Saturday, November 24, 2012

Shin Sekai Yori - 09

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Shin Sekai Yori is once again comfortably the best series of the season.


There’s a sense of foreboding that runs through “From the New World” that makes it much scarier and more unsettling that most shows with more violence and conventional horror trappings.  It’s tempting to say the relatively idyllic treatment of the first few episodes lulled the audience into a false sense of security, but I really don’t think that’s true – in fact, those eps were incredibly creepy too, but what they did do is give us an investment in the characters by making us watch them in seemingly normal and innocent childhood interactions, set in a world that had the stench of wrongness sticking to it like your clothes after a night of drinking in a smoke-filled bar.

If you care for these kids as characters at all, it’s impossible not to worry about them – there’s a growing fatalism to this show, a sense that we’ve seen nothing of the terrible things that lie in store for them.  They know it too, of course, but they’re trapped between the knowledge they gained illicitly and the knowledge that if they pursue their instincts further, they’ll likely end up “disappearing” like so many children before them (including, apparently, Saki’s older sister Yoshimi).  Pandora’s Box has truly opened for these children, and they can never unlearn what they know.  And, seemingly, they can never function as obedient members of their society because they know it.  It seems entirely possible that it was Shun’s “potential” – and or their fear of his powers – that stayed the adults’ hand from eliminating all five of the kids as soon as they returned from the mountains.

With Shun gone now, though, the wall of self-denial the remaining four have built around themselves has begun to collapse, and they can sense the trap closing around themselves.  It’s Satoru who’s the most forceful about looking for him, and Saki more willing to join him – not surprising given the circumstances – while Maria is openly skeptical and Mamoru just seems bewildered.  Maria tells of rumors (a bit of role-reversal, one of the others using legend to try and frighten Satoru into inaction) that cantus masters like Kaburagi and Hino Koofu – a name I don’t believe we’ve heard before – can create animals from nothing, to suit their own needs – something that would explain both Shun’s “watch out for the cats” warning and the preponderance of strange creatures roaming this strange world.  In the end she and Mamoru take the seemingly safer job of asking after Shun at school, while Satoru and Saki – together on the water again – head off towards Shun’s village of Pinewind to see what they can discover there.

As with so much that’s happened in SSY, the rest is very much open to interpretation.  The pieces that we’re given – everyone from Pinewind absent from school, the village sealed off from land and water and guarded by humans and queerats, the strange conversation Maria and Mamoru overhear at school – leads me to believe that the adults wiped out the entire village (though it could have been Shun as well).  If that’s the case, the obvious question would be “why?”  Why would it be necessary to take out Shun’s entire village – are they all so “tainted” by association with him that they can’t be allowed to live (if so, why are the other four children still alive)?  Something strange happened there, at the very least – the ground was cold and covered in frost despite warm weather elsewhere – the whole thing had a “salting the Earth” feel to it that was extremely disturbing.

As for what Mamoru and Maria overheard, that was pretty disturbing too.  One can only assume that their crime of sneaking into the inner sanctum of the school would itself be enough to merit the death penalty according to the code of ethics.  Assuming Maria is telling the truth (I don’t think we can dismiss with absolutely certainty the chance that she’s lying, given Saki’s earlier narration – though I suspect she isn’t) the Elders have decided Shun must be eliminated before he turns into a “full karma demon” – a child’s horror story brought to life – and they unleash the power of the “tainted cats” which I suspect were at least partly responsible for whatever happened at Pinewind Village.  And indeed, when Saki goes off on her own to investigate after hearing Maria’s tale, she runs into one there – and all the earlier adjectives you care the use fit.  “Wrong”, “creepy”, “disturbing” – the beast is all of them, a nightmare of unnatural features that looks like something that should never have been allowed to come into existence.

In hindsight it’s easy to see how artfully everything has been pieced together to lead us up to this moment.  Saki’s mother’s admonishment to her daughter to stop “prying into things she shouldn’t” is as much as an admission that she’s been under suspicion for at least two years, and as the daughter of a couple who’ve clearly lost many children who were deemed unsuitable, maybe since she was born.  I don’t see any good path forward for Saki or any of them at this point whether Shun is still OK or not (and I’m more pessimistic about that than I was) short of fleeing altogether and facing whatever other horrors await them in the world.  And even should they choose to do that I’m certain they won’t be the first ones to have tried, and measures to prevent just such an occurrence are surely in place.

