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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Initial Thoughts: Shin Sekai Yori

From The New World/Shinsekai yori: Five children living in the future are the protagonists. The story begins when they are 12 years old and starting their lives at an advanced school to learn the ‘cursed power’ of telekinesis. (Source: Crunchyroll)
Spoiler Warning: Post contains spoilers for the first episode of Shin Sekai Yori. Read this post with caution if you haven't watched it yet!
I'm not sure what I can say about this program. It's deep but not beyond comprehension. It's complicated and slowly unfolds from scene to scene. There is a mixture of fantasy and human-based reality I haven't seen since Madoka Magica. Everything about this first episode is, quite frankly, a bit of a blessing. SSY isn't an explosion of action and plot but rather a slow burn of exploring a future of magic and mystery.
I may not fully understand everything that is going on or why certain things are even happening to begin with, but I adore everything I've seen so far and I expect it to only get better from here on.
Read the rest of my thoughts on Shin Sekai Yori's premiere after the jump:

Our eyes in this future Japan is the young girl Saki, who has just recently graduated from her elementary school and has advanced to the next stage of magic education, the Unified Class, where she rejoins her friends from school. Saki is not a particularly gifted user of magic - she is the last in her school to graduate, her Juryoku comes to her late in life, and her parents are obviously worried about her position in life. 
We get a greater feel for her character than we do her friends, but it's obvious that everyone will get more developed the further this series goes. Right now, the scope of the cast is limited to these students and Saki's parents. Hopefully the series will give their characters' range before growing past them to include too many new faces.
Saki for us represents the audience. As she explores the various intricate issues that concern her world, so do we learn what Saki has to look forward to as she grows up. She lives in a world where everyone she knows uses magic of some sort or at least has the ability to do so, and that being visited by a spirit to be blessed in the middle of the night is not only normal, it is expected. Her trepidation at these developments mirrors the audience's. 
What is really wonderful and are the most attractive factors of Shin Sekai Yori is its atmosphere and its world building. The art style of SSY is soft and mysterious and uses shadows to its advantage in order to craft a world where ogres and demon spirits walk the earth alongside human beings. 
The best use of color is probably the scene in which a younger Saki sees a Trickster Cat in her school's hallways. We do not see the cat clearly, but his figure lurking beyond the corner, hidden in shadow and made more striking by a brief inversion of color, gives it a sinister appearance. It's no wonder the young people of this Japan speak of the Trickster Cats like they do.
There is also the world building to look at. It's immense but it's not as apparent as in other series. Viewers are introduced to a world system that has been created beyond its gaze, and we are left to piece together how everything connects through the clues gathered via Saki's story. 
There is clearly a system set in place to teach certain people how to use magic, and there is a clear divide between the 'safe' world and the 'dangerous' world via the magical barrier, but the reasons as to why these things exist are still obscured by lack of information. What lays beyond the barrier besides ogres, if they truly exist? Many of the things we learn about spirits are through hearsay and stories from unreliable sources. So far, the only truly confirmed supernatural factor is the abilities of the Unified Class.
Add to all of this the opening scene, in which several young men seem to go on a killing spree by using their psychic powers as weapons, perhaps randomly or perhaps with purpose. This is the first and last time we see them before being introduced to the young people who will later make up the core of the series cast. I'm sure their actions will gain greater meaning later in the series but I'm impatient and I wanna know now, dang it!
Another brilliant part of SSY so far is the magic and how it is presented, as something steeped deeply in national and religious mythos and is an everyday part of life. The ceremony in which Saki confronts the flame and seals away her Juryoku in a paper doll feels very personal for those involved. It's both a religious and a coming of age ritual – but like many plot elements introduced so far, the greater importance of the pinning of the paper doll has yet to become apparent.
(Also, there are few things in this episode more visually striking and emotional than seeing Saki's paper doll blossom red from the priest's needles, and the tears she shed over losing her power. Gaining the power was frightening but losing it was unexpectedly tragic. It's a good show of inner conflict within Saki's heart.)
At the end of the episode, Reiko disappears from the school. Considering she is the outcast of the group, it makes sense for her to be the one who goes missing. It also highlights that there's something wrong with this future world, if children are going missing and trickster cat spirits are haunting schools and ogres keep trying to cross into the 'safe' world of magic. 
There's also the mentioned committee that seems to control how everyone lives, to the point that just the suggestion of their presence leads to intense hand-wringing by the few adults seen so far. What exactly do they have to do with the education system in this village and why do they have so much power over the residents? Another question on top of a stack of questions and mysteries that will probably climb higher before answers start appearing. 
So far Shin Sekai Yori is a series of so many various story threads, all waiting to be joined together into a wonderful finale – but that isn't for quite a while, I hope. I'm enjoying the mystery and the wonder of this too much for it to end. More than 13 episodes, please? Sentai Filmworks has already (!!!) licensed the anime for home video release, so I have hope that strong sales both in Japan and abroad will lead to more episodes and not to a short change in plot development.