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Friday, October 19, 2012

The Vanishing Children: Shin Sekai Yori 2

Episode 2: Another student is removed from the roster and Saki uses her powers outside of class. (Source: Crunchyroll)
"The Vanishing Children" is another brilliant episode of Shin Sekai Yori, where the pieces of the story just keep coming together slowly but surely. Everything seems innocent but once the layers start falling away, the true nature of this show's world starts peeking out between the cracks. In this episode, Saki's class engages in a little psychic game, the children continue to disappear from class, and Saki does something she's told she shouldn't to help someone else. It's a series of seemingly unimportant moments that have all the markings of being something much bigger in the long run.
The rest of my review of Shin Sekai Yori episode 2 is beyond the jump.

This second episode of SSY opens with a rather disturbing flashback to an emperor whose reign was heralded with a mass sacrifice of citizens. How did they die? By fire, seemingly out of nowhere, for those who stopped clapping for their new ruler. What does it have to do with the actual series? It's unclear - right now. It might be building on an extended history of people using the powers that Saki and her classmates are now learning to control, a history that will become essential to understanding the story.
We then come back to SSY's present day and a normal day of lecture with the Unified Class. They are reading a passage from their textbook about a young man who let his emotions take over him until he became something entirely non-human. The students in the class seem terribly unfazed by these stories, like they've been hearing tales like these since childhood.
It seems that the majority of the lessons center around cautionary tales in order to keep these young people afraid and in line. Don't cross the purified barrier by yourself or an ogre will chase you. Don't be a bad selfish person or you will lose your humanity and become a demon. There's something dangerous out beyond the barrier where they can't cross into, and the education system is doing its damnedest to make sure they never find out what that is.
The majority of the episode is spent on the Unified Class' contest to move the ball. The class splits up into four teams, all tasked with creating mentally-powered machinations from clay that would protect and also push the ball to its target. Naturally, the team Saki is on consists of her close friends in the class. 
On the surface of this special event, it's just a harmless game meant to distract and cause some healthy competition between classmates. It's actually a training exercise so that these kids sharpen their skills and learn to control their abilities in more specific parameters. The fact that they don't present it as a big deal from the beginning is pretty impressive.
Overall, the episode's narrative is pretty straightforward. We have the Unified Class game which takes up the bulk of the action, followed by Saki and her friends walking home only for her to end up using her powers to assist some unlikely pedestrians. 
Speaking of tactics to keep the students in line, they all know that when they hear the first notes of the night song that they must go home right away. They don't even question it. It's almost frightening how in line these young folks are, at an age when they're most likely to be rebellious. 
(Also? The song is "Goin' Home", based on Dvorak's "From The New World" symphony. If that sounds familiar, look at the anime of the series. Shin Sekai Yori = From The New World.)
As pieces of the overall story are coming together, more and more children are vanishing - and the only visible response to it so far is marking their names in the official ledgers as gone. The school does not even openly remark on their absences. The students seem to forget those students were even there as soon as they are gone. 
Whatever is happening, it is like they're being erased from their lives. Saki could be next. It's strange and fascinating and mysterious - and it's become a must-watch for this recent anime season.
You can watch subbed streaming episode of Shin Sekai Yori at Crunchyroll. It has been licensed for home video release by Sentai Filmworks but is not yet available for pre-order.