Lastly I want to specifically mention the visuals, which were really spectacular this week.  There have been some inconsistencies in the last couple of episodes – not uncommon around the seventh ep of a two-cour show – but this episode was gorgeous top to bottom.  The animation has been consistently good from the beginning, but this week the art direction was top-notch – the episode was full of gorgeous backgrounds, interesting shot composition (including the title card) and on-model character designs. 

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31 comments:

  1. Actually, I think it is Shun who destroyed the village and only now the adults decided to act, taking out the "Kitties".

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    1. Shun is the most likely suspect

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    2. I didn't really buy last week when someone said Shun wouldn't die so soon (or wouldn't die at all) because the voice actor for him was famous and talented and it would be a waste or all that. What about Reiko (Yui Horie) then? Isn't Yui Horie famous? Why is she killed off so soon in ep.1? To me, Shun dying in next ep or the one after that would make a lot more sense for the plot development than keeping him alive. Reiko was dead so soon and forgotten that it didn't really impact the main cast, but imagine Shun, the most talented one, being dead not even half way in the series. Bam! The shit would turn real so fast. I say he'll die (don't sue me though if he survives as I'm merely speculating... I don't see how he'd survive after turning into this demon thingy).

      BTW, Enzo and co. did any of you check out the manga version of SSY??? My, my, that's quite something, indeed. Check it out if you want. It also follows the main plot all right, but there was extra something I didn't expect from SSY. Well, I hear that the source novel is aslo quite explicit on sex scenes (such as "handjob" during ep 8's infamous scene btw Shun and Satoru whereas the anime counterpart merely had "tongue-kissing"... obviously they would have never shown that!!), so perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised on the manga's liberal pandering...nah, the certain manga scenes were just pandering and nothing else.

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  2. God, this episode was brilliant, right from the title card to the end. I still don't trust Shun's dog. Or rather, I don't think it is what it seems. There's so many things I wish Saki would have said and asked their parents, but in the end, they're not trustworthy. Their loyalty is to their tribe first and family second, I'm sure.

    THIS SHOW IS SO EXCITING!

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    1. I don't think the problem is loyalty but rather survival: the tribe could slaughter them all if they intervened too much. Parents want persuade their daughter to not meddle so she the society wouldn't kill her, that should be obvious by now due to mother's hysteria.

      Not that tribe is fully to blame either: they may be messed up, but looking at all the lore we learned they have a good reason... or more exactly, this is best the current societies can do.

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    2. You're splitting hairs that don't need to be split, but whatever. Sure. I agree.

      Yeah, that's the brilliance of the writing though. Nothing is black and white, the tribe isn't evil, and neither are the kids. What the viewer is hoping for is that there's some other, better way to handle these kids. It's weird though, they take away the kids that aren't talented enough with the Cantus, but the most talented kids are the ones that threaten the tribe most. Or at least have the potential of threatening the tribe.

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  3. What I want to know is how they all remember Shun but not their childhood friend who disappeared when they were children in the early episodes (the girl who couldn't use her Cantus very welL) D:

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    1. The same way Saki forgot about her sister I think. I'd guess the adults are probably using Cantus to slowly make you forget about them... which is probably easier to do with 12 year old kind than 14 year olds.

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    2. Or perhaps their friendship with Sgun is so strong that it is harder to erase their memories.

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    3. Thats if Shinsekai follows the "Friendship has supernatural powa!" troupes. Also, why do you think they were not as friendly with them as with Shun or that Saki didn't love her sister?

      Also, they didn't immediately forget about her but as time passed. Shun disappeared day ago and the kids have become skeptical.

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    4. Remember that Maria and Mamoru questioned all kids on the whereabouts of Shun. Nobody thought twice about doing that, so I don't think any mechanism to forget Shun has been used yet. The Elders didn't even give up on him until recently, when they decided to unleash the cats.

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    5. I think it's very likely that the adults are using a cantus to make the kids forget, and that the fact that Shun disappeared so recently has a lot to do with why they all remember - it takes time to kick in. Maybe it would be too shocking to the system to make someone forget immediately, or maybe it's simply more effective if applied gradually.

