I smell a rat... and not the good kind!
Shin sekai yori is a despicable anime that doesn't know what it wants to convey, and by this tricks the viewer to the point of betrayal. Why is it that even dreck like this can have moments of sense of wonder? Exactly because it is anime.
|Aaand also because of this. You don't exactly get this with western stories. At least certainly not with fourteen-year-olds.|
Important preface: Never forget we know as little about the deep ends of the setting as the main characters themselves in the early part of the story - AND THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS ARE NEVER ASKED. BECAUSE THE AUTHOR DIDN'T CARE ABOUT FIGURING OUT THE DETAILS HIMSELF.
Ok, so those 6 school children (with that number reducing by the episode) aged 12 (the perfect age for the beginning of a story) goes on a kind of survival field trip (whoops - it's only 5 children now) and finds out their society is actually a totalitarian mind-controlling dictatorship or oligarchy (only it turns out their society is only 20000 (I think) people or 7 - yes that is SEVEN villages) that kills children based on their potential to be a risk to society. At this point, this anime was really shining. The atmosphere was really great - right from the start with Saki's (more on that complete turd of a main character later) natural psionic power (called cantus - "singing") erased, only to be given back to her immediately afterwards - very cruel and touching moment. The childrens' interactions were gold; as we learn in the course of the story, love has literally been coded into man's DNA and as long as we have the group together (woah it's only 4 children left now!) this aspect is providing much of the story's value. In episode 8 when everybody turned gay (it's true! so gay we even get queer rats!) I was having one of those moments when I thought I was watching the best thing ever LOL - even with the question whether there actually ARE any sexual relationships there unfortunately unresolved, the viewer can see the members of Group 1 care deeply about one another - though this is sadly diminished by the tunnel vision focus of the entire anime. In fact, we can only glean the main characters' personalities from their interactions at school and at the field trip (and we get an idiotically clumsy montage of Saki/Maria at the point their relationship is PAINFULLY severed - painful for the viewer because it hardly makes any sense), there are basically no details given on any off-school circumstances that would further establish the setting. The children moving around the villages in their spare time doesn't cause them any trouble, but that is about it. We never see how free the ADULTS actually are in the society that is specifially focussed on controlling the "threat" children pose.
So, we got ourselves a good story going? The story of blooming (PUN) love set against a background of an oppressive thought-controlling society that itself enforces love and consensus but eventually wants to turn people straight again so they can produce the next generation (the duty pairs anyone?! at that point I actually believed that was what they were intended for because they stressed the part where it had to be exactly a boy and a girl so much - but that thought was complimenting the author's intellect rather too much... and by the way, don't get me started on the fact an alternative society ONE THOUSAND years in the future makes boys wear blue school uniforms and girls wear pink skirts... but then again they still use the idiotic kanji system and EVERY FUCKING OTHER THING LOOKS LIKE THE JAPAN OF YESTERDAY STILL AFTER A MILLENIUM AARRGGH).
So, do we have a good story going?
No. Because the above is not at all what this story is about. LOLOL
Insult #1 - The story betrays the good elements in favour of bullshit elements
The REAL plot (...AAAND we're down to 2 children now) turns out to be some asinine bullshit about the rat race mankind engineered out of a mixture of human and molerat DNA (how this would be used to transform an already existing (!) slave caste into hybrids is beyond baffling) rebelling and causing commotion that seems to be the end of the villages but really doesn't affect them all that much in the end (they basically laugh it off). Of course, since the interesting part comes first, the viewer is tricked into watching the rat stuff for the eventual resolution of the questions/dilemmas posed in the early part. Which of course never comes.
Fun fact: In the second half of the anime the stifling atmosphere the society gives off is all but forgotten!
So let's analyse the Saki/Maria relationship (cause that sure was the main thing that kept me on the edge of my seat once things turned dire, once that ship had sailed (PUN)): Very little is shown, but that is really the only example of subtlety you get in this anime (don't confuse subtlety with lack of given information - the preface applies here):
Maria is the kind of likeable, charismatic person that always is the focus of attention, and also the kind of person who gives her friendship/love easily in turn (in other words, she's exactly like Shiina from Narutaru) - but from we get to see, she loves Saki honestly from the depth of her heart. Truly, I loved her characterisation myself, as this kind of girl certainly appeals to me very much. If anything remains for me from shin sekai yuri (PUN), it's the character of Maria (without the repulsive aside described below, of course).
