Saturday, December 1, 2012

Shin Sekai Yori - 10

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Sometimes the fact that you know an event is coming does nothing to lessen the impact.


That was probably the most emotionally devastating anime episode of the year, and though I know – as always – there will be some who heap criticism on it for this that or the other reason, I think it was one of the best.  Certainly it was one of the two or three best episodes of Shin Sekai Yori, which has already had a few that would surely rank as some of the best of the year in any series.  It tied together many of the threads that had been laid out in the first nine episodes in an elegant and coherent way, and offered just the right emotional payoff – though it certainly wasn’t an uplifting one. 

I noticed (as I’m sure many viewers did) within the first few seconds that Yamauchi Shigeyasau was back in the saddle again as episode and animation director for this episode.  My first reaction was “Uh, oh”, not because I wasn’t expecting quality work but because of the overwhelmingly negative response to his work with episode 5.  While I’d agree that not all of his choices worked and the change was rather jarring, I liked that episode a lot – but for my money there’s no question Yamauchi’s signature style worked better this time around.  I’ll be interested in seeing the reaction, but I thought the episode was gorgeous visually with it’s nightmarish surreal images of Shun’s bungalow and the off-center pans to Shun's masked face and Saki’s crying one, and I thought the pacing was perfect.  It was a slow build to a climax I knew was coming, but it was as if I were standing on the tracks watching the train approaching, and was unable to force myself to move.

When discussing the strengths of this episode, it would be criminal not to call out Komori Shigeo’s soundtrack – which has been superb from the beginning but was more front-and-center this week – and the work of Murase Ayumu and Taneda Risa as Shun and Saki.  These are two relatively unknown and very young seiyuu, but they’ve been doing a fine job – Taneda-san since the premiere – and both were spot-on here.  The only two human voices in the episode, they had to carry the entire enterprise emotionally and they did, with Murase perfectly capturing Shun’s not quite successful attempt to feel detachment about what was happening to him and Taneda Saki’s abject and utterly bereft heartbreak as she watched it. 

In truth, while I say I saw the ending coming it’s really the case that this has been foreshadowed almost from the very beginning of the series.  From the moment Shun told the story of the boy who was extremely smart but had “only one flaw” back in episode 2, his fate has been pretty clear.  It was fitting that the story was recalled this week, though it’s not as if anyone could easily have forgotten it.  The truly sad thing is that Shun wasn’t faking it – he really was a kind, generous and talented boy – and he did nothing to deserve the fate that befell him.  Was it in part Saki’s fault for the way in which she restored his cantus, as she suggests?  I suspect not, though I doubt that will offer her much consolation.  Perhaps in his final moments Shun will have taken some solace in the fact that his charm saved Saki from the first tainted cat that attacked her – one act of good even as he was unwillingly sowing death and destruction everywhere around him.

Once Saki survived the attack and ended up with Shun, the episode was a slow, painful tragedy being played out on-screen.  The fact is that these two did in fact love each other, and at least they were able to communicate that at the last – but Shun had to bear up in front of Saki as he felt his last few moments of life slipping away from him, and she had to watch the tortured shell of the person she loved as his life came to to a terrible and painful end.  It was brutal, and it was portrayed in unrelentingly brutal fashion, quite in line with my feeling that we haven’t seen anything yet when it comes to the darkness SSY is prepared to portray for its characters.  They’re just children, these two, but one of the messages of this story is that there are no innocents in this world.  That knowledge doesn’t make the events of the episode any less heartbreaking, though.

As to the revelations that Shun shared with Saki before he died, all I can say is that it all makes sense given what we’ve seen thus far.  Effectively, this is a world where mankind – some of it, anyway – has seen its unconscious attain the power to manifest actions without the “filter” of the conscious, and directly impact the world around itself.  It’s a nightmare scenario, and Shun’s iceberg analogy was spot-on – in the human mind, the conscious is only a tiny percentage of the brain’s activity.  As Shun says, there’s “no time to correct” because the thoughts become actions – it’s the essence of PK power, and the root of much of what we’ve seen in SSY – the bizarre and unnatural evolution, the barriers the remnants of society have built not to keep danger out, but to protect itself from these collective canti by sending them outside the barrier to wreak their havoc on the outside world rather than sow destruction inside the barrier. 

