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.
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.
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.
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.