|More of this, please.|
Saki, on the other hand, is, like in all other things, an indecisive weakling, at one point pointlessly being embarrased by Maria planting a quick kiss on her lips. Wikipedia says "Saki finds her feelings for Shun unrequited when he starts dating Satoru instead and she starts dating Maria" (I have to quote this here because I didn't really catch that myself, but can't be fucked to rewatch that episode after what happened... later). But... if this is true, and Saki only turned to Maria because of Maria's attracting nature as described above AND being forced to love by her genes AND because her being weak and therefore choosing the easiest target, the embarassing post-lost-forever montage scene makes no sense whatsoever, since it heavily implies they were in love way earlier than that. On that note, we also see them together (likely) NUDE IN BED only AFTER the moment it becomes clear the two will never see each other again. What a weird order of things. Certainly their separation would have been seventeen times more impactful if those scenes were rearranged and better integrated in the flow of the story.
As I said above, how deep (no pun here, let's stay reasonable) their relationship went painfully stays unresolved. But this does not justify the way Saki, while never forgetting Maria, acts in the very end. Yes, the story doesn't actually fuck this up completely until the very last episode - where we get a painful déjà vu.
Now, we get to see this really hateful aside where Maria explains to the viewer (!) how, while loving Saki, what she REALLY wanted all along was to have children (*facepalm* - also, at age 14, mind you), and that obviously wouldn't be possible with a girl. Never mind adoption or just getting pregnant from somebody else. No, if you want to have children, you need to dump your lesbian lover, no matter how cruel and soul-shattering that is to/for that significant other.
TV Tropes constructs this from that despicable scene:
"Maria appears in the end, more or less recapping how and why she left the village with Mamoru. But then she reveals another reason why she left: she wanted to have children, something that would have been biologically impossible if she stayed with Saki. "
Be that as it may. Only...
THAT NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPENED! THAT ONLY WAS AN ASIDE!
And the dominoes fall. Saki gets NO closure from this relationship. Saki doesn't question Squnk, the queerat she herself saved from drowning earlier (sure, they are humans all right, they lie even to their saviours), nearly thoroughly enough (by absolute force if necessary) about the details of how Maria's sayonara letter came to be. Saki doesn't try to find out anything about where Maria went in her spare time (remember, we are told the government knows everything about the surrounding lands and can easily find even two runaway children in the wilderness - one thing I certainly would have done if I had been the author is having Saki actively look around, no matter how unlikely it would have been to turn up information). Now, we all know group 1 members in this anime are very forgetful because of brainwashing, but we also know Saki never forgets Maria. She doesn't enter a relationship with anyone else til age 24, and when she sees the red-haired Demon her only word is, rather impactfully, "-ria". Surely Saki could have used her newfound political power (we could just call her Twilight Sparkle at that point) to grasp at whatever straw presented to her to find out the truth (note: finding out the truth otherwise always has been paramount to her!).
So you are telling me to just sit there like a bitch and take that bullshit? Oh boy, but we aren't even done yet with the dominoes falling one after the other. Or we could also liken it to a house of cards crumbling. The chains lead straight to hell, and the Kytons are pulling.
On that note, the unborn monster child telling Saki in a dream to let Maria die is actually that, a monster - yeah, even before it grows up and slaughters people for fun. Saki doesn't catch on. Don't do what the monster child tells you. Ever. Do the opposite, you dumb fuck!
Because Maria (and that useless whiner Mamoru) was ALIVE ALL ALONG. FOR AT LEAST NINE MONTHS. By the way, this part is conveniently overlooked in this anime, but easily enough reconstructable. Squealer, our ratty mastermind, forced Mamoru to impregnate Maria, the latter to give birth to the monster child (we can glean from his treatment of his own queen how he must have treated Maria in the meantime), SLAUGHTERED her and provided her bones as proof of her death to the evil government. And Saki could have rescued her. Hell, Maria probably was right in the tunnel Squnk came out of to bring Saki the farewell letter (which might or might have not been written under duress, it doesn't matter)! Track back his footsteps -> BAM. Maria GET. ONE HUNDRED POINTS. It hurts... it hurts to see a likeable character wasted in such a way.
|Less of that PLEASE! Poor Maria... if only Saki wasn't so dense.|
So, we are supposed to believe Ratfuck could come up with a TEN-YEAR-PLAN as convoluted as this in a situation where many variables weren't clear whatsoever AND he was the only one to see its outcome through (as seen by the fact the queerat revolution dies the moment he is captured) AND at a moment where he hadn't even been rat king for a long time. Note that most rats are displayed as completely mindless and hardly capable of talking human. Squealer isn't the rat Einstein, he's the rat E as in E=MC²!
