Shinsekai Yori – review

I’ve finally found some time to finish the series. New semester has set in, so I was rather tight on schedule, and Shinsekai Yori is not a series that one should rush through. Don’t let that light-hearted promo screen above fool you – it is a gravely serious, deeply disturbing, and intense work of science-fiction.

The story revolves around five children in a world in distant future. They live in a rural village, in a seemingly utopian society. The humankind itself has evolved; psychokinesis became a part of everyday life. It needs to be trained, of course – and as the five enroll into the academy, they start to hear rumors about kids disappearing, monsters haunting the school halls. Little they know that what they see is just a tip of an iceberg…

You can read my first impressions here.

Shinsekai Yori

AMAZING STORY

Let me emphasize that right away. Shinsekai Yori has of the best stories I’ve seen lately, be it in anime or elsewhere. To be honest, I was expecting something similar to Higurashi – but damn, how much was I mistaken! The plot is definitely the strongest point of the series – and it is actually well-composed, well-paced and mature.

The story takes its time to develop. I was charmed by how from this vague synopsis – bunch of schoolkids, some magic, and imprecise sense of anxiety – the plot grew richer and richer. We follow the events through a spacious timeframe – from the group’s childhood to adulthood, with occasional retrospective narration of the main protagonist, Saki. It can be divided into clear arcs, much like chapters of a book – the series is, after all, based upon one, and even though I haven’t read it, I can imagine that this division has its base there.

Not only the story is marvelously executed, it brings up difficult questions. Humankind has evolved to an utopian state, but how fragile is it actually? To what extent can we go to preserve our well-being? Or just mere survival? What’s necessary to do so? The plot delves into human nature, and there are no topics left untouched. Sexuality, racism – I was thrilled to watch a series that is not afraid of darker, controversial themes.

It’s clear that this was the dominant intention of Shinsekai Yori. Sadly, it sometimes resulted in somewhat questionable progression of plot – there were a few times when characters have done something either miraculously or inexplicably. However, without exception, it has been done so with benefit to the story itself, and I’m bringing this up just for the sake of being fair.

Shinsekai Yori

 UNIQUE SETTING, WELL-WRITTEN CHARACTERS

The future Shinsekai Yori describes is unusual from what we usually see. Rather than being technological, it’s faux-historical – to the point that after the first episode I was not sure whether I was really watching the show I’d read description of. Let me just say, that as in every good science-fiction: there is science behind all this, but here,  throughout the years, it’s become magical in perception. I really don’t want to spoil much, because discovering it on one’s own is really a pleasure.

It would be impossible to create absorbing story with bad characters. This is another strong point of the series – the cast – both the main five kids and side characters as well – was clearly distinct from the very beginning. They were different, convincing and life-alike. Moreover, they were not just another copies of cliché personalities we’ve already seen and will see again – even though they could be generalized to tropes, they felt authentic and individual.

What seemed lacking, though, was some sense of their personal goals – they managed to build the story very well, but there wasn’t much to say about their separate lives. That is perhaps due to lack of side arcs in this show, but it was not something that bothered me much during the viewing.

Shinsekai Yori

 MATURE TAKE ON SEXUALITY

I felt I need to dedicate a whole paragraph for it. Shinsekai Yori deserves, in my opinion, a round of applause for how it handles sexuality. How rarely can we see a series that takes a relationship – be it straight or gay, both yuri and yaoi – and does not either trivialize, idealize or ridicule it? Not often enough, I think. This is what this show does – shows sensuality between adolescent people in a very truthful, honest way, without resolving to fanservice and such.

I wanted to note this, because this is the bane of many series that portray relationships, especially gay – and Shinsekai Yori does a great job here. It’s perhaps the most tasteful and sincere take on this theme I’ve seen so far.

Shinsekai Yori E01

GOOD ART DIRECTION, SOMEWHAT LACKING IN EXECUTION

I’ve read somewhere that this show had rather small budget – and it shows, sadly. If not for this, I think that the series would be one of the most renown in the web.

What’s definitely good is the visual character design. They’re memorable and overall distinct. They are, however, rather simplified, as I can imagine, to avoid greater dissonance between scenes drawn well and those that were not. Even though there were episodes with just plain sub-par animation, Shinsekai Yori knew very well where to put emphasis on a good art (subsequently, man-hours of work), and where it could let it slip. As a result, the show feels solid when it comes to visuals – not bad, but not great either. It’s really a nuisance only when compared to what most series nowadays look like – just prettier and more eye-candy.

What’s noteworthy however are the backgrounds – they were kept high-quality throughout the whole show.

Another thing that bugged me was the incoherent mood of the show. After seeing the first episode, which had a very atmospheric feel, I assumed that the reduced, yet contrasting color palette would be a visual trademark of the series. Sadly, this feeling was often shattered by scenes that were just coloristically cheerful, and thus perceptually noisy in reception. But again – in its key plot moments, the visuals were astonishing.

Shinsekai Yori

GOOD AUDIO

The series did not have – with one exception – an opening video, but the quality of the endings makes up for it. You can find the first ED here, the second contains minor spoilers.

Audio within the episodes is good as well. Perhaps not  extraordinary, but very satisfactory nevertheless.

Shinsekai Yori

VERDICT: BREATHTAKING, PLOT-DRIVEN SHOW

If you’re looking for something more than cheap gags and half-assed story, I strongly suggest the series. If you are, above everything else, a fan of a good story, do yourself a favor, and just go watch it already.