That’s like dumping nuclear waste outside your window and hoping for the best, but – as with the sometimes brutal actions the elders have taken – it’s not clear that there were any better alternatives.  Shun’s rampaging cantus has already caused the destruction of his village (kudos to those who called that – I didn’t) and his karma demon condition – “Hashimoto-Appelbaum Syndrome” apparently has no cure.  That seems symbolic for the society as a whole – whatever caused the barrier that held the subconscious in-check to break, everything that’s being done now seems a “lesser of two evils” choice – the last twitching of a dying civilization trying to stave off the descent into savage chaos for as long as possible, knowing it’s a battle they’ll eventually lose.  Shin Sekai Yori has been a tragedy right from the very beginning, but – as is often the case – the tragedy of the larger story becomes much more powerful when we see it played out in the fate of individuals, especially children like Saki and Shun.  This was an emotional knockout punch, and I suspect that’s it’s going to be the first of many that SSY delivers before it’s done.

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36 comments:

  1. For me, the subconsciously-powered, rampaging Canti recalls the "id-monster" from the 1950's sci-fi classic, "Forbidden Planet." There, the power was provided by machines rather than by PK, but the outcome was the same: the horrors lurking in the human subconscious manifested themselves without conscious control, destroying everything. For the possessed protagonist, death was the only way out.

    However, "Forbidden Planet" was melodrama, and "Shin Sekai Yori" is tragedy. Melodrama allows, indeed almost requires, a happy ending. Tragedy does not.

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    1. "Monsters of the Id" indeed - a very good call, and a very good film (though hackneyed, as was the wont of the time - and it did offer us Robby the Robot, a very influential character). While the specifics are quite different there's definitely a thematic similarity.

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  2. I've just finished watching episode 9 and 10 and I'm barely recovering from the emotional wreckage. I've rarely cried so much in my whole life, including RL closed ones's deaths. Fiction-wise the last time it happened was while watching Dennou Coil and Terra E, but even then it didn't affect me this much. Here since Subaru - or rather what had become of him - appeared I started sobbing uncontrollably. I hate when my bad gut feelings are right. Hate it.
    Visually episode #10 is beautiful, the pace here is much more leisurely than episode #5 and the expressionist aesthetics and more adult angular faces could work at their best (I'm one of the seemingly few people who liked episode #5 looks-wise anyway ). The use of colours, the swirling aurora borealis, the warped interiors, the deformed animals... even the CG - as conspicuous as it was it serviced the unsettling 'unnatural' feeling - . The white mask on his face foreshadowed since episode #1 possibly (it might have been in episode #2 but not later than that ). Great stuff. J***s, it broke me. And this even without taking the shippy matters into the consideration.
    In terms of dialogue and info it worked seamlessly and consistently with what we've been shown previously. SSY, bravo.
    The only point of contention - but it's more of a personal beef than a neg critique, the matter at hand makes sense withing the context of the show - is the subconscious tendentially being presented as a bad thing. The Id for me is pre-moral, as such it's not good or bad per se (I'm a Freudian by education and family environment, I'm afraid I'll never be free of this specific bias ). But this would turn into a long digression I'm not even sure I could aptly discuss it in my secondary language hence I'll stop it at that.

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    1. Nah, this doesn't break me, you rookie. Uchuu Kyoudai does.

      And how on earth Pokemon Subaru made you sob?? 'Yeah Pokemon!!!' was all I thought when I was watching this. Frankly many will prefer this adorable look vs. the ugly bulldog thing she had before, LOL!

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    2. Tut tut. Space Bros breaks me too, but it's a happy or at worst a mixed feeling that one, not one of devastating loss.

      On Subaru: let's just agree to disagree. And in case you have watched a certain series, a hint: Densuke.

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    3. Dennou Coli was amazing in every way. From the New World is extremely inconsistent, from the pacing to the art and animation. This episode consisted mainly of conversing face-shots and weird camera angles. Even the transition from one expression to the next isn't smooth, like how Saki cries out at one point that she can't do anything for Shun. And at the end when she screams, her mouth barely opens.

      This abstract direction detracts from the experience (at least for me).

