Shinsekai Yori Ep. 1: From the new world

Oy, a show full of religious ideas and imagery. Well, thus far, anyway. I’m not a religious guy nor have I ever really been interested in such subject matters. It’s not that I can’t nevertheless enjoy a show like Shinsekai Yori, but to a certain extent, I’ll be missing out. Missing out on what, I’m not entirely sure yet, but it has to be something significant. Still, this first episode is definitely intriguing. As such, I’ll push on, knowing fully well that I’ll stumble plenty of times along the way when it comes to addressing some of the show’s more religious aspects.

I’m going into this series with no prior knowledge whatsoever of its source material. The only thing I’ve read beforehand is the synopsis on Wikipedia, which doesn’t tell me anything that the first five minutes of the episode doesn’t already convey. We know that the story takes place a thousand years into the future, and that everyone seems to have some sort of telekinetic or telepathic power. But what am I to make of the opening, which features a brutal awakening: a young child seemingly uses his telekinetic powers to murder scores and scores of (presumably) innocent people in (what appears to be) Tokyo?

When we first meet Saki, our main character, she is suddenly awaken by the stuff around her room mysteriously floating and moving by their own accord. When her parents finally react to her screams, they console her by telling her that she has just received her “blessing.” We then see her undergo some sort of “Buddhist” ritual just shortly afterward, though it isn’t entirely clear when this event takes place (Saki sheds a few tears for her mother afterwards, however, for what it’s worth). The priest (shouldn’t he be a monk?) refers to her power as a “cursed power.” The stark difference here between “blessing” and “cursed power” is noteworthy, I think. One other clue: the students learn from a tale that admonishes them not to venture beyond the boundary rope, i.e. to stay within the confines (and safety) of the village, but the Buddhist temple supposedly exists beyond the realm of the boundary rope.

So even though we are told that Buddhism has survived far into the distant future, the ideas being presented here remind me more of Christian ideas. The priest guides Saki in sealing her “cursed power,” an act that invites comparisons to the concept of original sin. Also, to purge it away with fire, i.e. healing through cauterization, is analogous to the idea of baptism. The characters even inhabit a seemingly perfect village — an Eden of sorts, if you will — and they are given the impression that the outside world is dangerous and forbidden. If these ideas are also present in Buddhism as well, then my bad, but I’ve prefaced this post with the fact that I don’t know much about religions. Still, in my mind, how does this all add up?

If I’m not already in a full-blown speculative mode, I will be now. I wonder if the opening scene somehow features the latest example in human evolution: telekinetic powers. And as always typical in stories of this sort, the first to awaken will always be misunderstood, picked on, etc. Maybe the mysterious kid in the opening got pushed too far, so he snapped. His savage rampage is a sign of something evil and twisted, and thus all this religious stuff about controlling one’s urges and desires because “[s]ins are within us.” The kids are even in something referred to as the Apotheosis Class. Apotheosis is the idea of revering something greatly, to exalt someone or something in an almost God-like fashion. But lest readers start to take me too seriously, again, I’m in full speculation mode right now. Your guess is as good as mine… unless you’re read the novel, then I guess you already know it all.

Still, there’s a rumor going about that those who can’t graduate to the Apotheosis Class will mysteriously disappear. How does one fail? Why is it bad to not receive the “blessing?” During Saki’s ritual, she is told to “[p]ut all of [her] cursed power and will into [a] human-shaped paper.” What is then so bad about telekinesis? We thus have a pair of very conflicting opinions on Saki’s ability, but who’s right and who’s wrong? What is the Education Board? How many children have Saki’s parents had before her? Questions, questions, questions….

I haven’t always been keen on shows from A-1 Pictures… actually, scratch that. I’ve never been keen on shows from A-1 Pictures, but this is a good start. Then again, a lot of their anime series have started off well before. Hell, maybe it’ll be like No.6, which is both good and bad. Although No.6 was a BONES production, for some reason, these types of sci-fi stories always end up developing in the most asinine ways (e.g. MYSTICAL LGBT BEE GODDESS).

Here are some other things that I liked, and some — admittedly nitpicks — that I didn’t like:

• What I liked: When Akizuki reads a passage from a book — a warning tale of sorts — I really liked the visual style being employed here:

It’s not groundbreaking or revolutionary, but just making an effort to do something different is, in my opinion, worthy of note in a medium where a lot of shows tend to look a little too similar and a little too pristine (e.g. the character designs).

