You Are (Not) Alone; Shin Sekai Yori Episodes 13 -14

ssy13-14

illegenes:  While these two episodes may have dragged a little for me, in retrospect, they contained some valuable information and theory that might just prove essential to predicting where Shinsekai is heading next.

If Episode 13 was the slow ride up the hill to the climax, Episode 14 was the calm just before the storm; sure, we spent a good 40 minutes finding Mamoru only to find out that Saki is tasked with bringing them back to the village, but to me, the most interesting points were between Saki and her Dumbledore, Tomiko-san. Two questions are raised: why Mamoru, and how does such a frail society protect itself from the very thing it holds within as a danger?

It’s a serious dilemma, if not a blatant flaw in the way Shinsekai‘s society is regulated. If Tomiko-san says that a human being, with the infinite power of the Cantus (equivalent to the boundless stretches of the human consciousness, governed by memory, intellect, and emotion alone) is the ‘nuclear bomb’ for society, then wouldn’t Mamoru be the exact individual not to take out? Mamoru constantly shields himself from danger; he chooses to live in ignorance, knowing that it is blissful and keeps him safe. These qualities would make him an ideal citizen for the society that Satoru, Maria and Saki live in. He is in other words, a docile lamb. We could almost say that Mamoru is the constant in the experiment; while Saki and the others were given free thought, thus making them more prone to becoming Fiends or Demons, Mamoru was the one who chose not to think outside the boundaries. At the same time, his fear does not break him, nor does it make him weak. He’s perfectly average. So why is it, that the Educational Board decides to remove him from society? Are the leaders of society so bound by paranoia that they make a mistake? Or has Mamoru’s decent into madness already started, and has just been overlooked by his companions? Delving deeper into this question, we find a certain truth that’s been at the center of the show since day one.

Human will (both the conscious and the subconscious) is indomitable. Yes, it is shaped freely by nature and nurture – at this point, choosing which one matters more is almost trivial as the show examines it as a mix of both survival traits and cultural/social molds. But our will to live and to live for reason or emotion is independent of our mortality. This wouldn’t have been a problem in regular, outdated times, but in the world of Shinsekai where the will is linked to a limitless power, humans are just as Tomiko-san says they are. What this leads to is this – how should we shape human will so that it does not become a threat to the rest of the crowd? On one extreme, Shinsekai desperately tries to contain every aspect of this will  through repeated brainwashing and a highly controlled environment.  The result is a society where fear and paranoia reside; where Shun turns into a Karma Demon, because his power is so tightly bound that it spirals out of control. On the other extreme, Group 1 is given free reign, which allows for free thought: a hazard which could make Mamoru turn into a Fiend – a separate individual whose line of thinking does not coincide with the main population. With these two ends resulting in only failure, we only have two options before us: humanity is doomed to fall at its own hands, or that there is another way to balance these two. I believe that despite the recent storm of tragedies, Shinsekai has an uplifting but bittersweet message to come, and thus I think that the answer is the latter, and that the key is Saki herself: a perfect balance between reigning in the emotions and releasing them at the correct time. We aren’t monkeys, nor are we robots – and while the path may be fraught with danger and sacrifice, I truly believe that in the end, it will be Saki who breaks the customs that have been rooting the people in this society with fear.

wendeego: What became of Group A, our protagonists as well as an experimental group created to test the value of free will? Let’s take roll. Shun became a karma demon. Mamoru retreated into his shell, undone by his own fears. Maria could very well be on the brink of becoming a fiend and fulfilling Saki’s prophecy from the series’s beginning. That leaves Saki and Satoru. Saki is an unqualified success, able to bring together societal control and her own intuition to great effect. Meanwhile, Satoru is a wild card. I can imagine that Mamoru and Maria will perish while Saki survives, but I have no idea what role Satoru will play; in his adventures with Saki in the queerat colonies he showed great initiative but also demonstrated the corrupting power of PK.

