From the New World: Through Horror, Calamity, & the Truth | OWLS “Journey”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s eighth monthly topic for 2018, “Journey,” I definitely wanted to hone my focus on one of anime’s true bests. Originally intended to be a post on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (since I had just finished rewatching it and it’s not everyday you can say “I managed to fit in a rewatch of a 64-episode show!”), another fellow OWLS member snatched it up for the taking. I know she’ll do a nice job over it though, and that makes me very excited!

Anyway, that’s why I ended up going with another series I just happened to be rewatching with my siblings: Shinsekai Yori or From the New World, a bizarre dystopian sci-fi/fantasy series that I actually covered way back in, what, 2015? You can read my fresh, immature thoughts over the series here if you enjoy the prospect of knowing what young Takuto was like! *shudders as a single tear falls down face*

We have all heard this saying in some shape or form: “Life is a journey.” We travel down a path hoping that we reach a goal or destination, but the travel in getting there isn’t always easy. Along the way, we encounter some personal struggles. It is in those moments where we must overcome an adversity to complete our journey or take a different route or path instead. In this month’s OWLS post, we will be discussing the personal journeys of pop culture creators, icons, and characters. We will explore the journeys that these characters went through, discuss the process and experiences they had on their journeys, acknowledge what they discover about themselves, or share our own personal journeys.

Seeing as how I’ve already covered the series before, this won’t be my typical review and life reflection 2-in-1 post. Instead, I’ll dive straight into the heart of the matter and dedicate this entire analytical post toward the story’s main character, a girl whom we follow from the youth of adolescence to the ripe ages of adulthood—and all the messiness in between. Thanks Mel for the adventurous prompt this month, and Lyn for turning such a simple word into a universe of thought worth exploring!

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A brief discussion on the 25-episode fall 2012 anime “From the New World,” animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Masashi Ishihama, and based on Yusuke Kishi’s novel of the same name. Specifically, this will be a light character essay on the main female lead, Saki Watanabe. What she learns over the course of her journey—and more importantly, what she does with this new, scary knowledge—stands as attest to both humanity’s innate barbarity and its determination to pursue justice through truth—even if the truth can be the cruelest thing of all. 

Spoilers will be marked, although you should just do yourself a favor and watch this series!

A Preface to the Madness

Shinsekai Yori tells the unique coming-of-age story of Saki and her friends as they journey to grow into their roles in the supposed utopia. Accepting these roles, however, might not come easy when faced with the dark and shocking truths of society, and the impending havoc born from the new world.

(Source: MyAnimeList)

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Adolescence

Rules, Roles, Law and Order, Crime and Punishment


We open this story of a young girl and her five precious friends growing up in the 31st century with the induction of Saki Watanabe into society. Her psychic powers are sealed away only to be released back to her a moment later, perhaps to prove that the Ethics and Education Committees had absolute control of the average citizen’s entire life from the start. Made up by select adult village members of Kamisu 66 and the surrounding areas, these councils govern not only the flow of power, but of knowledge, too. A small population living in an idyllic area holding power above all, culling the weakest in education, and secretly disposing any child that failed to fit the mold—that was the true reality. While times were peaceful then, fear still snuck its way into Saki’s heart when one of her friends suddenly disappeared one day. “She was always a bit frail. Maybe the trickster cat got her?” Thus began Saki’s series of revelations, heartache, and confusion in the dark.

Rather than a sci-fi action show about revolution or a drama full of romance, From the New World is more a commentary on the fallacies of conservatism and how a society can actually be harmed by perpetuation and stagnation. This first arc happily entertains us with games of clay rollers and paper dolls, but also frightens us with things we do not know, cannot explain, and cannot comprehend, much like what we experience during childhood. “If only I had known ‘this,’ or if only I had prevented ‘that’ none of this would’ve happened.” A story told in flashback as a first person narrative, Saki reflects on how painful her youth really was now that she knows the truths surrounding her innocent circumstance.

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The foreshadowing builds when Saki and the rest of Group One (comprised of her closest friends, the other main characters) venture off the main path into forbidden territory during a school camping trip. Together, they enjoy their friendship and freedom, rowing past the safe areas in search of monsters, but what they find is much worse than what they imagined: a False Minoshiro, a walking digital library of information disguised as a creature of nature. At the children’s’ threatening request, the False Minoshiro leaks startling info regarding the world around them, such as how their society came to be and the violence and bloodshed humanity had encountered in the past millennium. Scarred and left in utter disbelief, the oriented narrative of history proves itself a guiding theme through this shocking discovery.

Then, the hero descends into the underworld; a clan of monster rats, a lower race of rat people that look up to humans as gods for their incredible powers, captures Saki and Satoru. And as fate would have it, it was there in that forest where they met Squealer, a pathetic little monster rat who spoke their language and helped them escape. Setting the groundwork for everything to come, adult Saki closes out the adolescence arc reminiscing on their ill-fated meeting not with anger and hatred, but a bitter regret for her own ignorance.

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The Teenage Years

Independence, Self-Advancement, Personality, Free Will


Beginning with scenes of teenagers of the same gender holding hands and openly making out on the grass, this next arc ushers in new emotions besides fear: deceit, desire, malice, envy, lust, and love. Just as the False Minoshiro predicted, humans, like their genetic chimpanzee counterparts the bonobos, seek passionate love as a coping mechanism for immense stress relief, hence the sudden changes in behavior. This sexual awakening causes Saki’s inner love and admiration for her friend Maria to develop into a serious relationship; the same goes for Satoru and Shun, and poor Mamoru is left out with unrequited feelings for Maria, ultimately leading to the group’s self-destruction.

