From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 12

Saki is brought before Asahina Tomiko, head of the Ethics Committee,but she isn’t in trouble; on the contrary, Tomiko intends for Saki to one day succeed her. She overruled the Board of Educations plans to dispose of her for learning the truth, because her personality indexes indicate a high degree of mental stability required of a leader. Tomiko tells her the story of K, a boy who became a fiend twenty years ago, and Izumi, a girl who became a karma demon. As her eventual replacement, Saki will be responsible for dealing with future fiends or karma demons before they fully develop and consume what’s left of mankind. Mamoru goes missing, and Saki, Maria and Satoru go looking for him.

Despite having retained all of the knowledge and history relayed to her by the false minoshiro, the truths that Tomiko relays to Saki this week are still a lot to take in and endure. Essentially, humanity is on the edge of a precipice, and it is its own worst enemy. Fiends voluntarily use their Canti to kill indiscriminately, like a fox in a henhouse. Karma demons’ Canti leak and subconsciously pollute everything around them, even DNA. If either of these are allowed to crop up unchecked, they could easily push the rest humanity off that ledge. K, one  of thirty documented fiends (all but two of them boys) killed 1,000 people in one day – no longer a drop in a bucket. Both Izumi and Shun destroyed entire villages, when only a handful remain. One day they were ordinary humans, the next, existential threats.

Saki, who’s seen and heard a lot and maintained her poise and sanity, is next in line for a very solemn but essential position in society: one who identifies those weak links that may flare up into fiends or karma demons, and stamp them out. However cruel it may seem to preemptively eliminate fellow human beings (through the use of tainted cats), considering the threats that will sprout up if they don’t, Tomiko would seem to have little choice. Watching her in the flashbacks as a nurse overcome by fear and dread and seeing her serene presence in the present, we see someone who has come to terms with that, and does not simply rule out of a desire for power and control, but to keep the human race, flawed as it may be (looking at you, Mamoru) alive. She does what must be done. And one day, she hopes so will Saki.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Advertisements

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 11

The time comes for the school groups to pair off into boy-girl pairs for school duties, ceremonial preparation, and eventually, procreation. A handsome guy named Ryou tells Saki he’ll choose her, but she’s not so sure who he is. Ryou seems to have replaced Shun in everyone’s minds, but Saki and Satoru still remember him. Saki also finds a mirror with her sister’s name etched in, as well as the girl who was in their group years ago. Itou freaks out, and Maria tells Saki to drop it. She can’t give up, but she won’t bring it up again. Two officials from the Ethics Committee appear before them, and the three are brought to the committee’s head, Asahina Tomiko, starting with Saki.

Whatever methods the powers that be employ – be they the Ethics Committee or their bosses – to ensure the people remain blissfully ignorant and only believe and remember what they’re told, they simply haven’t worked on Saki. Aonuma Shun’s growing power, whether from ‘illness’ or ‘ascendance’ was an immediate existential threat to the almighty status quo, and it was dealt with by allowing him to self-destruct in isolation, then swept under the rug. But Saki’s power – that of intense, piercing curiosity and doubt – is far more insidious. One by one, it spreads to her three remaining friends, though they exhibit varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Saki gets things started. Satoru is willing to hear anything out. Maria is unnerved. Mamoru is terrified. This may also be the order from worst to best sense of self-preservation, because not long after the matter between the friends is more or less resolved, a couple of kind, friendly-looking adults shows up, essentially arresting Maria, Satoru, and Saki. Has the Ethics Committee finally had enough of Wantanabe Saki and her incessant digging? They may well wish to ‘purge’ or ‘dispose of’ her, but with all the nice manners, smiles, and insistence that ‘there’s no reason to be nervous’, they may have another use for her altogether – one even she can’t fathom.


Rating: 8 (Great)

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 10

Saki survives her encounter with the tainted cat by the skin of her teeth, but the talisman Shun gave her is destroyed. She finally finds a masked Shun by the lake, who allows her to stay for ten minutes. He explains how he’s become a karma demon (AKA Hashimoto-Applebaum Syndrome), and his Cantus is leaking out rapidly, allowing his uncchecked subconscious to warp the world. The other cat appears to kill him, but his dog Subaru sacrifices himself to distract it, and Shun finishes it off. As his control starts to slip, Shun decides to end his life, but not before confessing he always loved Saki.

