I’m going into A-1 Pictures’ latest offering Shin Sekai Yori, or From the New World without any previous knowledge of the series. That means I haven’t read either of the novels, looked at the manga (outside of a few pages which were ‘super interesting’), and have resisted the urge to spoil myself on any of the series’ finer plot points. So having watched the first episode, I wanted to throw down my thoughts on it. Just for fun, and because I want to clarify some of my fragmented thoughts.
Saki and co. are brought up in an idyllic world within the holy barrier, tucked safely away from the unknown horrors of the outside. One such horror is ‘悪鬼’, which quite literally means evil demon. UTW translated it very nicely as fiend, so I’m going to go with that. The delightful sakuga scene courtesy of Shingo Yamashita (Tatami Galaxy, Baccano!) is easily one of the more memorable moments in the episode, twisted storybook visuals fitting with what Maria is telling, the classmates and viewer being her captive audience. She speaks of a villager venturing into the mysterious world outside and coming into contact with one such fiend. It’s worth noting that even through its nightmarish form, its shape could be that of a person. What are they anyway? For now, I’m tentatively going with theory that they’re humans devoid of any psychic power. So let’s say that the world has been split into two, between psychic users (no matter what amount of power they have) and pure humans. They live very different worlds, each seeing the other as something dangerous.
Even from a young age, the kids are instilled with the idea that the fiends are bad, teaching them that they must stop fiends from reaching their village at all costs, even if it means they give up their own lives in the process. One single fiend could bring upon their downfall. What a fragile world they must live in, for it to be so easily shattered by one person. It echoes back to the start of the episode, where we’re shown what’s presumably the catalyst for the world altering in such a way. People are careful. They don’t want to make the same mistakes. The humans could, understandably, still resent the psychic users for changing their society and world as a whole, and over time have been painted them as a monstrous species who wouldn’t hesitate to destroy cities and end lives with a simple flex of a nerve or finger.
Going by the way the village elders treated Saki, they must think the same of themselves, on some level. She is clearly hesitant on making the flames dance, unsure of herself even after receiving the blessing. When she finally gives it a go and starts to enjoy herself, even, the village elder all too suddenly, suspiciously cuts her off. Rather odd, isn’t it? Just before he was telling her that she surely could do it, giving her confidence and pride. What harm would it do to leave her play around a little more? No doubt it ties in to what happened at the beginning of the episode. Their powers are dangerous, and to avoid another incident they must be manipulated by those who know how. Given this type of situation, it’s likely that the elders felt alarmed upon seeing Saki enjoy herself so much, or saw something in the way she handled the flames that frightened them.
Saki was already in quite an awful state, and it’s no wonder. What she narrowly avoided was no doubt laying heavy on her mind, something that she’s forced to relive once Satoru tells the tale of a beastly feline that whisks children away into the darkness of the night, never to be seen again. While Satoru may have played it off as the sort of sensational rumour that children are known to tell, Saki and the viewer alone know better than that. She could very well have been one of those children. It’s a heavy burden for a twelve year old to bear, knowing that you were just about saved. You survived the purge while your siblings and other classmates didn’t, congratulations. At the eleventh hour you showed a flicker of power, and that flicker was just bright enough to send the cat on its sinister way.
The cat sinks its claws into children who don’t have the power required to function in their society, or the ‘不浄’/tainted. Going back to how Saki said the school had a similar atmosphere to where they visited on their field trip, it makes sense. The cows and insects were doing their bit for the community, serving a purpose. They’re needed, just like the children. Like the animals, if they’re no longer needed they too will be eradicated. Just like what I’m presuming happened to Reiko at the end of the episode. She wasn’t performing up to par, so she was no longer needed. It’s as horrifyingly simple as that. The ‘board’ having the power or influence to direct the cat makes it all the worse and no amount of outside meddling can sway them. Even Saki’s father with his higher up position couldn’t do a thing for his child – it must be tough on the parents too, having to deal with the prospect that their children mightn’t be needed anymore. And it’s something that Saki’s parents have had to face before. Who knows how many times they’ve even gone through that?
This is what I’m least confident about and what I’ll surely be proved wrong on with the coming episodes, but I sense there’s some visual manipulation going on as well. With the first episode we can see that Satoru has a penchant for more outlandish stories. But taking his flashback with the graves into account, can we assume that what he saw was true, even though Shun saw something different? Barriers may have been protecting the graves. Satoru came by the scene without warning, whereas Shun was sent there directly. The cat may also be an illusion, perhaps being a group of people (or a single person) assigned to deal with the ‘tainted’ children. Just something to think about, I suppose.