Squealer returns as a main character
Saki and Satoru are continuing their pursuit of Maria and Mamoru, but have found the location where the igloo was before now has no sign of any structure being there, and no trace of where they might have gone. After a moment of despair, they continue to search, and eventually find they are being observed by a bakenezumi. Giving chase as it flees them, Saki falls through a snow bridge into a crevasse, and wakes with Satoru in the rebuilt Robber Fly colony.
But time has wrought changes on the Robber Fly colony. Strengthened by their victory (well, really the Giant Hornets victory) over the Ground Spiders, they have formed a coalition with 7 other colonies, and are now strong, and making strong permanent structures with their newly acquired ability to make concrete, something the humans don’t even do. They also seem to have factories producing things, and may be becoming a more materialistic society. This is in direct contrast to the humans, who don’t use electricity for much (mostly the “Go Home” signal) by choice, and have a much more artisanal type of production. This leads Satoru to start wondering, not in a good way, if the bakenezumi are attempting to recreate more of the old human industrial way of life, in effect replacing humans, who can be seen to have regressed to a more agrarian lifestyle.
More like a raiding party than a visiting party.
Still trying to find Maria and Mamoru, who they think may be in the care of the Goat Moth colony (due to their involvement with Squonk before), they enlist the help of the Robber Fly to visit the Goat Moth and ask them about it. But Saki and Satoru are surprised to find their accompanying group is far more warlike than they would have guessed, and that the Goat Moth are the only local colony not part of the coalition. It becomes quickly obvious that Squealer is not just interested in helping Saki and Satoru, but also using their presence to bring the Goat Moths to heel. Goading the Goat Moth into a retaliatory attack, Squealer implores / demands that Satoru respond with punishment. The destruction of the cover of their entrance brings the Goat Moths out to talk, but they learn that Maria and Mamoru have already left, leaving only a letter for Saki.
There isn’t much other ‘good’ developments in this episode, as they’re no closer to finding Mamoru and Maria, and have now been clued into the warlike nature of the bakenezumi, and even their industrial aspirations. How justified is Satoru’s feeling that they may be trying to replace the humans of the past? And can they even do that with the reproductive situation I describe in the ugly section?
The main progress in the story this episode was a typical “go from here to there” part. While it was still done well, and is necessary many time for the story to get to the good parts, these are the episodes I don’t quite like as much. A show that does such tremendous world-building through discussion and even showing us the quirks and contradictions of the world gets a little bit dull in my opinion when it has to have episodes like this. This is somewhat exacerbated by the fact that Shin Sekai Yori is not particularly known for the quality of its animation, so travel episodes tend to fall a little flat. The show does an excellent job with mood, atmosphere, and scenery, but movement isn’t its strong point.
Squealer also shows his nature as self-interested above all. Obsequious to the humans, he is still shameless in manipulating them to helping him achieve his aims at bringing others to heel. I don’t recall his position being described, but one gets the feeling that he’s rather important within the colony coalition.
The ugly is revealed when Saki and Satoru insist on greeting the Robber Fly Queen to pay their respects. When Squealer doesn’t really seem enthused about the idea, they press him, and he eventually shows them where the queens for the colonies are kept. And “kept” is the right word. As the only bakenezumi that can reproduce, the queens are necessary for the continuation of the colony. But as the colonies have formed a coalition, the queens have lost influence in being the despotic presence of the colony, and apparently the Robber Fly queen was deemed to be unstable, paranoid, and tyrranical even before the coalition formed, and as she lost power she responded poorly, killing all the senior advisers at one point. In response, the colonies decided to take all the queen’s authority away and finally responded by lobotomizing her, keeping her alive in a state of catatonia yet still producing children. The other colony queens are housed in the same building, and even if they’re not similarly mentally hamstrung, they are definitely aware of how the Robber Fly queen has been treated, which certainly helps to keep them in line. This is justified by Squealer by the right of self-determination for the individual members, and they have formed more of a democracy style of government, with representatives and councils and group decision making. The argument is made that the individual members shouldn’t be slaves to the queen, even if she produced them all.
A brood mare?
However, does it turn around? Should the queen be kept as essentially a slave or even an automaton to reproduce for the colony? Have they just reversed the Master / Slave positions? Where does the right of self-determination end? Can one compel another to service, even if that service is the only way the group will survive. Or should the individual bakenezumi’s right of self-determination also mean that they are doomed to die out without the self-determined decisions of a queen to keep the colony going?