Saturday, February 2, 2013

Shin Sekai Yori - 18

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There's no more running from the future, it seems.

I must confess there were times in this episode when I had absolutely no idea what was happening.  Given the fact that I probably wasn’t supposed to, that may not be such a bad thing – but for the first time in a while, there were elements of a Shin Sekai Yori episode that seemed out of synch, and a couple of moments that seemed quite out of character for the series.  This is all relative in a series this good, and there was still plenty that was outstanding  - including the amazing pacing that SSY seems to bring every week.

It’s a week full of mysteries, really – starting with just what happened to the O-Suzumebachi army that was utterly wiped out.  “Reduced to lumps of flesh” is how Satoru described them – with no weapons to be found, only a few undamaged arrows.  Theories abound – one of the defense council, Hiromi, theorizes that perhaps the Robber Fly have gotten their hands on one or more False Minashiro and learned how to make WMDs.  There’s evidence later in the episode that might be true, but for the matter at hand it’s the one member of the council that seems to have the most sense, Shisei, who speculates that they have a cantus user on their side.  He even speculates that it might be Maria or Mamoru, but Tomiko insists they were confirmed dead by DNA and dental testing of the skeletons delivered by Yakomaru (clearly, more than a little scientific knowledge remains in the hands of the chosen few).  There’s also word that Kiromaru probably escaped, which is welcome news both for the humans and the audience I suspect, as he’s quite an interesting character.

I’m not sure what to make of Tomiko’s “proof”, to be honest.  Maria and Mamoru might well be dead, but based on what I’m seeing it seems that Shisei’s instincts are the most trustworthy and he seems pretty sure it was a cantus user who stopped the O-Suzumebachi arrows mid-flight and roasted them.  It could be their child, I suppose, but it doesn’t sound as if there would have been time for that if indeed those were Maria and Mamoru’s bones – and then there’s the matter of some mysterious writing in the sky which appears later in the episode.  It might have been a bit of random mind-screwing by the anime staff, but I took it as a warning to Saki and Satoru – someone associated with the Queerat attack (which we’ll get to momentarily) who wanted to see them escape death.

Now, as to that attack.  It’s no surprise that the Defense Council would decide to annihilate the Robber Fly based on what they know, and based on what we’ve seen over the first 17 episodes, it’s really no surprise that they would so grievously underestimate the danger that the Queerats pose.  They ignore Hiromi’s suggestion to postpone the summer matsuri (most pointedly the absurd Hino Koufuu) and that’s when the Robber Fly choose to attack.  At this point it seems pretty clear that if not WMDs, the Queerats have at least figured out how to blow stuff up – either by conventional weapons or cantus, I don’t know (but suspect the latter).  I think the attack on the village is handled very well generally, with some interesting cinematography and live-wire tension – but it’s undercut somewhat by the preposterous Koufuu.  He’s such a sore thumb amongst this generally dignified cast with his ludicrous facial expressions and bombastic way of speaking that I’m not sure just what to make of him.  Clearly he and Shisei are the strongest canti among the villagers, but I found Koufuu to be mostly a distraction.

Fortunately, everything Koufuu is Shisei is not, and vice-versa.  He’s a serious badass, and no fool – and has very creepy double-pupil eyes to show he’s no ordinary human.  Shisei is able to pretty much beat back the attack single-handedly with the most impressive display of cantus we’ve seen from anyone in the series so far, though Koufuu is killed in the process – and here’s another mystery I don’t know what to make of.  Just what or who was the white apparition of a woman that apparently escaped Koufuu’s body as he died?  What are we to make of that?  To be honest I have to revert back to, “I have no idea” – again, maybe it’s just a mind-screw or maybe it’s significant, but based on what we’ve been shown I really don’t think there’s any way to know for sure.  What’s abundantly clear is that things are in lockdown, Shisei and Tomiko aren’t going to be caught unawares so easily next time, and Tomiko is pissed.  In fact, as she described what she planned to do to make Squealer really earn his name it occurred to me just how little she sounded like one of the advanced humans who’ve supposedly abandoned violence, and how much she sounded like a fiend (while I don’t think it’s related, it almost looks from the preview as if there will be a fiend in the next episode).

