The Descent; Shin Sekai Yori Episode 22

Shinsekai_Yori_-_22_[h264-720p][908E0AE5]_Mar 7, 2013 8.40.14 PM

gallifreyians: Shin Sekai Yori is intricate and deliberate in it’s narrative, a narrative that wonderfully and organically stems from marriage of the worldbuilding done in the first few episodes and the personal journey of Saki. There aren’t words to express how much I love how the show has constructed its story and how natural even the twists and turns feel, but recently I have been given pause by this episode.

The summer-camp fiasco, Shun’s transformation into a karma demon, the loss of Maria and Mamoru, the invasion of the queerats; all of these plot lines are combinations of different aspects coming from Saki’s personal life and the world which has been created for the story. “Psychobuster” however, is not. The recent introduction of Psychobuster seems to me to be very much out of place, and that is because it is a completely anomaly in the formula of the show. The Psychobuster has no relationship to Saki’s life and has not had it’s concept touched upon at all in any of the previous episodes.

Yes it is Saki’s mother who delivers the information about the Psychobuster to her, and yes the idea of weapons of mass destruction has been touched upon before; yet these do not constitute the same kind of threads that Shin Sekai Yori has woven together thusfar. Saki’s mother in this situation does not act as the character of Saki’s mother, but as a convenient mouthpiece for the information devoid of any true emotional relationship to Saki. The concept of weapons of mass destruction was touched upon by Kaburagi and the other members of the bureaucratic government in context and then only as a powerful contrast to the power of Cantus. Furthermore the discussion of weapons of mass destruction that took place was theoretical, specific to bombs, and brief; therefore not constituting weapons of mass destruction as an aspect of the world.

It is said that one can tell the quality of a writer by the endings that they craft, and so for Yuusuke Kishi to abandon his well-thought formula for the narrative of his work is worrying. This Psychobuster feels like some plot device thrown in simply for the convenience of the plot, whereas nothing before has felt like it was just a plot device – everything leading up to this episode has been so much more complicated, nuanced, and meaningful than a plot device. The inclusion of the Psychobuster, to me, really lowers the quality of the show and makes me doubt the ability of Yuusuke Kishi. Instead of being a ridiculously well-crafted science fiction chef d’œuvre, SSY may be heading down the road to becoming a promising scifi show that all to sadly descends into a messy, bad ending like so many do.

Hopefully though, all is not what it seems. Like I’ve repeated over and over, Shin Sekai Yori is put together very well, so I think that Yuusuke Kishi must’ve included Psychobuster into the story for a very good reason. The only thing I can hope for is that Psychobuster finds it’s place in the current regime of construction before we get past the point of no return and Shinsekai suffers permanent scars.

illegenes: If I did have one complaint about Shinsekai  from around Episode 1 or so – just one – it would be the lack of world sense the story seemed to have. Shinsekai builds its perspective from an omnipotent understanding which unfortunately, has been reflected very limitedly. We’re aware of what happens to the PK user’s society for instance, and our reach of this knowledge extends to the queerats and the way they behave, but other than that, it’s a rather blank map. You have this entire world set up, exploring the process of mutated animal evolution, exploring the dwindling of the human population in history, but then you fail to talk about the effects of this chain set of reactions elsewhere. It’s something that’s nagged me, but it can’t be helped at the same time: the anime is condensing a 1000+ paged novel into a 25 episode anime, so it’s obviously going to focus on the main cast and characters. But at the same time, you can’t help but wonder – what’s the rest of the world like, when you have this amazing cast of characters and this exposition which unfolds how history of mankind has receded into almost primitive behavior?

It’s here then, in Episode 22, that we get a glimpse of that potential. I’ve always been really fascinated by how the rest of the world was affected by the existence of the PK users and their cantus, and how its faring. This week’s episode gives us a peek into the real environment outside the secluded PK community, and it’s rather hellish and terrifying in its own way. We could start, for instance, with the glaciers.

Tokyo isn’t located in a glacier climate; here however, we have incredibly cold waters.

In contrast, the landscape is a desert, with extreme heat. Also inhabitable. These contrasts not only paint a vision of a post-apocalyptic world, but one that’s been seriously affected by extreme climate change/global warming effects.

Bats that have mutated to live in sunlight and the dark; almost a visual allusion to locusts.

Inside the core of the earth isn’t much better. Bloodsucking slugs that thrive on flesh and the bugs below.