So, Saki finally gets an opportunity to talk to the captured Squealer in the final episode before he gets tortured the very shit out of him. So, reader, what question would be on your mind in that situation? Maybe... "what happened to, you know, Maria? You remember her, the mother of that hellchild of yours, that one that you constructed your entire strategy around? Surely you remember my lover Maria? Tell me what you did to Maria in order to get both the result of a boning AND bones from her!" Maybe something along that line? I sure was expecting something like that. A closure, no matter how cruel, for the open wound that never stopped bleeding for over ten years.
And what do we get? What does Saki ask Squealer?
"Why... did you revolt?"
That is when the feeling of "I watched something that hadn't been thought through and turned out rather shitty overall" turns into "I watched something I utterly loathe now because it just raped my invested feelings with a hedgehog-spiked dildo (now that's a dilemma!)".
|You think that's bad? Remember the time I used to watch South Park?|
So this has already been a very long rantview, and I haven't even touched anything but the (in my eyes) main romance! Oh boy.
Insult #2 - Saki should never have been the main character
Saki is incompetent, useless and plain stupid. She is unable to save any of her love interests (other than "Mr. I'm her husband now out of nowhere!", but she only manages that feat by risking the entirety of humankind (maybe... I never figured out whether the seven villages are all that is left or not, it's vague at best), and unable to resolve any problem successfully in the course of the entire story! Of course that doesn't stop everybody from constantly complimenting her (really, this shtick is repeated several times over the course of the story almost word-for-word!), saying that despite her weakness, both physical and mental, despite her indecisiveness and inability to keep a clear head in the face of danger, despite her lack of cantus skill, despite her lack of even the most basic common sense, she actually is a natural leader (LOL) and truly fit to succeed Tomiko Asahina (immortal cunt who didn't manage to come up with more than "Let's kill children who might be dangerous." in 200 (!) years of leadership! Hey, maybe Saki really is fit to replace her ¬¬). I was strongly reminded of the Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns' sycophants don't stop his bad financial decisions and drive him into ruin. This would be so obviously exactly what would happen to the society lead by Saki!
In the very end we get an Eva-like "Arrigato" sequence, with all the children Saki DIDN'T save thanking her, namely Shun (who is literally a gay ghost later - take that, Casper!), and also Maria! Let that revolve in your mind a few times... Maria thanks Saki who didn't even try (GANBATTE YOU ASSHOLE!) to save her, who left her to torture and death by RATS! And there are still fanboys defending this show?!
And let's not forget that Saki is a collaborator of the worst sort. Not only does she not oppose the sociely (i.e. the adults) that KILLED her sister (there's that other completely unresolved plot point. Saki never wants to find out more about her dead older sister. Remember Narutaru? Remember how Shiina figures out who her dead older sister was? And how that was important to the plot too? Ayup, we get nothing like that in Shin sekai. Saki doesn't care. Saki forgets. That is why she is the natural born leader in this story's confounding mindset), that lead to the DEATH of TWO of her lovers, no, she even JOINS that society, and not so she can undermine and destroy or at least change it fundamentally (being the Mary Sue chosen one with direct protection from the de facto eternal god Asahime)... Saki just assimilates herself to the standards that ruined her very existence. In the end, she just mewls about how maybe (yawn) when her children (YAWN) have grown up (YAWN!), society will be just a little tiny winy bit better. Even though she is now Celestia Asahina's successor (that fact is not stated specifically, but it isn't contradicted either. And in this rathole-ridden story something like that means it's a given fact) and could change society in whatever way she wants! Alas, she is Saki, and I really don't need to say any more about her at this point, I have already been exhausting.
Insult #3 - Setting and tone
I've touched upon the setting a little already above, but there is some more stuff to bitch about. Now it's not exactly legit to complain about stuff that DIDN'T happen and that I just wanted to see instead of what actually happened, but this is exactly why this blog is a 50% review/50% rant blog. I just do 'em that way.
The setting and tone of the story initially were very oppressive and overwhelming. Children got killed off, brainwashed, gene-manipulated (I loved the moment where Saki was considering to give Satoru (OK OK I looked up this name a handjob to relieve stress LOLOL) and told how the entire SOCIETY is brainwashed systematically with Group 1 being actually an exception in how much of a free will they were left with. In other words, pure 1984 going on here and while a story with such tone isn't exactly enjoyable to watch (who likes to see the characters he loves get oppressed and threatened at every step - of course, nothing can ever beat Franz Kafka's Amerika at that sentiment), it at least was INTERESTING and CAPTIVATING to watch!