Last week’s excellent buildup and preparation was not let down in this, the payoff episode. The tainted cat cliffhanger picks up with a lightning-quick and brutal battle between Saki and the beast, and she is quite clearly outmatched. Were it not for her choker, she’d have ended up dead before she even knew what hit her. But Saki is no slouch, taking advantage of the cat’s failed jugular shot to literally wring it out with her Cantus. It’s satisfying to see how much skill and discipline she’s amassed in the two years since the last arc. All her efforts are simply to reach Shun, the guy she always loved but never said or did anything about it.

Their trippy encounter only lasts long enough for him to tell her the volatile nature of Canti, the true purpose of the Holy Barrier (directing “leaking” Canti to the outside world) and his “illness”, which has already cost the lives of his parents, his neighborhood, and likely others. Shun, in the end, had too much potential, his Cantus too powerful to exist in the world, and he ceases being able to hold it back. Taking his life was the only course of action to prevent the further suffering of others (we’ll assume, for now, he succeeded) Saki finally gets the answer she always silently sought (that he loved her too), but her challenge now is to stay alive, not let grief or guilt consume her, and keep trying to make sense of this crazy world she was born to.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 09

With Shun gone for four days, Satoru gathers the others and suggests they go looking for him. He and Saki travel to his house in Pinewood, but it is totally cordoned off in all directions, and they find that a huge gash has been made in the forest, with a burnt-out tree trunk in the bottom of a pit that reminds Saki of the one in Shun’s house. Meanwhile Maria and Mamoru ask around school, but everyone from Pinewood is absent. Curiosity leads them to check out the inner yard, and they see three adults release two tainted cats from their kennels, and mention Shun. Maria comes to Saki in the middle of the night to tell her this, and she sets out alone to find Shun, but its confronted by one of the cats in the forest.

Whatever year it actually is in Saki’s world, it might as well be 1984 (while that monolithic tree they see brought 2001 to mind). People who do not obey and conform to the “society of love” live in constant fear of death, or worse – by the hands of the “Ethics Committee”, which may as well be called the Ministry of Love. People are supposed to stick to their particular vocation, and not pry in anything else, even if it concerns family or friends. In Saki’s case, her older sister vanished long ago, and she forgot about it like a good girl. But now she’s remembered. Now someone she cares about deeply – Shun – is in some very serious trouble. She cares about him so much she’s willing to risk everything – her freedom, her life, her parents’ peace-of-mind – to find him. Which is badass.

We don’t hand out tens willy-nilly; only three first-run episodes have received our highest rating so far, along with a handful of Retro Reviews. But we consider this episode the best and most complete of the series so far; a masterpiece of tone, mood, and tension. It’s not particularly flashy, but never before have the stakes seemed so high, or have Saki and her friends seemed to be in more danger. We’re not even sure what the real deal with Shun is yet – only that he may be turning into a full karma demon (that doesn’t sound good). This episode is the best kind of building-up episode: one that creates so much anticipation for the future, but more than holds up by itself as a comprehensive study in layering trepidation on top of disquiet on top of dread.

The moment Saki hears from Maria, she goes into Full Rescue Mode – suiting up with the talisman Shun gave her (and which she may believe was also a wordless message to come after him, not just a memento mori), and using her Cantus to good effect, bringing a loud wind that will mask her movements, flying through the air, and racing down the river. If she’s discovered, she’ll most certainly die, and the episode projects that perfectly. While a ten need not be totally perfect, we could not list a single flaw in the episode anyway. From the precise pacing to the stirring primeval score to the consistently excellent costume design, this was a winner on all fronts.


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

RABUJOI World Heritage List

P.S. The tainted cats have pumps for feet…very strange.

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 08

Two years after their summer camp adventure, the circle of friends are now fourteen and starting to drift away. Shun and Satoru are an affectionate item, but Shun gets tired of him and dumps him. Saki and Maria also form a couple, but Saki longs for Shun. Itou likes Maria but is too shy to do anything about it. One day their class is visited by Kaburagi Shiei – owner of the most powerful Cantus. When he approaches Shun (who is acting strange), something happens, and when Saki bumps into him later Shun tells her he believes their punishment was merely being delayed, and that he must now go away to recieve some kind of “special treatment”.

