Some words on Shin Sekai Yori

April 14, 2013

My overall summary of Shin Sekai Yori is that it's an ambitious show of an ambitious story that succeeded at delivering on both (although as an ambitious show and story there are bits that people feel didn't work). As a whole the show is a powerful, affecting work with a wide emotional range and a lot of things to think about. My personal view is that the show is very well directed and animated and that its periodic experiments don't take away from that, but I'm not a stickler for traditional animation.

(Shin Sekai Yori also had a great ending episode, one of the best that I've seen. It was surprising, powerful, and well directed all throughout, with pieces that people were quoting and alluding to from the moment it aired.)

I can summarize my overall views this way: if Shin Sekai Yori is not at the top of my 'best N in 2013' list, I'll be very happy because I'll have seen something even better than it in the rest of this year.

Liked: very much.
Rewatch: Possibly. This is one of the rare shows where I can imagine myself enjoying it a second time around.

(There are spoilers from now on.)

One of the things that the show excelled at was taking people doing horrible things and showing us why they had to do them. Pretty much everyone in the show is trapped in situations with no easy or good answers. The result is that, as I wrote on Twitter (spoilers in that conversation), a lot of people in SSY deserve death to some degree and don't to some degree. There are no shining heroes, just people doing the best that they can in a terrible situation. To me this made the characters feel more like people than, well, the protagonists of an anime. Call it a feeling of realism.

One part of this realism is that Saki and Satoru never particularly overcame the fundamental prejudices of their society, even when they were slapped in the face about them. Here I'm thinking particularly about their attitudes towards the bakenezumi (aka the queerats). Even Saki never really treats them as equals or fully people; to me this is particularly striking in what she unhesitatingly and more or less casually asks of Kiromaru in the last episode. Although other people may read the situation differently, to me Saki acted as if she was entitled to Kiromaru's sacrifice.

(I tweeted a version of this thought: 1, 2, 3.)

One of the things I believe about the setting is that Cantus users are dying out over the long term because of what they're doing to their own population level (this may be good news). While their raw birthrate is probably at or above their replacement rate, the problem is that they kill a significant number of their children in childhood. There's no sign that they make up for this with either unusually large families or unusually long lives; if anything, things seem to tilt the other way. I can't remember many mentions of (surviving) siblings in the whole show and the primary cast all seem to be single children.

(In Saki's case it's a plot point that her older sister didn't surive and that this put a great deal of stress on her parents; they didn't seem inclined to have a third child under pretty much any circumstances. My best evidence for people's lives not being unusually long is that Saki initially guessed that the elderly-looking Tomiko was 62.)

Other people have said more about Shin Sekai Yori and done it more coherently than I. See, for example, shibireru darou on episodes 24 and 25 and their roundup. The Cart Driver has a somewhat different take because Inushinde sees more flaws in the show than I do (the flaws may be there, but if so they didn't bother me next to everything else the show was doing).

(I've written less about Shin Sekai Yori than I have about Psycho-Pass because SSY is a better and clearer show.)

Update: I wound up with some more things to say about Squealer, which I put in ShinSekaiYoriSquealer.

Written on 14 April 2013.
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Looking back at the Winter 2013 anime season »

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Last modified: Sun Apr 14 20:54:04 2013
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