Why did this tone get completely replaced with one where there was no danger of being simply wiped out by the corrupt powers in charge - in fact, why did this element get shifted wholesale to the queerats (who are never actually depicted as the equals of humankind Squealer likes to stylise them as, not even once!)?! Why did any sentiment of overwhelming and soul-crushing evil magically disappear as soon as Saki accepted things to be the way they were?! Why are we supposed to care when this totalitarian state is finally challenged and threatened by just revolution?! The tone shifts to one where you are supposed to cheer for the heroes, where you are meant to want to see them win - but this leads only to the restoration of the status quo! The tone is OFF. It is completely off in the second half of the anime - the story has completely gone the wrong way.
|This isn't what I signed on to watch...|
Insult #4 - I literally could go on here forever
I literally could go on here forever, complaining about how the mind trick the children learn in school is the only non-generic power they ever use later (took him the entirety of his school life to figure out just that mirror trick... Satoru should have been culled too), or how precious time is wasted with filler-like drawn-out episodes:
-) The ones where the children are captured by the Queerats, fight a completely pointless battle against more Queerats - never mind the irony of it all - with every time they help Squealer, they help him doom everyone that dies in the course of events - Saki does never realise or even accept she is indirectly responsible for EVERYTHING BAD THAT HAPPENED TO EVERYBODY) and magically find their way back to their completely unshaken friends (seriously I have no clue what the author was smoking when he wrote that part. It's like Maria, Shun & Mamoru didn't even care they got their two other friends back unharmed after what must have been days). Oh and for one episode the art style changed completely. (Remember, Evangelion had money problems too. But Anno actually used that to his advantage.) I wasn't bothered too much by that sudden change though.
-) The one with Shin being a faceless ghost who killed everybody around him. Ok so Saki loved him for a few minutes, but that doesn't vindicate drawing this episode out so much and in such a trippy way. This was just another episode that was baffling and really annoying to watch.
-) The search for Mamoru, followed immediately by the search for Mamoru and Maria! Since it didn't account to anything, it was way too drawn-out, especially since we get a TEN YEAR TIMESKIP right afterwards. Yes, I hated on Saki a lot above because she didn't look for Maria enough but this isn't a contradiction at all; I'm talking about the actual minutes of them monotonously skiing through the snow (INNN THREEE DEEEEE) here. Less is more sometimes.
-) All of the chase and fight episodes are TERRIBLE. Common sense is defied here around every corner (PUN if you know what I'm referring to here). I know they never learned to fight, but still... also the resolution the demon child thought she was a queerat and therefore unable to kill one was a complete guesstimate. Call it plot convenience, call it a bad author who wrote himself into a corner, both sentiments are true.
All of the time wasted with these filler-like episodes could've provided the screentime to finish the story the way I sketched out above.
By the way, if a fanboy comes across this review and actually does give it a chance instead of mindlessly resorting to what a fanboy is conditioned to do (i.e. flaming)... if you read this and can't understand why I'm complaining about things you might not have even noticed or that might not have bothered you at all since the good elements were so good they hid all shortcomings for you... I can only advise you to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion repeatedly and revise your standards. It IS important that the setting is sound. It IS important that the character's motivations add up. It IS important to apply coherence to your story and not let the quicksand of plotholes drown it slowly, but steadily. It IS important to provide closure to at least the most important events the main character(s) were involved in, OR state explicitely they weren't resolved (Shinji and Asuka at the beach... LOL. Beach terror... By the way, there's an excellent fanfic picking up right there... Orchestrating the silence). Eva teaches you all that, and more. Eva isn't perfect, but it is the apotheosis of anime and I measure everything I watch by its standards. This is why I can't be like a fanboy and overlook the flaws. You don't have to be like me. But at least give me the benefit of the doubt. Don't be like Saki. Don't simply accept and forget.
Never stop challenging
|I don't believe you.|
PPS: Writing this review is certainly worth the pain I endured watching this show. Even though it's a long long LONG (5-6 hours) process, creating something of my own design is truly one of the very few things in this meaningless life I can enjoy. Kinda.
PPPS: So if the show managed to inflict emotional pain on me, does that mean it succeeded all along and I'm the fool that has been played? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO