Psychics have been a common fixture in the annals of cartoonish anime hyperviolence, and for damn good reason. As we all know, it’s a small step from bending spoons and guessing cards to smearing people all over the hot pavement like jam on inedible toast. Shinsekai Yori is well aware of how psychics in fiction apparently don’t like internal organs to remain firmly in place, and so makes pavement jam out of innocent bystanders in just a few minutes. It’s practically nauseating, though that may be the result of the persistent shaky-cam blur making me wonder if my glasses malfunctioned for a few minutes. But they didn’t, and the lush visuals and even lusher setting came in clear as a bell.
At this point, describing a show as gorgeous often comes across as disingenuous praise, but it’s not just the animation that’s been lavished with loving attention, groomed for the world to gawk at. The setting itself, though not the first to feature a small town after civilization’s Big Crunch, manages to give an eerie vibe without compromising the normalcy that it has for the characters. To coin a pretentious, seemingly contradictory term, Shinsekai Yori’s setting is a Benign Dystopia that appears strange from our perspective, but exists for the safety of the villagers.
The psychic powers themselves are also portrayed surprisingly well, divided into separate categories beyond simple telekinesis. There’s something delightfully unsettling about mental killing potential being treated as the norm, even more so that the village discourages exploring both those abilities and the world beyond the village’s boundaries; despite being barely in their teens, these children are expected to have the restraint of adults, or they’ll be considered problems in need of eradication.
While the transition from psychics smearing pavement with people jam to the world reverting to a more localized lifestyle isn’t elaborated on, it doesn’t feel as abrupt as it could have. The reversal doesn’t have the blatant social criticism of Jinrui either, lending itself to horror that builds in a slow boil. The closest comparison in terms of setting would be Shiki, whose start was also a bit underwhelming. It requires patience and somewhat of a keen eye, but there’s a lot simmering under the relatively benign surface beyond the feline-esque Black Shuck stalking the underperforming psychic children. It’s a world full of people that encourage paranoia, with dangers lurking beyond the boundaries of the village and subtle problems plaguing the townsfolk.
This is what I love in horror, and what gives it a special place in my heart; however, I’ll acknowledge that it might not be to everyone’s taste, and I don’t mean that in a backhanded “you just don’t get it because you’re not smart enough” way. It’s a damn slow start with little to no payoff and a few directorial quirks that show signs of some potholes; many will be put off by this, but I sure enjoyed it. However, my positive response doesn’t change the fact that only time will tell if this becomes just as good and atmospheric as Shiki, or a meandering, pretentious slog like Kamisama Dolls, though I’m banking on the former based on how there seems to actually be some semblance of originality here.