Saturday, December 22, 2012

Shin Sekai Yori - 13

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Sometimes even in the darkest stories, you can find a glimmer of hope somewhere.  So far that isn’t the case with Shin Sekai Yori.

This series continues to be both the most disturbing and most heartbreaking of the season for me.  The premise in fantastical, no doubt, but it’s been exposited in such a rational and logical manner that it all feels very real – and there are definitely times I wish it didn’t.  Watching children suffer this way isn’t a pleasant experience, but it’s undeniably riveting.  I’m struck once again by just how pitiless SSY is towards its characters – for a series as emotionally devastating as this one, it’s one of the least sentimental I can remember.

I’m trying hard to come up with a justification for a system which does what this one does to its children, most recently what (apparently) happened to Mamoru this week.  In many ways I think this is the fundamental dilemma of Shin Sekai Yori – at one point is the remedy so distasteful that it’s best to let the patient quietly slip away?  The thing about SSY is that unlike some pitiless series – for example, some of Urobuchi Gen’s work – I detect no sense of glee at what’s happening to the characters.  It feels as if the author is just as sad to see what’s going on as we are, and just as powerless to stop it.  It feels as if nature is trying very hard to cleanse itself of humanity, and humanity is being forced to become more and more inhuman in order to stave off elimination.

What we saw this episode is fundamentally different than what came before, and I wonder if it can be taken at face value.  As horrible as what happened to Shun was, it can at least be understood (if not endorsed) in context.  If he lived, he would have continued to cause the death of others.  What’s less clear is why someone like Mamoru – sweet, gentle and not very talented – needs to be eliminated.  Indeed, why so many children who don’t appear to be an imminent threat to become fiends or karma demons have been eliminated.  What danger did Saki’s sister pose to society, for example?  What danger does Mamoru of all people pose?  I know that karma demons supposedly come from the ranks of the kind and gentle, but does that mean all kind, gentle children are an imminent danger?  Or is it the lack of talent with cantus that’s the problem (as we saw with Reiko, seemingly)?  There’s no question that the latter seems to be a common cause for elimination – but why?  Is this a form of selective breeding in order to intensify cantus strength over the generations, and if so why would such a thing be necessary?

Mamoru’s story makes even less sense in light of what happened with Saki in the last ep.  If indeed what Mamoru says – that he’s been tracked by a copycat over the last two days and was about to be eliminated – is true (and Maria’s testimony seems to suggest it was) it could hardly be coincidence that it happened just after Saki was told of her special talents and of the role she’s to be expected to play.  Superficially this seems like a very bad time to try and kill Mamoru, but perhaps this is meant as a test of Saki’s resolve – to see whether she has the stomach to allow a friend to die if she’s told it’s for the good of society.  That may not be the case but based on current evidence it seems as likely as any scenario, and it’s a pretty depressing thought that doesn’t do much to endear the powers that be – including Satoru’s grandmother – to me.

Whether that’s true or not, Saki is very much caught in the middle now.  What she’s been told has placed a barrier between her and the others, and every decision she makes is going to be colored by that knowledge.  For now she’s fully on-board with the others, desperately tracking their friend though the mountains (I loved these scenes, especially the detail on Saki and Satoru’s skiing as Maria opted to use her cantus for a bunny-hopping style).  Maria for her part seems the most agitated over Mamoru going missing, perhaps because she seems a role for herself in pushing Mamoru to his decision – or in not doing more to stop him.  Satoru again reveals himself to be at his best under pressure, showing the calmest demeanor and strongest analytical skills of the three searchers.  As for Mamoru, if indeed what he says is true, it’s hard to see any other option he had.  He was terrified, facing death – and as he said, simply, “I didn’t want to die.”  It’s the most basic and elemental of human motivations, self-preservation – but what a violation of the soul, for a child to know that the ones his instincts tell him he should be relying on for protection are the ones trying to make him disappear.  And that once he’s gone, even his memory will be wiped from the minds of the friends he loved.

If Mamoru is in fact wrong, he and the others are going to have some serious explaining to do – but if not, it’s hard to see a way out from here.  He was lucky to find (or rather be found by) a sympathetic (seemingly) queerat in Squonk, but ultimately the queerats are the enforcers of the humans that run things, and word of Mamoru’s escape – with orders to kill him – will certainly reach Squonk’s colony.  Mamoru obviously can’t go back to a society that wants him dead, and that seemingly leaves only the option of trying to survive outside the holy barrier – which, with Mamoru’s limited (though apparently strong enough to destroy a copycat if he's facing death) cantus and meek personality seems a long-shot.  If it came to that, would the others return to the world that did that to him and leave him to face likely death on his own? 