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  3. Right...Enzo, who was the one arguing that Shun wouldn't die because of his seiyū not too long ago???? Hmm? Hmm? You sound as if you always knew he would die here. Some people remember your post 2 eps ago, you know~~~~. Ok, you did write that you were "pretty confident we'll see Shun again", so technically we did see him in this episode after that, but, but, but, either you knew his death all alone and was pulling a fast one to people by misleading them or you're very forgetful, Enzo!!

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    1. All I said was "I expect we'll be seeing Shun again." How was that wrong, exactly? Last time I checked he was the central character of this episode.

      Don't let that stop you from being a troll, though.

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  4. great episode; everything from the cinematography to the soundtrack this episode was top notch. I for one love Yamaguchi's sytle when he is given enough budget , and i feel like he pulled it off with great sucess in this episode. There were still some scenes that could have used work (in one scene saki had six fingers) but artistically speaking this ep was very beautiful and euphoric and it makes me wish that shin sekai yori was animated like this all the time (of course id like to see more of the budget spent on fluid movement as well). The creepy factor of the series gets cranked to 11 when yamaguchi is in the animation seat. Whyyyyyyyyyy cant the series be like this....id have nightmares if it was hahaha.

    my one criticism about this ep is that i didnt feel the emotional impact as greatly as i should have. Why? because Shun was not that well developed of a character for me to care about him that much. His presence througout the series really didnt reach any heights, which also made it hard to believe the love between him and saki. To me, i felt that the only reason why i felt some sort of emotion from this weeks episode had more to do with the fact that Shun's role was that of a victim rather than the fact that he was an endearing character. Not to knock on his character or anything because i can see why he appeals to others and he's alright in my book, but there was not enough development for me to feel torn apart over his death. Well based on what we have in store, it makes sense to me why their romance wasnt fleshed out prior to this moment; Their fledging romance was just a way to create impact with Shun's death and move the plot to its more sinister machinations. On a side note: badass Saki is badass.

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    1. Maybe she grew an extra finger because of Shun's rampaging cantus...

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  5. I find the Freud reference amazing (if I remember correctly, it was him who said that consciousness is but a tip of the iceberg). I find the explanation of the karma demon well-thought out.
    It's a very sad world they live in. Saki's optimism at the end seems bleak...

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  6. Haven't read the whole review yet, but something has changed with your image links midtext. Why is it no longer pop-ups / lightbox? I want it back!

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  7. I noticed that Saki does quite a bit of under-the-breath muttering before unleashing her power. We saw her muttering before flying off into the night last episode (and did she cause that rain storm herself?). This episode she needed time to mutter before tackling the first cat, and again later on. Is this supposed to show us that she has her cantus under tight control, requiring a lot of conscious preparation to release it? I.e. the extreme opposite case of Shun. If so, then I have a bad feeling about Satoru's level of restraint, because we saw back when he deflected a blow-dog explosion that his response time is in fractional seconds.

    I was really impressed that this episode made clear that the adults have been playing things a lot straighter than we suspected. The textbook account of a Gouma back in episode 2 was pretty much spot on. And the practical benefit of "sealing" the cantus so that it must be called up by conscious invocation of a mantra is now obvious.

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    1. I also wondered the same thing, though I definetly didn't speculate as much as r3dking. If any, I thought it was quite contradictory to have Saki obliterate the Tainted Cat in such fashion. That 'overkill' style is Satoru's, not Saki's.

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  8. Very beautiful, both the animation (Except Saki's superman-non-animation at the end) and the music, but for me it didn't affect me emotionally in the slightest. I wonder why.

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    1. Yeah, Saki's Superman impression was kind of odd, but I don't think that there's any reason against the possibility of Saki replicating Maria's levitation.

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    2. Most likely because Saki and Shun's relationship lacked the depth needed for their circumstance to be impactful. But that's okay, the events that transpired only served to move the plot along and although Saki and Shun had deep crushes for each other, their romance was probably not what the author wished for us to focus on hence the reason it lacked any fundamental substance. I feel like there is going to be a bigger relationship at play throughout the series and that's the one that will truly hit home emotionally.

