Anime Review | Shinsekai Yori

 
Image by A-1 Pictures, Hanabee, and Sentai Films.

Image by A-1 Pictures, Hanabee, and Sentai Films.

 

Anime was one of the things that I thought I would grow out of, and for a while that was true. But as it turns out, it’s just something that grew and matured with me. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some ridiculous shows out there that make think “Damn, anime really is trash.” But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, I suppose.

You know what isn’t trash? Shinsekai Yori, also known as From the New World.

For the longest time, my list of top five anime series remained unchanged. That’s not to say that there weren’t series that brought me to tears or made me laugh so hard that I was basically wheezing. It’s just that nothing really stood out or left a lasting impression. Then I finished Shinsekai Yori, which wedged itself into my ranking and secured its spot in my top five series of all time.

That’s why I’m beyond excited to write about Shinsekai Yori for my first of (hopefully) many anime reviews. I had to give myself a good month or so to fully process everything from the series, as it’s not a light watch at all. Shinsekai Yori tackles controversial themes, like slavery, sexuality and what it means to be human – things you don’t see much in anime. And it does so in a hauntingly beautiful way that’ll have you at the edge of your seat.

 

Warning: if you get scared easily, brace yourself for the 0:19 mark. You can also watch a two minute trailer on Crunchyroll.

 

Just a quick warning: Shinsekai Yori does contain blood and violence; the very first minute of the show makes that abundantly clear. If you’re not comfortable with mildly graphic violence, maybe Shinsekai Yori isn’t for you. Otherwise, I strongly recommend the highly underrated series. It does have its minor flaws, which I’ll go over in a bit, but it’s well worth the watch.

The anime is currently available to stream on Crunchyroll, so be sure to watch it there if you’re interested! I’ll do my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. So, without further ado, here are the synopsis and my thoughts on Shinsekai Yori.

 
Shinsekai Yori.jpg

From the New World

Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama, Horror (sorta)
Run: 3 October 2012 - 27 March 2013
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Episodes: 25
Source: Novel by Kishi Yusuke
Director: Ishihama Masashi

 

Synopsis

After a millennium of chaos brought on by the sudden emergence of humans with psychokinetic powers, what’s left of humankind was forced into isolation and a regressed standard of living.  In this distant future, psychic humans not only became a norm, but they have also created a system of complex rules and mechanisms to help control these powers or Cantus. We see this new world through the eyes of twelve-year-old Saki Watanabe, who joins her group of friends at school in the peaceful agrarian village of Kamisu 66 after awakening her own powers.

However, this unsettling peace comes at a cost, as children mysteriously disappear without anyone really saying anything. In fact, it’s like as if these disappearances never happened. Through the events and characters that Saki and her friends encounter, we learn more about the eerily mysterious town of Kamisu 66, how it achieved its peace following centuries of chaos, and how fragile this peace really is.

Plot

An interesting premise will fall apart without solid storytelling, but thankfully, Shinsekai Yori has both. The first few episodes open up with violent scenes that contrast with the seemingly tranquil lives of those in Kamisu 66. But those scenes set the tone for the rest of the series and remind us that not everything is as they seem.

We witness the history of society unravel through Saki and the events in her life, gradually stripping away at her innocence and the image we had of her hometown. Since we see her experiences from childhood to adulthood, however, there are two awkward time skips. While the pacing leaves you disoriented at first, it doesn’t take away from the overall story. If anything, it highlights the slow progression of events, not confined to a single stage in Saki’s life, and a realistic development of her ideals.

Shinsekai Yori is one of those series that get better as it goes on. You’ll have to bear with a bit of info-dumping and time skips in the first couple of episodes, but after that, you won’t be able to stop. I can’t imagine waiting an entire week between each episode. It got so intense towards the end, I binged the last eight in the dead of night. Who needs a normal sleep schedule?

Setting

Not gonna lie, I was so lost at the very beginning. In my defense, I was distracted by ultra-cheesy deep dish pizza. Between the violent opening scenes, vivid history lessons at Saki’s school and the lack of technology, I had no idea what period this takes place in for the first two, maybe three, episodes. Just so you all don’t end up in the same position, the story is set in Japan roughly a thousand years into the future.

And that’s the interesting part. When you think of a dystopian future, you think dirty city streets, lined with buildings that light up the night sky and advance technology decades ahead of us. That’s not Kamisu 66 at all. It’s humble and quaint but also very unsettling. It’s a fascinating world where what’s left of humankind has reverted into isolated villages, with the most technologically advanced items being a single turntable, PA system, and decayed remnants of our own time.

It’s a unique take on what would happen if people in modern day society suddenly acquire the powers to manipulate matter and disintegrate other human beings. No hero-worshipping. No hero academy coexisting with the rest of society. No visits from Nick Fury to discuss the Avengers initiative.

