“We are humans!” -Squealer
Summary: Saki is reunited with Satoru and Kiroumaru and together they attempt to eliminate the fiend. But when Satoru uses the Psychobuster, while he himself is at risk of being infected, Saki destroys it in a fiery inferno before it can do any damage and she loses the only person she has left. With their ultimate weapon destroyed, one of the trio lays down their life in order for the fiend to finally be destroyed as things come to a stunning conclusion.
Impressions: Wow. What an absolutely amazing last episode to a great show. Right up until the very end, Shin Sekai Yori kept me guessing, and though I was worried about how the show would end, SSY proved to me that my doubt was misguided by pulling off one of the best endings of the season. After watching this show for nearly half a year, I’m truly sad to see it go. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in!
Truth be told, I started and completed this article about three times before settling on this version. I was unsure how to approach the daunting task of trying to cover every little thing that happened over the course of these two episodes as well as discussing the over-arching messages that Shin Sekai Yori was striving for. I came to realize that these two episodes (as well as the whole show) should be discussed together, as a whole and not the sum of its parts.
Having now seen the end, it’s easy to see that almost everything about SSY was building up to this one final episode. Every episode, every reveal, every lose has come down to this. With Squealer and Saki, Satoru, and Kiroumaru evenly matched, I was relieved with the choice not to use the Psychobuster as the miracle super weapon I believed it would turn out to be. Seeing Saki destroy it before it can infect the fiend and Satoru was the right choice for her as a character, as well as for the show itself. Saki, out of everyone, has lost the most to the struggle of survival in this new world: first her sister, her classmates, her neighbors and the rest of the village, Inui, Tomiko, Mamoru, her mother and father, and most importantly Maria and Shun, as well as countless of others. She’s seen them all die, and she’s kept going, standing up again in spite of everything. When she imagines losing Satoru as well, the one person who’s been there for her since the beginning, who’s stood by her side no matter what, and then suddenly being alone, she realizes that she has to save him, even if it puts the fate of the rest of humanity on the line. Now left with almost no choices, the three of them try to come up with one last plan to destroy the fiend, and Saki again (as she has so many times in the past) is the one to come up with an idea. One last-ditch effort to save themselves, and the rest of the humans as they know them.
Earlier in the episode, Kiroumaru remarks upon how Saki and Satoru should be willing to lay down their lives especially considering how many others (Queerats and humans alike) have died to get them to this point. It’s a theme that just keeps cropping up through out the show: sacrifice. Whether chosen by the individual or forced on them, like Shun’s sacrifice in order to keep the others safe, Inui’s sacrifice to keep Saki from harm, societies sacrifice of hundreds to keep humanity alive and in some semblance of peace. There are many examples, and so it’s easy to see what Saki would naturally ask of Kiroumaru. She believes that the fiend has grown up thinking that it’s a Queerat, which is why it doesn’t attack Squealer and his men, and also why she has no death feedback when killing humans. Just as humans can kill the Queerats because they don’t perceive them as human, so can the fiend kill humans because she doesn’t perceive them as the same species as herself. With their one weapon gone, Saki has no choice but to ask the unthinkable of Kiroumaru; that he sacrifice himself in order for the fiend to die. And he does it, after extracting a promise that Saki save the Queen of the Giant Hornet colony.
It’s an emotional scene, as Kiroumaru, disguised as Satoru, and with Saki following close behind him in order to remain hidden, charges out onto the battlefield. When the fiend does finally attack Kiroumaru, blowing a hole right through his torso, his final grimace as he reveals that he isn’t human, and that the fiend has been tricked, packs an emotional punch. He is in a way the unsung hero of the show, loyal to the end and willing to lay down his life not for the humans, but to save his Queen and through her, secure the future of all Queerats from being wiped off the face of the earth. There’s a grim symmetry to Saki and Squealer, both hovering over the prone forms of the people they were willing to sacrifice in order to get their way. I don’t want to say that Saki proves herself, but she certainly takes up the mantle of a true leader with this final episode. Like anyone in a position of power, she makes some very tough choices, and even when it’s later proven that those choices were maybe misguided, she works to live with them and to create a better future. With the fiend gone, Squealer is captured and the Queerat uprising comes to an end.