Love is in the air, or at least some kind of biologically-dictated version of it, as the gang ages two years since the last episode. Hormones run wild and kids pair off like there’s no tomorrow. They’re all following their ancestors’ wish to coexist in a “society of love” like Bonobos (the yaoi/yuri stuff is tastefully enough done). Saki wants to pair off with Shun, but Shun’s with Satoru, at least initially, and then…he only wants to be alone. Saki finds solace in Maria, but their pairing leaves Itou as the fifth wheel. The whole time all this touching and nuzzling is going on, Saki continues to have the feeling that something is terribly wrong. Shun shares her suspicions, but now he appears to be in trouble.

It’s weird seeing everyone suddenly two years older at first, and we think it’s supposed to be weird, like everything’s a little off. Because, of course it is. At first the episode is ambiguous, but as it progresses its clear they still remember what happened two summers ago, which means they remember everything the false minoshiro said about society, and about disruptive elements being removed for the good of the group. Shun, it seems, is on the verge of becoming a disruption, and considering how powerful his Cantus is, it looks like he’s going to be dealt with one way or another. He’s unwilling to let Saki or anyone else interfere and risk their own safety. It seems best for Saki, Maria, Satoru and Itou to simply keep their heads down.


Rating: 8 (Great)

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 07

Satoru uses his Cantus to burn the Ground Spider army’s nest in the forest behind them and redirects their catapulted rocks to buy him and Saki time to run. Just as Squealer suspects they’re no longer gods, they hear the horns of the Giant Hornets, the largest queerat colony, and most loyal to humans. Their leader Kiroumaru welcomes the humans, and Satoru saves him from a last-ditch blowdog attack by the enemy.

Still, Satoru still feels he and Saki are in danger, suspecting the adults will use Kiroumaru to execute them for their crimes.  They escape in the night, followed by Squealer. They reunite with Shun, Maria, and Mamoru and start rowing home, and they’re intercepted by Kiromaru’s fleet, but he simply tows them the rest of the way, out of gratitude. They bid farewell to the queerats and return to Kamisu’s 66th District, where they get a less-than-warm welcome.

If indeed all living humans get death feedback, it would preclude them killing other humans. So Satoru figures out that the “Ethics Committee” the False Minoshiro spoke of lets other parties do their dirty work. Enter the queerats: sentient, violent beasts led by slightly more civilized generals like Kiroumaru. Satoru suspects he was ordered to “take care” of the meddling kids he finds, and considering humans gods, he’s naturally inclined to obey without question.

But Kiroumaru’s sense of debt and balance overrules his obedience: just as Squealer’s colony owes the Hornets a debt, Kiromaru owes Satoru a debt for saving his life. We sweat for a moment there when his fleet appears (Game Over?!) and this series excels at building crepy tension and impending doom, but Kiroumaru turns out to not be their final executioner. The narrator, whom we suspect is an adult Saki, states ominously that while the queerat ordeal is over, her trials are only beginning.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 06

Trapped in the cave but alive, Saki recites Rijin’s words and somehow Satoru’s Cantus is restored. He uses his powers to bust them out of the cave, but many perils await them on the surface. Satoru seems to have fun killing Ground Spider queerats, and when Squealer and the Robber Fly remnants offer to escort them to safety, Satoru agrees. He defeats ambush after ambush, but begins to experience death feedback, and his powers weaken. Squealer shows them an enormous queerat army awaiting them up ahead.

When Saki somehow restores Satoru’s Cantus, he wastes no time putting on a psychokinetic clinic, kicking ass left and right by dividing boulders into cubic bullets, lifting trees out of their roots and turning them into burning missiles, and directing the flow of water, deflecting boulders launched at them, et cetera. But throughout all this, Satoru changes from the kind, gentle kid of just last week to someone crueler, more arrogant and vindictive. He’s having too much fun. Defense isn’t enough for him. He takes the fight to the queerats, and allows himself to get drawn into a war.

Satoru’s refrain is that if they simply run away, reunite with the others, get back in their canoes and go home, they’ll be pursued. He thinks running would be suicide. He wants to instill crippling fear in the queerats – every last one. But Satoru is just one person, and not nearly as disciplined as the monk Rijin; the extent of the pain and suffering hes causing to living creatures starts taking its toll fast. Thus far Satoru’s actions have only extended and worsened his date from hell with Saki. If he passes out, she’ll be all alone in a sea of queerats with no Cantus to stay afloat; a terrifying prospect.


