The Cursed Ones; Shin Sekai Yori Episode 21

ssy21

illegenes: I think what separates Shinsekai as one of the most well done stories from the rest of the bunch this season is how is chooses to execute its narration. This quality has seemed to make it both loved and hated – the slow-paced but intensely driven unfolding of events has drawn people in like moths to a light, but has also deflected many from engaging in the show. Both options are validated by reasonable arguments! But what I do admire, is how this quality hasn’t dropped since the show started; rather, it’s increased, and is making the last arc the best yet because of it.

Consider some of the scenes in Episode 21. There are two that really stand out to me overall. The first is Kaburagi Shisei’s death against the Fiend. We’re not really told of how he died; rather, Saki reminisces about Cantus Leakage and the effect it has had on people. It’s here where crucial information from Episode 4 comes in.

A flashback to Shun, whose subconscious Cantus leakage led him to becoming a Karma Demon.

The effect of using one’s subconscious Cantus on another (which causes time-warp distortion)

If you remember the importance of Leakage, and the difference between a Karma Demon (one who has control of his conscious, but no control of his subconscious) and a Fiend (one who can bypass the “Cantus Leakage” hypnosis to the point where both his conscious and subconscious is out of control, leading to even more devastating results) then Shisei’s death comes off as quite clear, if not tragic. The second scene, which comes off as one of the more powerful but unspoken ones, is Nimi’s death, which is told through imagery and sound effect, rather than through actual words.

The caption mirrors the first episode as the “Come Home” music plays, only to signal the exact opposite – a signal of distress rather than comfort.

We’re then shown the gramophone used to play the music, which is then followed by….

…the realization that, as previously explained, all instruments and technology run in the PK society has been done through the water canal’s power (the waterwheel). Except the water canal is completely dried up, so the only way the gramophone could be used is if someone were to use their Cantus on it…..

The music stops, and we realize in horror….

But it’s already too late.

I think this is a clear example of why I find Shinsekai‘s narrative execution so enthralling and visceral. It’s not just a puzzle presented for the audience to figure out. It’s a distance. There’s no condescension involved – it’s not like the show takes away, only to give, like you’re a dog on a leash, hungrily awaiting to feed on bits of information. The show deals its cards from the very beginning, only to show its hand at the end, and that’s something that takes a lot of skill (which of course, can be attributed to the original source material itself; a work that took 30 years to complete). Yes, it’s slow, and yes, it builds very intensely, but in the end, it’s those sort of narratives I truly admire, because that requires a lot of effort and thinking before hand, and you can tell that Shinsekai, at the end of the day, is exactly that: a well-crafted piece that was made for us. It’s because Shinsekai demands our attention that we’re given the freedom to speculate; that sort of participation which leads us to care about its characters and the grey and twisted world they’re a part of. It’s also that attention that Shinsekai so deviously depends on to tell its story. In other words, it’s a reciprocal action, and that’s what makes Shinsekai either a show you end up really being involved in or alienated from. What ultimately matters is what you take away from a show – and for me, Shinsekai is something more than just an enjoyable piece of media to be consumed, as I’m beginning to respect how its storytelling has finally brought us through the end, with the exquisite results just beginning to form.

wendeego: When I first started watching Shinsekai, I predicted that the introduction of the queerats in the first eight or so episodes would be the trigger that would release Saki and her friends from the constrictions of society, leading to their eventual rebellion against social norms. What I did not predict was that those queerats would rise up against the humans, that Saki would be put in charge of those humans still alive, and that I would care so deeply about the safety of those under her charge. Typically in dystopian fiction you come to hate and fear the people who buy into the system, so it’s fascinating to see Shinsekai muddy the waters like this. The inhabitants of Shinsekai‘s society are fear-ridden, unimaginative child-murderers, but they’re also people capable of goodness and even self-sacrifice. There’s the sense that their mass slaughter at the hands of the queerats and the fiend are undeserved, despite all the horrifying things they’ve done over the past thousand years.

What makes this absolutely brilliant is that in a way, Shinsekai’s society is responsible for absolutely everything that is currently wrong in the series. They were engineered so that they could not kill humans, which only created a weak spot for fiends to exploit. They treated queerats like animals, showing neither respect nor kindness, and after years of quietly taking punishment the queerats finally rose up against their oppressors. They systematically pruned their children for imperfections, knowing the stakes to be severe, but it was sending a Cat after Mamoru that led to he and Maria running away from the village, which Squealer/Yakomaru presumably took advantage of to create a Fiend. Hilariously, Mamoru and Maria, along with Shun, Satoru and Saki, were created by the village with free will as a deliberate experiment, meaning that everything they have accomplished or failed at indirectly traces back to the society as a whole. Shun became a karma demon and killed himself, while Mamoru and Maria ran from the village and, for reasons unknown, gave birth to a fiend that has since murdered thousands. Only Satoru and Saki are left, and while their net influence on society thus far has appeared to be positive, how much they can accomplish when literally everything is collapsing around them is up in the air.

