The Hunter and the Hunted; Shin Sekai Yori Episode 5

illegenes: Today we are going to talk about how much I love Shigeyasu Yamauchi.

To begin with: for those who aren’t familiar with Shigeyasu’s work, I’d suggest taking a look at some of the shows he’s worked on – mainly Casshern Sins, which Steven is currently reviewing! There are a lot of similarities to be found, as seen here:

and here (from Penguindrum Episode 18, which Shigeyasu also worked on.)

The experience may have been jarring for some in this week’s episode, but I can tell you that it was every bit as wonderful as I expected. After all, Shinsekai is very much an experimental anime, on both a textual and visual level. Each episode so far has had a different group of animators and thus there’s a slight difference in style for each installment, and this week’s episode’s style had a very specific purpose, rather than being the flop that many others claim it to be. For me, this episode was less of an exclusive look on world building (though some crucial information was given) and more of a focus on the world that the children see and movement of the episode itself. Shigeyasu’s love for using muddled, dull colors with saturated monotones and of course, dynamic camera angles and close face-shots were all over this week’s episode, and it really adds to the whole purpose and effect he was striving for (and succeeded, in my opinion).

There are four key trends to be found: leg shots, close up face shots, camera angles, and color palettes.

Whereas most animation directors focus on hands, eyes, or mouths, Shigeyasu bluntly focuses on the legs for this week’s episode for two very important reasons. The first reason is that this episode, unlike the previous four, is much more mechanical in its direction; movement is stressed here as most of the scenes involve running, chasing, or escaping. Keeping the camera on the legs isn’t just to give the sense of desperation or keep the motion going on a visual level, but it’s also to express the tension of the characters themselves, which brings us to the second reason. Just as hands reveal the way we feel about something or someone, leg movement is essential in displaying how these two interact with one another and the world around them. In Casshern Sins for example, Casshern’s way of fighting is as brutal as it is significant and beautiful. His body is lean, balanced and almost too perfect to the point where his moves are almost like a ballerina on a stage. Here, in Shinsekai, we get a similar feeling – there is a sense of urgency as our two protagonists run for their lives, but the way they balance themselves and land gives us moments of how they are really feeling, in a very artistic fashion. From the way Satoru’s legs tremble before dashing out to hide into the queerat’s nest with fearless determination, or the way Saki’s feet nearly give way from impact as she tries to escape from the queerats who are chasing her; all of these little details create a unique and dynamic style of body language.

Shigeyasu also loves to play with camera angle and close-ups, especially from a diagonal/skewed perspective.  Most of the shots in Episode 5 are consistently short and long in focal length which thus paint a very intimate atmosphere. It’s important to understand that Shinsekai is all about dissonance; the first four episodes was about contrasting the peaceful atmosphere of the society with rather disturbing and haunting visuals. We felt claustrophobic and paranoid; that our ever move was being watched, and the tight atmosphere gave us little space to breathe. However, it’s because there were little moments of close-ups that we also felt very distant from what was actually happening. We were given the eyes of an observer, and listened to a quiet Narrator who would drop bad omens at the end. Here, that distant feeling is lost as Saki and Satoru’s faces and bodies cover the entire screen from time to time. Not only that, but the Narrator is lost as well, which breaks the medium that made us observers in the first place. Here, we don’t have that omnipotent power of seeing what’s going on behind the scenes. We see the world from Saki and Satoru’s eyes ourselves, which thus brings a different kind of claustrophobia to the screen. This can be seen with the sexual scene, which is composed mostly of shots of Saki and Satoru’s bodies, faces, necks, and hands. It’s what makes that scene so powerful and raw: we are right there, watching Saki and Satoru’s every move, struggling to move away and give ourselves space but tied to the screen as it pans in, witnessing every intimate act.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? I feel like this claustrophobia was something that was needed because we lacked intimacy with our characters. I’ve complained here and there before that the main weakness of Shinsekai was that I felt no connection to them. What’s great about this episode then, is that I don’t really emotionally connect with Satoru and Saki: I’m forced to connect with them. Their eyes are mine in this episode. I don’t have a choice but to see how they interact with each other and the mysterious setting around them. It just goes to show how much power an animator has in directing the bond between the audience and the show itself. Art is a critical medium in understanding how our characters play off each other in Shinsekai, and Shigeyasu makes sure we remember this by making sure we never take our eyes off these two for one second.