I want to call attention once again, however briefly, to the pacing and visuals in SSY.  There are occasional off-model character moments – especially loss of detail at a distance – but A-1 continues to deliver some of the loveliest and most striking backgrounds of the year.  When this series leaves the village and widens its focus to the larger world, it really delivers moments of ethereal beauty (in a sense that beauty almost makes things worse, because it provides such a contrast to the ugliness that society has resorted to in order to perpetuate itself) and disturbing surrealism. And it continues to have the quality of seeming to end before it should, the end credits rolling before you even realize you’re deep into the episode.  Shin Sekai Yori has set a high standard for itself to live up in the second cour.

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24 comments:

  1. "There’s no question that the latter seems to be a common cause for elimination – but why? Is this a form of selective breeding in order to intensify cantus strength over the generations, and if so why would such a thing be necessary?"

    I don't think a society that tries to eliminate PK danger would pursue the breedings of stronger PK users. I believe that they think such individuals will only be unable to handle their "disability" thus fall into depression or similar psychological distress which may lead to a karma demon (?)

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    1. Mah, seeing how the strongest the Cantus the bigger the effects on the environment are... if anything people with a weaker Cantus could be easier to control/treat in case they 'went bad' so to speak.
      This society have started a vicious cycle with selective breeding and eugenetics first, then with the mental conditioning and children's (even preemptive) disposal as soon as unplanned side effects of said genetic and behavioral conditioning showed up. The more we see of this new world the more seems to me the cure is worse than the disease.
      If and when Saki is going to succeed Satoru's grandma I'd like to see her attempt at changing the commitee methods and start a domino of change. Not that I'm harbouring much hope in this scenario anyway...

      The preview showed a glimpse of Yuki-san. No good. Going by the dialogue snippets seems like the group is splitting. I don't think Mamoru is going back to his likely death in the village. I'd speculate - once more - at least he and Maria are gonna flee.

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    2. Errata corrige (again. can't keep my names straight today, sorry): a glimpse of Hiromi-san from the Board of Education. May Yuki r.i.p. in her own fictional dystopian universe.

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  2. I hope they do leave the holy barrier though, I've always been interested in the other 'groups' society split into. Even if they are all (probably) terribly brutal.

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  3. According to the preview it looks like Maria and Mamoru might actually run away, leaving Saki and Satoru behind. Looks like Maria has promised to always be by mamoru's side; and as i predicted, the moment when things are becoming too dangerous, that's when Maria is deciding to drop everything and bail.

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  4. I think what really stands out the most about SSY is actually the music, 50% or more of the unique atmosphere the series has is thanks to its haunting music and chorus singing, it's just way above all the other shows in this season in the aspect of music (maybe with the exception of Zetsuen which has a grand musical score that fits its epic tale).

    There is one thing that caught my attention this episode, is it really the case that Mamoru's cantus is weak (as he claims) or is it quite strong (i mean if it was him who killed the Copycat), it could be that the problem with Mamoru isn't that he has a weak cantus, but it might be that he doesn't have enough self-esteem (or will power) to manifest and control his cantus .. so if he goes Fiend he might become very dangerous as self-esteem or lack of will won't be hindering him anymore .. that's the only reason i could think of for the Education committee to want to kill him (that or they are weeding out the weak .. which would really be too extreme and plain evil.

    I know the ethics committee is separate from the education committee that oversees the copycats assassinations but i don't think Satoru's grandmother would let something like this happen even if she wasn't directly involved, i think Saki will try to go back and demand for an explanation of why Mamoru was being hunted (prbably along with Satoru, while Mari and Mamoru wait for them outside the barrier.

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  5. I think you have the karma demon and fiend interchanged. The karma demons all appear to have immense power, but don't intentionally kill. Each example in the show ends with the demon killing itself. The fiends are the remorseless killers. They start out as the quiet type.
    Mamoru's killing of the copycat may be a foreshadowing of his power. He could become a fiend.

    Saki's in a bad position since she knows much more than she can let on. In particular the comment about the weak link.

