I have never been so confused by a show before. Make no mistake, Shinsekai Yori is hardly overflowing with needless complexity. The context behind every action is fairly straightforward, and everything that can possibly be vague or perplexing is explained at the audience in a cooing, motherly tone with accompanying illustrations; the fact that it continues to be a strong indictment of humanity’s shortsightedness certainly wins a few brownie points as well.
I’m baffled because it’s rare for a competent, if not exemplary episode to not hit any right note whatsoever, every meaningful action or timely callback to previous bits of exposition languishing above an underlying sense of listlessness and indirection. Yes, neat stuff’s going on and people are getting incinerated into nothingness by a fiend that sees them as nothing but easily-eliminated obstacles. That’s all well and good, but the whole episode is way less compelling than it should be, not helped by the fiend’s goofy facade possessing all the tension-killing power of Midget Napoleon from Resident Evil 4.
Really, and I can’t stress this enough, there’s very little outwardly wrong with the episode. The artistic direction and atmosphere are fantastic, the characters function well as reactionary elements, and it ties everything that we know about the queerats into a neat, digestible package that gives some insight into Squealer’s plan and psyche. It’s the more intrinsic flaws that gnaw on me here, the ones that have been ignored for some time now, and given time to gestate into unavoidable abominations that completely check anything good that the show has going for it.
For how well-paced and directed the past few chapters have been, it’s surprising how aimless and cluttered this final arc feels. Everything before this was fairly cut and dry in execution, with kids running into trouble that’s out of their control, often with their very lives on the line. There was hardly any room for misinterpretation, yet it still titillated with tiny promises of mystery that, even when the show was hardly doing anything interesting, kept me hooked from episode to episode.
Ironically, the world is so painstakingly detailed that it’s become the series’ undoing in terms of pacing, dispelling that all-important ambiguity in the process. Shinsekai Yori is a world-building series above all else, yet there are a ton of problems with its insistence to view events from Saki’s perspective when she simply can’t become the repository for all this information. Any other character has to deliver their observations to her, and thus the audience, through clunky bits of exposition that take up precious time, limiting their effectiveness more than if it cycled through a regular stable of wildly different personalities. Saki still just isn’t able to carry this by herself.
Ultimately, the sense of intrigue and wonder has long since dissipated. Shinsekai Yori’s figurative Scooby Doo villain has been unmasked, and under the desiccated, leathery skin of his disguise is the liver-spotted, desiccated, leathery face of a loving grandparent that’s looking for a roundabout way to teach its poor grandchild that it’s okay to be gay, and sic mutated cats on kids who don’t behave. It’d be fine if it didn’t tether itself to Saki without developing her much as a character, but we all make bad choices in life, and Shinsekai Yori is not above doing the same.
These are problems that obviously don’t bother everyone to the same extent that they do me, and I can understand why some people think it’s the best episode of the week, even if they’re completely wrong because JoJo’s is still airing and that’s just in another league altogether. It’s a fun episode while it lasts, but it’s paradoxically hollow while boasting a bevy of content. What should have been a grand buildup to the even grander, soul-crushing finale kind of fizzles because it tries to cram too much without making anything of it.