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    6. It could also be that the adults havent gotten rid of Shun yet which is why they still remember him. Note how the kids forget about the students usually right after the red stamp has been put on their name, making it pretty clear that they have been dispatched of. If you think about it, there's no point in making the kids forget about someone who is still around and have yet to get rid off. I think the mind-manipulation of the kids happen afterwards. This episode has also got me thinking as to why those cats are so special; why are they used to hunt kids that have strayed of the path that the adults desire for them. Are these cats genetically altered to be able to resist cantus (at least resist it from kids cuz it would seem that the adults are more than capable of controlling them with their powers) to some degree. It would seem that a kid who is skillful with their cantus could easily dismember that cat if it has virtually no means to counter the cantus.


      On a side note it was good to see saki and Satoru as a team again up to their usual shenanigans. I know the story is going for the whole sakiXshun thing in the romance department, but i have a hard time believing in their romance. The story has dropped hints but there has not been enough interactions, development or chemistry between them for me to believe in their romance..it feels like the story is just telling me to believe in saki's love for shun. She is going all out, risking her life, risking everything, to try and save him but i havent seen any believable character development between them to drive that point home to the audience. Usually you see some development between the characters before a character decides to risk life and limb for a person. well anyway what's important is the story and its world; that's what i watch the show for. I gotta say Saki's pretty brave though and is showing characteristics of a good main character; smart, diligent, and determined

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  4. I find that both this show and Psycho-pass have a world that is clearly not working despite of it sort of claiming to be this perfect little world. Enzo has talked about how Psycho-pass's "minority report" fashioned world is so obviously flawed that he had trouble being buying it in the earlier episodes, but if you look at Shin Sekai Yori's world, it's ALSO so obviously flawed and yet all these villagers are following it like sheeps and the only exception are these 5, all likelihood soon to be 4 kids. They freaking killed off countless of children based on their rules and pretty much anybody and no one except for these 4 14-year-old kids are willing to take on. Similar to Psycho-pass, one can argue why the current order has to be maintained and how it is good for the society as a whole, but c'mon! I can't believe these people are putting off with their own kids and family and friends being munched off by some giant cats for so long!

    Anyway many talks about Psycho-pass's obvious flawed system, its brutality of persecution on potential criminals and how it's unconvincing but no one talks about SSY's equally brutal persecution on potential demon or criminal or whatever and also obviously flawed system. It's a double standard. No, it's NOT apples and oranges; they are both obviously flawed world and a personal bias on shows will dictate which world is more convincing to buy into.

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    1. being "bought" into. But hey I am sure that's not the only typo here!

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    2. While your recent comments indicate that you're dumping on any sci-fi based plot in blanket fashion, just for fun I'll reply as if it's serious criticism. I do think there's a major difference between the premise here and P-P,and that's because we've been shown the grievous consequences that drove some segments of society to adopt these measures. Desperate times call for desperate measures they say - and the collapse of society and possible extinction is pretty desperate. There are indeed obvious flaws with the solution this faction arrived at, but I think the point is that they didn't have any good choices.

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    3. well what can I say, Enzo. I've been watching a lot of "increasingly angry" Lawrence Krauss/"also increasingly angry" Bill Nye/Neil Degrasse Tyson youtube videos lately and agreeing to many points of science being attacked while pseudo-science being more and more trying to be accepted as authentic as science. R;N's plot just "happened" to tip off the scale for me and also just "happened" to trigger my ranting...since it was so ridiculous. Normally I'm a pretty reasonable guy on sci-fi or any make-believe stuff.

      And maybe Psycho;pass also had reasons to arrive at what it is today, like degression of humans and out of control crimes or something; they just didn't bother to show any so far.

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    4. Maybe - but as a viewer I can only respond to what they have bothered to show so far.

      I don't ask my SF to give me scientifically justifiable technology. I don't think that's a fair standard to hold it to. Suspension of disbelief is a reasonable ask if the material is well written, at least for me.

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    5. @Kenny. I think you are highly underestimating how docile a society can be in the face of horrific injustice. It is worth noting that just 200 years ago, whites living in the American South held over 4 million people in bondage. While you had a few dissenters to slavery, most were run out of town quite quickly (especially by the 1830s). Not unlike, kids weeded out in From the New World.

