A Series of Unfortunate Events; Shin Sekai Yori Episode 18

Shinsekai_Yori_-_18

HELLO. GOODBYE.

wendeego: With this episode of Shinsekai Yori, the endgame is finally in sight. There is no going back, and the way forward is as murky and fraught with peril as could possibly be imagined. How everything will connect (the queerats, Maria and Mamoru, the guardians of Saki’s society and Saki and Satoru’s ultimate fate) remains to be seen, but enough kindling has been laid for some pretty spectacular fireworks, if handled properly.

What stood out to me in particular about this episode was the structure. It was easily one of the most ambitious episodes of the show to date, jumping back and forth between the past and the present, reality and hallucination, without ever taking a wrong step forwards. This is the kind of episode I would imagine that the creators attempted earlier in the show–episode five, for instance–but weren’t quite able to pull off, with the exception of the transcendent tenth episode. By this point, though, it’s clear that the staff pretty much have it in the bag as far as creating a compelling episode of anime goes. I’m not sure how closely this episode stuck to the format of the novel, or if the latter similarly played with the viewer’s perceptions. Either way, that kind of unusual structure can be difficult at the best of times, and I think that the confidence in direction seen this episode really speaks for how far Shinsekai has come in that time.

Even some of the fight animation at the end of this episode, reminiscent of the assassination flashback in episode three, fit in much better with the series than previous attempts at messing with the status quo. Shinsekai has been inconsistent from a production standpoint at the best of times, and while some of these inconsistencies have represented the show’s artistic highlights, they’ve also undermined its ambitions at points. But the name of the game this episode was shock and disorientation, and the variety of techniques used here (film grain, splashy displays of psychokinesis, flashes of words on a red background) did an excellent job at keeping the viewer off balance. It’s a happy case where the ambitions of the staff happened to converge with overall excellent execution.

The biggest question here, though, might be the significance of Maria’s little interview at the end of the episode. But it looks like Natasha has quite a bit to say about that…

illegenes: It’s hard finding a significant purpose behind Episode 18, as it pretty much clarifies the uncomfortable questions we’ve been asking to an extent. Maria’s definitely up to something – whether she be dead or alive – and hell has just begun to break loose. However, just because this episode was an intense rehash of last week doesn’t mean it was any less interesting or meaningful. There were a couple of subtleties I noticed throughout, that might have just been there for dramatic or stylish purposes. But I also think that for the past 17 episodes, Shin Sekai has demonstrated how nothing is as it seems, and that there’s always a hidden intent behind every small detail that’s left for the audience to interpret.

The first thing was, as Wendeego states, the animation. Not only was the fight between Shisei and the queerats stylish, powerful and riveting, but it was also done in a slightly different style of animation. The lines are bolder, the shadowing having a little more contrast, and the explosions being much more flat in coloring than in shading. Wait, you ask. Have we seen this before?

There’s a certain parallel, as said before, with the assassination of one of the Leaders. We see a light burst from both the Leader in the past and in this episode; something that could almost  resemble a soul. What’s interesting is that the Leader in episode 18 dies but departs in the shape of a woman. Whether this has to do with resurrection, or the perception of seeing someone you love the most (so from Saki’s point of view, it would be Maria, and that’s why the girl seems to look like her) is unknown, but it is said that the festival was held to ‘welcome back and say goodbye to departed souls’ so I can imagine that the latter is probably the case. It could also be a release of the Cantus; in other words, our will and subconscious, which is the closest thing Shinsekai can call to a soul.

The second small detail is Shisei’s eyes. If we notice, he has four pupils, two in each eye. A bit odd, isn’t it?

There may be a reason for this. If we remember in Episode 1, Shun was able to see a Minoshiro from very far away; Shun was also the most talented Cantus user in Group 1. Based on this, we can assume that one’s Cantus is linked to their eyesight – perhaps a stronger eyesight suggests that one has a large potential for controlling and using their Cantus? It might also be something that’s covered in the novel, but was glossed over in the anime (this has happened before, so I wouldn’t be too surprised.)

The last, and probably most interesting detail, is the end of the episode, where the screen focuses on Maria as she talks directly to Saki – to us – and gives us an explanation as to why she left. Shinsekai has always meddled with the idea of “camera” – the idea of being watched, and watching someone. For the first half of the show, we were aware of something disturbing behind the lens of Shinsekai‘s society, while watching the children’s reactions at the same time. Here, however, our focus has shifted from being the watchers to the watched. Maria’s discussion may just be the imaginative explanation that Saki needs to hear, but it’s also directed at the audience, and thus, breaks the fourth wall a little.

There are two things to notice about this. Whereas most of Shinsekai has been in a passive “show don’t tell” format, Maria’s talk is active, intimate, and direct. It’s almost like we’re giving her an interview, and that she is revealing her secrets to us; a confrontation, which is completely different than any of the scenes we’ve seen in this show. On the other hand, Maria’s discussion is subtle enough that it provokes fear in ourselves. We’ve always known the incidents that have been covered up; that Shinsekai‘s society was rather relentless in its rule, and that children would disappear and/or turn into fiends or karma demons. Here, the roles are once again reversed in that this time, we are like Saki and Satoru; we don’t know what’s going on. It’s like weve become the hunted; Maria talks to us as if she’s completely aware of what’s going to happen. And we don’t. Whether this monologue is real, or whether it’s rooted in Saki’s subconscious is unknown, but the fact is that we are no longer omnipotent but helpless viewers. We are being attacked by Maria’s words, in a slow but terrifying fashion. It’s an excellent way of instilling a sense of dread in the audience, including the preview for next week’s title, which is just that: Darkness. Not Into Darkness – the title of the episode where Shun passed away, but just Darkness itself. If that’s not a sign of ominous foreboding, well, I don’t know what is.

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