Shin Sekai Yori Episode 4: Bloodstained History
“We’ll be targets for removal now that we know this.” -Satoru Asahina
Summary: I could accurately summarize this episode in the following way: SHIT. GETS. FUCKED. UP. (mostly on a psychological rather than physical level, but this episode still gets real dark, real quick.)
Impressions: Whelp, other that my first thought of “What the fuck did I just watch?!?” and “When’s the next episode?!!!” let me take a second to collect my thoughts. Deep breath. Got my coffee, got my notes; okay, let’s do this. I can already tell it’s going to be a long one, so brace yourselves.
More than half this episode is a massive info dump, courtesy of our friend the False Minoshiro/Library, which tells the kids the detailed and mostly horrific past which lead to civilization as it stands currently. This “history lesson” is a lot to digest, but I didn’t find it to be dull and it certainly wasn’t boring, so I was mostly okay with having so much information given to me at once. Let’s break it down.
Everything starts a bit before the time we see in the beginning of episode one with the emergence of psychokinesis in humans. It was researched and studied and eventually accepted by the scientific community. The number of PK users grew and grew, eventually becoming about .3% of the global population. Enter Boy A, a young man who becomes one of the first to use his PK to do harm unto others, breaking into women’s houses to rape and kill them. The level of PK related violence rises from that moment on, which is what we see in that very first flashback to the year 2011.
At the beginning, people’s powers were weak, but because they’re lives were always in danger, the PK user’s powers evolved very quickly, making them even more dangerous to your average person, which raised a whole mess of political, philosophical and ethical questions. How do you deal with a group of people who could wipe you out at whim? Do you quarantine them? Kill them? Trust that they won’t use their superior strength to harm you? It’s a lot of the same dilemmas that you see in X-Men, with the division between Mutants and normal humans, if you’d like another example of this type of scenario from pop culture. Except unlike X-Men, none of the PK users seem interested in applying their powers towards protecting regular humans, instead using their powers to plunge the world into an era of war and strife which is refered to as the “Dark Ages”.
And dark it certainly was, as the world’s population sharply declined and civilization as we know it was destroyed. What remained of society fell into one of 4 groups: The emerging slave empires ruled by possessors of PK, Hunter-gather tribes that were trying to escape from the emperor, bandits who used their PK for murder and robbery, and lastly, scientists whose main goal it was to preserve all the ancient knowledge. It was they who made the library and maintained written records of what was happening to the world around them. This is where the second flashback leads to, with its depiction of the crowning of the new emperor of the Holy Cherry Blossom Empire. The applause we see lasted for three days and three nights before enough people had been sacrificed to his holiness’ whims. It had become common practice for the emperor’s successor to kill him and take his places. If you’ve got people killing each other to get on the throne, you can bet that that might not be a really fun happy place to live. Since the Emperor didn’t really have full control over his powers, he’d often accidentally kill his attendants or slaves or even just innocent people, leaving the country covered in corpses and stinking of rotten flesh.
More than 1/2 the world’s population was massacred during those 570~ years of darkness, but if there’s one thing that history teaches us, it’s that empires can’t last forever, and after around 600 years of horror, death and oppression the four slave empires that divided up Japan finally started to crumble and die. This is what we see in the third flashback, with the assassins storming the castle. With such a steep decline in population, the number of PK users had also gone down, and with an increase in the intensity of the fighting between the Emperor and humans, the empires themselves were left severely weakened. The scientists, who during all those centuries had stood quietly by and watched as the world essentially went to hell in a handbasket, saw this as their moment for action and moved in to impose order on what was left of the populace. This is where the False Minoshiro gets a little fuzzy on the details, owing to a lack of reliable information, so it can’t tell the children exactly how the switch from the empires to their current societal model happened, but it does enlighten them as to how their society really works and why it does the things that it does.
Before we go into that though, let’s take a look at this very aptly named “bloodstained” history. The show does an excellent job of integrating the flashbacks we’ve already seen with new scenes showing just how terrifying those times were, as well giving them a proper context. Some of the information we’re given could have been guessed at, but a lot of it was totally unexpected. I was most surprised by the story of Boy A, not only because it took an evil (rape and murder) that is very real to the world we live in now and heightens it just a bit (by adding that he could open any lock using his PK), but also since I was operating under the assumption that those attacks shown at the beginning of episode 1 were the first of their kind. But I guess I was dead wrong.
It was clear from the start of the show that something horrific had happened for society to have regressed and changed so much, but this episode really goes all out in showing us just how horrific those events were. The scene where Saki is freaking out and the Minoshiro is describing the landscape during the Emperor’s rule was particularly harrowing. It’s a great example of how the right words and sound effects (that buzzing fly sound…*shudder*) can really set the tone and take a scene to the next level without needing to show excessive amounts of blood and guts splashing all over the place. Gold star for you Shin Sekai Yori!
