Hiroaki HirataYuuki KajiRisa TanedaAyumu Murase
From the New World
Also known as: Shinsekai Yori
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2012
Director: Masashi Ishihama
Writer: Masashi Sogo
Actor: Ayumu Murase, Haruka Kudo, Kana Hanazawa, Kanako Tojo, Mai Toudou, Motoki Takagi, Risa Taneda, Yuuki Kaji, Daisuke Namikawa, Hiroaki Hirata, Yoshiko Sakakibara
Keywords: anime, SF
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 25 episodes
Url: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=14089
Website category: Anime early 10s
Review date: 27 March 2023
shinsekai yori
It's based on a 2008 Japanese SF novel that won the Grand Prize of the 29th Nihon SF Taisho Award. I don't know if it's been officially translated into English, but it's spawned this anime and a manga that have both been licensed abroad. Judging by what I watched here, it's also horrible. Fun to be had here: zero. Laughs or even smiles: none. I found it a bit dreary and miserable, albeit also quite impressive in how thoroughly and thoughtfully it tears to shreds what had at first appeared to be a utopia.
It's set a thousand years in the future. Mankind has psychic powers called "Cantus", indistinguishable from magic. If enemies attacked, just one person could flatten a forest, drop a hill on you, etc. At some point, admittedly, this caused the fall of civilisation as we know it, but mankind has recovered and now people live in happy, peaceful villages. They can't violently attack each other, due to something called Attack Inhibition.
They also share the world with a new intelligent species, called queerats. They're ugly (like bipedal naked mole rats) and primitive, but they can still talk and think. They could perhaps be dangerous, but the good news is that they don't have Canto and treat humans as gods.
Our heroes are six children: Saki, Satoru, Shun, Maria, Mamoru and Reiko. The story's divided into three parts. In part 1, they're 12 years old. A summer camp goes wrong. In part 2, the survivors are 14 years old and back at school, still honing their psychic powers. Everything might seem okay, but they're nervous. "You're talking about things that are forbidden. You have to stop prying into that." Then, in part 3, the ever fewer survivors are 26 years old and giving us a look at what it's like to be working adults in this ahem, cough, utopia.
To discuss in more detail means SPOILERS.
In part 1, we learn that this society is a totalitarian regime. It's forbidden to know the world's history and if you learn its inconvenient secrets, you might disappear. It's common for children to be disposed of. A new-born baby has a significant chance of never reaching its 18th birthday, since the powers that be might well decide to have it weeded out.
Then, in part 2, we learn why this is necessary. Remember those psychic powers. Imagine all the ways in which that could go wrong, especially when you add teenagers into the mix. There are things called "fiends" and "karma demons", both of which are effectively weapons of mass destruction. We've been shown a sinister-as-hell Orwellian world where wrongthink can get you disposed of... but the horrible thing is that it makes sense, when we see the reasons. The memory-wiping. The death squads. The suppression of free thought. If you were in that position, you'd probably agree that there was no choice but to do the same.
Yes, but.
The problem with this totalitarian outlook is that it normalises horror. People aren't legally regarded as human before they're 18 years old, so that they can more easily be disposed of. This is seen as normal. How do you imagine this society treats the queerats? The humans have a Department of Exospecies Management that monitors them and will occasionally exterminate an entire colony of, say, 300,000 of them. Such decisions will be almost casual, like throwing out a carpet you don't like any more. Alternatively, they might give the queerats permission to go to war with each other, then watch the carnage and keep score.
The humans think that's fair treatment. They think they're being nice to the queerats.
When a queerat faction rediscovers principles like democracy and human rights, you can almost hear the intakes of breath from the Department of Exospecies Management. Did the queerats realise that this is a direct challenge to this human regime? Well, yes. The queerats have realised a lot more than you'd think.
Anyway, all this blows up in the humans' faces and there's probably going to be a genocide. I was cheering for the queerats. Do these humans deserve to survive? No. They're arrogant mass-murdering racists with no self-awareness. ("I don't believe we've treated you badly." Ahem. You went off to annihilate the Robber Fly colony a week ago, didn't you?) The queerats also do disgusting things, e.g. the implied fate of Maria and Mamoru, but at least they weren't doing them while congratulating themselves on their moral superiority.
As a result, the bleakly sort-of happy ending is more depressing than an out-and-out apocalypse would have been. Wipe out these humans, please! Do they deserve life? Our heroes, yes, but even they'd hardly been perfect when they were young. See their tendencies as children to look for the most violent solution. The downfall of this story's "villain" could also be described as the never-ending torture of the only character in the show to have defended and stood up for recognisable ethical principles. To be honest, though, it's hard to sympathise with either side.
There's also a plot hole. Yakomaru's trump card is defeated by death feedback, which is logical until you wonder why that hadn't kicked in when doing exactly the same thing to 100,000 enemies on the battlefield only a few days earlier.
Did I enjoy this series? Hell no. But it gave me lots to think about. It's thoughtful and dark as hell. I can see why the novel won a literary prize. (The animation, though, is a mixed bag. In some ways, it's beautiful... but the art is flat and almost crude when it comes to faces.) I'd definitely recommend this series to SF fiends and anyone else who likes this kind of story, but don't expect to have the tiniest ounce of fun while watching it.