Anime Spotlight #1: Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World)

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I’ve been watching anime ever since I can remember and while I haven’t watched it as much because watching dramas and school take up a lot of free time, I’ve gotten back into it in the last two years or so. The end of 2012 offered quite a few interesting anime, but the only one that managed to catch my eye at the time was Shin Sekai Yori. I went into it when the show was more than halfway through its run, not really knowing what to expect since there was no real synopsis and came out seventeen episodes later craving the next episode. Oh yes, I had found a new crack.

Shin Sekai Yori is a 25-episode anime produced by A-1 Productions that aired from late 2012 to early 2013. Based on the award-winning novel with the same name by Yusuke Kishi the story takes place in a dystopian society in which having psychic powers is the norm. The sci-fi fantasy follows heroine Saki Watanabe and her friends as they slowly discover the secrets of their seemingly perfect world.

If you go into this show thinking you’re going to get a high-charged, action-packed show, you will be sorely disappointed. While you could easily call it a mystery thriller, Shin Sekai Yori feels more like a coming-of-age story than anything else as it’s divided into three time periods within Saki’s life, focusing on her relationships with other characters and her growing awareness of the world around her, with a plot working in the background that doesn’t really come to the forefront until the third arc of the show. The first few episodes feel like a slice-of-life anime as they focus on the everyday life of Saki and her friends. I won’t lie; if I had been watching this show week to week, I probably would have dropped it because these episodes were so boring. There is a little bit of eeriness because of events like the disappearing children, the mystery of the Tainted Cats, the strangely animated flashbacks, and the foreshadowing of things to come by future Saki, but we’re not given a lot of context and after watching five or six episodes that offer more questions than answers, it’s easy to become frustrated.  However, don’t let that discourage you as the show manages to move forward once it enters the second part and while the show’s not all action, there are plenty of tension-filled moments to keep you on the edge of your seat.

In school, the children are divided into groups that work together to complete tasks that hone their psychic ability. Saki is part of Group 1 with four other children; Satoru Asahina, Shun Aonuma, Maria Akizuki, and Mamoru Ito.

Saki isn’t the typical, whiny female lead; smart, resourceful, brave, she quickly proves that she knows how to take charge of a situation and doesn’t require someone to rescue her all the time. But she’s no Mary Sue either; as more secrets about her world are revealed, she is faced with tough decisions with no clear right or wrong answer. She makes mistakes, sometimes with greater consequences than she could imagine, and we see her break down in the face of those horrors. The fact that she manages to get back up and try to right her mistakes instead of just sitting down and crying, is what makes her a great character.

Satoru starts off as bratty and is usually fighting with Saki, but he matures quite a bit after the time skip, proving to be just as strong as Saki. Shun acts as the peacemaker between Satoru and Saki and is the object of Saki’s affections. Shun is the child genius and seems primed to become one of the great leaders of their town. Mamoru is the baby of the group, and is less than enthused whenever Saki decides to start look for answers and freaks out whenever anyone mentions the frightening Tainted Cats or other strange creatures. Maria, the only other girl in the group who is also particularly talented, watches over Mamoru and tries to keep Saki in check when she starts digging too deep.

While Shin Sekai Yori does raise some interesting moral and ethical questions, the most prominent one that runs throughout the show is the abuse of power, which is demonstrated by the relationship between the humans and the queerrat colonies. The queerrats are introduced as a race of evolved rodents that revere the humans as gods, but have a tense relationship with their human overlords. Everything they do is monitored by the humans; even wars can’t be started without the approval of humans first. It’s clear that they are as intelligent as humans, but because they lack telekinetic powers, humans look down upon them. Our characters are not exempt from this superior mindset; when Saki and Satoru become involved in a war between two queerrat colonies and become dependent on the sneaky queerrat Squealer for survival, they continuously use their powers as a way to assert authority. It makes for some uncomfortable and tense moments and more than once I found myself empathizing more with the queerrats than with our main characters. However, the queerrats are not as dumb as the humans think and their arrogance towards the queerrats later proves to be a fatal mistake.

Despite its slow start, Shin Sekai Yori managed to be an engaging watch. This isn’t a show that you can sit through once and think you’ve caught everything; there’s a lot of information that’s hard to digest the first time around, so you may find yourself watching some episodes more than once. Even so, it’s worth it to be able to fully understand everything that happens and you’ll definitely find yourself thinking about it long after it’s over.

Rating: 7.5/10

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