“Sometimes the truth is cruelest of all.”
Animation Company: A-1 Pictures
Genre: Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Supernatural
Airing Date: September 2012 to March 2013
Summary: The story is set in Japan a millennium from now. Five children—Saki, Satoru, Maria, Mamoru, and Shun—have been born and raised in a tranquil town, Kamisu’s 66th district, that can be described as a utopia overflowing with water and green foliage. Humans now have the “cursed power” or the “gods’ power” of telekinesis (juryoku). After a certain incident, Saki and the others come to realize the true nature of their world and before long, they learn everything, including the bloody history that brought humanity to this state. The five throw themselves into a life-threatening adventure and fight to protect their friends and a world on the brink of collapse. -Source
Trailer: PV 1,
Shin Sekai Yori, based on a best-selling and award-winning novel of the same name, is a show that is a slow burn. As we follow our main characters from their innocent childhood at age 12 all the way to their late 20’s, the story snowballs getting more and more involved in the strange but familiar world of the future. It’s starts as a mystery, full of suspense and disappearing children, and effortlessly flows into a loss of innocence/coming-of-age-story of a group of children who are living in a very uncertain world. The world of SSY is well thought out, inhabited by flora and fauna that are familiar but strange, and every detail of the human society of the future has been painstakingly planned. The story progresses from a small-scale to a much larger one as the children age, and as they start to discover the darker side of human nature. Events that might seem insignificant will come back in later episodes, providing valuable context to situations that might otherwise have fallen flat. Once the grand, over-arching problem is revealed, SSY excels at show each side as neither pure good or pure evil, which is a very difficult thing to do well.
It’s not a true action show, since it does rely pretty heavily on dialogue to keep the story going, but every twist and turn of that story will keep you wanting more. The ending is by far one of the best I’ve seen, as it wraps up almost everything that needs to be wrapped up, while leaving some things open for the viewer to think about. And that’s what I admire the most about SSY story: it really makes you pause and think about some of the issues it brings up. I will admit that the story does get a little confusing at times, and since it’s such a slow build up, not everyone will have the patience to wait for things to come together. But for me, it deserves a solid 9, if only for the fact that weeks after the show has ended, I’m still thinking about it.
While all the characters in Shin Sekai Yori are great, for me the series boils down to two of them: Saki and Squealer. We first meet Saki as an adventurous young girl. She’s level-headed, her PK’s a little weak compared to the others, but she’s got the emotional fortitude to make up for it. See, Shin Sekai Yori goes to some pretty dark places and throws a lot at its characters. Saki, more than the others, deals with all this and still has the strength to carry on living. Unlike Satoru, who has more of a policy of avoiding tough questions, Saki is able to look at them head on, and try to come up with solutions to them. She’s not perfect, and she makes mistakes along the way, but we see her grow into her own over the course of 25 episodes. Squealer is one of the most complex, interesting, and human characters I’ve seen in a long time. As one of the Queerats, a species of giant rodents that serve the humans at the beginning of the series, he makes some of the greatest changes. From the start, he’s a very conniving, subservient animal, willing to do anything to survive and happy to just get a couple of scraps of praise from his “gods”. But he’s smart, even from the beginning, and that cleverness leads him to eventually reform the Queerat society, led a rebellion against the humans, and to ultimately make us question what it is to be human. Squealer represents the best and worst traits that humanity has to offer, and for that he has easily won his way into my heart (even though he’s a “villain”).
Other characters deserve praise as well. Shun, who is wise beyond his years, which eventually leads to his downfall. Satoru, who sticks by Saki’s side through hell and back. Maria, who helps Saki to grow into the woman that she becomes in the end with her love. There’s Tomiko, Kiroumaru, and Mamoru as well. I would have liked to have seen a little bit more development in some character’s cases, but given some of their fates I can see how that would not work. Another great thing about SSY is the characters relationship’s with each other. Maria and Saki and Shun and Satoru have a real relationship, not something thrown in for fanservice or as some kind of fetishized thing. Those are relationships that influence the characters and that stick with them through the whole show, which is a very nice thing to see. SSY does mostly everything right when it comes to its characters and their interpersonal relationships, and even it’s “bad guy” is represented as something more than just you’re average evildoer. Since we follow these characters for such a long period of time in their lives, we really get to see them mature and grow from children to adults. So Shin Sekai Yori gets a well deserved nine for its characters (Squealer alone was worth a whole point).
