Shinsekai Yori Ep. 2: What a drop off

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.

Notes:

• 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?

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20 thoughts on “Shinsekai Yori Ep. 2: What a drop off

  1. Vincent

    The condition has not been mentioned before, so no worries there, your memory is fine. I don’t know why it is so important, but I feel that it was poorly executed to even reveal this condition during this episode. I didn’t see a point in doing it. All it did was inform us that the condition has dire consequences for surrounding people depending on the severity of the condition, which could have easily been gleamed later on, when it actually starts happening.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Well, remember how last week’s episode ended ominously with the revelation about Reika’s disappearance? I get the feeling that they want every episode to end on some dramatic note.

      Reply
  2. Andmeuths

    Something tells me that looking at this plot at a strictly episodic basis might not work here.

    The problem I’d imagine with rehabilitation is essentially : how are you going to rehabilitate a rouge mage? Limiters are probably the way to go, but if a society took centuries to develop one, it might take centuries and a second enlightenment for such a society to shift back to the norms we are used to. In any case, Pre-Industrial Revolution morality and legal systems, even in a country as liberal as Britain (for it’s time) tend to be much harsher from what we are used to today. They used to hang pickpockets, remember, in the not too distant past?

    Finally, the “Fifth” of his line at the beginning suggests that such a monarchy emerged anywhere between 150 to 300 years ago. One wondered whether this is a Post-apocalyptic tale where the Telekenetics became to new Homo Sapiens, by massacring billions of their fellow, Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Then proceeding to purge “throwbacks” to their lines.

    Or, it could be that Japan is the equivalent of the New World’s North Korea at the “500 years ago” mark.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Something tells me that looking at this plot at a strictly episodic basis might not work here.

      You brought this up last season, and we didn’t see eye-to-eye. That’s not going to change anytime soon. If you’re going to present the story to me in an episodic format, you can’t blame me for judging it episode-by-episode. I want every episode to be entertaining. Why is that so much to ask?

      Plus, if you want to convince me that 10+ minutes on a boring ass ball game is entertaining and/or necessary, no chance.

      The problem I’d imagine with rehabilitation is essentially : how are you going to rehabilitate a rouge mage?

      Get some makeup cleaner.

      In all seriousness, the only real world examples we’ve gotten are kids screwing up. Turning into a karma demon in a parable is one thing, but apparently cheating at a silly class game is too big a deal.

      Reply
      1. mintrubber

        The episode explained that it’s against the law (or something along those lines) to influence an object under another person’s control, because the clash of two incantations distorts reality or whatever. Remember the others speaking in hushed voiced about what he did after figuring it out? Yeah. It wasn’t about the soccer, it was about the kid casually doing the equivalent of attaching a radioactive piece of uranium to a lamp to make it glow prettier for science fair.

        Why yes, my comparison does suck.

        Then later on, Saki (that was her name? I’m so bad at remembering them) almost breaks another rule just as casually, but is stopped in time to not disappear,

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          Remember the others speaking in hushed voiced about what he did after figuring it out?

          No, I got all of that. I get that this is a very harsh, punishing society. It’s just that Andmeuths is talking about rehabilitating a rogue mage, but I’m raising the point that we’ve only seen examples of kids making correctable mistakes. The cheater wasn’t corrupt to the core or anything. Attaching uranium to a lamp is a bad move, but it doesn’t make you a karma demon!

  3. s2012k1993

    Found your website recently and I’ve really been enjoying your take on some of these series. I would like to defend this episode against your accusations of boredom. The psychic soccer game, I think, really nails down two points that the series has been repeating over these two episodes. First, the sense of normalcy for the pyschic children; they are no different from normal human children. Competition is taken very seriously. They express emotions we normally associate with children. Remember that girl from group three that kept on crying after losing the semi-finals.

    The more important point is about these rules these parables teach the children. These rules aren’t just guiding principles; they are instilled into the very fabric of these children. I found it interesting that the group three leader mentioned that their loss was an accident and resigned to that “fact.” During the final round, both groups yell at each other over breaking the rules, indicating just how important they are to the fabric of this psychic universe. To top it off, I don’t think the parable in the previous episode was shunning curiosity, but shunning those who break the rules. I wouldn’t be surprised if Reika’s disappreance had something to do with her breaking a rule. I remember a brief scene, last episode, of Reika entering a stairwell alone. Could she have been lurking in places she shouldn’t have, since she was obviously isolated and lonely? The parable in this episode enforces this point: our intelligent protagonist never took these rules to heart and became a karma monster.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Interesting points, but here are my contentions:

      First, the sense of normalcy for the pyschic children; they are no different from normal human children.

      1) Why would we have assumed they were any different from normal children behavior-wise?

      2) Was this not established to some extent in the first episode?

      The more important point is about these rules these parables teach the children

      Sure, I don’t disagree with that, but the cheating scandal was only one part of the entire segment about the game. The setup and the first round — and this is subjective, obviously — still felt overly long and unnecessary. Had the anime jump right to the finals, I might not have minded the whole thing so much.

      To top it off, I don’t think the parable in the previous episode was shunning curiosity, but shunning those who break the rules

      Again, I don’t disagree.

