18 CommentsShinsekai Yori / By Inushinde /

Shinsekai Yori Episode 25: Trials and Torture-lations

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Each of this arc’s Shinsekai Yori episodes has been difficult to write on for the same reason: Stellar world-building, excellent aesthetic sense, but it’s too wrapped up in that to evolve the characters past their one-dimensional, reactionary personalities.

But when it wanted to be, Shinsekai Yori was absolutely brilliant at using its cinematography to portray the emotion in any given moment, and this episode really gave its all to bring its considerable vision to the audience in as effective a manner as possible. That shot in particular, if not the entire scene, is pretty damn brilliant in this regard. The way that the camera looks down on poor Squealer, or shows him surrounded by the cold, faceless masses on significantly higher ground, not only drives home the fact that his coup failed, but that the villagers are intent on flaunting their superiority to his hideous, naked form, having learned nothing of their morality from his spirited defense. To see him brought low in front of those who’d demean him without even being allowed the mercy of death is painful to watch, helped by a damn effective camera.

I admire the hell out of Shinsekai Yori’s finale, and not just because of some stellar choices in cinematography. It’s stark and sobering without ending with the same nihilism that it began with. Everything about it is put together in such a masterful fashion, lovingly stringing up every detail to one of the most cohesive, technically satisfying finales I’ve seen. Some very slight aesthetic problems aside, like Saki getting coated in blood that doesn’t leave any mark on her skin after a few seconds, there are virtually no flaws worth speaking of that wouldn’t just be picking the tiniest and least bothersome of nits. It even had the gall to address most of my gripes with the plot, the shakiest of which being subtly addressed with considerable aplomb—I just wish that I could enjoy what it did instead of just respect it.

The lack of emotional investment that I’ve been banging on about since this arc began hasn’t quite resolved itself by series end, with characters continuing their roles as plot devices meant to react to certain events, rather than actual people. Blah dee blah characters are boring blah blah blah no emotional core blah blah blah trying too hard, I’ve danced this particular jig enough for these posts to make a drinking game out of it. But when it really aims to hit hard with the credit sequence and misses the mark by such a large margin that I can only say that it was at least a well-crafted credit sequence in a technical sense, I feel kind of frustrated that it couldn’t have taken some liberties and given Saki some sort of tangible non-reactionary personality to latch onto. At the end of the day, I still can’t describe her as anything other than reactionary.

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I wanted to want her to come out of it alive and well, but nothing about her particular character arc (or anybody’s) was engaging from anything other than a detached outside perspective. And it really was a wonderful credit sequence, even complementing the cautious optimism with the best movement of the New World Symphony for extra poignancy points. To be fair though, it did use that lack of investment to appropriately resolve Saki’s search for her parents. Finding out that they did a last minute book burning, her response isn’t really one of grief so much as “Oh, okay. Oh well, that sucks.” They didn’t have the deepest bonds, and this final moment showed the true hollowness that the three had. Chalk parental love as another casualty of this new society.

There was a moment of silence after the episode finished where I just pondered over whether there were any inconsistencies that I could point out. For the first time in a very long time, I could not think of anything that Shinsekai Yori did particularly wrong to no benefit. The whole “QUEERAT IS PEOPLE!” revelation is incredibly on the nose, self-satisfied, and tediously drawn out, but it fuels a second, subtler revelation, that the competent psychics were selected to not be cat chow by virtue of having that which non-psychics don’t: Death feedback. In short, the meek non-psychics would have inevitably inherited the earth again were they not horribly altered.

Not only that, but it suggested all kinds of body horror and cruelty on the part of the psychics when it came to turning the normies into queerats—just far enough from human to be guilt-free when killing and enslaving, but close enough that they can diligently serve and be taught that it’s their lot in life. It’s kind of amazing that particular detail could have been guessed since the beginning, but the manner with which it applies is completely different from what was expected, while making complete sense in retrospect. The whole episode oozes those moments from every sweaty pore, but that’s easily the highlight.

