12 CommentsShinsekai Yori / By Inushinde /

Shinsekai Yori Episode 18: Getting Over Old Flames

SSY1804

The time skip accompanying Saki’s entrancing adult voice has finally led to her dream career: Managing the minutia of sentient mole rat relations, and making sure that they don’t do so much as take a stroll in the woods before filling out their forms and waiting 5-7 business days for confirmation, all the while pining for her long lost love. Talk about living the dream. Saki resigning herself to a workaday job checking forms and making sure that the wrinkled, flabby mole rat masses are kept under the smooth thumb of humanity is a somewhat unexpected direction, as it not only displays growth and understanding of her situation, but shows her somewhat ambivalent feelings toward the queerats as a result of Squealer basically channeling the spirit of Littlefinger.

The fast-forward to adulthood is both a blessing and a curse for the series. On the one hand, the whole idea of Saki being threatened by the unfeeling collective of her town has kind of run its course, especially considering how good a job it did at conveying the never-ending sense of paranoia and desperation that it instilled in our intrepid protagonist. On the other, the plot has been condensed to focus more on the queerats rather than Saki, which makes the occasional callback to emotional memories clunky in execution. It all adds up to post-puberty Saki being the least interesting part of the show, which doesn’t do it a world of good when she’s the most crucial component and the sole means of moving the plot forward. There’s still the longing for Maria’s company that comprised most of her emotional core by the end of the last arc, but its presence is more of a formality than anything at this point.

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It’s really a shame, because other than Saki being a malformed mass of diluted human emotion, the show does a good job in its portrayal of the queerats stirring rebellion behind the scenes. There’s no shortage of intrigue at all, a fact helped by the narrative not favoring one side over the other in terms of morality. The humans welcoming the extermination of the queerats like they’d wanted it all along, and the agenda that apparently set this plan into motion, are regarded as being roughly on the same moral ground as the queerat guerillas that they helped stir into a frenzy, except without their very lives being cast away at the flick of a finger.

Despite the periodic dramatic flair usually being a benign, if not entirely good thing, most of the episode feels padded with gratuitous displays of canti use. As entertaining as changing the direction of the wind and conjuring flames to burn the poor critters alive is, it never has been in keeping with the subtleties and building atmosphere that the series does so well. I assume the point is to demonstrate how the humans are equally at fault for treating the slow and oftentimes flamboyant deaths of the queerats as a spectacle, but it makes for a disjointed experience that adds little to the overall package.

Ordinarily I’d say that Shinsekai Yori thinks that it’s cleverer than it really is, but the clumsily-handled emotional weight, blatant hints at human involvement in Squealer’s (or is it?) plot, and slightly unhealthy fascination with seeing bipedal mole rats burn to death are easily eclipsed by some genuinely well-written subtext and an ever-escalating sense of foreboding that just gets less ignorable the longer that the series carries on. Also, admittedly, some of the cantus powers are pretty fucking cool.

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12 Comments

  1. nazaren
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    It is missing some emotional beats. It says something when I care more about the machinations of queerat war than I do about Saki’s situation, or how much she missed Maria.

    Also, one scene in particular felt awkward: when Ethics lady said Prudently-Cautious-Committee-Member had died in the attack, AND showed an image of her, as if we were to say our fond farewells. Why does the show think she would be important to me? She’s been in what, two or three scenes throughout the series, along with other unnoteworthy officials?

    Also, I feel Squealer is more Eunuch than Littlefinger, but that was a stellar approximation.

    • Posted February 4, 2013 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      “If the wrong ears heard what I’m about to tell you, off comes my head. And who would mourn poor Squealer then? North or south, they sing no songs for queerats. But there are things you must know.”

      • Inushinde
        Posted February 5, 2013 at 1:39 am | Permalink

        Well done, both of you.

