was kneading in wait that I watched with the idea that betters things were to come, even if I had to suffer within the present. It wasn’t until the appearance of Tomiko, Satoru’s grandmother, that I began to see the series as something of a pleasant viewing.

And then I became horribly addicted around episode sixteen.

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It may be naive to even suggest this comparison, seeing as the series are so fundamentally different, but Shinsekai yori almost reminds me of Suzanne Collin’s Gregor the Overlander series. Both deal with political structure within a certain society, one dealing with more than just humankind. Both portray the humans to be absurdly cautious in their customs, and vain in their outlook of superiority to other species. Both teeter the lines between portraying humankind as a symbol of purity and a symbol of selfish hostility. Both have different species refer to humans as murderers (“Killers” in Gregor; “Death Gods” in Shinsekai). Both (at some point) deal with an opposing force combating humankind with a sort of “Messiah-like” instrument of destruction (“The Fiend” in Shinsekai; “The Bane” in Gregor). Death is a prevalent part of both series. And both deal with prophecies or visions of an untimely future. The Underland Chronicles is technically (I wonder sometimes) for kids, so it doesn’t have the same privilege of pushing the boundaries as far as Shinsekai yori does. Still, there’s a lot of intriguing similarities between the two, and whether that’s more of an insult to Shinsekai yori or a compliment to Gregor the Overlander, I’m unsure. I enjoy both immensely.

Looking at Shinsekai yori through the lens of a cautionary tale, the presence of the queerats and humanity’s treatment of them is so excellently handled that, despite everything that happened, I ended up siding with the queerats. Squealer is among my favorite characters in the series simply for being so astute and forthcoming in his ideals. He makes for a very intriguing antagonist, and a very convincing protagonist. His ability to command and speak his way through trouble is one of the most powerful aspects of the series, as it highlights the irony of where it implies he gathers most of his knowledge from and how strongly humanity ignores it. Even more so, it’s implied from his first meeting with Satoru and Saki that he had his own agenda, betraying them for the sake of his people, only to quickly apologize later and get back on their good side to give himself more chances in the future. The social commentary involved with his high intellect speaks volumes for the comparison between him and all of humanity, as many different people would be willing to side with either one, giving meaning to queerats and humans being one in the same.

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In a short note, animation was incredibly appealing and artistically fascinating, with a wide array of different psychological sequences and elaborate interpretations to keep the series more intriguingly compact. Fluidity, however, was somewhat of an issue. I saw a number of different scenes where characters’ movements were rushed and static, along with some overall bizarre physical manipulation. These were in normal scenes, mind you, not when the series can get away with being absurd within the context of the series’s fantasy genre. It made the opening episodes feel a little more off-brand, and that the crusade of creativity was only in terms of writing than visual splendor.

In conclusion… watch the series. Much in the way that I would actively and immediately recommend anime such as Katanagatari, Toradora!, Dennou Coil, and Spice & Wolf, Shinsekai yori has become a must-watch placement in my carefully structured and 100% objectively accurate chart of great anime. It beautifully blends both mental fascination and emotional stimulation in a way many others could only dream of doing, with every finer detail being used to pursue the conquest of complete quality. Shinsekai yori is as gripping an investment for me since Dennou Coil, a series I watched nearly a year ago. There is no reason not to watch it, so do yourself a favor and watch what may become your next favorite anime.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Shinsekai yori (Spoilers)

  1. I didn’t fall quite as in love with this one as I found it really slow going and while I firmly recommend watching it because it is really interesting by the end, I haven’t watched it a second time myself because I start it and remember how slow that first half is. Still, reading this, I now know I kind of have to get around to watching it again because that ending was worth it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. My man! Very glad you got around to this one and even happier that you enjoyed it to the extent that you did. Though I don’t often go out of my way to speak about the series unless somebody prompts me, I often bandy about phrases such as “the best world-building in anime”, “favorite ED sequence of all time”, and “one of the best OST’s”. I really love this show and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it and so to hear a fresh perspective on it is quite entertaining. As you say, I have to imagine it’s slow going at first and I I’d be really interested to see if I’m any more critical of the first parts of the show given another viewing. I just remember being enraptured by the world from the get-go and the kind of alternate humanity the show creates.

    Something else that I’ve thought about the show that I always carry with me is that, of all of the shows I’ve seen, this one in particular is perhaps the most dismissive of its characters of any of them. The characters are important to the story being told but in a broader sense they almost felt like vehicles for communicating to me a vast and storied world and something integral about the human condition. From what I remember, there isn’t all that much to the characters and at some point Maria and Mamoru just kind of disappear. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy them or that they weren’t memorable but I think the story arrives at a place where it almost grows beyond them. Saki, Tomiko, and Squeeler were definitely a ton of fun. Incidentally, this is probably the show that ingrained in me my deep love of longform storytelling through multiple time-skips. I love watching characters grow over years and watching the world change around them and I think Shinsekai exhibits this superbly. I’ve rambled a bit.

    This really makes me want to revisit the show and look at it through my contemporary lens of being more critical and having a much better eye for visuals and animation than I did 2+ years ago. Great write-up – you’ve catpured a lot of what excites me about the series and I’m glad that it’s joined the ranks of your favorite anime. It certainly deserves to be mentioned alongside Dennou Coil.

  3. “And then I became horribly addicted around episode sixteen.”

    Heh, I can relate to this.

    I’m glad you enjoyed SSY as it’s personally one of my favorites too!

  4. Excellent review. You really went in depth here and expressed your passion for this show brilliantly.

    I can definitely see why you, and others, are really into this show. Personally though, it didn’t quite do it for me. While the pay-off is more or less worth it and the series shy’s away from cliches, I still found it difficult to excuse the first half of series being… “Meh”. That, and the characters weren’t all that interesting to me, which is always an essential for me.

    That being said, I appreciate the series for what it is and what it set out to do, so regardless of my own thoughts, it’s earned my respect in that regard.

    Glad you enjoyed the series!

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