Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) Anime Review
Warning: due to the nature of this series, I have inserted a few minor spoilers to the plot in this review in order to get my intended message fully across.
In the genre of speculative fiction, a classification which science fiction and fantasy both fall under, there exists a subset of titles based on "what if" scenarios surrounding the development or actions of the human race. Examples of this include: Rendezvous With Rama, Nightfall, and Childhood's End. What is interesting about these narratives is not only that they are entertaining to watch or read, but they also touch upon many of the ideals and traditions that traverse current human society and expound upon what makes them important, and how changing them could affect society for the better or worse.
The anime series titled Shin Sekai Yori does with about as much sophistication as the aforementioned examples, asking "what would happen if humans developed psychic powers," and then proceeds to melt the audience's brains from that point on.
Shin Sekai Yori (also known as Shinsekai Yori and From the New World) is a 25-episode anime series aired from late 2012 to early 2013. It was animated by A-1 Pictures, a company who has developed many popular titles such as: Black Butler, Anohana, Blue Exorcist, Sword Art Online, Fairy Tail, and Aldnoah.Zero. Shin Sekai Yori is based on the 2008 novel of the same name by Yusuke Kishi. The story follows five children as they grow up in a Japanese village 1000 years in the future. By this time, humans have developed psychic powers and co-exist with a sentient race known as monster rats.
The five main characters all go to the psychic training school (or whatever it's called if it even has a name) in their village. All of the students at this establishment are separated into groups. The five main personalities are the sole members of group one.
Saki Watanabe is the main protagonist. The majority of the events of the series that take place include her, with only about two scenes in total occurring without her. Saki has no remarkable traits of any kind. This is probably a method of making her more relatable as a character, with all of the ridiculous things and people that she runs into frightening her, making her a primary connective between the narrative and its audience. She acts similarly to any normal human female, making her very uninteresting at times.
Satoru Asahina appears as a very rash and emotionally outward boy during the exposition of the series, being unnecessarily violent with his psychic powers and also his verbality. He's the only one of the five main characters that exhibits a very obvious change in personality over the course of the show.
Saki's best friend, Maria Akizuki, possesses a certain empathetic quality that the other four children seem to lack. With this, she is the one who mainly keeps things together within group one, often stepping in to smooth things out should any roughness show itself. This composes her as extroverted in her approaches, rarely missing an opportunity to insert her own reflections into the minds of others.
Shun Aonuma is said to have massive potential in the realm of this psychic powers from early on, placing a lot of pressure on him and, arguably, his colleagues. He's much the opposite of Satoru since he remains calm and positive throughout the daunting endeavors he faces alongside the rest of group one. Unfortunately, it becomes evident in about episode eight that maintaining this composure isn't that easy for him.
The most frail member of the group, Mamoru Itou, takes credit as being so far from a stereotypical male that most people could easily mistake him for a female, if not for the blue school uniform he wears, which conveniently contrasts the pink ones that the girls wear (not to mention that he doesn't have a skirt). Mamoru receives the least amount of characterization of all the five main characters, as the only time that he performs a significant circumstance is when he's whining about something.
The beings known collectively by humans as monster rats come in many varieties and appearances, which are based upon whatever queen they were asexually produced by. Each queen has a group of monster rats, which she gave birth to, that protect her and are given a clan name to distinguish them from other monster rat groups. In contrast with the humans, none of these creatures possess psychic powers. However, they are more physically able and resilient than their cohabitants
Squealer, known as Squera in some English translations, is a monster rat of the Robber Fly colony that offers aid to the children. His helpfulness is contrasted by an unsettling sense of connivance which makes the audience unsure about his motives at times.
The valiant commander of the giant Hornet colony, Kiroumaru, shows compassion in nearly everything he does, even though the protagonist characters are suspicious of him at first.
Shin Sekai Yori is a glorious example of how to have the audience empathize with the protagonists of a narrative in a non-fourceful way, while also slowly telling the viewer about the world that they live in. The first three episodes of the series don't have a whole lot of plot to them, but instead, they serve to ease the audience into a fictional world where there are hints of conflict that are never directly addressed as being so. It pays off to give the viewer a slow perspective that provides them more ground in the fictional world, when the developers could have just condensed all of the things that happened during the first few episodes into a flashback that occurs at the beginning of the major conflict, saving time and money in the process.
Once the fourth episode comes around, a huge information dump presents itself, seeking to bring light to a previously featureless setting. Though I do agree that lazily throwing in a gargantuan amount of knowledge into one long dialogue sequence can be off-putting, I think that this info dump in particular has more holding it up than others that pollute the narrative environment. First of all, this episode brings a needed change of pace from the episodes prior to it by making the backdrop much more than "there's some kids in the future who can use telekinesis or something" and adding more depth to the situation. Second of all, this plot dump actually includes a smorgasbord of visual aid that seeks to stunt the possible monotony of having a ten-minute scene with only dialogue.
