illegenes: The new ED of Shinsekai could be considered as a foreshadowing to the impending doom of Maria’s return to the society. But underneath the sadness and heartbreaking nostalgia, there’s a meaningful message about change and versatility – a sign of hope for Saki and the rest of us as Shinsekai comes to its final arc.
If the first ED of Shinsekai was a look at the Buddhist elements of fire and water, then the second ED is a focus on an equally important cultural concept: the four seasons. Specifically speaking, Zen Buddhism takes a deeper look at the four seasons and how their transition unravels inner workings within our own human systems. Much of Zen Buddhism focuses on transition as well as opposing elements – such as yin and yang, and the flow of nature is no exception. As The change of the seasons is a perfect example of how all things in nature must inevitably, go on, and transform, as well as fade. This is only exaggerated with the dramatic changes in Shinsekai‘s second ED along with the flower symbolism.
The second ED – sung by Maria’s VA (which was featured in Episode 16 when showcasing Maria and Saki’s relationship as young children) starts off, interestingly enough, with Winter. Winter is the first season Japan encounters in the year, and is associated with the beginning of the cycle. Thick snow and freezing wind signal death and isolation. It is a time of punishment, and regathering one’s thoughts. For the world of Shinsekai, winter is where Maria and Mamoru must not only struggle to survive the harshest climates, but also to battle loneliness and regret. There’s a certain image of the monolith and a young child, which leads me to speculate that Maria and Mamoru have had a child – a child born out of these feelings of despair and desolation.
But winter suddenly turns into a transition between summer and fall. White turns into a deep red and pink as both a mixture of rose petals, cherry blossoms, and maple leaves fall to the ground. We can all associate red with being the most powerful emotion – a feeling of passion and hatred – as well as pink with the color of love. What was once devoid of color is now full of breathtaking hues and vivid warmth. Summertime is a period of release; the loss of restraint, and to be completely in tune with your surroundings. It is the height of when emotions blossom, after spring. Fall is a time of brief reunion, of preparation, and for farewells, to youth and also the essence of fragility. These images signify a possible reunion between Saki and Maria: one that may reignite the love they once shared, or flicker out due to tragedy. But it also signifies a return to the cycle as winter will come once again.
As Omine Akira once said, “The path to salvation for human beings – the path of genuine human existence – is to live entrusting to and in accord with nature, which is identical to the sacred Buddha.” Wareta Ringo, the first ED, was about the consequences of imbalance in our life; here, the melodious Yuki ni Saku Hana restores us and gives us a possible (if not cold and more bittersweet) path of redemption for the social chaos that resides within Shinsekai‘s society. Life is full of ups and downs, as the seasons suggest, and it is within our nature and duty to accept these future challenges and move on. The four seasons represent this everlasting, continuous journey of life and death – the main force that makes up the main Principle of Zen Buddhism, which takes root in meditation and understanding oneself. This sort of clairvoyance and perseverance, as shown through the second ED itself, is almost a response to the cold and frighteningly immoral examples of society we have seen so far. Devoid of emotion, passion, and freedom, these systems have stripped us of of what it means to exist; and that is Shinsekai‘s meaning in the end. To live and to suffer; to move on and change, just like the seasons, so we can finally attain that ultimate balance of yin and yang, of water and fire – of maintaining ourselves and the outside world, and thus keep social order in balance. If we can use the Four Seasons as way to guide us from the pains and sorrows of life – to triumph over our despair, and to accept the coming changes in both the world and ourselves, then we – and the people of Shinsekai Yori – might survive the coming disaster just yet, and live on to embrace a new sort of inner and external beauty in the world.
Spring has its hundred flowers, Autumn its moon. Summer has its cooling breezes, Winter its snow. If you allow no idle concerns To weight on your heart, Your whole life will be one Perennial good season.
– The Golden Age of Zen, John C.H Whu