The last of the major mysteries is Maria, and her role in events of the episode.  Did Saki really see her at the matsuri, at the beginning of Obon, or was is simply her desire to see Maria that caused a mirage?  The strange little monologue from Maria at the end of the episode doesn’t clarify things so much as cloud them further, and it was pretty awkward narratively too – I’m not sure what purpose it was supposed to serve.  If Maria and Mamoru are still alive – and I hope they are – perhaps some of this seemingly odd material will bear fruit later.  But for now, it’s Saki and Satoru who’re alive and present in the here and now – and given all that they’ve been through together, I’d really like to see more focus on the depth of feeling between them.  Their scenes together felt oddly sterile to me this episode – as if he weren’t really present in her perception somehow.  It’s really the first time I’ve felt that the dynamics among the Group One principals were off, and I fully expect it to be an aberration rather than a trend.  I don’t think they’ll ever love each other romantically with the intensity that they both loved Shun, or Saki Maria – but there’s always been a connection between them that seemed wholly distinct from romantic love, and I hope we get to see more of that in the weeks ahead.

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31 comments:

  1. I thought the sky writing was a message from the defense council to ensure their cantus use wouldn't collide with anyone else's

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    1. Hmmm - that's certainly possible, though it never occurred to me.

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    2. I remember the cantus collision was more for conditioning the kids into believing that interfering with another person (or his cantus) would be harmful. Without that psychological cue that is fundamental to the death feedback, the kids could run around without inhibitions.

      On the other hand it could potentially be a way to weed out deviant children without harming a person directly, but I honestly think the above paragraph is closer to the truth.

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    3. This was my interpretation as well, that Shisei wanted everyone to not act on their own, and let him coordinate the response.

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  2. Psychological warfare, turning cantus users on each other due to fear.

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  3. I think it is their child. Maria and Mamoru would still have a hard time killing humans because of that death defense on them. However a child raised by the queer rats would not have that placed on them.

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    1. But death feedback is partly biological right? Encoded into their DNA to shut the liver down.

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    2. That was how I understood it, too.

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    3. It's encoded in their DNA, but the other part is probably psychological. There's no other way for the death feedback to work unless the individual is aware that they attacked another human.

      Notice how the fiends are able to harm lots of people without dying, and you'll see how the death feedback is cut off at either the psychological or biological stages--here it would be a change in their mentality that prevents (or delays?) the death feedback.

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    4. How many years have passed since they left the village? Can't be more then 9-12 years ago. Accounting for 9 months to carry a child could their offspring even be old enough and powerful enough to be at work?

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    5. @Gary, it's been 12 years (it was stated multiple times), so their kid would be around 11 years and 3 months old AT MOST.

      If we consider the upper limit to the kid's power, who's probably just as powerful as his/her parents were at age 12 (beginning of the series), and account for the potential lack of psychological conditioning, the kid might be able to wipe out the Giant Hornets. So I'd answer a hesitant yes to your question.

      I'm cautious because Maria/Mamoru could potentially be helping the queerats if we consider Saki's visions as foreshadowing events-to-come. I'm not sure who wrote that stop sign in the sky, but it could be interpreted in any multitude of ways so I'm going to withhold from predicting things right now.

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    6. I think the physiological Death Feedback even affects the Fiends, just at a lower level, and not to the debilitating effect that it has combined with the hypnotic conditioning. Because we've seen that the fiends tend to look haggard and worn, like K did going to the hospital for treatment.

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  4. The thing that confuses me the most in the SSY mythos is how a single human (or turned fiend) could annihilate the population... after all every citizen is an accomplished Cantus user who can create their own personal defensive barrier. Plus since Cantus is known to interfere with other Cantus then wouldn't it also interfere/nullify/harm an attacker whom uses Cantus. Unless somehow becoming a fiend makes you immune to Cantus completely? Or allows you to remove other people's Cantus maybe? Plus there bad asses like Shisei Kaburagi around.

    It's been bothering me since the Maria foreshadowing (Or rather her kid as the ending monologue seems to strongly suggest). I'm on the fence with whether I think Maria herself is alive or not though, it's probably the most well balanced intentional mystery for me. I'm just going to pretend the blue spirit lady and sky writing don't exist for now lol.

    Speculation aside could somebody please clarify how the Queerrats killed Koufuu? I missed it.

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    1. They mixed in with the crowd and shot him with their blunderbuss guns.

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    2. I think Fiends are a kind of cantus berserker, with none of the limiters really in force.

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    3. I think that it doesn't really work such that you could make a barrier. That would work against external force attacks, such as someone using their PK to throw something at you. But we've seen many PK attacks that are basically ripping a body from within, twisting individual parts. The best you could do in defense of that would be the interference between individual and we've been told that there are bad possible effects to that anyway.

