Winter is Coming; Shin Sekai Yori Episode 17

SSY17

gallifreyians: A major cornerstone of the series so far has been the analysis of the politics presented in the show and the related ethics therein. However, this has been limited in the past because of the point of view of our protagonist(s); as a child, while Saki was affected by and subjected  to the policies of her government, the inner workings of said government remained a mystery due to her position as a minor and lack of individual integration into the political system. With this most recent time jump, however, this has changed dramatically.

At the age of twenty-six, Saki is [finally, I may add] an adult and a full citizen under the paradigm of Shin Sekai Yori‘s society. As implied by her voice-over, Saki has been assigned to work in the Department of Exospecies Control (read: queerat control) and now works closely with the queerats. From the vantage point, not only can Saki observe the workings of her own government from the perspective of an agent, but she can also observe the complex political system that currently exists in the colonial queerat community.

In the past, the audience was shown (or told, rather) a diverse group of queerat colonies number upwards on a hundred; with episode seventeen, the show has now made us privy to the polarization that these colonies have underwent in the last decade or so, with most (if not all) queerats existing under either monolithic Robber Fly or Giant Hornet political system, who are — in this time frame — engaging in a cold war of sorts (but more on that later). Although, all queerat activities are regulated by the Department of Queerat Control making the interactions very… interesting.

Subtextually established by the previous episodes, human society as it is now is incredibly bureaucratic in nature, something that they extend to the queerats and their relationship herein. Everything about a queerat community is monitored in some form by the DQC, so if any colony wished to, say, wage war, even then they would have to fill out a form in need of approval beforehand — the failure of filling out a form resulting in the destruction and/or genocide of the offending colony. This plays into the political situation of the world through the (rather brilliant) manipulation of the repercussions of the human’s enforced bureaucracy by Yakomaru.

Yakomaru [formerly known as Squeeler], engineered a plan in which the Robber Fly colony forced a “neutral” colony that they had covertly taken over to attack workers of the Giant Hornet colony and then try to make it seem as though the Giant Hornets staged an attack specifically to frame the Robber Flies in the hope of tricking the humans into destroying the Giant Hornets for trying to trick the humans into destroying the Robber Flies… I think…

The really beautiful thing of the political intrigue of Shin Sekai Yori is the grayness of the entire situation, the life-like intrigue and complexity that has been created. Most offen, political plots are too complex for the story the narrative is trying to sell, too simple for the narrative, or too damn predictable. But the show has really hit a sweet spot with these plot developments. The narrative wants to explore the nature of humanity, the nature of government, and the ethics of both; so to do this through a political lens you have to have a plot with the same consistency of reality. They gray area of how is in the right, who is in the wrong, who’s lying, who’s telling the truth, and how it could truly be either party (the Robber Flies or the Giant Hornets) is something just as complex as the pre-Columbian trans-Atlantic contact event between the Basque and the Algonquin, and that makes for all the more compelling a narrative.

More often than not, I have been drawn into the narrative of Shin Sekai Yori far more by the human story it tries to tell then by the intricacies of the plot itself. But true to it’s nature as the show to beat in 2013, Shin Sekai Yori has pulled out all the stops and crafted not only the compelling human story of Watanabe Saki, but also compelling fictional politic (that actually fits into the goals of it’s narrative!) unlike anything I’ve seen before.

wendeego: Continuing on from Steven’s comment: I think what makes Shinsekai relatively unique as dystopian fiction is that it looks at its central society from all angles. I love Lois Lowry’s young adult masterpiece The Giver and think it is overall a stronger and more consistent package than Shinsekai, but while it’s clear from roughly the halfway point of the book that Jonas’s society is prohibitive and flawed, it’s not quite as easy to guess what side the author of Shinsekai is on.

Look at it this way. Saki’s society are us, thousands of years into the future. They have created a nurturing and relatively stable society through the excision of free will. On one hand, this is a necessary evil due to the presence of PK and its corrupting influence upon the human psyche despite its great utility. On the other hand, this has lead to a scenario where society orchestrates the murder of children in order to keep itself from falling to pieces. A scenario that has lead to centuries of institutionalized brainwashing, and the consequences of generations of decent people neutered by the government so that they are incapable of creativity outside of cultural norms. Even Saki’s group of friends is nothing more than an assembly of guinea pigs, a social experiment in freedom of expression that has been picked off one by one over time until only the strongest remain. Seen from above, it’s easy to criticize the society of psychics in Shinsekai, to exclaim that if I or my friend or family were in this same situation we would never resort to the horrors that Tomiko and her underlings perpetrate. This is a reading that Shinsekai encourages for the sole purpose of luring you into a false sense of security.

This is because the queerats are also us, thousands of years into the future. If Saki’s society has purged themselves of free will and forsaken conventional morality in order to save the greatest number of lives possible, the queerats have doggedly pursued greater wealth and political power without any thought for the cost upon the individual or upon anybody else who is not them. In a way this is understandable, as the queerats are technically a hivemind reliant upon the authority of a central, often abusive queen. After witnessing a Queen almost murdering Squealer in the fifth episode of Shinsekai, it’s no wonder that the queerats would attempt to throw off the yoke of oppression and seek freedom, or even reach for greater and greater power so that they will never again be abused or looked down upon by queens or humans or any other life-form. The need to tear down the natural order in order to strengthen one’s own personal power, with no thought to the consequences, is a scarily human tendency that Saki’s society has grown out of after centuries of conditioning.  This, combined with the fact that the society of the queerats has throughout the show been progressing through the stages of human civilization, implies that the queerats are going through the same process of societal evolution that humans once did thousands of years ago.

Neither of these approaches are optimal. The humans have found temporary stability at the expense of the lives of their children. The queerats murder and pillage without any thought for the consequences of what they are doing, so blinded by their long oppression that they no longer care about the consequences of their action. There are exceptions, of course: Saki is extremely clear-headed and thoughtful for a human, while the leader of the Giant Hornets seems quite a bit more honest than Yakomaru/Squealer of the Robber Fly. But Shinsekai makes it abundantly clear that while the current state of its society of humans is horrifically flawed, in dire need of change, they cannot go back. That will only lead to the queerats, whose actions walk the same doomed path of humans thousands of years ago. The only way out of this mess is forward, and what “forward” is or even what it means is difficult to say. Shinsekai is a piece of dystopic fiction without any easy answers, and in both fiction and the comparatively narrow field of anime, that is a very rare thing.

illegenes: It’s obvious that just like Episode 9 and 14, Episode 17 was a prelude to yet another storm that heads toward Saki and Satoru. But this time, it’s much more dangerous, if not personal.

I don’t have much to say that Steven and Wendeego have already said. But what I can say is that there’s plenty of foreshadowing in this episode, as we understand that Maria may be behind these events, and for a particular reason. Of course, it boils down to this.

Why now?

We could consider that Maria could harbor an intense hatred for Saki’s village, or rather the system of Saki’s village. She could have been persuaded by the queerats – namely Yokumaru – to join the cause for democracy. Maybe Mamoru died and she could have thought of revenge. There are many possibilities, but they don’t answer the question of why now? Why more than 10 years later? What could have possibly happened so that Maria decided to return to the village and exact revenge?

We have to look at what Saki said  15 episodes ago.

I think that if Maria had never been born into this world, then an untold number of lives would be spared.

A number of things can be assumed from this statement.

  1. Maria is the direct result of this disaster, out of revenge for being betrayed.
  2. Maria uses Mamoru to gain revenge, for the same reason.
  3. Maria becomes a fiend and/or karma demon.
  4. Based on the imagery of the new ED, I can theorize that Mamoru and Maria have had a child. (I may be completely wrong) These events happen only 10 years later because she needed time to raise this child up. And if the theme of Shinsekai is ‘children’, I can assume that Maria has only wanted a better life for her child, and that the very existence of Shinsekai’s society is a threat to that life. And so, she sides with Squealer’s colony, and uses her child to ‘liberate’ his or her freedom, and also gain revenge.

I personally think Choice 4 is the most fitting option, as it thematically makes sense and would explain why Maria wanted to gain revenge now. While she may not have harbored any horrible feelings for the way their society was run, but I think by having a child, her perspective changed. What’s left is to understand if Maria’s actions will change the future of Shinsekai‘s society, and Saki’s perspective of how things should be run. Who’s to say there’s a complete answer though? We’ll just have to sit tight and wait for 8 more episodes to  find out – more than enough time, I think, to explain these misgivings and the terrible disaster to come.

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6 responses to “Winter is Coming; Shin Sekai Yori Episode 17

  1. Very interesting post! You guys are totally right – Shin Sekai Yori’s narrative is amazing. Even without knowing it for sure you can feel that this is a show based on a book, not manga – and that is because of how the story is told. There are no overused schemes in here – every episode is a great unknown, at least for me. It’s a great social anti-utopia but it not only shows how the system works (or rather “fails”) for the whole society but also what kind of impact does it have on individual.

    As for the theories for future episodes – I also think there is a Maria&Mamoru’s child involved. Especially after episode 18 where Saki has this vision of Maria telling her that their relationship wouldn’t work either way because they couldn’t have children. There has to be a reason why she uses that kind of argument. I’m really curious how Maria is involved in the queerat rebellion – because she definitely is – and especially whether she or her presumed child became karma demons or fiends.

    Also Yakomaru gives me creeps, like from the very beginning of his existence in the show. Crazy little bastard ;)

    • Oh yeah, you can totally tell that SSY is adapted from a novel; it has this completeness and well-roundedness to it’s characters and narratives that really only comes from a work like a novel that cannot be achieved in an episodic, staggered medium like regular anime or manga. Obviously that isn’t to say that you can’t sometimes find those things in animanga, but with SSY it just seems to me to be all the more tacit.

    • Yeah it seems that pregnancy is the most common theory from what I’m seeing so far; hopefully nothing too bad happens, but knowing this show – you’ll never know! I too, am eagerly waiting for next Saturday. :)

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