      Reply
  4. wanderer

    I hoped you were exaggerating but sadly you weren’t. Overall this seemed an excessively long and slow-paced way to introduce the idea that direct conflict between two psychics is absolutely verboten, the seriousness of which was communicated by exhibiting some lesser infractions for comparison. Still took a lot longer than it should have and the actual game seems like an uninspired reflection of something like the games used in Ender’s Game (or whatnot). The only other thing I noticed is the other teams all had six people. On the one hand this does imply that as your group’s numbers thin out you’re out luck. On the other hand given how seriously the kids are taking the contest and the strategizing it seems a bit off that they don’t say anything explicit about how they plan to make up for their smaller numbers…perhaps the novel touches on it?

    But yeah, underwhelming is all I really have to say about episode 2. Here’s hoping it picks up again in a week.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      On the other hand given how seriously the kids are taking the contest and the strategizing it seems a bit off that they don’t say anything explicit about how they plan to make up for their smaller numbers…

      Yeah, I don’t know why nobody brought this issue up. If we had to guess, maybe they were just confident in their abilities as the best psychic group or something. After all, that one kid liked to talk up their abilities in the first episode.

      Reply
  5. Marow

    I think there will be a timeskip in a few episode, since then narrator speaks about “our” and “we” all the time, indicating it’s probably the main character in the future, remembering her old days.

    Just a little detail.

    Reply
  6. appropriant

    This episode is probably showing off another example of what’s deemed unacceptable to this village. The previous one showcased that incompetence in, or lack of, telekinesis is reason to be removed from society, while this one tells us that knowingly operating outside of established rules is another reason to be eliminated (though I find it weird that they’re allowed to innovate by abusing loopholes in the game e.g. concealing the goal). Obviously they want our little psychics not only to be competent but also controllable.

    I think the parables are designed to preach self-sacrifice and conformity in an attempt to protect against the village’s own population. Although the children are forced to have it limited early on, telekinesis is still an easy-to-abuse ability that can lead to, apparently, the destruction of entire civilizations. A teenager was able to wipe out crowds of people in the first episode without a sweat, and granting such power dominion over regular people is just asking for terrible things to happen. The existing system right now is probably so uncompromising, even to children, because of that risk.

    But, if this is true, why do they still want people with telekinesis to stick around when at this point in the timeline they could easily stamp out any traces of such power permanently?

    dis mek no sinse to meh :V

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Not sure about the idea that this is an attempt to protect against the village’s own population. There’s nothing to say that the villagers themselves aren’t powerful psychic users in their own rights. I’m of the mindset that society has devolved, and this is just some backwater mindset that those that don’t comply are immediately culled.

      Reply
      1. appropriant

        I say “protect” in a more cynical sense, like how dictatorships or oligarchies would justify subjugating its own population. The village does have that backwater mentality when it comes to having a population of only competent psychics, but having the same population knowingly disregard the village’s sacred tenets is a more direct danger to the village’s authority, even if they may be powerful psychics. I think the two situations are taken care of for separate reasons.

        On an entirely unrelated note, one of the differences I noticed between the two time periods is the number of psychic users and the disparity of how they’re regarded. People back at the 500-year mark, who had such power, were treated as gods and there was nothing to inhibit them from being anything else. In comparison, it’s become much more commonplace to be able to manipulate things with your mind at the 1000-year mark, though not at the level where it’s used in everyday life since it’s forbidden. In fact, a person becomes the minority if they do not have a sufficient level of telekinesis at a certain age (adolescence?). My brain keeps telling me that natural selection played a role in this, that even though civilization has shrunk considerably over 1000 years, humans themselves have generally (and still with exception) advanced to harness the powers of telekinesis. But, if those same people are reduced to living in isolated villages, I can’t really say that it’s an advance in civilization or humanity in general.

        Reply
      2. Anon

        That’s a pretty simplistic view to hold. Society doesn’t just become backwards for no reason at all. When there is a lack of widespread or effective authority society will attempt to make its own rules to regulate its members. These rules usually use people’s emotions as a motivator and as such many people don’t question the rationale behind these rules, leading them to blindly apply them even to situations where it doesn’t make sense to do so. Things we see today as backwards, such as sexism or revenge killing, served a purpose in the past. They weren’t just there because everyone suddenly got the idea to be an ass toward others.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          Did I say that it was for no reason at all? I merely doubted that the rules were necessary for the protection of any regular human, which is what appropriant implied. This doesn’t change the fact that the rules are backwards and wrong though.

  7. An Anon

    I completely agree on the uselessness of that soccer thing. Skipped over until the end and I didn’t feel like I missed anything. They could have just shown a 30 second montage instead, then skipped to the finals.

    I do love the world-building though, if nothing more.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Yeah, I have no problems with world-building. I just dislike when it’s used as an excuse to buy time. Lots of slice-of-life anime fall into this very problem in which they world-build without purpose.

      Reply
  8. MarigoldRan

    This does not look like a slice of life show. It feels more like Shiki or a darker version of Moribito: Guardian of the Sacred Spirit.

    Reply

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