Saturday, March 23, 2013

Shin Sekai Yori - Series Review

Year: 2012 - 2013
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Genre: mystery, sci-fi, psychological, romance, horror

Synopsis: [ANN: Shin Sekai Yori]
"In the future Japan has become a fractured country, and small towns now exist. The rulers of this world have the cursed power of Telekinesis. When an incident occurs, 5 children come to realize the world is not as it seems, and learn the bloody history behind this world. These 5 children unite and help the world as it falls into a downward spiral of chaos."

Series like Shin Sekai Yori is the reason why I watch anime. I had expectations for this series even from the start, but it managed to exceed my expectations in the most unexpected ways. It's suffice to say that Shin Sekai Yori may be the best anime I've seen in years, it's a masterpiece in every sense of the word. The story goes to some shockingly dark places, and with solid narrative and hauntingly beautiful visuals to back it up, it provided for a truly one of a kind watch experience. I will try to spoil as little as possible in this review, you need to watch it for yourself to understand just how amazing this anime is. 

In truth, I was captivated by the suspenseful ambiance of the story since day one. It wasn't so much what went on in the first couple of episodes that pulled in me, although that was fascinating in itself, but more so the sinister undertone and the anticipation of the mysteries yet to come. It was clear that there was a reason for humanity's sheltered existence, perhaps one with the potential to destroy the children's perception of the world they inhabit. The first turning point in the story is the capture of a Minoshiro, through whom the crew learn bits and pieces of humanity's violent past and the ways in which their own society arose from the bloodbath. From an audience point of view, I don't think what the Minoshiro imparted is particularly surprisingly, macabre yes, but nothing I didn't already expect. But of course, like all good stories, the ultimate truth isn't easily obtained – the key to the mystery was withheld from us. 

The monster rats arc is especially eerie because it keeps you on the edge about what they are and which side they stand. I had a hunch they are related to humans in someway, but I'll be honest, I didn't connect the dot until the final piece of information fell into place as the last episode unwrapped the mystery. And boy, when the truth surfaced, I couldn't describe in words just how brilliant that storytelling is. After the crew comes back to the village from their wild expedition, the focus of the story shifts to the PK society itself. Through Shun's tragic fate, we come to discover the dark secrets of humanity through its struggles to sustain a stable population by sacrificing those they deem a threat. It's a fear for their own kind that drove them to lead a precarious existence marked by a state of constant paranoia. Any sympathy I have for their actions doesn't make them less disturbing. At the end of this arc, Mamoru and Maria's disappearance leaves us with another unsolved mystery, one that  would directly impact the events in the concluding chapter. It wasn't a difficult clue to pick up, it would have felt out of synch with the story if Mamoru and Maria didn't have a role, direct or indirect, to play in the impending calamity orchestrated by the monster rats. To avoid spoilers, I won't delve deeper into the specifics. 

In the final chapter of the story, everything comes together quite magnificently. There are so many fantastic, fear-inducing moments that showcase just how well Shin Sekai Yori is at setting up the stage. Besides Monster, this is perhaps the first anime that really chills me to the bones. I could feel my heartbeat accelerate during those tension-strung moments in the wonderfully executed finale. I didn't think it still had so much to offer even in its last episode as it let up the key that connected the beginning to the end. Then, We are faced with the central question: does the end justify the means? The monster rats are the tragic by-product of the need to survive through any radical means. In an ironic twist, the almost-demise of humanity was ultimately brought upon as a result of their own decisions in the past. But perhaps they failed to take note of something fairly important – the innate instinct for survival has been coded in our genetics, just as the PK community wants to thrive, the monster rats wish no less. I felt deeply affected during these last few episodes when I realize there is really no right or wrong in the universe of SSY with so much that has been lost. It would have been less frustrating if I could find someone on whom to lay the blame, but I suppose it's appropriate for a story with the scope and ambition of SSY to end in a moral dilemma. The message here is rather profound – humans are capable of committing themselves to horrible acts in order to survive, but at the same time, there are always individuals who are willing to stand up to injustices and negotiate a better solution. The laughter of children in the end symbolizes hope, something that is truly precious in a story that has constantly reminded us just how bleak reality is. We may never have the answer, but it doesn't stop us from searching. I wouldn't have it any other way with how SSY presented itself in these final moments. 

Well, what can I say, SSY completely screwed with my perception of gender with the bold display of bisexual acts from the characters. I know a lot of people were put off by this, well....please get over your biases, the homosexual element is not there to pander, it is a well justified part of the narrative that should be celebrated, not shunned. (no pun

The animation is beautiful despite its many obvious flaws. The staff clearly had to work around a  small budget, but they delivered something that effectively carried the feeling of the story. Through the  creative use of camera angles, dream-like lighting, limited movements and impressionist art form, the end piece is a rare example of artistry at its finest. I extend my sincere gratitude to the staff and original writer behind this phenomenal work, a job well done. 

All in all, I love this anime to pieces and would recommend it to anyone who wants to enjoy an original story with a coherent and poignant narrative that is not an insult to the viewer's intelligence. With every idea fleshed out and all loose threads tied together beautifully in the end, it still leaves you with food for thought as the credits roll in, that's how you tell a story. Shin Sekai Yori is a memorable masterpiece that I will gladly add to my anime hall of fame.  


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