Shin Sekai Yori: The Best Anime in Years

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

6 Responses to “Shin Sekai Yori: The Best Anime in Years”

  1. This was indeed a great series. It makes me sad that A-1 couldn’t couple their directorial quirks with a consistent budget, but then again shows like this tend to be failures when it comes to drawing huge audiences.
    As for the show itself, it was indeed slow to take off (so slow that I can’t even reall pin-point where exactly it took off) but so much of the build up was justified by the end that I can’t help but respect the hell out of the show.

  2. Coincidentally was scouring the internetz just an hour ago today for Shinsekai Yori scenery, background, and ED screenshots actually. ED1 is seriously beautiful. Fused with the song ‘Wareta Ringo’, it’s gotta be one of my personal all-time favorites after ‘All Alone With You’ from Psycho Pass.
    I’d also come across this article during my search, which drew some interesting thoughts regarding the meanings behind the scenes and artwork shown in the EDs. (There’s also another post on ED2 which was by KanaHana (Maria) and had some interesting thoughts on that too)
    Third-ing the slow start of the series of course. It started off with a bizarre info dump and left many feeling a bit lost I think. One thing I will add though, is that in the midst of watching the ending, the revelation didn’t hit me quite as hard as I expected in regards to the “We ultimately fear what spawns from within us” thing they had going. However, I feel like it might’ve resulted from possibly watching Madoka simultaneously so the whole “those things are actually.. us” theme was less powerful than it should have been and got a tiny hint of an “oh.. this again” reaction from me at the time. Another thing is Kiroumaru’s sacrifice and the handling of the cast as a whole. In general, I felt the characters still had some room to develop outside of Saki or Tomiko etc. (I’m looking at you Satoru) but this was a MINOR point really. A nitpick I have with Kiroumaru is how his sacrifice was a bit sidelined and I didn’t feel that he received enough of the recognition he deserved, from the reactions of Saki and Shun to the legacy he left afterwards. He was nothing if not a hero. They did thank him and all etc. but.. I felt it wasn’t enough. Perhaps it was because he was a baka-nezumi and there were still traces of that animosity or inferiority views towards the race? Personally, I felt flabbergasted and in awe. Nonetheless, Shinsekai was exceptional. And Squealer’s performance was nothing short of brilliant.

    I spy over yonder… pebble incoming.

  3. @gedata

    While I’m saddened that the show didn’t get the same billing as a Sword Art Online, I was nonetheless impressed with how well the visuals turned out overall. Though a lot of series felt flat visually, there were certain scenes that were absolutely beautiful.

    @Desdemondia

    I agree that Kiroumaru’s sacrifice was a tad underplayed later in the series. I suppose we have to solace ourselves in how exceptionally presented his short but incredibly realized finale was.

  4. @Desdemondia
    Gah.

    @Shadowmage
    >”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.”

    I don’t see why you think that. SSY is a show that is tailor-made for fans of scifi and fantasy novels. The approach is almost … generic, if viewed from the lens of the genre, with a handful of deviations here and there.

  5. @Pebble

    I would argue that the show is still a tad too slow for even science fiction and fantasy novel buffs. While it would be fine walking into the experience with knowledge that it will be special, I think the show will test the patience of people wondering whether the whole thing is a waste of time or not.

  6. Shinsekai Yori is indeed the best anime in years. The last time an anime made me think so much after watching it was when I watched Legend Of Galactic Heroes and maybe Neon Genesis Evangelion.

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