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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.