For anyone who has read our annual Year in Review articles, it should come as no surprise that I hold From the New World (Shin Sekai Yori) in high esteem. It is the best anime to come out 2013 and one of the best shows I’ve seen in years. I suppose our review can be seen as sufficient enough praise for Shin Sekai Yori, but for those who want a more focused argument on the specific aspects that make the show is so special, here is my take on the series.
Back when the series was airing, I originally dropped it after the first three episodes since the daily adventures of little kids learning how to use their psychic powers seemed kind of droll to me. To me it felt like a classical Japanese version of Harry Potter minus the entertainment value. While there was plenty of atmosphere and a uneasy foreboding presence embedded in the series, I didn’t trust the show to actually go anywhere with these ideas.
Eventually, the buzz about the show in the forums changed my mind, but even with the hype, it took a quite of bit of effort since the show is not what I’d call “fun.” Shin Sekai Yori is actually an incredibly slow burn until it lays down its foundations providing some interesting turns later on.
Shin Sekai Yori is really an oddity in that it feels like a show aimed at no one. There is no well choreographed fight scenes, crazy imagery, or cool characters to project onto. The show just goes about its merrily pace slowly weaving a story about a group of children learning about the new world. Then, something changes. After countless episodes of seemingly meaningless little events, the show gradually zooms out its narrative camera and gives glimpses of a larger picture. This is the point where the show finally gets at least somewhat interesting.
When the show first zooms out its narrative camera, it becomes clear that the little events in the show that seemed trivial has some sort of meaning. The fairytales that the children are told are not mere parables useful as an abstraction; they are genuine warnings meant to protect them from danger. The aspects of their curriculum are not mundane check boxes made by a faceless school board, they were practical tests looking for social aptitude. As impressive as this revelation is, the show takes it a step further.
Around the midpoint of the series, there is a time skip where the characters become adults with normal jobs. After a sequence of events causes mass mayhem to break out in Hollywood disaster style, the show then throws the main characters into the fray. To me this is when the real beauty of Shin Sekai Yori unveils itself. Through the actions of the characters, it becomes clear that the fairytales, school curriculum and various other teachable moments told to the protagonists as children are abstract forms of mental conditioning to effectively program to think in certain ways that benefit the society. This does not just include performing basic Boy Scout duties; it also includes committing atrocities for the good of the tribe. The chilling thing is that the characters are so stuck on their own perspective that they are not aware of how horrific their actions are.
In all, I stand in awe at the sheer level of awareness the writing has about people and their relationships with society. The show creates a sequence of circumstances that truly brought out the worst in people. The social structure the show presents is horrifying, but even scarier is the fact that even I can’t think of a better system to replace it. Though cruel, the solutions enforced in the society are undeniably effective. As heartwarming as some sort of progressive action sounds, there is little that addresses the extreme needs of the societies in Shin Sekai Yori.