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If there’s one area that’s resolved somewhat dubiously, it’s the science behind death feedback. It did go a long way toward explaining why the priest in Episode 4 felt some degree of it for killing the large swarm of queerats (he probably knew they were human), and is the only way that Saki and Satoru could deal with Maria’s child, but the idea that it’s somehow genetic while only triggered knowingly is a bit difficult to swallow. Not impossible, mind, it just feels a bit weird going down, like a triangular bite of steak that I narrowly avoid choking on.

Shinsekai Yori does so so SO much right that it’s almost painful to feel as apathetic toward the final result as I am. I got no satisfaction out of Squealer being brought to (sort of) justice, Saki having her life return to relative normalcy, or any of the hanging plot threads being resolved. To be fair, I don’t think we were supposed to feel happy that Squealer was messily tortured, but the goings on didn’t really bring me in no matter the emotion that his fate was trying to evoke. Most of what I gushed about earlier has little to do with what would pass for my favorite character (Saki, I guess) making it out alive, or having a heart-touching theme to end on. Instead, it’s the same astonishment I’d show if I saw a total stranger who was gagged, tied, and buried in a steel coffin 30 feet underground dig his way up using only his teeth. It’s impressive and definitely worth thinking about, but nothing about it reaches any of the emotional highs that it might be aiming for.

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In the end, Shinsekai Yori is an almost by the books exemplary show, well worth taking a look at for anybody in the market for commendable world-building and the scattering of plot breadcrumbs. You may like it, you may not, or you may be like me and feel annoyingly ambivalent. No matter what, it’s a series that deserves to be experienced; there’s quite simply nothing like it, and to miss out would be a disservice.

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18 Comments

  1. blackice85
    Posted March 24, 2013 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    I feel like they left a lot unanswered. I’d still like to know how the queerats got Maria’s child in the first place. I’m assuming it would have had to have happened when it was still an infant, in order for them to raise it to believe it was a queerat as well. I guess they just killed the parents?

    • Inushinde
      Posted March 24, 2013 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

      Maria and Mamoru were likely either killed by one of the other villages or the queerats, since Tomiko warned Saki before she was sent to search for them that if they weren’t brought back, they’d essentially become outlaws. Though knowing this show, it probably isn’t as cut and dry as that, and they’re probably still alive and in hiding.

      • blackice85
        Posted March 24, 2013 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, but I have to think they’re dead since their kid got stolen. And where do fiends end up? It wasn’t clear to me if they died in some manner of ‘self destruct’ or if they just wandered off somewhere.

        I know it’s normal for shows to not reveal every detail, but a lot of things seemed pretty vague to me.

    • Blarg
      Posted March 25, 2013 at 12:52 am | Permalink

      Actually, I don’t know the details, but the book goes over this in much more detail. Essentially Maria and Mamoru were killed pretty much as soon as Maria gave birth. I think one thing this show would have benefited from would have been a longer run time as they had to cut out a lot of character development and details that would have fleshed the details and made relationships such as Saki and Satoru’s more believable. That said it was still and incredible show.

      • blackice85
        Posted March 25, 2013 at 1:16 am | Permalink

        Agreed, that’s my usual complaint: not long enough to properly flesh out the story and characters. I guess I’ll have to read the novels if/when they get translated to answer my questions.

  2. Posted March 25, 2013 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    You are just a tough nut to crack, because, pal, both me and another friend, whom btw I consider difficult to be moved by anything, cried our eyes out. I do recognize that it isn’t faultless but it managed to conclude on a good note by having explained everything basic – unlike Psychopass where we don’t know anything about how the system came to be or how come people showed no resistance in such big changes.

