I think the only part of the episode that I actually liked came at the very beginning. I don’t know how reliable these glimpses of fictional history are supposed to be, but they do manage to raise some rather interesting questions about the anime’s overall setting.
It seems that five hundred years after the emergence of psychic users in our present day, society — or at the very least, Japanese society — has devolved into some sort of barbaric religious monarchy. The writers could’ve come up with a better name than ‘Holy Cherry Blossom Empire,’ but that’s a nitpick. What’s even more interesting is that people willingly stand there and allow the newly-crowned emperor to murder them? Why do they not fight back? Are they unable to fight back? Not only has society reverted, so has its religions, apparently. The notion that religion can even progress or regress might sound a little out there to some of you, but ask yourself this: when’s the last time a modern religion — and not some extremist sect — entertained the idea of human sacrifices?
We also know that with just another five hundred years, a small village seemingly exists in isolation. From a young age, people are taught never to venture beyond the boundary rope. Keep in mind, however, that we’ve seen near the beginning of the previous episode that there is life out there. At the very least, some Buddhist temple exists. Nevertheless, you get the picture: there’s a seeming lack of technology or even any sort of large-scale government anymore. This all seems to imply that society has only continued to erode since our Holy Cherry Blossom Empire. Are humans slowly dying out? How might the emergence of psychic users be a catalyst for society’s downfall?
After this very brief bit of intrigue, I feel as though the rest of the episode pretty much falls apart. The storytelling technique being employed here disappoints me greatly. First of all, we suddenly have a narrator. Narrators aren’t inherently bad, but this disembodied voice — I assume it’s an older Saki reflecting on her youth — pretty much tells us all the crucial information. I find this lazy and unimaginative. For instance, the episode is subtitled “Vanishing Children,” so you kind of expect vanishing children to be the episode’s focus. Instead, it’s more of an afterthought tucked away at the very end. I wouldn’t have even remembered what the episode was supposed to be about had it not been for the narrator’s last minute reappearance to remind me that some of her classmates have disappeared.
So what was the episode about then, if not vanishing children? Apparently, some psychic version of soccer. It just feels odd to me that the majority of the episode’s running time was devoted to a somewhat esoteric game and its tournament. What’s worse is that the game’s only meaningful contribution to the story is that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime: children caught cheating will mysteriously disappear. Actually, this episode had a lot of potential. After all, kids disappearing just for cheating at a silly game? Why such an extreme reaction against a childish vice? This could’ve been an interesting angle to explore, but instead, the show took an inordinate amount of time explaining how to play psychic soccer. If you want to tell me that breaking the rules will have terrible consequences, fine. But I just think the episode could’ve done this without wasting two thirds of its running time on a silly ball game that we probably won’t even see again for the rest of the series.
• Another clue worth considering from the opening is that the atmosphere appears to be both very dusty and very windy. Perhaps some drought is afflicting the land, and this may have contributed to the decline of civilizations. Maybe the reason why everyone obeys the emperor is because he can somehow alleviate the effects of the dust storms. In any case, jump ahead another five hundred years and we have our pastoral village. This then raises the question as to whether the world is still in a bad shape beyond the boundary line. In our parables, the landscape does look rather nightmarish:
But how much do these scenes really reflect the state of the real world?
• I wouldn’t mind it all if every episode begins with some sort of parable. I’m suspicious of these parables though; I feel as though they have a nefarious purpose to them. So far, they seem to preach conformity and compliance to authority, or some tragic misfortune will befall you. Not only that, should you fall to the dark side, these parables then preach self-sacrifice. Last week, a boy willingly destroyed a bridge he was standing on to prevent a demon from reaching his village. This week, the boy-turned-karma-demon willingly drowns himself in a lake. Is there neither rehabilitation nor forgiveness in the world of Shinsekai Yori?
• What does the red stamp on Amano Reiko’s name say, if anything? I figure it probably says ‘absent,’ or something similar, but I may as well check to see if anyone else knows. Speaking of Reika, I guess she’s still missing, but I thought last week’s ending pretty much confirmed that she was gone for good.
• The ball game really bored me and I don’t feel as though I really missed anything meaningful during the initial build-up to the actual tournament or even the tournament itself. If I did, please feel free to let me know the folly of my impatience.
• I do like the very brief appearance of the cat monster stalking the cheating kid:
It’s subtle and understated, but nevertheless gives you more than enough information to know exactly what befell our less-than-scrupulous classmate.
• Q-queerat? Anyway, I wonder if Saki will disappear as a result of breaking the rules. Our five friends swear to keep the queerat-saving incident a secret, but I feel as though this event might be a harbinger to a betrayal somewhere down the line. The narrator does seem to speak poorly of Maria. Maybe she’ll rat Saki out. Or maybe all five will get in trouble.
• The narrator tells us that Maria was born with the same condition as her. If the show has mentioned the condition before, I’m afraid I didn’t catch it. What was it and why is it so important to bring up now?