All so gruesome and hellish that brave Saki herself is terrified by walking into such a place.

All of these signs point to a post-apocalyptic world  as well as a post-Ice Age one. While these scenes, in context, may not hold much significance, to me they’re clear signs that the world isn’t just brutal for Saki in her own community. It’s hellish everywhere; alien, unrecognizable and inhabitable. There is no safe haven on this planet, at this rate; only the fierce desire to live and to be protected (which gives a newfound sense of desperation and context to the reason why the PK users are so paranoid about their own safety of life).  The scenes of this environment also spin a new meaning to the idea of how ravaged the world was by the PK users. Following this train of thought, it’s valid that a mutated, more deadly form of anthrax exists as a last resort to wipe out the Cantus race. It’s also viable that there isn’t any hope left in Shinsekai, now that we’ve seen that there really isn’t any hope left in other parts of the world. The environment is so brutal, so harsh, that even if Cantus users were to survive, and try to live somewhere else, they’d fare worse luck.

With that in mind, I still believe the answer lies with Saki, but the main question is: is there anything left here to protect? We’ve seen what the world is like now. Our group has entered Hell, and might come back  – but what will they lose in the process? With three episodes left, I’m hoping for a riveting ending, even with some lost potential being seen in this week’s installment…

wendeego: Earlier in our coverage of this series, I’ve argued that the ultimate demise of the humans was inevitable–that the revolution of the queerats, the rise of the “fiend” on the loose and the ongoing massacre of hundreds of people all stems from social pressures that have most likely been building for decades. If anything, despite the sudden introduction of the Psychobuster (an almost literal deus ex machina, a biological weapon from the machine) this episode has only confirmed this thesis. As scattershot as early episodes of Shinsekai could be at times, it’s clear now that just about every element from the show’s early stages was deliberate, only now coming into terrifying focus.

Fiends: their assault on the humans at the dawn of the psychic age occurred in the first moments of the show, and now a fiend raised by queerats is humanity’s worst enemy. The fire ritual: one of the most memorable moments of the first episode was Saki kneeling in front of a flame surrounded by old men, and in this episode Saki and Satoru came once more to pay homage to the fire. Queerats: their presence in the beginning might have seemed superfluous to some, but now it’s clear that their role in the plot was vital. A false minoshiro inducts Saki and her friends into the secrets of her society, then (presumably) plays a role in Squealer’s rise to power and serves as a GPS device on Saki’s present journey. Saki and Satoru’s impromptu journey to the heart of Tokyo may seem out of the blue, until you realize that more of a decade ago they had their own adventures with their friends and the queerats, where they met Squealer for the first time. Earlier episodes have played on this as well, most particularly in the previous one where just the sound of “Going Home,” coupled with familiar visuals and a dawning revelation, was enough to deliver a fairly potent emotional gut punch. It’s moments like this that make it clear that Shinsekai is a bildungsroman, a coming of age tale, in the same sense as the world-famous Harry Potter series–as the children at the story’s center grow older, the scope of the story expands until it becomes clear they themselves will decide the fate of the world.

Yes, taken out of context the journey to find the Psychobuster is an authorial cop-out, a means for the characters to find their way out of a seemingly impossible situation. But the truth may be that the entire novel has been building up to this moment: a trek across the blasted lands, a descent into hell, a showdown with a revolutionary and a monsterous child at the poisoned heart of subterranean Japan. Maybe it took Shinsekai a little time to find its feet, maybe it could have done a better job at the beginning at organizing its wealth of information, but it’s hard to deny that the show hasn’t grown slowly but steadily with the characters, as the story itself has grown from an unnerving portrait of a dystopia seen through the eyes of children to a literal quest to the very boundaries of human history. Maybe the Psychobuster is a deus ex machina, but it’s also ironic that the only thing in this setting meaner than a fiend is an old relic of human history. Shinsekai is somewhat limited in its depiction of events, framing almost all of it from the perspective of the humans. But it has never shirked from the notion that as horrifying as the rites of the queerats may appear, and as cruel and unusual the punishments of the fiend might be, the efforts of humans to rid themselves of mental and physical plague are infinitely deadlier.


2 responses to “The Descent; Shin Sekai Yori Episode 22

  1. Re: the psycho buster, unless the anime makes some serious changes to the story I think you might just end up being pleasantly surprised. :D (Though I’m sure most people won’t.)


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