Rating: 8 (Great)

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 05

Rijin is killed fighting the blowdog, and the queerat horde returns. Without Cantus, the kids are powerless, and must flee. Saki trips and falls down a hill, and is found by Satoru, but they’re captured by the queerats. In their tree prison they start to vent their stress an anxiety with intimate behavior, but the guard is watching. Satoru gives it a haythatcher egg, which it eats and is killed. They excape, and are led into a rival queerat colony by a talking queerat named Squealer. He begs the two “gods” to help them against the invading queerats, who attack the colony that night. Satoru and Saki use the confusion to escape, and Satoru ignites poison gas to take out their pursuers. Satoru pokes a hole in the liquid-like ceiling of the cave, which collapses on them.

When Saki and Satoru are taken prisoner by the roving queerats, they find themselves up a tree in very close quarters, and they start to feel very…amarous. They’ve been friends for a long time and both probably find each other attractive, but that isn’t all that’s going on. In a very carefully-animated scene, Saki realizes as she’s with Satoru that she’s doing exactly what the library slug said she’d do if faced with undue stress and anxiety: engage in intimate sexual behavior, like bonobos. She’s doing what her genetic makeup programmed her to do, not what she wants to do. She stops herself.

Before she learned about humanity’s bloody history and the nature of the society she lives in, Saki was into Shun, not Satoru. If she’s going to be intimate, it’ll be with someone she truly likes like him, not whoever happens to be nearby in order to blow off steam. Her mind fights her body. But this is just the first of many situations she and Satoru face this week that puts them into survival mode. She also learns that humans and kids in particular should steer clear of queerats, because they’ll be exhalted as gods and brought into their wars – and war is something most humans can no longer physically wage.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

P.S. Saki’s adventure garb is really cool-looking, giving off some serious Nausicaä vibes.

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 04

The minoshiro-disguised library explains to the group in great detail the birth of psychokinetic or PK powers in humans, starting in the 21st century and ending in the downfall of civilization and the loss of billions of lifes, and a dark age lasting centuries in which brutal PK slave empires ruled, non-PK hunter-gatherers lived, PK bandits roamed, and scientists preserved ancient knowledge and bided their time until the empires crumbled from within.

Through genetic manipulation, education and development of rituals, and a system of rooting out potentially dangerous children, the scientists sought to create a new society free of strife, like that of bonobos. Before it can tell them more, the library is incinerated by a priest of the Temple of Purity, who seals everyone’s Cantus and escorts them to face punishment. On the way they come across a queerat tribe and eventually, the mythic blowdog.

More than half of this episode is one long infodump by the mobile library. But it works, and works well. First of all, because it’s an artificial construct, not some wise old man, the ceaseless stream of facts and figures not only makes sense, but has more dramatic impact. It talks about horrible, horrible things – things the kids had no idea humans were capable of – in such a calm, measured tone.

The visceral (and justified) reactions by Mamoru, Maria, Shun, Satoru, and Saki bring the chilling nature of this presentation home. It also helps that the history by itself is so rich and detailed. The library creature also lulls us into a kind of exposition trance, so when something finally does shut it up – a monk patrolling the woods – it’s a startling surprise.

All of a sudden these child detectives are in some serious trouble. Rijin may have referred to the library as a “mind-poisoning demon”, but we know better just by how his body reacts to the violent acts he performs: the “death feedback” fail-safe weakens his composure. We also know what the library said was true because of those cold opens of the bloody past. If the kids are sent to the temple, they won’t leave until all memory of what the library said is purged. But judging from that blowdog at the end, they may not get to that temple.

The scientists Saki & Co. are apparently the descendants of, like the monks during medieval times, preserved knowledge to create a functioning society when the time was right, but not without seriously compromising free will and even overwriting human nature. Then again, if PK were real, how else would society protect itself against a user who lost control, or lusted for power? This is exquisite, thought-provoking, dark stuff.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 03

Saki & Co. strike out on a nature trip, plying the rivers and making camp here and there. Satoru tells a campfire story of “blowdogs” and evil “minoshiros”, and the group gets the idea to investigate and prove they exist. When they come across a minoshiro, its light has a hypnotic effect that only Saki is immune to due to her shades. They manage to catch one, and it tells them it is some kind of mobile digital library of history.