  2. Frog
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Since I consider myself to be much more attuned with literature than with television (I know next to nothing about animation), Saki’s lack of “personality” doesn’t annoy me at all. At least, I do think she is human in the sense that she acts as any of us would in her situation. The approach feels similar to that of 5 cm per second in the sense that by making the characters feel flat, they can get past the superficial traits and go straight to the core of what it means to be human. So the emotional scenes in SSY still speak to me personally.

    You know, this makes me wonder. If we saw an anime of 1984 and other literary classics that far, far overemphasise the worldbuilding and social commentary over the character development, would you have the same criticism of Winston being “a malformed mass of diluted human emotion”? Perhaps a lack of discernible character traits comes across as less irksome in written form. I even suspect it would feel distracting to a reader. Maybe it just goes to show how vastly different the strengths of the two mediums are.

    But yes, speaking purely as a literature nerd here, I don’t think the characterisation is as much of an issue as you make it out to be. The effect comes across to me as deliberate.

    • Inushinde
      Posted February 5, 2013 at 1:54 am | Permalink

      You can get away with a lot more in literature in terms of leaving characters as flat vessels for the audience to project themselves onto. It doesn’t translate as well to an animated or filmed format, where interpretation and projection aren’t quite so crucial to getting the most out of it.

      SSY isn’t bad, of course, but it’s clunky when it tries to balance having a somewhat detached protagonist with scenes clearly designed to elicit sympathy for a character who doesn’t feel like a real person. It doesn’t so much weave Saki’s conflicts and insecurities into the narrative as it keeps them in separate rooms, any attention paid on one meaning neglect toward the other.

      So that’s my long way of agreeing that adapting one format to the other doesn’t quite work without some liberties taken to either flesh them out, or leave them in the background to mostly observe the world-building. SSY is trying to do both here, and only really succeeding at one.

      • Frog
        Posted February 5, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        Speaking of adaptations, has anyone here checked out the Shin Sekai Yori manga? Now that is what I call a liberal adaptation.

  3. Posted February 4, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I think I got the rest of the story figured out. I’m so sure I don’t want to write it here, since it would spoil others.

    Let’s just say that if the series continues to be this clumsily executed and emotionally detached, the coming episodes won’t work.

    And, well, judging from what we’ve seen so far, I guess they will fail.

    Imagine if Shin Sekai Yori had a better team behind it. Masterpiece.

    • Inushinde
      Posted February 5, 2013 at 1:56 am | Permalink

      I don’t think it’s so much having a better team as it is stopping the balancing act that it’s not quite succeeding with.

      • Posted February 5, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        I think this works much better as a novel, honestly.

  4. Matthew
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Question: Did anyone else find themselves liking the jerk-priest because he’s the only adult human who seems to laugh all the time and give no shit about presenting a proper facade?

    I mean, I understand that on one level he was supposed to be a loud, obnoxious bully. He certainly was that. He was also one of the few humans we’ve seen who was totally relaxed and not always trying to be in control. I mean, when that one woman suggested delaying the festival he straight up insulted her and called her a coward in front of everyone!

    A dude that hearty, I can’t even imagine how he made it through childhood without being cut down by a school board that only wants relaxed, controlled, obedient children. At least he proves that human spirit (the spirit of being loud and obnoxious) isn’t dead.

    Though what the hell that energy-woman pouring out of him was all about I have no idea.

    • Inushinde
      Posted February 5, 2013 at 1:58 am | Permalink

      I have to agree, he was pretty great. Certainly one of a few characters who has some semblance of charisma.

  5. SENSEISHUN
    Posted February 8, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    I’m rooting for the queer rats. The more I see the society saki lives in the more I despise it. I can’t help but feel uneasy throughout each episode. How they buy into being called gods and homosexuality so easily. Things are just toooo “normal”. I see people complain about saki but I personally think she’s portrayed perfectly. She can’t be too much of anything, too curious, charismatic, or outspoken etc. As she’s gotten older shes gotten less and less interesting but I think that’s planned. Slowly becoming a standard women of society. I wonder how/if the queer rats will succeed in breaking down this perfect system these so called gods have.

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