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  9. This will sound weird but everytime I read one of your posts I cant help but think you must be a really nice person so I always feel like giving you a hug.

    anyways lol, This episode was so powerful almost everything was perfect. there was only one shot that bugged me though which is when the showed sakis face and her eyes were way to spread apart and it looked disturbing. other than that fantastic! best show of 2012 honestly! If it keeps everything up theres no doubt it could get in my top 10, speaking of which I cant find your top 10 post, could you link me to it please, thanks :D

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    1. Well, thank you for that - first-time I've gotten that comment! I'm not sure which top 10 you mean - I haven't done one for 2012 yet - but the 2011 one is here: http://www.lostinanime.com/search/label/2011%20in%20Review

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    2. lol and oh you dont have your own personal top 10 like other blogs? oh okay then :)

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    3. I've never actually done an all-time top 10, though I've been meaning to forever. I can tell you Seirei no Moribito would be #1.

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    4. Enzo it gives me great joy to see someone put Seirei no Moribito on high pedestal

      Personally I would be really curious to see a top 10 from you since it seems like we like similar series from what I read from you.

      I have to say that Shin Sekai Yori is beginning to look like it might push into my own top ten, depends how the second half of the story goes.

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    5. You could always click on my Animeplanet account (link in the sidebar) and check out everything I've given 5 stars. Can't imagine it's much more than ten shows.

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    6. I probably shouldn't have gone to that Anime Planet link. It's going to be hard to take your opinions seriously again now that I know that you rated Accel World and Guilty Crown higher than Bakemonogatari and Angel Beats ;).

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    7. To clarify, it's fine if you don't like either of shows, taste is subjective, but worse than Guilty Crown? Really?

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    8. Those are two shows (Bake, Angel Beats) that really rubbed me the wrong way. Especially the former. I'm sure they're objectively better than GC, but for me the experience of watching them was actively unpleasant. With GC at least you had eye candy, and most of the eps could be enjoyed in a Michael Bay sort of manner.

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    9. wait, Enzo, you're TELLING US that you haven't watched Escaflowne, Ranma 1/2, Honey & Clover, Monster, Future GPX Cyber Formula (especially the last one, SIN), Akira, ghost in the shell, garrr to many to count! Sure maybe you forgot to rate them since they are so many of them, but some are like masterpieces and not having listed kinda is rather jarring for someone who took time to list about 300+ or so. Especially for someone watches and appreciate romance anime, no H&C, nodame cantabile, and Nana? You can possibly not watch any of these I listed; I choose to believe that you just didn't bother to list them at your Animeplanet account (however if you haven't watched most of these, I suggest to drop most of current nonessential shows immediately and start watchin'! It'll broaden your anime horizon.

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    10. Monster does seem like a pretty big oversight, I'd probably rank it somewhere in my top 3 shows of all time.

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    11. Actually, what I'm telling you is that I need to update that AP list, because I've seen most of those shows...

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    12. This may be off the topic and you may rightfully hesitate to do so because it could lure some fanatics, but I'd really appreciate if you elaborate more on how Bake rubbed you the wrong way. I always thought that was the sort of show you'd like so you saying that came to me as a surprise.

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    13. I really don't want to reopen that can of worms, to be honest - if you want to do a search of the site for Bakemonogatari or Ishio you'll see a few comments on the matter. I'll just say I dislike the author's writing style to the point where I find every series he's written to be unwatchable.

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  10. i hate his direction style. i just hate it.
    you should try and count how many times saki fell down and stood up again, just so he could do the shot of her slowly rising her face. and he just won't do a normal shot. not even for a second. he always HAS to be retarded and make every shot a overdramatic "special attention" shot.
    it's so goddamn cheap... i can't stand it.

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  11. ...No...No...NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Why Shun why? You were the the best among us. You were the chosen one! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

    TQ

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  12. i love this episode,and i think the style is gorgeous... for me, it's even creepier than episode 9 because of the colours and yeah, the foreshadowing...
    for me, it was the best episode, IMO it was one of the episodes we actually see the characters' depth, instead of just scenic buildup which to me speaks a lot. so yeah my love for this show is reinstated, back to the time in episode 1 and 2!

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  13. in the preview, we actually hear shun's voice don't we? i was thinking saki would manifest shun's being out of her subconscious but i could be wrong. there's also the possibility that he might not have killed himself entirely

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  14. A-1 pictures should stick with this style. It works better at mood.

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