Image by A-1 Pictures, Hanabee, and Sentai Films.

Image by A-1 Pictures, Hanabee, and Sentai Films.

Characters

Shinsekai Yori is a character-driven story in the sense that every single interaction, no matter how trivial it may seem, serves a purpose that’ll be more apparent as the plot progresses. However, it does not really build up on most of the characters themselves. While I usually prefer shows that can achieve a good balance of both, I like how the series doesn’t have to rely on character tropes or a Tragic Backstory™ to move the plot. No one is larger than life – not the protagonist, not even the strongest villager, rumored to be so powerful that he could split the earth in half.

Unlike most protagonists, Saki doesn’t have extraordinary powers or quirks that set her apart from others. By their standards, she’s as ordinary as they get. We observe life in Kamisu 66 through a child’s eye, so we understand just about as much of that world as she does. In other words, not much. And as a twelve-year-old who’s training to control her new powers, there’s a limit to what she and her friends can do. We don’t see rapid development through sudden life-changing events, power-ups and epiphanies, but with the realistic passage of time as she gradually makes sense of the various encounters and trials in her life.

Then there’s the antagonist, who is arguably the most interesting character in the show. He’s well-written, well-developed, and well-casted – props to Daisuke Namikawa and his vocal range. Everything this character does, no matter how harmless they appear, will make you feel uneasy. He’s a downright despicable character, but one who’s motivated by something that makes us all human. You don’t deny the wrongness of his doings, but his reasoning is too realistic to pass him up as just another villain hell-bent on creating terror.

Art

LOL.

Music

Just kidding. The animation is unusual, to say the least, but I think it actually enhances the uneasy and macabre vibes Shinsekai Yori gives off. The characters appear flat, but the design itself is unique. The backgrounds are absolutely breathtaking, as expected of A-1 Pictures. Keep in mind, A-1 also had an immensely popular project released that same year *cough*Sword Art Online*cough*, so it looked like most of the budget went towards that.

 
Image by A-1 Pictures, Hanabee, and Sentai Films.

Image by A-1 Pictures, Hanabee, and Sentai Films.

 

The animation suffered during the fifth episode, which almost put me off watching the series. It’s so inconsistent and distracting that I couldn’t focus on what’s going on in the episode. And that’s such as shame because episode five is a huge turning point for the show’s plot. The exact same could be said about episode 10, which had the same guest director.

Setting those two episodes aside, I did like the animation for the most part. It has a somewhat flat, low budget feel that complements the unsettling story. It’s not too detailed nor half-assed, and animation for the last few episodes is stunning.

Music

The soundtrack for Shinsekai Yori does a superb job of setting the mood and catapulting you into the scenes through a unique and diverse track list. You have the tracks with percussions and vocal chants that send chills down your spine. Then, there’s the outlandish battle music that sounds like it belongs in an arcade game but somehow works surprisingly well. And of course, you have the cacophonic tracks that make you feel like you’re walking down a dark corridor in a horror movie. They even threw in Antonin Dvorak’s 2nd Movement from the New World Symphony multiple times, which not only creates a nostalgic atmosphere but acts as the English title of the series.

Shinsekai Yori actually doesn’t have an opening theme – they simply jump straight into the story to make every second count. It does, however, have two ending themes. The first one is “Wareta Ringo” by Risa Taneda, Saki’s voice actress. That one’s my favorite of the two and something I had on repeat for a while. “Yuki ni Saku Hana” is the second ending, performed by Kana Hanazawa who voiced Maria.

Enjoyment

I didn’t expect to enjoy this nearly as much as I did, but boy was Shinsekai Yori one rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve never been so immersed into a world that, despite all the powers and grotesque creatures, felt so real and worryingly possible to some extent. It’s dark and depressing at times, but the buildup to the ending is beautifully executed and no threads are left untied. By the end of it, I was lost for words. That being said, it’s not for everyone – you’ll either love it or hate it. You just have to see for yourself.

TL;DR

Shinsekai Yori is an extraordinary coming of age story with a unique dystopian setting, some of the best storytelling I’ve seen in anime, strong character interactions that define the story, and a unique direction in music and art that adds to the melancholy of the series.

Overall, I give Shinsekai Yori a solid 9.5 out of 10 and a cozy spot in my top five anime, where it’ll be staying for a while. If you love sci-fi, dystopian future, or straight up superb storytelling with moral ambiguity done right, I highly recommend this series. It pushes the boundaries of what anime is capable of and leaves a lasting impression.

I think this is the second longest post I’ve written so far. I can’t help it – I enjoy talking about shows that I love. If there’s a series you’d like to see a review of in the future, feel free to send me a comment or a message. I’ll most likely be more than happy to check it out (if I haven’t already) and write about it. I say most likely because there are some questionable shows out there. You know which ones I’m talking about.