I always used to think that sci-fi was robots, high-tech cities, and people in black suits shooting guns at other people in black suits. Flying cars, neon lights, and stainless steel, right? Well I’m not all wrong, but I’m certainly not right, as here is Shinsekai Yori (From the New World), a psychological mystery drama that uses themes from the supernatural and the occult to create – yep, you got it – a science fiction anime. Prepare to abandon all sense of worldliness and jump into your traditional Japanese village, where, for some reason, something doesn’t feel quite right . . .
Unknown apocalyptic events have passed which destroyed most of the world. Taking place 1,000 years in the future, we are met with a small Japanese village of humans that have supernatural, psychic Power. Two Committees maintain peace and judgment: Ethics and Education. On the surface, they are the ones maintaining this masterful, humble utopia, but these Committees actually regulate information and manipulate reality in the village. Whether it’s by “banishing” troublesome individuals or even subverting one’s own memories, they will risk any and everything to maintain order.
There’s always this dangerous aura that spurs from the setting, making each and every day in class risky. Adventures outside of the village barrier, which no one is allowed to leave, are hazardous, yes, but exhilarating and unknowing. As far as you know, everything outside the gates is desolate and menacing. Rules upon rules established by the Ethics and Education Committees allow for “thinking in the box only,” and actions that go against these authoritative groups warrant unimaginable punishment. Thus, the theme proven most effective to preserving protection in the village is to use FEAR as a means to influence and control the youth. Well done, From the New World.
Our actual story centers around Saki and her four friends: Satoru, Shun, Mamoru and Maria. We witness the development of their Powers in school (some more than others) and the truths of the real world outside the village. From child to teen to young adult – innocence to rebellion to experienced – we follow five youths that will inspire the drive for hopeful future of change.
What’s obviously the best part of this anime is the particular care that went into telling a great story. It seems that at all times, we are shown only what we need to be seen for the time being, much like a novel, filling holes and uncovering twists at the end of each chapter. Speaking of, the show was based on “Shinsekai Yori,” a Japanese novel by Yusuke Kishi. That’s right, not a light novel, not manga, a “book” book. That explains why the anime feels like something all teachers would make their kids read. It requires that kind of technical thinking.
But it’s not all smooth sailing – no – because like books, each “chapter” of the characters’ lives begins so painfully slow. Told from Saki as the narrator flashing back on the events, the time skips include life at ages 12, 14, 26, and 36. The pace only picks up towards the end of each arc when they decide to info dump us, a reoccurring problem.
Another issue I had with the show was actually the Powers. To what is their extent?? Levitation (of body and objects including giant rocks), pyrokinesis, the ability to reassemble glass, drawing with the mind, creating reflective surfaces out of nothing – seriously! What can they not do? I understand that each person has some sort of practice unique to them, but still, with all things considered, I feel that they could at least be living in a city with their powers rather than some weird collection of occult shanties (no offense). Also, they cannot kill another human due to the “Death of Shame,” a genetic trait which causes them to die instantaneously if they use their powers to kill another . . . umm, I guess it’s conventional, but that’s it.
The characters are developed well enough to identify definite progression since episode one, especially Saki and Satoru, but that development comes with discovering the events that led up to present-day. Well, that and the Monster Rats, humanoid mutant rats that live in colonies and obey the psychic people like gods.
In fact, the most interesting character in the entire series is a Monster Rat known as Squealer, a helper of Saki and Satoru in their early days outside the barrier. I literally can’t say anything due to spoiler’s sake, but do keep an eye on this creepy fellow – he performs some very very commendable acts as a main character . . . some wicked, Machiavellian acts we’ve all seen sometime before . . .
I found the animation by A1-Pictures to be gorgeous: soft sunrises, intense sunsets, luscious forests, and beautiful character designs. While it contributed to the atmosphere of the show marvelously, including the vast difference between the village and “Tokyo,” it’s not 100% satisfaction.
Apparently there was a change in staff when it came to design work and animation around earlier/mid episodes that fluctuated between two totally unlike styles – neither of which were bad, just noticeably different. Another weak point was the Monster Rat Colony fight scenes. The boulders are so CG and glaringly horrendous that I just laughed the whole time!
Sound-wise, hair-raising tracks boost the suspense and inevitable horror. In contrast, subtle adventurous songs for exploring helped establish various moods. A standing ovation, however, goes to “Ienikaeru (Going Home),” which is actually composed by Dvorak and coincidently, from the 2nd Movement (Largo) of the “From the New World” Symphony. Being a classical nut, this tune as the evening “children, return home” theme that plays over speakers in the village completely through me off. One of my all time favorite classical works, on the verge of tears when this played at the end 😥
Oh yeah, Yuki Kaji’s freaking awesome as always, performing the role of Satoru with such strong conviction and youthful stress. Always great to listen to him!
One of the biggest reasons I love From the New World is because it reminds me sooo much of No.6, another one of my first anime that I hold to heart. Soundtrack, dystopia, youth, romance, suspense, thriller, science fiction – it’s got it all, too, but this anime did what No.6 didn’t, and that was deliver with a fulfilling ending. I never, ever got closure from watching that anime a couple of years back, no matter how much I searched for “anime like No.6.” I can finally rest easy.
Despite being just a science fiction story, this anime feels more scary real than anything else I’ve encountered in a long while, and that could be because of its realistic characters and their actions. Its analysis of the human condition through a dark, manipulative plotline adds so much depth and curiosity that you’ll be guessing until that last episode, but no more than that. Why? Because by the end of the show, From the New World does not get very far at all, but it paves the way to a more hopeful future instead, and after all of the wrong, disturbing, and twisted carnage that I bore witness to, I could not ask for more than that.
“We have to change our way of thinking if we really want to change the future.” – Watanabe Saki
+ Mastered storytelling, made gripping and curious until the very end
+ Incorporation of “Going Home” really made the mood shine
+ Thriller tone so realistic like nothing I’ve seen in a long time; fresh, clean slate after viewing
+ Satisfying ending that delivers justice to the show
– Brief animation issues
– Info dumping in the beginning/middle of each new arc made for rugged understanding
Wow, this anime was so hard to talk about! It’s such a beautiful story that you should defiantly check it out. It’s not for everyone, but for those seeking something completely different than the norm and/or are wanting a clean slate by the end, you can watch the whole thing on Crunchyroll for FREE! Thanks so much for reading my emotional report over From the New World, and in fact, thanks world for the joyous experience! Beware the Trickster Cat, and until next time, this has been
– Takuto, your host