Sadly, episodes five through seven abruptly throw the plot off of its steady railroad of pacing. I feel that these three episodes didn't fit with what came before as there was not much to link the action-heavy scenes with the previous meandering. It all felt artificial, as if the plot was sliding down a steady slope, only to be interrupted by an intruding hole.
The most notorious episode of the series, the eighth one, features homosexual make-out scenes. What upsets me about this is not the fact that it exists, but rather how many denizens, (many of whom having probably not seen the other 24 episodes) see distaste in it. This series is in no way trying to draw in viewers by use of homosexual imagery or shock value. The homosexual scenes are shortly-lived and are extremely important to the message of the show, and to a lesser degree, the plot. It pains me whenever people on the internet have to over-emphasize homosexuality when it appears in media as if it, in itself, were more significant than it actually is.
But I digress; the homosexuality in Shin Sekai Yori is meant to tell us about how love should not be held back by invisible blockades such as sexual orientation or age, (no, this does not include pedophilia and lolita complex) and how important it is for everyone to have at least one person that deeply cares for them. This is more than evident by the main cast of the series, as their intimate feelings and meanings for each other are far heftier than your standard Hollywood "romance" might have you believe. Keep in mind that the destruction of sexuality impediments were intentionally implemented by the society of Shin Sekai Yori.
Sometimes the internet really pisses me off whenever it takes things out of context and then gives people false ideas about them like this.
This show does an excellent job at allowing the audience to feel the same things as the characters. The story is set up in a way so that the viewers experience the turmoil and joy of the characters in much the same perspective. This is especially evident in Saki's character, as her overall blandness is made up for how undeniably human her thoughts and actions are. Less focus is put on Satoru, but it is also apparent that he incurs an enlightening change as a person. An example of this is in episode ten, wherein Saki is forced to confront something very dear to her. Using the opening episodes of this series, we can understand why this event is so troublesome to the heroine. This is one of the features that places Shin Sekai Yori far above the standard.
The secondary characters are also eligible for merit as the many people who are killed off feel like they actually contribute something to the narrative, rather than being just a faceless mass meant to die in place of a more important character that the audience knows basically nothing about.
One of the possible allegorical messages in Shin Sekai Yori is how the human race will always have issues because of individuality, no matter how intelligent it gets. Even though the people in the series are hundreds of times more powerful than me with my almighty typing skills, they are still powerless to certain matters that scaled up because humans themselves had gotten stronger. There is little that can be done whenever mental illness or personality defects can evolve one into an swift, subconscious murder apparatus.
Another subject is that of governmental change. This series does an excellent job at informing us about why governing bodies can never be perfect, and that there will always be corruption resulting from the main principles of said civilization. Situations like this are unavoidable because there are some questionable things that will always need to be done by a governing body in order to preserve the stability of the many.
Shin Sekai Yori's origins within literature give it an ending that is much more complete than the countless light novel and manga adaptations they subside within anime. Nothing is left unexplained, the author said everything what he wanted to with his story, and the characters achieve exactly what they were meant to, with no loose ends in sight.
Animation & Sound
The animation, while being mostly good, suffers from a weird drop-off in quality at about episode five. It's usually best to retain the same animation quality and style throughout the entirety of a production, so as to not distract or upset viewers; a standard that this show fails to reach. The animation in episode eight in particular felt choppy, as if it were some kind of glorified slide show. This is the worst offender in bad animation, as it is okay to have weird style as long as there's a certain number of frames per second met, which is where a small portion of Shin Sekai Yori falls short at. Besides these qualms I have, the animation is all very well done, seeing as it was done by A-1 Pictures (also known as the company that apparently doesn't give a damn about what kind of show they're animating).
Despite not having an opening theme, the soundtrack is all very complacent, with some of the tracks played during emotionally intense moments being more memorable than most of the musical scores I've heard for anime. The first ending theme specifically managed to reach into the deep chambers of my mind, to the point at which I can recall it at will as I am typing this.
There is an English dub, with the only actor I know of involved in it being Greg Ayres, (the man who voiced Sunohara in the Clannad series) who voices Satoru. The main distinction between the Japanese and English casts is that the Japanese one has multiple actors for each main character (excluding Maria) to show change in age, but the English dub does not. I don't know if this hurts the quality of the English dub, as I haven't actually heard it, but my best guess is that the cast did an excellent job because most dubs have been good ever since Cowboy Bebop initially graced Adult Swim back in 2001.
Shin Sekai Yori stands on its own as an excellent installment in the domain of speculative fiction anime. There's a few scratches on the overall quality here and there, but this is mostly dismissible by everything else being freaking golden. The characters are all very three-dimensional and the story serves concise and interesting points. This is accompanied by mostly good animation and an outstanding soundtrack that stands at nearly the same level as other high-caliber soundtracks. This show is amazing, and you should forego watching whatever else you may have planned for so that you can revel in the fantastic journey that is Shin Sekai Yori.