      A more modern example - North Korea. That country is awful - a totalitarian society where people regularly starve during bad harvests (bad harvests caused solely by the stupidity, greed, and pride of the North Korean ruling class). How many revolts have we seen there? Sure you have the odd person who makes a run for the Chinese border and gets shot, but no out-right revolts.

      Overall, Kenny, I think you highly underestimate the willingness of normal people to try and get on with their lives as well as they can even in the face of horrible oppression. Why should they risk everything to fight a horrible oppressive, powerful system, if no one else will aid them in that fight??

      We should never underestimate the capability of humanity to construct destructive, oppressive societies.

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    6. I don't think anyone over the age of 15 in the world of SSY thinks it's anything other than a highly controlled, high stakes society. I don't see where it's necessarily flawed, nor portrayed as idyllic. They have to deal with a power that can quickly and easily get beyond the control of any one of them, and that necessitates that overarching societal control. I've written repeatedly about the drastic culling this society does, and the societal repercussions that has to have.

      I don't know if I agree completely with Taara535's point tho. It's not like in the world of SSY they're disappearing and eliminating people for trivial reasons. The people they get rid of are existential threats to the community and society. Is that 'injustice'? Are people who turn into karma demons, or those willing to break the core tenets of society, which have been constructed for the reasons of continued existence of the society, being unjustly removed from society? We haven't seen that PK ability can be removed, only hypnotically sealed away. So there's very little actual 'treatment' or 'rehabilitation' that can be done.

      This society is not unjustly oppressive. I think it is justifiably strict and I'm glad I don't live in it.

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    7. Well, I'm definitely not ready to call this society "justifiably strict". We don't know enough to say definitively, but when it comes to preemptively murdering children I have a pretty high threshold of proof. I would say the jury is still out.

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    8. If it's scientific riguor you're expecting in a work, reach for the Hard Science-Fiction.

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    9. There is a price for everything, and SSY's society, like any other, invariably breeds its own monsters. Most may be culled, but some born premature may come home to roost. Equivalent exchange it seems.

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    10. Your jury might be out, but they've got hundreds of years of history to go on, and who knows how many ruined villages and colonies. And it's not like they don't value children - we see the anguish that Saki's parents go through as their child is flirting with the edges of society.

      And while we might have a different concept of what they can do, we also don't face the possibility that a single mistake with a child can lead to the complete death and destruction of a village or even a society.

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  5. Bit early to call this the best show of the season. It's not undeserving of that potential, but a bit premature a statement to be making so early on I feel.

    Generally this year has been filled with plenty of promising shows that ended underwhelmingly. Another, Lagrange, Apollon, Nazo no Kanojo X & Moyashimon (if you're a fan of S1) to name a few.

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    1. Oh yeah, and the forgettable Fate/Zero.

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    2. Nah. The first 7 episodes alone put it above every other season airing this season. Only R/N has the potential to top it at this point, and I highly doubt it will.

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    3. OMG its the best show ever known!

      Hmm, I think it dipped a little when they were digging themselves out of the queerats and I don't find Shun that interesting of a character yet he's the plot device Saki is chasing.

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    4. So its not just me who finds Shun to be a pretty uninteresting character but rather a plot-device; id go as far as to say he's a caricature. Sorta feels like the audience is being forced to find him interesting as a character or to buy the budding romance between them. The only thing interesting about shun is what is happening around him....that's it.

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  6. Important biology lesson for all Cantus users: Freezing temperatures work on organic life. /hint

    As for the "creepy" setting. Eps 4 & 7 confirmed that this setting is not creepy. No, this village is the most monstrously evil society ever to come about from human existence. We've now got complete confirmation of Spartan-like "unfit child" elimination. Add on top of that the sexual abuse of all children as an institutional choice to the enslavement of "lesser" species and mass murder, and, yeah, this society is so terribly evil it's hard to compare it to anything Humans have ever spawned. This is like the Assyrians, Akkidians, Scythians and Aztecs all rolled into one. Just need a bit of cannibalism and we've got it all.

    "May the Queerrats inherit the Earth" should hopefully be the benediction at the end. Haha.

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    1. What are you talking about? We have seen no sexual abuse, nor has any been intimated.

      This society is far from the most monsteress on Earth. We also enslave lessor species such as dogs and dolphins. Are we the most monsteress? You are really over-fricking-reacting and polemizing.

      Mike

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