Title: Shin Sekai Yori aka From the New World
Company: A-1 Pictures
Format: 25 episodes
Dates: 29 Sep 2012 – 22 Mar 2013
Synopsis: In a future Japan there exists a picturesque village barred from the outside world. The rulers of this village possess psychokinetic powers called cantus. After awakening to her own powers, Watanabe Saki enters the Zenjin Academy to train alongside several of her friends. This peaceful existence soon comes to an end after a certain incident, as Saki and her friends learn about the dark and extensive history behind their society. Not everything is at seems, and humanity is hanging on but a knife’s edge.
A New World: The setting is unlike anything out there.
Plausibility: Believable and well-thought out world and characters make for a chilling experience.
Production: At its best, delivers a trifectum of sound, visuals, and writing that is mind-blowingly good.
Immersion: Incredible visceral impact that makes each episode a breeze to watch.
Shin Sekai Yori’s name is the Japanese translation of Antonín Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, From the New World. This is fitting since not only is the piece constantly replayed throughout the series, but also because the world in Shin Sekai Yori truly is an entirely new world in its own right. Moreover, just like the classical piece itself, the future world in Shin Sekai Yori is presented as peaceful and idyllic, yet it is underlaid with feelings of suspense, sadness and fear. Modern civilization no longer exists, and besides the existence of cantus powers, the lifestyles of human beings have essentially regressed. Undoubtedly, Shin Sekai Yori is about a dystopian society, but one does not even need to see the details to feel it in their bones.
There are of course several interesting themes explored throughout including the moral implications of a culture of fear, and the discriminatory nature of human beings, but most of the story’s focus is centralized on Saki and her friends growing up in such a harsh world. As the characters age, they struggle greatly with the dark secrets they learn about their world, and they must find ways to cope with their circumstances. In fact, Shin Sekai Yori is almost less about the society itself than it is a coming of age story. This makes Shin Sekai Yori more than just an intellectual curiosity; it is also a powerful character drama full of warm and tragic moments.
Oddly enough, some of the most compelling characters in the show are not even human, but are queerats. This subservient, intelligent species that is treated like dirt by human beings is both captivating and hard to watch at the same time. Their appearances are grotesque, and their actions are even more distressing. Something about watching ugly creatures acting like human beings, including how they form their society and wage war against each other, evokes extremely uncomfortable feelings. What this reveals about human nature is unsettling to say the least.
Such impressive visceral impact is owed greatly to Shin Sekai Yori’s fabulous production. Although the series has a low budget, sometimes looking a little pedestrian to be honest, it is utilized extremely well. At times, the cinematography and experimental visuals blew me away, and each scene’s atmosphere is almost always set up perfectly by its mesmerizing, haunting and beautiful musical pieces. Unfortunately, as the consistency of the show’s visuals will attest to, it seems as if the producers never intended this to be a commercial success. Shin Sekai Yori could have been a near visual masterpiece with its expertise and artistic vision if it only had a greater budget.
Regardless, this series is an absolutely fantastic experience. From start to finish, Shin Sekai Yori has an uncanny ability to draw the viewer in, making each episode a breeze to watch. Furthermore, it also delivers a plausible, well-thought out world that is both chilling and fascinating to behold. It is one thing to watch a horrible society, and another thing entirely to know and understand how humanity put itself in such a position. The scariest aspect of Shin Sekai Yori is that despite how disagreeable the world is, it is hard to say that we could be any better ourselves. In my mind, any work that can deliver such extraordinary qualities deserves all the accolades it can get.
The Rating: 9
Reviewed by: Reckoner