Honestly, the first few minutes of episode 21 of Shinsekai might have been some of the most brutal, unsparing animation I’ve seen in ages. Shinsekai may struggle with an inconsistent budget, but since entering its third arc its style has been top notch, rendering the fiend’s introduction legitimately spine-chilling and the death of Shisei more than a little disturbing. It’s hard to make psychic powers visually interesting, but by this point Shinsekai has more or less figured out how to make its psychokinetic violence visceral enough that at times it’s almost overwhelming. What’s important, though, is that it never feels exploitative. Hundreds died this episode, and hundreds more may die in the episodes to come, but each and every death terrifies because as dark as it’s gotten, Shinsekai has refused to belittle the importance of human life. The fiend’s specialty is snuffing out lives en-masse, immolating people in a glance, and had we not seen emperors capable of the exact same earlier in the series we might never have truly understood how scary this can be.

I’m not sure how Shinsekai is going to end, other than that victory for Saki and co. will be truly difficult considering the hand they’ve been dealt. It’s a testimony to the writing so far that as much as I’m convinced that humanity is wholly responsible for their current situation, I don’t want anyone else to die. No matter how things turn out, it’s been a wild ride so far and it looks like the next few episodes are only going to be more intense.

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7 responses to “The Cursed Ones; Shin Sekai Yori Episode 21

  1. I think this the first series that I’ve seen, where I wished there was recap episode. The differnent aspects that drive the story are almost forgotten by the ones that follow it, having moments of ‘Did I miss something?’ At least that’s how I interpret the series.
    Despite that, the series is nearing its conclusion with everything that was wrong in the modelled society. Possibly giving us a reminder that not everything can be controlled by rules and protocols.

    • Hmm. I think, like I said, that Shinsekai’s storytelling is very deliberate; everything is placed their for a reason (think of it this way: they need to at least nail the skeletal version of the novel in order for it to work, so they’re adapting all of the crucial scenes). That said, there’s also a seemingly large amount of information to retain for a show that’s airing over 6 months (I myself, had to go back and remember some of the crucial details regarding Karma Demons and Fiends).

      I think back to a book I had started reading the other day – Infinite Jest – and the foreword by Dave Eggers, who describes entertainment as a mixture of one that seeks to entertain, and one that seeks to communicate. We all have our reasons for consuming media, but for me, Shin Sekai Yori manages to combine both somewhat effectively, and that’s why I enjoy it so much. For others, it may be dull and uninspiring, and that’s okay! Those are perfectly reasonable explanations. But what I do really enjoy is how everything is really coming into full circle at the end, and if there even WILL be a happy ending or “saving the world” moment for Saki. Do the humans even deserve to win this sort of battle? It’s a tough question, and I look forward to see how Shinsekai answers (if it does, at all).

      • It sure is true that the story leaves room for interpretation and I don’t mind that. Still some critical elements could be filled in nicely with some sort of recap. As you said it’s been airing for 6 months. It’s a long run, meaning the story isn’t as fresh. Plus the complexity of the story is rather high for most entertainment standard(in my opinion). Or maybe I’m just too lazy to rewatch it already:p
        Still a little push in the right direction wouldn’t hurt.
        On the ending. Maybe it won’t be such a happy ending, as the story already has that gritty feel to it. But we’ll see. I haven’t read the source material whatsoever. So the online way to know is watching the anime.

        • That’s also very true! I myself think recaps can sometimes be overestimate, but in circumstances like these, SSY would do well to have a recap episode in between. But I also think that it doesn’t really have time to do a recap episode – there’s so much information and story to cover that they’ve even omitted the use of an OP (which to me was a great decision).

          Nah, I don’t think it’s lazy or anything – I like going back through episodes myself, so that’s just me, but some of us just like watching an episode once and getting it over with. There’s nothing wrong with that either! In the end, SSY’s narrative appeal is all about personal taste, and somehow, it snugly fits into my niche. That doesn’t mean that it has to fit into everyone else’s though! :)

          I haven’t actually read the novels, as I’m hoping that a certain publishing company will translate them into English and then release them (if that were to happen, I’d love to get my hands on a copy) but I have heard complaints from people here and there who have read the novel, so that’s where I get my information. From what I’ve seen, the source material is much more dense and thorough, of course, but I really like the anime as it stands right now. We’ll just have to see where it takes us!

          • I don’t think there will be a translated version though. What I’ve heard is that sales are really, really poor. So I don’t think they see any market to translate it. But who knows.

            • I think it ultimately depends – we know they licensed the manga (of all things, yikes) so it’s possible they could translate an award-winning novel. But that said, the sales ARE abysmal (>500 per week, which is pretty horrible) so it’s possible that they wouldn’t, as well. :(

              • What I heard from the manga isn’t too good xD It was some kind of yuri fanservice kind of thing that didn’t give much credit to the anime. But I haven’t picked it up myself and will probably not pick it up:p

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