If camera angles and close ups create intimacy between the audience and the characters (and between Saki and Satoru), then color palette emphasizes the surreal nature of this episode. Shinsekai has relied on gradient maps for the first four episodes: from vivid oranges to pinkish reds, and then from saturated violets to dark navy blues. This episode takes a step away from that as it focuses more on monochrome, a signature mark of Shigeyasu. Monochrome sets up certain moods for each scene, as shown with the second row of caps up above. The cap on the left creates a much darker, more mysterious and unreal atmosphere. The cap on the right gives a more apocalyptic and natural feeling. Likewise, the third row shows a difference in atmosphere; the mellowed out, dull colors contrasted with the cool and vibrant blues really establish a difference in ambience. With everything in one shade or hue of a certain color or the other, Shinsekai invites a dream-like substance to its animation. After all, monochrome is a unique approach to art: it is more or less a signal of simplicity as well as primitive and basic feeling, which goes hand in hand with the nature of this week’s episode. It’s a perfect match.

Bringing all of these elements into one pot, we find that the animation in this episode isn’t just about movement, mood variation and a focus on subtle character interaction. These first four episodes was all about the scales of balance; here, that balance is disrupted and our cast falls into chaos. Abandoned by the very society which has betrayed them on every level, they are thrust into a new world driven by a new set of carefully chosen rules: nature’s way of strengthening, or survival of the fittest. Shigeyasu uses this change of the scales to his own advantage in giving us a distinctive perspective on how these children are struggling to live and make sense of this new and unworldly setting around them, and it works.

wendeego: “No. We aren’t monkeys.”

Weirdly enough, my favorite moment in this episode was supposedly done very differently in the novel. Note: when compelled by her conditioning to have sex with Satoru, Saki briefly resists but then weighs the pros and cons, and eventually gives in. They then have graphic sex until they realize that they are being watched by a queerat guard, and stop as a result. I can’t say whether this take on the scene is better or worse, as I haven’t read any of the novel and its take on the scene could work perfectly well if built up to properly. That said, for a consensual sex scene between twelve year olds triggered by gene splicing but halted at the last minute, I thought that Shigeyasu and co. did a bang-up job of it. But more than that, it proved our heroes’s first true strike against the system, and proof that Saki is more than just  a mild-mannered moeblob from the future.

Many people have expressed confusion over this episode’s almost-sex scene, questioning where on earth any sexual tension between Saki and Satoru came from in the first place. I think the answer is that the partners ultimately didn’t matter. If Saki and Shun were there, they would have had sex. If Maria and Saki were there, they would have had sex. Same with Maria and Satoru. It was heavily implied in this episode that sexual intercourse in this society is a conditioned response to deal with extreme stress, and so Saki and Satoru nearly making out–at least the way the show portrayed it–wasn’t so much an issue of releasing pent-up feelings, as it was immediately leaping into the role prescribed to them by society. In this case, sex would have been the easy way out. Which is why it is so remarkable that when push came to shove, Saki refused to go through with it.

Initially, the characters of Shinsekai have been pretty thinly developed, working as stereotypical schoolkids and not much else. But with the previous episode and this one they’ve gradually been developing individuality, and this episode might have been Saki’s defining moment thus far. Satoru did not realize what was happening to him. Another of the kids might have been similarly blinded. But not only was Saki clear-minded enough to realize exactly what her own body was doing to her, but had enough strength of will to keep herself from going through with it as well. Technically, Saki and co.’s first strike at ignorance was their questioning of the false minoshiro. But that was an accident, driven by childish curiosity and excitement. Saki’s moment of refusal here marks the first time she has come up to the precipice of societal compromise, and turned away. It’s a series landmark, as well as evidence of both how much she has changed and how much capacity she has to grow into a stronger person.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with sex! It’s a natural thing that people do all the time, and to top it off Saki and Shun’s almost-intercourse was pretty consensual for an anime released in this Fall season. But look at the act as a reaction caused by excessive stress, a means engineered by society to control the individual, and Saki’s decision becomes clear. Saki is only twelve years old, but in that moment she made a decision that would have sorely tested anybody twice or three times her age. Our cast of children are beginning to grow up, and I’m excited to see where this story takes them.

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