Animation Quality: 8/10
What I liked most about SSY was that it wasn’t afraid to take risks and play around with its animation. Sequences from the very first couple of episodes, when the kids were telling stories of the Fiends and Karma Demons, really played with different styles. Episodes 5 and 10, which were done by director Shigeyasu Yamauchi looked completely different from the rest of the show. The ending was beautiful and looked like nothing I’ve seen in an anime before. There were so many little moments that stood out because they looked different; like Saki’s dreams where she goes in to a hellish world crawling with monsters that look like something by Masaaki Yuasa, or some of the scenes with the Queerats, or anything involving Shun after episode 10. Even when it wasn’t playing with the animation, SSY looked good. It also greatly helped build the atmosphere of the show, being eerie when it needed to be, showing landscapes seeped in melancholy, as well as going into the more surreal to give it an air of wonder and mystery.
A-1 pictures has a spotty track record, and seeing as this wasn’t going to be one their big hits, they didn’t really give it much of a budget. Even with that, the characters and there surroundings look about as good as you could expect them too. There little kid forms are a little to big-headed for my personal taste, but it evens out once they mature. The Queerats look creep and cute at the same time, and some of them look downright scary. There’s a great amount of attention given to even the most mundane of things, like clothing and architecture. The backgrounds are a dream: beautifully done and depicting a wide variety of landscapes etc. The only thing dragging this score down is that sometimes it did look a little weird. The faces would be off, or their movements would just not be right. I suspect this was mostly due to budget reasons, rather than stylistic choices. And again, when they’re children I found their eyes almost to be too large and cute. For what it was, the animation looked great, and didn’t look to similar to anything running concurrently. So I’m giving it an 8 (I also have a feeling that as the Blu-ray releases come out, a lot of those smaller problems will be fixed).
Original Soundtrack: 9/10
Shin Sekai Yori took an unusual route in that it was one of very few anime that I can think of that didn’t have an opening. I’m really happy about that choice since too often these days the opening will have to many spoilers of things to come, which ruins the show. Going in not knowing who would be bad or good or what was going to happen was half of what made this show so great for me. It also gave the show more time to tell its story. You don’t realize how much time is wasted each week with a 2 minute 30 second opening (that’s almost 58 minutes over the course of 25 episode). And with a story so complex, they really needed the extra time. The first ending was amazing. My seconde favorite ending (after Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure) of the Fall/Winter season. The music and the animation were a real gem, and fit the show perfectly.
I wasn’t so much a fan of the second ending, but it was alright. The music in the show itself was also stellar. A combination of the ethereal chorus singing, the suspenseful more experimental sounds, and the frantic battle music really helped set the tone of the show and really highlighted certain scenes with their inclusion. Even the use of Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony (which is where the anime and novel draw their name from) was an absolute delight. It’s one of my favorite pieces of music, and now it’s forever linked in my head with this wonderful series. Whenever I hear that mournful oboe (or it might be a clarinet?) I’ll always be reminded of it calling Saki, Satoru, Shun, Maria, and Mamoru home for the day. Shin Sekai Yori had a soundtrack that I won’t soon be forgetting, so I’m giving it a nine.
Overall Score: 9/10
It takes a truly exceptional series to make me give it a nine, and Shin Sekai Yori is one such series. With its fantastic world building, wonderful characters, and an exceptionally told story, everything about this show hit all the right buttons for me. It’s slow at times, and the animation is a great example of doing a lot with just a little, and yet it still manages to be head and shoulders above anything else. SSY wasn’t afraid to take risks, and it doesn’t shy away from the hard issues that it raises about oppression, freedom, sacrifice, and ultimately, what it means to be human. It’s also a show that begs for re-watching, for surely it will reveal even more of its mysteries to those who sit through it again and again. Which I would, even through the heart breaks that this show forced on me the first time around.
SSY is the type of show that everyone should watch at least once. It’s not a light-hearted affair, but I’m a firm believer that every now and then, everyone should challenge themselves to watch something that’s different. Something that’s maybe more difficult in terms of content. I really don’t know what else to say, other than what I’ve said before. It’s emotional, it’s dark, it’s not something that goes in through one ear and out the other. The animation is different (but not so different as to make it really different) and for a long time the story seems to build towards an unknown ending. SSY is grim and at times borders on being pessimistic, but just like Saki, it never fully looses hope in humanities abilities to work towards a better tomorrow. So what are you still doing here? Go watch it already!