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  6. What I understood about Karma Demons is that the Syndrome is characterized by a lack of control, so in that sense I can see why the adults would be wary of those children who showed a weaker ability to control their Cantus. That doesn't at all justify killing every faltering child off, though.

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    1. Nope, Karma Demons appear when a kid's Cantus grows too strong for them to control and starts resisting even the "sealing" ritual they impose on the children ... Mamoru clearly isn't a candidate for being a Karma Demon ... he might has potential as a Cantus user but his ability to manifest his Cantus is clearly weak and he was never considered a genius like Shun and the karma demon gril from the story.

      On the other hand Fiends usually appear among the silent/shy children who lack the self-esteem and will power to normally manifest their Cantus, it's not that their cantus is weak but rather in their normal state they just lack the skill/capacity to manifest it, but once they snap and go berserk they use their cantus with reckless abandon to kill and destroy indiscriminately without being held back by their lack of self-esteem or weak will anymore.

      And note that with Karma Demon their case manifests gradually giving the scientists time to try to stop it (like they tried with Shun and the other girl from the story), but with Fiends .. it's instantaneous .. BAM .. one second you have a calm/shy/introvert kid .. the next second you have a ruthless unstoppable killing machine .. that could explain why they are killing off the children who could become fiends mercilessly becasue they can't wait for them to actually turn into fiends as it will be too late to do anything about it (unlike with Karma Demons where they get plenty of time to do things, including helping the Karma Demon end their own life).

      Simply put i can imagine Mamoru turning into a fiend, but a Karma Demon .. i don't think so, it doesn't add up.

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    2. Actually, the shy/quiet children description was for Karma Demons, not Fiends. I rewatched this. They didn't give any real characteristics for Fiends, except that K had violent inclinations from the start. Also, that's what lack of control means, that they aren't able to keep their Cantus from slipping through. The paranoia stems from the fear of Fiends, yes, but Hashimoto-Appelbaum is also something the Board is out to remove.

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  7. Shun was far from being shy or quite, he was a prodigy, social and outgoing, the shy and quite description fits both Mamoru and the boy "K" from the story .. both were completely average students and both were under a lot of stress (watch the conversation between the teacher and the doctor from ep12), boy "K" shares a lot of similarities with Mamuoru (quite, shy, average student, under stress) the only difference is that violent inclinations aren't that clear with Mamoru.

    Also .. most important is that the only point that can explain why the Education committee decided to attempt killing Mamuro is that they are afraid of him turning into a Fiend (and that's why they killed all the seemingly harmless children who exhibited any traits of fiends), with Karma Demons like i said there is always time to detect the case as it gradually worsens over time, isolate it and deal with it accordingly .. with Fiends there isn't any time to deal with it when it happens as the damage is huge and instant, so that's why they are very adamant about eliminating anyone who even shows the slightest inclination towards becoming a Fiend .. that would explain all the seemingly unnecessary murder of children who can't really manifest their Cantus.

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    1. You're forgetting that the quiet and shy description is just children who are most susceptible, it doesn't mean that everyone who falls victim to the Syndrome will have those traits, and that can be said for Fiends as well. K was violent from the start, in a psychopathic way rather than physical, and possibly because he had stress from his mother, he had been known to make violent associations in those psychological tests. I did watch that episode multiple times, and they never said he was shy, just average. Tomoko says that quiet and gentle children are most susceptible to Hashimoto-Appelbaum, but she says no such thing about Raman-Klogius. Of the children who get taken out during the entire series run, there have been more or less two types; the type of children capable of breaking fundamental rules for strange reasons (ie. the violent type), such as that boy in episode 2 who took control of the Pusher when Shun was already controlling it, and the type who are bad at controlling their Cantus or show little stress-control. Shun didn't get taken out earlier because he wasn't showing lack of control before he succumbed.

      I don't know what Mamoru is going to turn into, if anything, because he could be either, but so far we've only been told that poor control over Cantus and the subconscious is Hashimoto-Appelbaum, and that total loss of control over psychology is Raman-Klogius.

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    2. I think Shun's description of the chain of PK volition was probably best for understanding this. PK can be subconsciously used by one strong enough. I go along with the idea that a major point of the initial 'sealing' of the Cantus that the high priest does is a hypnotic suggestion to prevent the subconscious from accessing the Cantus powers, thereby making sure that all use of PK is volitional and intentional. It's when this hypnotic suggestion breaks down, and the subconscious regains the ability to affect change through the Cantus that one becomes a Karma Demon.