    As for the characters, I feel like you just had to complain, no? They’re pretty good, especially Saki, and I disagree that they were only plot devices. The akward time lapses are at fault here, but everyone more or less gets a fleshed personality. Even if I agreed that characters weren’t the forte of this anime, it would still stand as a very good piece of art/story. Don’t be that tsun tsun :P

  3. nazaren
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    My only hangup about this episode was the brevity of the whole Kiroumaru / “not-fiend” death feedback situation. Saki asked Kiroumaru to sacrifice himself and he said yes, but save the queen. Totally resolved in the first 2 minutes of the episode. No moral or ethical objections? No lead-up? I’m sure the outcome would have had to have been the same, but it just felt too condensed to me.

    Series-wise, ambivalent is the right word. I’ll remember the world it built far longer than any of the characters… which is kinda meta, considering how difficult it is for the characters to remember each other.

    Exception possibly being Squealer, who arguably had the most personality and development, full of thinly-veiled animosity and incredibly transparent as he was.

    “Death feedback” and “cantus leakage” feel like plot panaceas to me: vague and only invoked when convenient. I’d like to know more, but as you said, their use and meaning are adequate, so it doesn’t matter much.

    Sigh. What could have been…

  4. shytende
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    The whole queerats = humans thing didn’t looked like an ending.
    Kiroumaru’s end was’t enough developped
    I don’t really have anything to add to this post.
    Watching the serie while reading your posts was an interresting experience, and I don’t regret watching it.
    It keeped his ambiguity through the end, but didn’t fleshed it enough. But its qualities largely surpass all his faults.

  5. Posted March 25, 2013 at 4:35 am | Permalink

    >Shinsekai Yori does so so SO much right that it’s almost painful to feel as apathetic toward the final result as I am.

    That’s how I feel about this too. I think that, ultimately, they’ve invested too much time doing whatever with the story and then beating us over the head with universe mechanics. A lot of people complained about the second episode, where half the episode focused on that game that the main cast was playing, but I think it did a great job of expounding on the characters and universe mechanics and was hoping for more of the same, but the rest of the show was pretty much x number of episodes where nothing of much significance happens followed by an infodump episode.

  6. BwackNinja
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    Throughout this series, I always saw the queerats, especially Squealer, as disgustingly human – particularly in contrast with the actual humans. He really represented all the admirable traits of a person, but viewed from an opposing perspective. Instead of clever and calculating, he was manipulative and dishonest. With how empty the actual humans were in the series, it was easy to begrudgingly associate more and more with the queerats, because they weren’t wrong – they were just the enemy and looked down upon as not being human. He would be the protagonist and hero of any other story.

    I don’t think you’re supposed to feel bad for everyone dying. Its kind of a pompous attitude to look at people who are essentially slaveholders, or worse for their abuses to other humans to drive them to dominated, and pity them for suffering losses quelling a slave rebellion. It is really sad to think that the only options were to leave them as slaves or exterminate them because any other options directly oppose the existence of the society of the gods.

    Kiroumaru’s death bothered me a bit, but it really comes down to valuing the existence of his queen more than his own. That’s what keeps him opposed to Squealer despite the fact that if he killed Saki and Satoru, the queerats would have won and enjoyed real freedom. Without that detail, which they made sure we saw with the mismatched stories of Squealer and Kiroumaru with regards to the the death of workers. It is really disheartening to see that he was the impediment to the freedom of his entire race.

  7. SENSEISHUN
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    This whole series my biggest question was always why queerats? Of all the species that could possibly become intelligent life why a humanoid molerat? Never made any sense. I felt they had to have been altered in some way so my theory was that they were altered through Cantus leakage of some sort, but it definitely makes alot more sense after the last episode.

    Still sucks how they never really explained how Shun was able to reach Saki or how Maria and Mamoru’s child got into the hands of the queerats. Also I hate how Kiromaru was just sacrificed like a lamb with barely much of a discussion. Just seemed out of character for Saki and it bothered me to see her do it so easily. That being said, I never thought that Saki lacked a personality. I felt that the world building in the series is directly related to Saki’s character development. The world of of Shinsekai is just shrouded in mystery and lies and Saki is just trying to understand the world around her and find out the truth about the world she lives in. Every truth she uncovers she uncovers a part about herself.