It’s clear from this point that the society of Shinsekai has been far more successful at manipulating the protagonists than we the viewers have previously assumed. It’s unlikely that they themselves introduced the kids to the false minoshiro, but they certainly didn’t take steps to prevent it. The authority may be imperfect–see the blind inflexibility of the Educational branch–but the smarts and casualty immorality of Satoru’s aunt immediately marks Shinsekai’s establishment as a force to be reckoned with. Saki’s already half-enchanted by Satoru’s aunt, lead to believe that it is her destiny to succeed her place and become the leader of her people; even worse, that it is only that destiny that is keeping her alive as everything goes wrong around her. She needs to remember, though, that as powerful as ritual might be, the key to remaining afloat is ultimately human ingenuity. Saki’s own intuition has served her well thus far, but whether it will take her to freedom or ultimately maneuver her into hell or worse remains in doubt.

To be honest, I almost wish that up to this point we the viewers had received a better picture of the other children, those who lacked free will. We’ve certainly seen bits of pieces of them, but other than the fact that the protagonists seem much more experienced overall, very little appears to separate those who have free will from those who lack it. Maybe it’s better that Shinsekai errs on the side of subtlety, but at the same time I think it might have been fascinating had the series depicted what form free will takes, exactly: whether it burns from the eyes of the afflicted, hangs over the head like a cloud or is invisible. As it stands, it’s an unusual missed opportunity from a series that has been constantly expanding from its very first episode, growing from an eerie tale of a closed society to an epic that plunges into the darkest corners of human nature.

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5 responses to “You Are (Not) Alone; Shin Sekai Yori Episodes 13 -14

  1. Mamoru was definitely not as bad as Reiko when it came to skill and academics, but I think 2 specific things affected his psyche – 1) The run in with the false minoshiro which very evidently disturbed him. He just couldn’t accept what he was hearing. 2) During the time jump to when they are 14, it is very evident that he has been sidelined by the rest, Maria specifically.
    My guess is that this, in addition to the fear of being gotten rid of (a fear other students don’t face) got to his head. He drew into himself. Karma Demon material.

  2. I thought that the first episode with Tomiko did a good job of indirectly explaining why Mamoru is being targeted. If I remember right, Tomiko noted that sadly the people most likely to become Karma Demons are precisely the people who are otherwise the most harmless, the nice, quiet, meek ones with a low power level. Shun is presumably a huge exception to this rule (my theory is that he simply had too much power, so even a low level of subconscious leakage was enough to be deadly). Mamoru is a pretty good fit for this ‘vulnerable to becoming a Karma Demon’ profile and the moment he said he was being targeted I had a sinking feeling that it made total sense.

    (I can come up with hand-waving theories about why and how such low power and low will people would be the vulnerable ones.)

    • That’s true! And I do remember that; I would actually agree with you, but my main problem is that Mamoru’s power level isn’t really described as “low”? It’s more along the level of normal, according to Satoru. Whereas the first girl (I think her name was Reiko) continued to fail her studies, or do very poorly in them, Mamoru actually is quite good at using the ‘painting’ method that Reiko failed in.

      As for harmless, nice and quiet, I do agree with that, but as for low-will; we could argue that Saki’s mother is very low-willed, but hasn’t been thrown out of society at all. She’s very weak, almost dispirited in a sense, but she’s allowed to live because she follows the rules. We know that Mamoru would do the same, because he is also very timid and low-willed. Thus I believe that he’s the ideal candidate for living in Shin Sekai’s dystopian world. Had Mamoru begun to fail his studies, I wouldn’t ask the question, but the thing is, he hasn’t (and if he did, he would have been eliminated long ago).

      • If anything Natasha, I think that it is because that Mamoru has free-will yet remains a docile lamb that he is being targeted; he is a lamb, but not the kind of lamb they want. Is there a place in Shin Sekai Yori’s society for someone who is endowed with the power of complete free-will yet unwilling to exercise it as a lion? — I would say no.

        • But the thing is that Tomiko-san says that the problem with a free-willed, unwilling candidate would only be for the ‘leadership’ area. Remember, the experiment on Group 1 only was performed with the intent to create leaders for Shin Sekai’s society. So yes, Mamoru is not really the best candidate for leadership, but I still feel like he was fine as an ideal citizen? I may be just going into specifics though.

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