      So when it comes to PK battles, really the only defense is a good offense.

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  5. I think Maria and Mamoru are still alive. I wouldn't put it past Yakomaru to perfectly recreate them, but I admit that the "their offspring" theory sounds cooler. As for the other two mysteries this episode, my guess is as good as yours. Did Hiromi die? That's so tragic.

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    1. I thought it was pretty clear that Hiromi was killed in the attack. I could be wrong, but that's the impression that was given.

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  6. Regarding what Tomiko said, it only conflicts with a specific view (perhaps ours from our time and not any other) that someone who is advanced would have abandoned violence.

    Violence is never a solution, but just as any answer is actually more of a reply, it is almost always a resounding statement.

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  7. The image at the death of Koufuu to me seemed the same as the image that was made by the Library false minoshiro when Rijin destroyed it. It brings up the question (at least to me): was Koufuu really a human? His attitude is also something else that somewhat perplexed me. He seemed far more antagonistic and violent than anyone else we've seen. It seems weird that someone with his demeanor was able to make it through all of that conditioning and culling, but if he wasn't actually a human that might make more sense. But then how was he a PK user?

    Questions on top of questions.

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  8. I wonder if Tomiko was telling the truth about Maria and Mamoru's supposed corpses matching their DNA and dental records. On one hand, I'm not sure she would endanger the town and their society like that, but on the other hand, she wants Saki to be her successor, and if it's revealed that Saki lied about Maria and Mamoru's deaths and arranged for their bodies to be faked, that probably won't happen. Mostly I just really want Maria to still be alive somehow. After all of the foreshadowing about her, I'll be kind of disappointed if it turns out that she's dead and her child is the one who really kills so many people.

    I also want to note that the woman that appeared when Koufuu died reminded me of the woman with the scythe from episode 4, when the priest killed all those foreign queerats. It's hard to tell if it's supposed to be metaphoric or if it's something that's actually happening, though (or if it's just the animation team getting creative). Still, I thought this was a very good episode and I'm excited for the next one. This show has built up a very tense atmosphere, and I really hope it pays off. I don't want to end up looking back on this series and saying, "Really? All that ominous foreshadowing was about this?"

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  9. I entertained the thought of a more macabre situation when you think about how the Robber Fly colony as good as lobotomised their queen to control her. In this case, they could drug the cantus user(s) and then lobotomise and amputate them. This would effectively make them totally dependent on the queerats, both physically and mentally.

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  10. have to agree with the super awkward narrative of maria at the end, it was like she was interviewed by someone holding a mic :\
    i dont believe Maria and Mamoru could be dead, especially with Saki remembering how Squealer (i refuse to call him yakomaru) told them how they could replicate bones...

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  11. Some people seem to assume that Tomiko lied, someone who is so business-like that I just can't believe she would made such a lie even for Saki's sake, but trust in the words from Yakomaru (Squealer) about to "produce" fake bones.

    You DO know that he had pretty much lied his way up it's position, right? And Saki said out loud in her voice-off narration that the Queerats had manipulated them.

    I think it's more probable that Maria and Mamoru were killed off after they produced an offspring, he could keep Maria alive just to feed the baby until he/she was strong enough.

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    1. The time frame doesn't really work for me for it to be their kid. When humans start having PK powers is right around age 11 or 12, so even if it was Maria and Mamoru's child, they'd have just gotten PK power, and would probably not have much control over it, nor outright power with it, and that's without anyone to teach them. If the time frame was more like 15 years, I would think that is much more believable.

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    2. They naturally have control over their power (except for people like Reiko but they're rare). Remember, Saki could manipulate the flames even before she had received no training whatsoever. At school they learn to control their power better, to use it in more varied and delicate ways. But even a child without any training can do basic things.

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    3. Well, what I'm saying is that nobody has PK powers before they are 'awakened' at some age like 11 or 12. They don't say, but I don't think it was much before Saki joined Sage Academy that she had that scene where she woke up with things flying around the room, and her parents happy that it had happened. I thought that was supposed to represent the first time that she showed any PK ability, and her parents were scared because she had taken so long for it to happen.

      It's only after that happens that they do the final hypnotization techniques with the mantras to make it more volitional and less subconscious (the ritual with the high priest and the flames). And then they moved on to Sage Academy to train their powers.

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  13. I think the series is better when it doesn't focus on the depth of feeling between them. Rather than its two lead characters the events and mysteries of SSY are really what makes it interesting. So it shouldn't only be all about them.

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