Shinsekai Yori – Dystopian Utopia
October 1, 2012 2 Comments
Shin Sekai Yori got off to a very interesting start, introducing the world and a small group of people who appear, at first glance, to live in a utopia. The series has a curious feel to it, introducing an almost dystopian future wrapped in the appearance of a utopia where everything is wonderful and calm. Throughout the first episode there were glimpses of something far darker and more worrying that were reminiscent of films such as Logan’s run and even in some respects Blade Runner. We are briefly shown a flashback from present day showing a series of deaths involving children with Telekinesis or a similar power. What is particularly fascinating about this opening sequence is the perspective that it takes, looking down onto the world, focussing in on specific areas as if something is dropping down from space. As the series description states however, the main story takes place a millennium after these events, a time where those who have the power of Telekinesis rule the world.
The main characters all appear to live in a wonderful utopia where they have to nothing to worry about, and instead spend their days living among beautiful scenery and learning to control their powers. And yet, the village and its surroundings don’t feel or look right, while it is clearly real, it also comes across as fake or a façade that is hiding something dreadful truth about the world that everyone lives in. A protective barrier surrounds the village, and while the world outside of it does not look especially scary or any different from the one inside, every person is taught not to leave. There are apparently scary demons and fiends who would kill you and potentially kill everyone if they were to ever make their way through the barrier. The characters are trapped in a world that is both beautiful, but also makes no sense. It is an unnatural place where curious phenomenon are naturalised, and children go missing without any questions asked.
In the world of Shinsekai Yori those who can use psychic powers are prized, but we do not know, or rather, are not told what happens to those who are weak or cannot use these powers. At the beginning the central character Saki is brought before a group of priests who apparently stay in a temple outside of the barrier in order to develop and unlock her abilities. This particular sequence looks like a pagan ritual used by cults to invoke the gods and grant immense powers upon those who are worthy. The idea of casting aside all worldly desires in particular is a curious thing to bring up next to psychic powers and their importance. And more specifically, the nature of the ritual, along with the way that the head priest apparently casts aside Saki’s old power in order for her to claim her new ‘pure’ power almost looks like a method of sealing away that which is feared. Essentially this whole sequence, coupled with the nature of the school system and what they are taught looks like a method of control.
There are also numerous questions about the education system, one of the main ones being what happens to everyone else. Saki is described by her friends as being the final person to graduate from Harmony school, which strikes her as a little odd since there were still children there when she left. This, along with the emphasis placed upon the strength of psychic powers further suggests that while this world may look wonderful, it is little more than a thing veneer that covers a far darker and more oppressive society. Secrets are kept from everyone, with Saki wondering about what might have happened if she hadn’t developed her powers. This is further backed up by her mothers’ reaction; the relief on her face at seeing Saki’s powers suggests that those with no power are simply discarded as failures. This becomes all the more obvious as we, along with Saki overhear her parents conversation, in which her mother explicitly says that she doesn’t want to lose any more children.
The whole world is unnatural, and is reminiscent of the attitudes in Logan’s Run, where a harmonious and homogenised society is prized above all else. In the film everyone is told that nothing exists outside of their city, that the earth is a wasteland and they are the old survivors. Furthermore, once you reach 30 you go through the ritual of carrousel, which, it is implied, will take you to a great plain of existence. In reality it is a way of population control, and those who take part of executed while everyone else watches, however it is the belief that such an act is important which allows it to be maintained. The society in Logan’s Run may be more hedonistic that the one portrayed in Shinsekai Yori, but it shares certain important similarities. It is a self-replicating society, where conformity is key – those who either go against it, or are considered weak would be exterminated. In both cases those who live in the society do not question its laws and help to reproduce the existing laws and societal norms that keep the community alive.
But as mentioned previously, this whole community and society feels unnatural, as it is were a façade used to hide the grim truths of the world, something that it has obviously done well until now. The little bits of information that Saki has gleamed, along with the incredibly disturbing way in which children simply vanish overnight suggests that the world is far more dangerous than this fake utopia that they live in lets on. What was particularly striking about the first episode however, was not the small clues about the state of the world but rather than dismissive nature of the other characters. There is no thought on their part about why so few children graduate from Harmony School, and where everyone else goes, demonstrating an astounding ignorance, or unwillingness to look any further at the matter. Overall the series started off in an interesting and slightly confusing way, with the introductions taking place, along with a look at the world that these children have grown up in. As a series it borrows quite heavily on themes from earlier films such as Logan’s Run, Blade Runner and in some respects Westworld. This and probably the next couple of episodes are clearly meant to set up the story of these children’s adventure, while also showing off some of the curiosities of the earth as the original author envisioned it.