illegenes: Episodes 15 and 16 are a sharp contrast to one another. If 15 was an episode set to “Climbing up the Walls” by Radiohead, 16 was yet another Pablo Neruda poem displayed visually and emotionally, though not through Shigeyasu’s lens this time. Each are important and distinctive in their own way, painting a portrait of both the queerat and human’s cruelty.
Episode 15 gives us a temporary break from the search for Mamoru and Maria, as it focuses more on the queerats and the development of their society, and a frightening revelation at that. We’ve gotten hints that the queerats might have been descendants of the non-PK human population since Episode 4, but it was only with Episode 16 that this was somewhat confirmed. Queerats’ bone structures are very similar to the PK users, and if I’m not mistaken, the reason why they’ve evolved into an almost rat-like form (remember: rats share 99% of genes with human beings in our current form) is because they’ve been forced to shun themselves out of a technology-filled world and return back to a primal, natural state. That said, this doesn’t mean their brain capacity has diminished. They just live in a very different society than ours.
An evolving society, I might add. The frightened, squeamish Squealer is no longer: he is replaced with a much more self-assured, confident Yakomaru, leader of the Robber Fly colony. The structure of the queerat colonies is hierarchical as we saw in the previous episodes, the queerats tend to follow a format similar to a bee colony; the Queen produces the offspring, and the offspring help nurture and take care of the Queen. We could say that this is almost like a monarchy, and that Yakomaru/Squealer offers the most ideal solution: to break down this monarchy, and to reconstruct it as a democracy. Since most of us live in a country ruled by democracy- the most comfortable type among the many that exist in this world – we’re obviously accustomed to agreeing with this solution. But as we’ve seen in recent events, democracy isn’t the perfect resolution. And it’s here that we also see that democracy may not be the perfect environment for the queerats, or rather, their methods of obtaining democracy and privilege are rather immoral.
To argue if the queerats deserve democracy or not is pointless – as I understand it, queerats have been abused, stripped of rights, and been labelled as nothing more than mere slaves for the PK population. (I am not a queerat, nor do I speak for Queerat Rights™ so I cannot talk about the exact context of lacking privilege in Shinsekai‘s society). However, I can say, that as someone who has personally faced racism and is a minority, that institutionalized oppression is something that should always be fought against. I don’t think Shinsekai seeks to talk about privilege, oppression, or race issues, but I do think that it tries to compare and contrast a society that’s deprived of knowledge and is ironically evolving much faster than a society which has regressed despite accessing knowledge and the history of its people (just look at how the armor for the queerats and their housing material has rapidly changed). Whereas the PK’s society fears its next generation, the queerats fear their previous generation – the Queen – and both undergo cruel and unethical procedures to ensure the survival and safety of the fittest. The fear for the PK’s society, however, is the fact that the leaders do have all of the power. There is no democracy in the PK society; it is a monarchy, ruled with an iron fist. But the queerats – specifically Squealer and his lack of empathy – are no different. They have upturned their monarchy, much like the PK users upturned the state of society 1000 years ago, only to react to the same fear, but with different methods and expectations. The queerats still fight against one another, hoping to conquer and please the gods. And the Boards/Committees in the PK society still nervously await to see which egg hatches next to become a Karma Demon or Fiend. Now that both wield the strongest power of all – knowledge – how will each society use it? Is the imminent conflict that draws near a clash of ideals – how we should wield knowledge, but also how we should form society for both the powerful and powerless? Is there a way to satisfy the needs and desires of the majority, but to represent and satisfy the needs of a minority?
Shin Sekai has been an excellent investigation into the inherent problems of society so far, and I eagerly look forward to the answers it gives us – that is, if it has any.
wendeego: Episode 15 was great, but episode 16 of Shinsekai might have been the most confident in the series. It didn’t quite reach Shigeyasu’s level of craft in episode 10, but I would venture to say that it is the best that the series’s main staff has accomplished within the show’s framework. It is visually gorgeous, well-paced and (save for Shun’s demise in episode 10) probably the most emotionally affecting episode of the series to date.
Up to this point, it’s been clear that the director and staff of Shinsekai were journeymen rather than experienced craftsmen. If the show had some remarkable highs, it was also riddled with inconsistencies ranging from art, to pacing, even to tone and approach. Shinsekai does not attempt to hide that it is a composite project rather than one driven by an auteur, a sandbox for talented animators to play in–witness the history segments early in the series, or even how the series and episode title is introduced differently in each episode–but if this encouraged creativity on behalf of the staff, it also lead to any number of small errors and mistakes committed on their behalf. None of it has been enough to sink the show, of course, but up to this point, while there have been many admirable things about Shinsekai it always felt like it was trying to find its feet.
Episode 16 of Shinsekai is the first episode not done by Shigeyasu where I’ve felt like the staff knew exactly what they were doing, and executed everything to the specifications they wanted. Not only did it somehow make several minutes of exposition some of the most heartrending footage in series, but it also threw in some pretty crucial character background for Saki, Maria and even Satoru in the bargain. I almost wish that the series gave us all this context to begin with, as it would have done wonders for defining the characters so that we the viewers could really care, more than we currently are, about the grievous suffering inflicted upon them by an uncaring world. As it stands, though, I think that the staff threw us this bone just before it was too late, managing to make Maria and Mamoru’s disappearance–not to mention acknowledging the shadow of Shun’s death–emotionally relevant in a way that many of Shinsekai’s earlier episodes have failed to inspire.
I do think it’s interesting that up to this point, the best episodes in the series have basically been montage-driven exposition. Episode 10 is probably the best episode of the series due to the direction and the sheer strength of the aesthetics in play, but episode 4 should also be commended for visually tying together the show’s past history in a way that never came off as dry or by the books. If anything, Episode 16–with Maria’s monologue, Saki and Satoru skiing through the wilderness, Saki’s dream–really demonstrates that the staff of Shinsekai are masters at conveying information through both dialogue and visuals at once, often setting up multiple levels of meaning simultaneously. It’s really phenomenal stuff, and conveys great skill on behalf of the show’s staff even if they’ve made some occasionally bewildering decisions over its run.
All that having been said, I think this is the first time that I’ve been truly confident that the creators of Shinsekai know where they’re going. The series has set itself up for a pretty phenomenal endgame, and while I can’t guess what’s going to happen after the incoming time loop, I’m (almost) certain it’s going to be a doozy. I would love if Shigeyasu came back and directed another episode (maybe the finale?) but if the staff can keep up this level of competence then I’m starting to think it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he didn’t. This might just be a one-off spark of competence, soon followed by a drastic fall in quality, but if Shinsekai’s staff can join what they’ve achieved here to the crazy risk taking of the Shinsekai adaptation in general, then we might be in for something pretty great.