It’s here that SSY really proves itself to be great. There are not many shows that do such a good job at showing each side of the conflict to be neither wholly good or wholly evil, and creating a situation where the viewer is left wishing for both sides to win. Even though we know that the humans are horrible, little better than slave masters of old, people who would willing let their children be exterminated in an effort to control their society, we still don’t want to see them be annihilated by the Queerats. The Queerats themselves have also done horrible things, turning their Queen into nothing more than a brainless baby-making machine, killing hundreds of humans in a ruthless push for domination, but after hearing both Squealer and Kiroumaru explain why it was so important for the Queerats to try to grasp their freedom you also hope for them to achieve their goal. While the humans gave them autonomy, they were never free. The smallest infraction could lead to a whole colony being wiped out. As Squealer makes his impassioned last speech to Saki and Satoru in his jail cell, it becomes clear just how oppressed these beings have been.
He’s statement that the humans should apologize for all the hundreds of Queerats they’ve killed, after Saki demands that he apologize for all the humans he’s killed, hits right at the truth of the matter. These are intelligent beings, who are just as smart as humans, but because of a cruel twist of fate, they are considered inferior because they lack having powers. It’s even crueler considering that (as I and many others have speculated) the Queerats are indeed what the non-PK using humans turned into. With PK using humans not able to kill other humans because of the death feedback, the civilizations of old needed a way to balance the scales so that the non-PK using humans (who could still kill) wouldn’t become to powerful. And they did it by injecting enough naked mole rat DNA into these humans so that they were changed into the Queerats that we see now. Knowing this and seeing Squealer stand up and reject the name the humans gave him, calling himself human, seeing that he knows that he is equal but being laughed off as a joke by the assembled crowd: it’s brutal. Why should he apologize to these people who have treated him and his kind like dirt for hundreds of years? The answer is he shouldn’t. Even as Tomiko’s fateful words come true in one of the most gruesome displays of torture I’ve seen or heard of, I don’t think Squealer would have or did apologize.
SSY in the end is an intensely cynical and dark show that doesn’t shy away from showing just how cruel humans have been and will continue to be. But thankfully it presents us with a light in all that darkness, a tiny speck of hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box. And that is the hope for a better tomorrow. Saki, who has lived through it all, from a naïve child to a young girl looking for answers to the woman who at the end probably knows more than anyone the flaws of their society, does start to make changes. Small ones, but this isn’t the type of thing that just happens overnight. She keeps her promise to Kiroumaru, and does keep some of the colonies from being eradicated in a furry of blind rage and revenge.
One of the most emotionally understated moments comes from seeing Saki go to visit Squealer, maybe a year or two after the war, and talking to him about the first time they met and how happy she had been to see him. At this point Squealer is little more than a lump of flesh, constantly in pain and yet unable to die, but Saki still talks to him like he’s a person. Instead of letting him live on like that, she ends his life out of mercy. Half of me was disturbed watching it, but the other half felt emotionally broken. As it’s shown in the end, the narration we’ve heard since the beginning has indeed been the Saki of the future, now in her mid-30’s, pregnant with her and Satoru’s child, as she records her memories and asks herself if humans can really change. We can only hope that the answer really is yes, and that the small steps that she has taken towards a better future will be continued, for her child’s sake, for the sake of all the friends she’s lost, and for the sake of the rest of the world.
And so the show comes to an end. For me Shin Sekai Yori represents everything an anime should be: an engaging story, wonderful characters, animation that wasn’t afraid to take risks, and a very satisfying ending. Sure, the animation wasn’t always a perfect 10, and sometimes the story does get a little confusing, but ultimately the things SSY does right outweight its flaws. It’s the kind of show that sticks with you, that makes you think about the nature of sacrifice, the nature of oppression, and what it means to be human. Even now, weeks after the finale, I sometimes still find myself thinking about the show, about Squealer or Saki, or about how eerily our world today mirrors that of SSY. And for me, that’s the hallmark of a great series. It’s not one that will be easily forgotten, and it’s been a real pleasure covering it here. I can’t wait for it to come out of DVD, because I for one know I’ll be adding it to my permanent collection, which is about as glowing an endorsement as I can give anything. Thanks for sticking with me to the bitter end, I hope you all have enjoyed the ride as much as I have!
Expect the Overall Review to be up within the next 24 hours
Final Final Thought: