illegenes: Episode 20 feels like a bit of a breather from the intensity that was Episode 19. Does this make it any less fearsome or threatening? Absolutely not, as we finally feel how desperate the situation is getting – and boy, is it getting desperate.
I think what establishes this arc as perhaps the darkest is how high the stakes are. I’ve said before that there have been more deaths, more people we’ve connected to being taken away from us, but what makes this last time skip so nerve-wracking is the idea that two people we’ve grown to connect with might be the perpetrators of this terrible disaster. In the first arc, we became aware of how Shinsekai‘s society is ruled by humans who act out of paranoia and fear – actions that lead to heartbreaking endings. In the second arc, we see that action ripple through time as Maria and Mamoru are forced to act before they are deleted. The third arc, however, is where the consequences of these actions actually take place. This is where the ripple pauses, breaks, and then comes back as a tidal wave, sparing no one in its path.
This is obviously the case when Satoru is no longer to be found once he and Saki are separated, but also with Tomiko understanding that she could very possibly die, and leaving Saki in charge as the new Ethics Committee Head. Not that this bit makes much of a difference in terms of authority; Saki is only given a message to tell the people of her society that there is no hope. The tragedy that happened so many years ago was simply a miracle; here, there is nothing left for the PK users to do except run. If that’s not desolate and desperate, then I don’t know what is.
As Wendeego will talk about in a bit, one of the highlights of this episode was the flying scene, which was absolutely remarkable. However, what was also really powerful was the exposition dumping we got in the middle of the episode, which was cleverly done so it wouldn’t bore us too much. We see how the queerats have begun to retaliate and gain the upper hand in the battle through slow narration and creative use of light and shadow for the scenery. I really enjoyed how Shinsekai, for instance, is continuing its use of the “storytelling” animation (the animation that’s also found in the first and second ED) for that exact purpose: to tell stories, both of present and past. What was also great was the worldbuilding shown in this exposition dumping, when we see how important the canals are to the PK users and how technology is limited, if almost nonexistent.
There’s also the issue with our favorite queerat leader and his motivation and state of play. To think that Squealer could become so formidable and manipulative is terrifying, as his actions speak mountains about his intent: using genetically mutated creatures to slowly wreck havoc on the community, thus draining people of their strength. Cutting off access to the most reliable transportation system as well as splitting up the communities, one by one. And lastly, attacking at night, where fear hits the most. These are all excellent strategies in a time of war, and honestly, that’s what it comes down to, doesn’t it? Squealer has had much more experience living in the harsh solitude of the forest and outside world. The PK users, on the other hand, have been slowly flattened to a docile and quiet nature, almost like that of Psycho Pass‘. In this case, they differ because they’re actually aware of how their society functions, but as long as they are safe, that’s what matters. But now, that safety is stripped from them. They are bare, naked, left to huddle in groups for guidance and security.
Which is the entire point of this arc. If knowledge is power, then safety is its handle. Knowledge wielded without any handlebars can be extremely dangerous and formidable. It is here that both societies – the PK users and the queerats – use knowledge without restraint, and gain the upper hand because of it. But it’s also because of knowledge being used as a weapon to control, rather than being used with limitation, that much more is lost in the process.. Human lives are sacred, and yet here, in Shinsekai, they are thrown away carelessly for the sake of upholding this knowledge and wielding it without moral or ethical boundaries. Is that price worth it? Will Tomiko, Shun – and perhaps Maria and Mamoru – will their lives be worth it? How many people are we willing to sacrifice for safety and control of information? Once again, Shinsekai is silent here. But like the eyes of a vulture, it shows us without condemnation – only truth. The final answer is left for us to decide.
wendeego: As amazingly consistent as Shinsekai has been as of late, the animation this episode was a little limited at times compared to the past couple of episodes. That said, they certainly picked the right scenes to lavish with detail. The scene with the river-borne suicide bomber was great, but for the purposes of this post I’m going to pick out a visual moment that hit me just a little harder.
As many people as there are currently enjoying Shinsekai, there are quite a few (in particular, readers of the novel) who are taking issue with the way the show’s been presenting its material. For example, in the novel Saki finally remembers Shun’s name and face after having sex with Satoru in the second arc, rather than as she is falling out of the sky in the third. More pointedly, I’ve seen plenty of people becoming upset that the show is continuing to devote attention to the character of Maria, even giving her the ED sequence, at the expense of developing Satoru. “Saki and Satoru are the two main characters left,” they say. “Why make them share the spotlight with people who are already dead?”
It’s not difficult to see where these people are coming from. That said, I think that Shinsekai is taking the opportunity to do something a little more complex and interesting in focusing specifically on how Saki and Satoru are bound together in part by the memories of people they have lost. The world of Shinsekai is one that is quite literally haunted: by fiends and karma demons, of course, but also by the metaphorical ghosts of Saki and Satoru’s old friends. The girl from the very first episode, taken by the copycats as a child. Maria and Mamoru, who Saki continues to see in glimpses though nobody knows whether they are alive or dead. Shun, who both Saki and Satoru once loved, and whose death marked Saki’s entry into adulthood.
Saki’s fall here closes a loop. Over a decade ago, she lost the love of her life as she fell into the sky, and learned of the world’s cruelty. Now she falls again, torn from her best and only friend, and in the process is finally allowed to re-experience the event that society made her forget all those years ago. I’m not sure if this is the moment where Saki remembers Shun at last, or whether what she sees is simply a memory raising sparks inside of her skull. But what I am certain of is that the presentation of this segment in the anime is borderline genius. Shinsekai is arguably at its best when skillfully conveying exposition–see Shun’s hallucinogenic explanation of karma demons, or Maria’s letter–but at times it can be just as good at conveying feeling without any words at all. In one scene, Saki finally comes to terms with the emptiness in her head where Shun once was, and she does it without anything as easy or telegraphed as tears or speeches. At its height, animation is a medium capable of things that are impossible for any other medium, and I think that the falling scene in episode 20 both demonstrates the capability of the form and demonstrate that the staff of Shinsekai know what they are doing. Shun and Maria might be nothing more than memories at this point in time, but if Shinsekai’s taught us anything it’s that memories don’t die easy.
Although as some have pointed out, Mamoru’s absence from the discussion has been a little troubling. Could his lack of presence be Chekov’s Gun? An authorial or adaptive misstep? Or something else? We’ll just have to see.