Shin Sekai Yori is a 25-episode series produced by A-1 Pictures and released by Aniplex. Shin Sekai Yori had by far the most intriguing storyline of any anime I’ve seen recently, but it lacked in other areas, which prevented the series from becoming a masterpiece. I’m going to do this review a bit differently and look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I can’t imagine anyone watching Shin Sekai Yori and not agree that the story was the best part of the anime. Based on a novel by the same title written by Yusuke Kishi, it is set a thousand years in the future. The human population has been devastated by war between normal humans and humans with telekinetic powers. Civilization has now degraded to small towns and villages resembling ancient Japan. The education system is designed to raise children to use their powers appropriately and Shin Sekai Yori tells the story of one of those children, Saki Watanabe.
The delivery of the story was done extremely well. Everything about the world is seen and told through Saki, allowing the viewer to discover the world as she discovers it. Not only that, but it also conveys the shock that she experiences throughout her life as she discovers the truth behind her society. Throughout the series you’re left wondering “what are they hiding?” and whenever Saki makes a discovery or revelation, you’re filled with mixed feelings of logically knowing that some action was the right thing to do, but at the same time morally wrong.
The story covers aspects that many anime can only dream of touching on. I’ve already written a post detailing the ethics of eugenic practice, but Shin Sekai Yori also enlightens viewers to issues surrounding security vs. freedom, sex and relationships, equality, democracy, and class warfare. Saki’s observations are thought-provoking and bring out discussion amongst the intellectuals in the audience. Almost every episode leaves you on the edge of your seat wanting more, not to see a big fight, but to learn more about the foundations of Saki’s society. If I had to compare Shin Sekai Yori to classic literature, I’d say it’s the 1984 of modern anime.
In the past I would’ve said that a good story can carry any anime regardless of any other aspects of it; Shin Sekai Yori proved me wrong. The beginning of the series was so slow and seemingly pointless that I ended up dropping it after a few episodes. It wasn’t until news of the revelations in the 4th episode spread across the internet that I decided to pick up the series again. After completing the series, I now realize how important the first episodes were to establishing the foundations of the world, but it was just delivered is such a way that it didn’t captivate the audience.
The animation was upsetting to say the least. Disregarding changing animation styles, the quality just didn’t compliment the story at all. The series relies heavily on terrorizing the audience with the truth, but also had many opportunities to do the same with violence. Sadly, the animation was at a similar level as mass-produced episodes from series such as Bleach. Much of the time when something violent was happening, the camera was off in the distance so you really don’t see much beyond some figure being torn apart and even when it was closer, it didn’t feel very terrifying.
People tend to hold themselves in high regard in terms of morality and ethics; few would say that they are racist or consider themselves superior to others. Watching Shin Sekai Yori is like the process of polishing a dull mirror, seeing your reflection and realizing how ugly of a person you really are. It lures viewers into empathizing with a character or group while at the same time entices viewers to antagonize another character or group. Once you have fully committed to one side and agree with its ideals, Shin Sekai Yori flips everything around and suddenly reveals how terrible of a person you are for judging the characters like you did.
The beauty of these flips is that they are perfectly set up so you are never surprised that they happened, but you are shocked that you didn’t see the truth before. There are characters described as monsters in Shin Sekai Yori, but really, the only monster here is you, the viewer.
Shin Sekai Yori has a very strong, captivating story once you get past the first few episodes. It could’ve done better with the delivery and atmosphere, but the message it gives still comes across strong: don’t judge others based on your own prejudices and instead learn to understand their circumstances. I know this series isn’t for everyone, but I still highly recommend Shin Sekai Yori.
P.S. Even if you don’t watch Shin Sekai Yori, at least listen to the first ending song, it’s one of my favourites.