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    3. For fiends, (I believe in the flashback one episode prior) part of the narration speculated as to their nature. It was something about how they might be preemptively attacking others in fear of being attacked, or it might be an addiction to the release of endorphins when they kill. While it doesn't seem like Mamoru gets any pleasure from hurting others, he doesn't react well to any threats. In this sense he fits the first description. That may have been enough for the "paranoid" Board of Education to dispose of him.

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  8. Enzo, how much do you know of the SSY novel and/or the plot of next 13 episodes? I may read things a bit differently depends on that, just as I did with your Jormungand posts. Not better or worse. Just differently.

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    1. Basically nothing - only two points which were spoiled by commenters here whose posts I deleted.

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  9. Is it really clear that the cat was stalking Mamoru? I had interpreted that scene as being a case of him being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I had thought the cat was returning from killing someone/something else, hence the trail of dripping blood. Mamoru just happened to be in the corridor outside the inner courtyard where the cats are based, and the cat mis-judged the return coordinates.

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    1. I think it's far too coincidental that he was alone, asked to do such a trivial task alone, in that location. It's nearly a certainty that it was stalking Mamoru. But there's plausible deniability, for sure. And perhaps that's what they try to leave themselves with the cats: it was just a coincidence, there was someone else, etc. etc.

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  10. That's the biggest issue I've had with the draconian culling this society does. How do they determine the floor for sufficient strength of PK powers and who is apparently 'worthy' to stay in society. It seems like this is an awfully large percentage who are culled for weakness. The society has had at least justification for the culling of those who display the other negative traits that are possible precursors for being a Demon, and those who violate the ethical rules. But we really haven't gotten a justification for the destruction of those who just don't meet a standard of PK ability (I'm going to bet this is what doomed Yoshimi, as well).

    One would also think that once someone passed whatever floor to get into the Sage Academy, or that level of school, and be there for 3 years, that they're at least strong enough to be an adult. Why would there be progressive ratcheting of the floor? Yes, you'll have some people weaker than other people, but that's the case anyway.

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    1. The large percentage culled for weakness aren't culled just becasue they are weak, remember that the traits of fiends are fundamentally different from Karma Demons, Fiends syndrome was mentioned to manifest in those who are under constant stress (again those who feel like they are falling behind and can't match up with their peers), and it was mentioned that Fiends attack first in fear of being attacked (again becasue they feel stressed and under pressure), those traits cause the fiend syndrome to manifest, and becasue that manifestation is instant and damage control is almost impossible once it happens the paranoid education committee took it upon themselves to cull or remove those who might possibly manifest any fiend traits (which are mostly those with weak cantus powers who feel like they are under constant pressure all the time from their teachers and peers .. like Mamuro, Saki's sister and the shy girl that disappeared at the beginning of the show).

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  11. Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't the copycat simply retreated instead of being destroyed? It seems like they have the ability to warp themselves from one point to the other as depicted in this episode (only half of their body emerging from some sort of a portal), which would explain why the copycat is such an efficient cantus killer despite them being susceptible to cantus. Now I have no doubt that when threatened Mamoru could have destroyed the copycat had it not retreated, but looking at the small amount of blood shown in the next scene just made me think that the copycat was simply injured, but not destroyed.

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  12. Was it Mamoru who killed the copycat? I thought it was may be Shun, watching over them from somewhere. I doubt Mamoru has the sternght to destroy a Copycat that quickly.

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    1. I said "apparently" in the post because we don't know that with total certainty. Shun never occurred to me, but TBH my first thought that it had been Maria - following Mamoru because she was worried about him, and taking action. The cantus seemed like her style too. But the evidence as we have it seems to point to Mamoru doing it himself. Never underestimate the latent destructive power of a 14 year-old boy, even one played by Takagi Motoki...

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  13. Based on how Maria acted this episode all high strung this episode over Mamoru and Mamoru's relative calmness once they found him I am leaning toward Maria being the weakest link in the group instead of Mamoru. I have a feeling that she will snap and the warning that older Saki mentioned in episode 3(?) is about this situation with Maria and Mamoru staying outside the barrier.

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