I love when the show does stylistic shifts like this. The starkness of the colors is always a treat for eyes resigned to the boring, grimy darkness that the series usually has. Shinsekai Yori’s usual color pallet is so damn limited that it all runs together, but these moments, spare as they are, make sticking through the monotony worthwhile.
Anyway, here it is, the second to last episode, the setup to the show’s crowning moment. Unfortunately, for every tentative step forward in atmosphere and horrifying mutations to already frightening burrowing invertebrates (seriously, fuck bobbit worms), there are several steps off the sheer face of a cliff that undermine everything that the show strives for, namely in terms of blending each plot element into a cohesive, palatable stew, instead of an indistinct grey mush. Unless the finale has Saki lassoing a giant bobbit worm and using it to run through Squealer’s army while spouting one-liners one after another like machine gun fire (“Let’s see you try to worm your way out of this one!”), I won’t be impressed with how the current state of affairs pans out.
In part, this lack of enthusiasm has to do with how the key plot points of the episode are presented; it has the nasty habit of cutting out important dialogue between characters, only splicing in juicy tidbits to support plot details. This not only makes the narrative clumsier, but it confirms the sneaking suspicion that they’re strategically leaving out key elements to explain away later contrivances, instead of actively showing what could be interesting conversations and development in this supposedly life or death situation.
It’s unfortunate, because the actual chase between Saki and her pursuers is pretty well done. The deliberate movements on the part of the queerat pursuers, and the confusion shown by Maria’s kid, delivers just the right amount of suspense to keep the entire episode from devolving into everybody trying to out-bleak one another.
Though the episode technically works, with the limited action being pretty damn engrossing, it doesn’t really support the argument for the characters being actual people, instead of plot homunculi waiting to patch up any weaknesses in the story’s façade. When they don’t even grow from their interactions with each other, something’s wrong, especially when it tries to tug at heartstrings with tragic backstories. To be fair, this is less a problem with the episode and more a problem with the format of the entire series that happens to manifest pretty terribly here, particularly when it comes to the bizarre decision to have Shun’s consciousness continue its existence inside Saki. By trying to show changes in the wide world while also focusing equally on Saki and her immediate circle, it loses much of the strengths from both, and subsequently makes it hard to care about whatever the hell happens.
However, it’s nice that Kiroumaru’s ambiguous motivations have been somewhat explained away. He’s always been the weak link in this venture, his personality not extending much past being a mentor and guide with no ulterior motives whatsoever. To know that he does somewhat resent being under the thumb of humanity, and is only cooperating for the sake of his very life and that of what few of his group remain, provides some much needed exploration that’s been sorely lacking in recent episodes. However, unless it becomes a key detail for the finale, it feels kind of tacked on for posterity’s sake.
All in all, this is as standard a penultimate episode as you can get. It sets things up decently enough for a blazing finale likely to leave large swathes of the audience in awe, but it’s a cluttered mess that doesn’t bridge the disconnect between characters and the story enough to stand strong on its own merits. Again, it works; it’s just sterile, not leaving me craving the final episode like it should. I mean come on, at least hint at the inevitable bobbit worm-riding finale.