• Nitpick: On that same token, I’m not a fan of the random 3-D sprinkled throughout the episode. It’s jarring and doesn’t impress me. For the most part, the episode is rather well-animated since it’s A-1 Pictures. As such, the missteps stand out even more.

• What I liked: Despite spending a significant portion of the first episode “world-building,” for a lack of a better term, I didn’t find myself bored. I’m typically disdainful of any sort of world-building in anime, because the writers often approach the subject matter from the lowest common denominator (e.g. wasting my time by discussing the differences in how a Parisian and a Japanese person will eat breakfast). Here, they could’ve taken the telekinesis idea and done something totally mundane with it, i.e. the kids have super fighting powers. They may very well have super fighting powers in later episodes, but for now, it’s worth exploring what it’s like to teach a class full of telekinetically-gifted students.

One particular exercise that I liked involved the students learning to draw in a sort of Telephone-like fashion. For those not familiar with Telephone, it’s a game where you sit around in a circle (or a line) and tell a secret to the person next to you. He or she then tells the secret to the next person. The fun is in seeing how the secret morphs and changes by the time it reaches the end. Our students, however, seemingly have to duplicate a painting as accurately as possible.

• Nitpick: At the moment, I’m not keen on our main characters. Oh, it’s too early to outright dislike them or anything, but I’m usually not a fan of kids being the main characters. First, I just dislike their voices, which I usually find shrill and displeasing. But on a much deeper level, storytellers often take the easy way out by opting to portray kids because it gives them the excuse to be less complex in the characterization department.

Case in point, one of the boys is stereotypically arrogant about his newfound powers. I can’t wait to see his hubris bring about his downfall. Now, Shinsekai Yori may very well buck this trend, but we shall see.

• What I liked: The anime just doesn’t give us a giant infodump about the mysterious Waki Academy. Instead, they sit around and tell scary stories based off of rumors and hearsay.

The result is the same — you get a bunch of information — but the method is much more stylish. Plus, the audience is given unreliable information, i.e. it is up to us to determine what we want to believe and disbelieve. Just this tiny bit of audience participation, I think, is far superior to mere exposition.

• Nitpick: I know the anime is based off of a novel titled From the New World, so I guess I’m addressing the source material here more than anything, but using that Dvorak song (last seen in Mawaru Penguindrum) just feels kind of cliché. Ah, how do we juxtapose the peaceful, idyllic village with a certain sense of tension and anxiety? Oh, how about “From the New World?” — it’s perfect!

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16 thoughts on “Shinsekai Yori Ep. 1: From the new world

  1. appropriant

    I am unsure whether or not the Buddhist Temple scene happens immediately after Saki graduates from Waki Academy or at a much later, since It’s clear that she can use telekinesis while with the Apotheosis Class and would not make sense if the cleansing fire ritual happened before that. Additionally, she probably would not willingly go past the boundary rope if she believes the story of the herb-collector. What do you think?

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Well, the priest says right after the ritual that they’ll give the power back to her (“Therefore, we shall bestow upon you a fitting mantra, gather a new spirit, and return to you the cursed power once more”), so I took it as if it was just some purging process that doesn’t disable her powers completely, but I could be wrong. Though you’re right in that the Buddhist Temple scene does supposedly take place beyond the boundary rope. That lends credence to the idea that the ritual takes place after everything else.

      Reply
  2. Vucub Caquix

    Man whatever, I love that New World Symphony so much so I’m totally cool whatever anime trying to ride of its coattails.

    Not a single A-1 Pictures anime impressed you? I’m coming at them from a more optimistic standpoint since the first show of theirs I’ve seen was Birdy the Mighty and I ended up loving both seasons of that show. Oh, also Sora no Woto (barring that ONE episode…). Also I don’t know how you are with idol shows, but Idolm@ster was at least extremely well animated. My partner was a big fan of that show.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Man whatever, I love that New World Symphony so much so I’m totally cool whatever anime trying to ride of its coattails.

      I even said it was a nitpick. What do you people want from me!

      Birdy the Mighty

      Never seen it.

      Oh, also Sora no Woto

      You probably didn’t know anything about us back around the time Sora no Woto aired, because I absolutely hated the few episodes that I did see.

      Also I don’t know how you are with idol shows

      …c’mon, bro. C’mon.

      Reply
  3. Knowitall

    “The characters even inhabit a seemingly perfect village — an Eden of sorts, if you will — and they are given the impression that the outside world is dangerous and forbidden. If these ideas are also present in Buddhism as well, then my bad, but I’ve prefaced this post with the fact that I don’t know much about religions.”

