An Unfolding Mystery: Shinsekai Yori
Fall 2012 Anime
A tingle along the base of your spine. A cold flash that sends a shiver down your body. The prickling tingle of your hairs standing on end. It’s what we use to shock ourselves from complacency, warning us when – against all appearances – something around us isn’t quite right, and we might not be as safe as we once thought. And above all else, it’s the best thing I can use to describe these opening episodes of Shinsekai Yori.
Adapted from a book by acclaimed Japanese horror novelist Yusuke Kishi, the story itself takes place a thousand years after the sudden development of psychic abilities somehow led to an end of our modern culture. The how and why isn’t apparent quite yet – the show has been slow to unveil its secrets – but in the very different future world these characters inhabit, the development of these psychic abilities is not just ordinary but desirable. And their society is all about being desirable. On the periphery of the story, children are going missing. One character is told by her eerily relieved parents that, after developing her abilities and graduating to the school that can train them, she was the “last” despite leaving behind a full class. Later, another character goes missing entirely after failing to show even the slightest control over the abilities she’d developed. Rumors of shadowcats snatching children from their beds run rampant amongst the children, but whatever the truth of things may be, any student that shows signs of being undesirable in the eyes of their society vanishes without comment.
Very little of this has caught the attention of the main cast, however. They go about their ordinary lives, taking their world for granted, but bit by bit the inconsistencies with their worldview and culture are becoming more and more apparent, and it’s only a matter of time before these things begin to affect them directly. For now though, these disappearances and lies give a darker cast to even the most ordinary of events these characters involve themselves in, as the mystery continues to expand for the sake of the viewer.
Although the show’s biggest draw is its exceptional horror subplot, the setting itself is also a strong pull on my interest. Every episode opens with a short vignette of a scene from the world’s past, which have thus far shown the first psychic going berserk on a killing spree, a psychic emperor terrorizing his subjects and the assassination of one of his successors. The world itself seems to have been completely recreated into something that doesn’t even resemble the one it was built in the ruins of, and learning of both its history and the uniqueness of its present is something I greatly look forward to in the show’s future.
A word of warning though; despite the existence of special powers, this show doesn’t go anywhere near the shounen mold. The story is slow paced, and action isn’t even on the radar as of yet. This is suspenseful speculative fiction, possibly even horror, and will not live up to the expectations of anyone expecting flash and fighting. But directly because of that, it’s also probably the most unique show of the new season, and anyone looking for a good mystery and a setting that isn’t as safe as it seems at first glance should definitely check in for an episode or two. It’s easily my top pick of the season.