illegenes: As Shinsekai prepares itself for what’s most likely an explosive finale, Saki herself must face her own inner demons. And lo and behold, despite doing it successfully, her character seems to be met with some unprecedented complaints.
This isn’t just a backlash against the backlash towards Saki’s behavior over the last timeskip; I’ve been meaning to talk about Saki for a while, and why she fits perfectly as the main protagonist in Shinsekai Yori. But to understand why she works so well, we have to first discuss the idea that a show must contain a “strong female character” or a “damsel in distress” – the cleaving of gender binaries. We often separate masculine and feminine traits into their respective categories. For a female character to be well-liked, she must either be on one extreme of this spectrum, or the other. She must dress up, wear makeup, be afraid and needed to be saved. Or, she must be completely ruthless, headstrong, determined, and powerful. It’s hard to find a middle ground – an actual ground that defines most women in real life. Female characters are often masculinized or depicted as ‘feminine’ when really, there shouldn’t be a gender construction toward these traits in the first place. It’s here we see some of the complaints toward Saki. She’s not badass enough! Or rather, she’s too impulsive, and needs to break down more!
It’s here where I step in and say to those complainers, you are very much wrong. As the show itself has repeatedly said, Saki is not really “strong” physically or mentally. She doesn’t possess the Cantus prowess of Satoru or Shun, nor is she as beautifully striking as Maria. But she’s not cowardly like Mamoru, or ruthless like Tomiko-san. Rather, Saki exhibits a mesh of all the good – and bad – qualities of these characters, to a certain balance. Her existence serves as a focal point in the backdrop where people who are overpowered, or even too weak, are erased. Where extremes must be eradicated for the sake of the greater good. Where that sort of balance is necessary to staying alive.Saki’s nature – one of hope, but not one of complete naivety – is a trait that is often hard to find in women in anime. It’s devoid of a coming of age story, which is very interesting considering that Saki goes through three time skips, but her heart never truly changes despite everything that happens to her. She’s a perfect representation of the essential and necessary female character we should be having. Why?
Because she’s normal. She cries when she can’t remember the boy she falls in love with; she brutally twists Tainted Cat to death when she’s pressured to fight for her life. Fear clouds her judgement as well, but she has the ability to capture a fake minoshiro when put to the test. She’s like the rest of us, in that she has nightmares, likes, and dislikes. But whereas many of the characters in Shinsekai internalized their fears, dreams, and obsessions to the point where it consumed them, Saki maintains her composure but also lets it loose when she simply can’t handle it. And what’s wrong with that? Is that too feminine for our liking? Do we really need Saki to be more powerful, more Rambo-like, and to deflect everything that comes her way, when the show has given us solid examples as to what would happen if she did start to do that? Not to mention, Saki’s life has been constantly put under pressure. I would like to point out that in this episode alone, Saki not only loses yet another comrade; she has the entire burden of society on her shoulder, plus the fact that she contains a key to wiping out her entire race, plus the fact that she has to realize that Maria’s son is behind all of these killings, plus the fact that the queerats are hunting her down with the so-called Fiend, plus the fact that she hasn’t slept in what’s most likely 24 or more hours, plus the fact that she’s half hallucinating about a boy she can’t remember but is deeply connected with. That’s one episode. Look back through the past 22 and you’ll start to see what I mean when I say that Saki’s life isn’t just suffering – it’s emotionally traumatic. With that in mind, it’s completely understandable that she’s beginning to break down and get some wear and tear. It’s understandable that she can’t rip a giant centipede into shreds like she could with a Tainted Cat. And it’s understandable that she’d have some struggle with opening a 10 meter thick cement vault.
The truth is, we need more people like Saki in media. Not just for the sake of blurring the rather deeply-drawn lines between masculinity and femininity, but because she represents a very real and powerful core that makes up what women actually are in life. We may not all be soldiers, and we may not all be heroes, but Saki tells us that you don’t have to be extraordinary to do extraordinary. Rather, the power of surviving, resilience, and a voice to tell the tale when no one could can rest on the shoulders of a very ordinary and regular girl. The greatest courage of all sometimes, is the courage to live, and to never lose sight of yourself, and Saki does exactly that.
With that in mind, it’s important to cover some other aspects of this episode. The first, and foremost, is Saki remembering Shun, which is a huge step towards her characterization. Not only does Saki now recall the traumatic experiences which had simply been a void in her mind, but she remembers that painful loss which affected her so deeply. You could almost say that Saki is whole again, in seeing Shun (even though I’m pretty sure it’s a hallucination and that he’s not come back to life). But it also precedents some serious mental damage. Saki, as stated above, has already gone through so much. While remembering Shun may be bittersweet, it may also be the breaking point for her; something we’ll have to look at next week when things take a turn for the worse. But the way the memory scene was done was brilliant and beautiful, in my opinion. Excellent visuals paired with the lyrical version of the last timeskip’s theme creates a chilling effect when Saki turns and sees Shun for the first time since his death. And while we’ve all argued that Shinsekai has some interesting pacing, we can agree that there are vivid moments which leave us breathless and this was one of them.
Which brings me to my second point, which is probably the most worrisome. I’ve talked about how so far, Shinsekai has made excellent use of that strange and slow pacing. And for a good 20 or so episodes, that hasn’t been a wrong statement. But with two episodes left, and so much to resolve and cover, things are looking a little grim. We have so much to look back at, not just in terms of “who survives?” but what actually happens to the environment and people Shinsekai has so carefully built. And as much as I’d like to see a climax episode, followed by a resolution episode (because of the vast information regarding, well, everything the show has put together, because this last arc has brought all of this in full circle), just seeing the preview tells me this won’t be enough, or necessary. It’s a problem because even if Shinsekai manages to pull out of this tricky situation, it’s going to be a bit jarring, because it has consecutively built up this steady pace, only for it to hypothetically hit the freight train in the last two episodes. Not that this isn’t a recurring thing we see in anime – rather, it’s such a common phenomenon that I shouldn’t be surprised, but at the same time, I really hope this show can manage to pull it off. It’s been so well-crafted that it’d be a shame to see otherwise, you know?
Lastly are the interesting questions that are poked at in this episode. Shun – a manifestation of Saki’s subconscious – tells her that the Fiend is not really a Fiend (what are those tattoos, anyway). If it’s not a Fiend, what is it? Do Fiends really exist then? What really happened to Maria and Mamoru? Any history discussion about the Psychobuster and its creation is glossed over in the show. How was the Psychobuster created? Kiroumaru’s allegiance with Saki and the group seems to be hovering in the air. What’s most intriguing is how the Anthrax – a highly infectious poison meant to wipe out all the Cantus users, is being used by a Cantus user to wipe only another. How will they make sure none of the other Cantus users are endangered in the process?
There are so many questions, so little time. The last thing I want from Shinsekai is to give us more questions than answers – something it’s been doing since the beginning, but we’ve all (including Saki) have waited long enough. Will we get the answers we deserve? We’ll have to wait until Friday to find out. But in the meantime, I continue to hope that this ending is as magnificent as the journey itself has been; to expect anything less would be undeserving of how great and enjoyable this series has been since Day 1.