– SPOILERS AHEAD – 

Hiding his inability to accurately control his psychic powers, Shun transforms into a karmic demon, or runaway esper, and meets his fate like how the adults taught them to in school: solitary confinement and suicide. His sacrifice saves civilization, but Saki and Satoru are left broken with voids echoing in their hearts. Sometimes we get left behind—but what’s worse is when we have to leave behind others.

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Despite practicing using his psychic powers every day in hopes of both not falling behind the others and getting Maria’s attention, Mamoru’s efforts are not enough. He flees the village, knowing full well that two visits by the trickster cat means certain death. Terrifying thoughts of his well-being race through Group One’s minds, and although they find him salvaged from the snow by a wild monster rat, they know that the matter of simply returning him to the village is out of the question. Bidding farewell, Maria promises to watch over Mamoru in the unknown icy landscape, and the pain of being away from Maria devastates Saki. Did Mamoru let society down, or did society let him down? Saki’s ironclad resolve to change her world begins to take shape—something must be done.

– END OF SPOILERS – 

To top it all off, prior to Mamoru’s departure Saki is met by the mentor, the head of the Ethics Committee (and Satoru’s grandmother) Tomiko Asahina, who shielded Saki and her friends from disposal by the Education Committee for knowing about their true history. Eyeing Saki for her strong mental stability as well as qualities of a leader, Tomiko seeks Saki as her successor. But Tomiko’s knowledge of humanity’s history timed with the revelation as to her sudden memory loss leaves Saki beyond disturbed. Torn between doing what was best for her people, herself, and her long-lost friends, Saki’s youthful days came to an end with the return of an old acquaintance . . .

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Adulthood

Interdependence, Empathy, Intimacy, Self-Awareness, Wise Counsel


– SPOILERS AHEAD – 

Squealer, now the self-proclaimed Yakomaru, has elevated in status from lowly Robber Fly Colony slave to its commander. With their clan’s queen shackled and practically imprisoned, Yakomaru was able to set up a two-house diet similar to humanity’s government. He deceived other clans and conquered them, subverting his intentions when questioned by the board of monster rat management, of which Saki now belongs. His armies were massive, his weapons were civilized, and his speech was greatly improved. In other words, he was ready for his next target.

– END OF SPOILERS – 

By this point, we, along with Saki, had borne witness to humanity’s miracles and carnage alike. At last, we’d understood that rebellious and reformative elements are the biggest interior threats, and that exploitation of those perceived as inferior beings is a grave and serious crime. We’d been tricked time and time again by Squealer, but were we doomed to repeat what our elders did before us? What had we learned? What made this time different?

Joy and sorrow. Loss and loneliness.

Palpitation and stagnation. History and evolution.

Past and future. Death and rebirth. Fear and freedom.

But above all, we’ve understood that to feign ignorance is the greatest crime of all. We can’t keep blaming people for their shortcomings, but instead should help guide them in becoming better. Corruption breeds from within when we close off our minds and our hearts to new peoples and ideas, and while we are weak when we are desperate, we are strong when it counts. People are twisted, easily corrupted, and worst of all, easily scared. To tear the world apart is easy; to put it all back together, not so much—that is what I’ve learned from Saki’s journey.

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A Journey Through Horror and Calamity

“It is always darkest underneath the lamp.” — Old Proverb


Together, we’ve embarked on one of the greatest journeys ever conceived, and I believe it is such because, at its core, From the New World is the story of humanity. Of us, and the terrible, absolutely horrifying things we have done and will continue to do should we look away from the truth. Often, it is closer than we think. Maria once told Saki that “Sometimes, the truth is the cruelest thing of all,” and that “Not everyone could bear it” as easily as she did. Oh, how right she was.

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And now here we are, at the end of the madness and frustration with little chance of success, yet still a sliver of hope. To kill, or to be killed—that and so much more is the subject of the final episode, and I’ll save the rest of it for you to discover on your own. Culminating into a genius story of fearing the unknown and the darkness within us all, From the New World comes right out and says “The one we should be most afraid of is ourselves.” I hope both its sheer violent nature and resounding messages of hope will stick with you, too, for a long time to come. Because this one’s not just an anime—it is a lesson on the human spirit: a cautionary tale for all those in life we change, and all those who change us.

“We have to change our way of thinking if we really want to change the future.” And to those ends, we must safeguard our hearts with an imagination great enough to change everything.

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Imagination has the power to change everything.Final line of From the New World


Afterword

I had to leave out SO MUCH STUFF in order to make it suitable for all readers, and even then, I couldn’t explain some of Saki’s developments without mentioning a couple major spoilers! Sheesh! I’ll never win. Anyway, that’s From the New World in a nutshell . . . NOT. There’s so much more to this incredible masterpiece, and I do hope you get around to this 25-episode thrill ride some day. I’d love to read any of your thoughts about this post in the comments, and if you have seen From the New World, you ought to let me know what you thought of the series! This post is absolute PROOF that I could go on forever about how great it truly is, and how phenomenal Saki is as a protagonist! Seriously, it was such a pleasure getting to revisit this hauntingly beautiful title.

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This concludes my August 7th entry in the OWLS “Journey” blog tour. Shay (Anime Reviewer Girl) went right before me with a video about the adventurous spirit of the Pokemon franchise which you can watch right here! Now, look out for blogger buddy  Matthew Castillo (Matt-in-the-Hat) with a post on Naruto‘s Jiraiya this Thursday, August 9th! Thanks for reading such a long post, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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From the New World Review

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