(MAL link)

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11 comments

  1. I really couldn’t agree more. While I don’t think Shinsekai Yori is a perfect series, it’s certainly one of the very best I’ve seen in a long time. (And frankly, the show’s mature take on sexuality could be praised for a whole essay. Given that this is a review of the overall title though, I’m happy you did devote a whole paragraph to it.)

    1. It’s not perfect, of course, but I think it’s nearly as close as a TV series can get. There are flaws here and there; however, the overall experience greatly outweighs them.
      It definitely could be! :D I regard nicely executed romance highly, thus it was important for me to note how well Shinsekai Yori performs in this area.

  2. The sexuality in this series always ends up becoming a bigger topic than I would ideally like it to be, since there’s so many more things to analyze and explore. However, it really warrants discussion given how many people blew up about it when the episode aired. I saw so many knee-jerk complaints about how gross, offputting, “out of left field” or “distracting” it was, which seriously confused me given that there was a whole expose on how sexuality was used in their society several episodes prior. Some commenters actually seemed to be unaware of how sexuality is a fluid thing in the real world, and were seriously confused about how Shun, Saki, and Satoru all showed inclinations to individuals of both sexes at some point. I found the reactions even more alarming in the light that the novel actually went even deeper in exploring the sexuality themes. In that sense, I’m always glad to see someone who reviews this series and doesn’t try to brush the sexual themes under the rug, nor views them with contempt, and actually discusses it thoughtfully. A favorite reviewer of mine commented how the adolescent same-sex relationships all were portrayed very realistically, with things like hand holding, matching jewelery, jealousies, and gossip. If not for the fact they were all same-sex, you wouldn’t really distinguish them as different than heterosexual couples. I think some people even make the claim that it was something unnecessary to the story, but they forget that it was the close physical and emotional bonds the characters had that helped keep them together. This was particularly important in Satoru and Saki’s case as they shared the bond of being in love with the same boy (speaking of which, how often does a love triangle in a story end up bringing people together rather than tearing them apart? I really appreciated that) Sadly, much of the material delving into Saki and Satoru’s unique relationship was put to the cutting room floor in lieu of focusing on the direness of the situation in the later eps. I totally agree that more series that don’t use sexuality as a gimmick or a tool for gratuitous fanservice are a need in the world.

    1. It’s honestly sad how you can take a perfectly rational Human being, show them some bisexuals, and their brain just breaks down. Like, science fiction fans, who would normally make connections and find all the little strings but their brain just farts when presented with this series.

      To be fair it didn’t come off as strongly on-screen as it did in the novel, but you can still see it, reading between the lines, There’s a very specific reason this society doesn’t want people under 17 having heterosexual relationships. Yeah…it’s, really, one of those things that just establishes how wicked this society can be. To say nothing of the proletariat being asexual, and the elite classes being hypersexual… (without spoiling, but if you’ve seen you known what that means).

      Though I think the homosexuality is more than just a tool of “evil” when adult Saki still considers Maria her true love, and one of my favorite moments, “May you see beauty”.

      1. I keep hearing about the novel, have you read it in original? Or the one that’s currently being fansubbed? There was no official english release, was there?

      2. Not any translations that I’ve found, the best I found was, way back when the series was airing, there was a cliff-notes community project, basically summations of the major points of a chapter TVTropes style to go side by side with the anime at its release. But said forum threads are no longer available (except perhaps on someone’s hard drive or a blog archive). Hopefully if the DVDs are popular stateside it will provide an impetus for a translation of the novel.

  3. About the novel, There is a thread on animesuki that discusses the novel, with someone who has read the novel (kuromitsu) making commentary on changes/differences/things left out. She also comments throughout individual episode threads about novel stuff on the same site.
    http://forums.animesuki.com/showthread.php?t=115752
    There’s also this dreamwidth review on the novel
    http://nenena.dreamwidth.org/374076.html
    and this tumblr post with little rough blurbs detailing Saki and Satoru’s sex scene in the novel if you’re interested in that (it brings up an…interesting detail about how their fuzzy memories of Shun kinda played a part)
    http://shinkamilyn.tumblr.com/post/40951547245/shinsekai-yori-novel-rant-warning-spoilers
    Finally, there is SOMEONE WHO IS CURRENTLY TRANSLATING THE NOVEL AND UPDATES IT EVERY OTHER DAY WITH A NEWLY TRANSLATED PAGE. So far, it’s pretty good you may want to follow it! I’ve been reading it and since it’s from Saki’s point of view, little details that couldn’t really make it into the way the anime was presented get discussed, like why Mamoru might’ve been so attached to Maria. I do warn that the sex scenes are pretty graphically described.
    shinsekai.cadet-nine.org

    1. Great, thanks for the links! The last one is what I was referring to as the one being currently fansubbed, and I will definitely pick it up soon.

  4. I have read the first two volumes of the manga and haven’t been wowed by it yet. From your review I however gather that it starts slow and builds up to something special.

    1. I haven’t read the manga myself, but from I’ve heard it’s drastically different in terms of seriousness. I’ve read a review of it somewhere, and I was under impression that there’s little more to it than being a fanservice galore. I don’t know if it’s true though.
      Yes, the anime series starts slow, and builds up. It is definitely a special and a very enjoyable experience.

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