    In all I thought this series was almost masterfully done the way it could wrap the audience in with it’s story. Something that rarely happens for me. Loved when squealer yelled out they are humans. Funny thing about it is, by the end I actually did think the queerats were more human than the Cantus users besides Satoru/Saki. People with Cantus have been trying to play the side of God and in a sense shed their humanity, while queerats are just trying to recover the humanity which they felt they were always entitled to.

    • fathomlessblue
      Posted March 25, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

      The whole Queerat thing made perfect sense to me. They were hardly going to use cat or rabbit dna & risk the village turning into a bunch of furries ^^. Better to use a species many consider hideous in order to help create to barrier between them & the cantus users. Plus, many other species have developed unique defence abilities that could have adapted to become natural weapons. We already saw this happen with the suicide-bomber creations. Mole-rats are a fairly meek species so are mostly an ideal candidate for controlling.

      As for Kiromaru, I’d like to believe his unceremonious death was a deliberate move, to show how indifferent Saki was towards it. By the end of the series she has developed some empathy towards to Queerats, but is never shown to be particularly passionate in pursuing equality. Even after all the revelations, Saki never truly saw them as fellow humans, or even on the same level, which explains why she was able to incinerate Squealer without death feedback. Also, as Kiromaru himself stated in the last episode, humanity has developed a level of apathy to accept things with little emotional investment. They have become hollowed husks of what they once were. This story was presented from the slant of the ‘humans’ & as such carries that rather smug discrimination towards so-called ‘lesser species’.

      Anything else didn’t really need to be explained. You can come to the obvious conclusions easily enough on your own.

      • TheVoid
        Posted March 27, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

        Also most Queerats like actual mole rats are infertile and can’t reproduce. Who knows if their Queerat genes even allow for reproducing with none Queerats.

  8. Matthew
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I don’t really get the idea that any explanation is required for how the queer rats got Mamoru and Maria’s child. It doesn’t require a lot of leaps of logic.

    Squealer was hiding them all along and lying about it, and all evidence is they would have gratefully accepted being hidden. Once the baby was born, it would have been a simple matter to poison their food or slit their throats while they slept. I don’t need to see that, and it would have been kind of unpleasant to watch, in fact.

  9. AG
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    It really was world building at its finest. I wasn’t too keen at the start that the show would focus on queerats but it made so much sense as the show went on. As for the characters, yeah they won’t be memorable but Squealer makes up for it. I don’t think I remember seeing an antagonist having so much depth and development and going from a lowly servant to a general of an army.

  10. TheVoid
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Technically this society is only in Japan, so who knows what the rest of the world is like. It’s very possible Squealer’s forces would be decimated if they ever left Japan. Of course the fact that their entire rebellion completely fails with the loss of a single Cantus users shows it was a risky gamble that barely had a chance to begin with and succeeded for the most part cause most Cantus Users are sheep. Even then the worst thing that happened to their society was the destruction of a single village and a temple. Yakomaru’s forces on the other hand all get wiped out and the other colonies that weren’t allied with him get spared.

    Not to mention Cantus always seems to find a way to survive, the more man tries to wipe it out in the past the more people who got cantus and the more powerful it got.

  11. Kioku from Laptop
    Posted April 6, 2013 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been commenting to myself for a long time now that ‘Queerrats are fucking scary.’ I now believe I have every right to say that, because humanity in general scares me. Kinda odd how in the last episode my dislike of Squealer turned into pity. Especially when you learn he spoke the truth of the matter. This show in general has been an enjoyable, horrifying mindfuck for me. I really wish there were more out there like this. Not a happy ending, per say, but just a conclusion. But then again, I’ve yet to finish Psycho-Pass, Robotics;Notes or Zetsuen no Tempest, so I may be pleased with those endings too.

  12. Posted November 22, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

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