    Well i haven’t watched this anime but I might as well point out that Siddhartha Gautama (ie. the Buddha) was raised within the confines of a palace in extreme luxury. He was forbidden from leaving the palace but one day he does so. Out in the real world he encounters illness, poverty, and death in turn. This leads to his spiritual awakening, so he leaves his life of opulence to become a hermit. And of course, he later attains Enlightenment and Nirvana. Are there any parallels there to his show?

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Possibly. The children may leave their village and thus gain a better understanding of the real world, though it remains to be seen that this will translate to any sort of Enlightenment.

      Reply
  4. Havoc

    Do you think this anime looks similar to ‘Another’ (that horror eye patch chick), the dark spooky atmosphere and even the characters looks similar. I bet shits going down in 2-3 eps with people killing each other.

    Reply
  5. Tsukkomi

    “The anime just doesn’t give us a giant infodump about the mysterious Waki Academy. Instead, they sit around and tell scary stories based off of rumors and hearsay.”

    Yeah it’s nice to see an anime at least try and follow the mantra of “Show, don’t tell” for once, and understand that TV is supposed to tell its story to a large part through images, so it’s nice not to have a voiceover talking about how psychic powers massively changed society, it just shows that plainly obvious fact. It’s not hard to see why so many series hold the viewers’ hands though; the site where I watched the episode was full of people acted as though what they’d just seen was utterly incomprehensible when it should have been fairly obvious. And having seen some really, really woeful anime over the last couple of seasons which epitomised the mundane, at least this one thinks it’s interesting, that doesn’t mean it’ll be good of course, but at least it’s trying.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      the site where I watched the episode was full of people acted as though what they’d just seen was utterly incomprehensible

      Wut.

      Reply
  6. Anonymous

    some of the “recent” flash backs that saki had about her parents fear that she may not receive a blessing were a little abrupt. It always seems a little odd, or too fast maybe, when a show brings up a topic we haven’t heard about (in this case what ramifications there may be for not receiving a blessing) and then immediately gives you flash backs to further emphasize that point. Probably would have rather they built up a little more uneasiness between the parents around her rather than just throw it all at you right there. Maybe its not important enough to the story though, to bother drawing it out longer.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Well, when she joins up with her friends in the Apotheosis Class, we got a brief hint that it would’ve been bad had Saki not graduated. In fact, she’s told that she’s the last to graduate. That seems a little fishy by itself.

      Reply
  7. Gpower

    The ritual scene looks to me like a mixture of Taoism, Buddhism and perhaps Shintoism (which I admit I don’t know much about but from an outsider’s point of view carries significant similarities to Taoism) Priest is certainly a title in Taoism, but the bald brown-robed men looked like Buddhist monks.The idea of “casting away your worldly desires” is a central theme in Buddhism, and the paper doll that was burned resembles Taoist charms (which are usually made with paper, and some symbol drawn on it), or perhaps the tradition of burning Joss Paper.

    Reply
  8. wanderer

    That was a pretty reasonable first episode, I think. I actually think it gave me a pretty good sense of what’s going on in this world’s setting without ever being explicit about it, although I’m less certain which direction the narrative and drama will go in from here.

    FWIW I wouldn’t get that hung up on the monk/priest distinction, although you’d have to ask an expert to be sure. As far as I know most of the “generic” terms for people with religious roles are literally more like “holy person” or similar, and thus how they get mapped into English is somewhat context-dependent (there are more-specific terms too, but I don’t recall hearing any so far). More generally, the ritual definitely seems to be some kind of syncretic thing, meant to be familiar to the audience but not any specific, actually-existing ceremony.

    Not much more to say, honestly, than that it has my attention and was a very well done first episode. Also FWIW, the cat monster the kids are talking about has the same name as a sumo technique (猫騙し, nekodamashi), which may or may not be significant.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      although I’m less certain which direction the narrative and drama will go in from here.

      I have a feeling it’s going to be a very standard “Escape the cave, learn the truth, rebel” type of story.

      FWIW I wouldn’t get that hung up on the monk/priest distinction,

      Well, it’s not so much hung up as simply throwing stuff out there to generate discussion.

      Reply
      1. wanderer

        Yeah, I’d say that + a dash of a (passive-aggressive?) Battle Royale is about what’s in store. No worries on the priest thing. Not a whole lot left to discuss on ep 1 so looking forward to episode 2.

        Reply

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