The cold open takes place seventy years after last week’s, and the Emporer of Great Delight has been replaced by the Emporer of Merciful Light, and gets assassinated, an act its perpetrators believe will change history. Like the other two opens, we can only shrug and say “that’s nice”, because there still isn’t much of a connection between these little snippets and the “present day” of the series, 1000 years from now, in which Saki, Shun, & Co. have what looks like a rippin’ good camping trip. The weather cooperates, they do a bit of night rowing, Shun touches Saki’s hand in a gesture of affection (and keeps taking her side), and the group has an exciting adventure.

However, on this adventure they go somewhere they were told not to go and find something they probably weren’t supposed to find. The narrator points out that hundreds of weird new species of fauna have cropped up in the centuries since civilization as we know it was destroyed. They find one such creature, which is actually some kind of cybernetic, mobile, autonomous database with a built-in “light hypnosis” defense system to ward off humans. These kids have been spoon-fed all manner of information up to this point, and they’re poised to receive a fresh perspective from an independent voice. We’re nervous for them, as other kids who haven’t conformed to their roles have vanished. But we’re also excited for some potential answers.


Rating: 8 (Great)

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 02

With Amano Reiko struck from the class list as “missing”, studies continue in Apotheosis class for Saki & co, specifically the “ball-carrying tournament” in which classes pit their powers against one another without directly affecting each others’ powers or ball, but by manipulating clay “dolls” to move the balls, attack and defend. Class 1 defeats Class 5 in the first round. Class 2 beats Class 3 when an “accident” occurs, and the final between 2 and 1 ends the same way, with an “accident” and a draw. The Class 2 member then disappears, and the class prepares for a summer camping trip. Saki helps out a bugrat and earns their thanks and reverance.

Three things are certain after two episodes of “From the New World”: the cold opens are very strange (this time jumping five centuries into the future and a cursed power-wielding, murderous emperor), the present day is just as strange with its odd customs and creatures, and the soundtrack is absolutely top-notch, adding richness and weight to the proceedings – not bad for only the composer’s third series. Also, the characters all seem to be in the dark all the time – both literally and figuratively.

The episode is dominated by a fairly innocuous game that the students take very seriously, and indeed, the final outcome leads to the second kid being spirited away who knows where by who knows what. But we can’t help but wonder if all this training and competition and talk of “seeds of sin” is really just history repeating itself. That that kid’s game is a sterilized model for the wonders and horrors their powers can cause. The taxi kid from last week ultimately used his powers to kill people, as did the emperor in the future. Here in the middle, in this quaint little village, what are these powers being honed for…and is it all worth it?


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

P.S. Those bugrats were creepy. We’d stay away from them…

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 01

1000 years from the present day, in a tranquil and isolated village, Wantanabe Saki begins Apotheosis class in which to master her newly-bestowed “cursed powers” of telekinesis, or juryoku. She recieved her “blessing” late, causing her and her parents to worry because of a mysterious rumor of a “Faze Cat” that takes underachieving children away. The unconfident weak link in Saki’s group, Amano Reiko, suddenly disappears.

This table and tone-setting first episode does not unfold strictly linearly, starting in more-or-less the present day we recognize, in which a troubled-looking young man blows out the door of the taxi he’s in with his mind, then sets to work ‘popping’ everyone around him with deadly telekinesis. Jump forward a millenium, and society has – depending on your opinion – progressed or regressed. Technology is almost nonexistent; the land is lush and untouched by industry; villages are modest; no one can leave their boundaries; and everyone develops telekinetic skills.

We don’t see (not yet at least) what exactly people do with these powers – normal scenes like dinner are presented without any juryoku, which is limited to training in the classroom – but considering all the talk about Akki and Faze Cats and other supernatural baddies – some of which may be taking the less-talented telekinesists away to their doom – it would seem these cursed powers are a necessity for survival in this new age. Wantanabe Saki is mindful of this as we watch most of this episode from her perspective, dotted with foreboding moments of her past that inform her present. It’s a neat, cerebral, and very cool presentation. Combined with above-par animation, deep colors, a slick, moody soundtrack, and cool wardrobe, this series didn’t waste any time showing promise.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)


Car Cameo:
Our horrid little person-exploding boy arrives at his destination in a green-and-yellow Toyota Comfort taxi.