Shinsekai Yori continues to draw me in with a well-crafted world full of unknowns and enigmas.
This week’s episode followed loosely the same pattern as last week’s. The mixture of a short historical look-in, a parable and event, and then the exploration of the adult world that the children are trying to learn about as they grow up continues to split time effectively between these three methods of explaining the world we’re looking into, giving priority to the characters and their development, but not leaving us completely in the dark. I really like that the audience is approximately on the same knowledge level as the main characters, learning about the far more shrouded adult world as the children do.
The Emperor shows his capricious cruelty
After last week’s cold open of a modern time with teens that telekinetically splatter people who just happen to be in proximity shocked in its naked brutality, this week’s opening credit sequence moved the time frame to 500 years later, roughly halfway between the main story and the start of the story world, with the coronation of the 5th emperor, heralded as “The Emperor of Delight”. In a vignette of stark cruelty and capriciousness, for his own entertainment he decrees that the first hundred to stop clapping will be sacrificed as he levitates himself over the crowd, grinning madly as fires quickly erupt within the crowd. Not subtle at all, it points to a depravity that seems to point to reasoning for the highly segregated society that we are seeing.
This shot felt like the perfect representation of a boy who has lost his connection to the human world.
The parable this week relates to the “karma demon,” a boy whose pride in his own ability and his habit of mocking others in order to satisfy his own importance keeps him from learning the lessons that children are taught to become conscious members of a society. Increasingly he isolates himself, and in yet another interpretation of the saying “pride goeth before the fall”, the boy becomes poisonous to be around, ultimately losing his humanity. However, he has enough left to realize his poisonous influence, and therefore self-sacrifices, walking to the bottom of the lake and killing himself.
Shun supports the team
The same lack of learning lessons is evident as the class competes in groups at an assault-type game, alternating turns at rolling a large ball into a goal through the use of objects controlled by their Cantus. While our protagonists have a small bending of the rules, hiding the goal through the use of an object, Manabu, a member of the other team, breaks not only the rule about interfering with the opponent’s pusher object, but the far more serious prohibition against using ones Cantus to affect an object already being controlled, which we are then told can have tremendously serious consequences. Seemingly oblivous, the teachers in charge of the event declare it a draw, but in retrospect this is just getting everyone to move on, as Manabu is then seen alone, tracked by the shadowy cat gods, and then declared ‘missing’. Thus we see a mechanism that the society uses to cull undesirables. Further tying in with the parable, a look back at the first episode shows that the boy who seemingly accidentally bumps into the table, knocking all the cards over, is the same boy, Manabu, whose claim of an ‘accident’ then now rings transparently false. I particularly love it when shows use later episodes to reframe past events, and this was a great use.
A bakenezumi is saved by Saki
The final part of the episode introduces us to the Bakenezumi, sentient ratlike creatures that appear to be used as manual labor in the villages (with such aggressive culling, along with a low birth rate, there’s certainly not enough human-power available to do manual labor). But this is again a portion of the ‘adult’ world, as they are specifically kept from encountering children, with the explanation that they revere adults with Cantus as gods, but the adults don’t know how they’d react around children without the same powers. Thinking about it, I have no doubt that they actually do know what their reaction would be, and don’t like it, therefore the current way of dealing with it. The adults have no qualms about lying to children about other things, so let’s add this to the pile. How will the Bakenezumi fit into the show in the future? I don’t know, but children’s first interaction with them serves to further widen the trust gulf between the children and their parents. We see Saki repeatedly ask her parents about their time in school, only to be rebuffed with facile stories of minor pranks and demurrals of more interesting things happening. Yet Saki has previously overheard her parents arguing over her future with clear desperation and admissions of another child that is unknown to Saki. Is this the best way to deal with children? Especially ones that are in that time that is supposed to train them for being adults in the adult world.
Of additional note, which I didn’t figure out last week, is that this story is obviously being told by Saki in her past. There’s an obviously older version of Saki giving us a narration that foreshadows events to come.
While I like the continuity that the current storytelling format is providing, I’m hoping that it will not become too formulaic. Other than that slight fear, there’s very little that’s identifiably bad about the show.
As I mentioned last week, the undercurrent of disappearing children continues. This week it moves from a happening to an obvious way that the society culls those it determines unsuitable. Is this society dying? It’s hard to believe that a society with so few people could be thriving with an apparently low birthrate and the aggressive removal of so many children.
So what will be happening in the future? Will we get more of an explanation of the society? Will these children be able to fit into it? As they set off on their canoe trip, outside the barriers, there’s a palpable sense that the big parts of the showa re to come. We also get a very foreboding statement, at the very end in Saki’s future voiceover: “I think if Maria had never been born until this world, untold numbers could have been spared.” There are so many ways that this can go, I’m intrigued to see. What will Maria’s role in those deaths be? And we’ve got to find out what’s happening to all these people being culled. Are they killed, or are they sent to Coventry? And if so, what happens there? Is there a huge number of people outside the barriers waiting to overrun these small communities? Or has a lawless area led to even more aggression?