The other big component that the False Minoshiro tells the kids about is how the scientists researched and shaped the societal model that they currently find themselves using. These scientists realized the great potential that PK has for good and for evil, resulting in them setting out to research a type of society where they could all peacefully coexist, without having one PK user trying to take out another. Using a combination of education (those stories we’ve been hearing during the class segments), psychological influences (all the exercises they do), and personality tests, they became able to filter out children that might violate the rules or harm society in some other way with almost 100% accuracy. This becomes a standard practice, and explains what happens to all those kids that don’t develop powers, do poorly in school, or are just plain rotten apples.
Ethology (the study of animal behavior) was also used to form this new type of society. They wanted to create a society that was based on love and sex, much like the Bonobo monkeys that are mentioned. Instead of venting their angers or frustrations in a violent way, these particular monkeys use intense physical affection to maintain a peaceful group dynamic. In much the same way that Orgy-porgy’s are used as a conditioned response to control and pacify the people in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, so too is sex and physical intimacy used to control and pacify the people in Shin Sekai Yori. I’m probably not alone in thinking that this “sex as a way to circumvent aggression” will probably come back up in the future (can’t pass up a good excuse for some fanservice, now could we?) All of those things proved effective but one more safe-guard was needed to completely ensure that this society would not collapse in the same way as those before it: and it came in the form of genetic modifications. Two things were added to the human genome, the first was a very strong sense of personal restraint (much like that found in animals like wolves), and the second was the “Death Feedback.”
“Death Feedback” was a concept that I though was really fascinating and at the same time very out there. The idea that your subconscious, as soon as it realizes that you’re doing harm to another human being, would then use your own powers against you to shut down your body is as crazy as it is original. The fact that it’s reinforced by conditioning and hypnosis seems very in step with the world that they’ve built up so far. It’s part of my working theory that during that first part, with Saki in the temple in episode one, that her powers were “sealed” in a way using hypnosis, in order to create a wider power gap between regular people and those in charge. The scene involving Saki and the priest this episode seems to be further proof of that, as it would fit that she was also hypnotized/conditioned at that time to never hurt another human for fear of the Death Feedback.
This “Death Feedback” also explains the reaction that all of the kids have to the violent imagery that the False Minoshiro uses. They all are shocked and repulsed (my poor precious Prince Mamoru even breaks down crying) by the idea that one human could hurt another using their PK, and they would be if they’d never seen any violence because of the looming threat of their own bodies turning against them. I guess I should have seen it coming, but honestly, I was surprised at first by their reaction, especially since they had just been talking about skinning and cutting the False Minoshiro in half. I would have though for sure that with all those dark stories, or just school yard scuffles that there would have been some mention of person-on-person violence in their lives before this point. I’m curious as to how it will affect the group in the future, because going off the preview for next episode, I’m guessing that they’re not going to have the luxury of staying pacifist forever.
That brings us to the other important event of the episode, which was the introduction of Rijin the priest and our teams run in with the rebel Queerats. Rijin appears out of no where and destroys the library (by setting it on fire), seems to know exactly who everyone is, and promptly demands they follow him back to the temple of purity after he seals their powers because they broke the Code of Ethics. It’s on him that we also see the “Curse of the False Minoshiro” take effect. Yeah, turns out that that’s a real thing too, as many of the urban legends turn out be true this episode, while the stories that are taught in school as fact turn out to be maybe just a little embellished. Although the way the curse actually works is a surprising twist. The part of me that is really into conspiracy theories wonders just how Rijin knew where to find the kids and how he knew all of their names. I wonder if the people in power didn’t guess that they would stray from the path set out before them, and send Rijin there to capture them before they could go back and contaminate the village with their knowledge.
Rijin is also the first adult we see who uses his PK, and it’s obvious that he’s incredibly powerful. Not only is he able to truly levitate, but he can also manipulate large areas of ground in order to create a trench for them to walk in, shoot flames, and summon tornado/ black hole/ spirit things. He seems to have more power than anyone seen thus far, again playing into my theory that since he works for the Temple, the part of his powers that everyone else has sealed, is unsealed in his case, giving him the upper hand in all kinds of situations. For all his power, the fact that he’s suffering from the Death Feedback makes it apparent that he’ll be easy for the kids to escape from next episode.
You’d think that in an episode so full with information and pivotal events there couldn’t possibly be anymore, but I’ve been saving the best for last. The episode up until this point has been great, lots of “What the WHAT?!” moments but the last 5 or so minutes really take the cake. We’re introduced to a whole ‘nother breed of Queerats here. Gone are the timid, tiny, rodent’s and in their place are huge, scary beasts that look like they may or may not be on steroids. They’re fucking ugly as sin (but I guess that’s the point) and are clearly here for a reason. Rijin remarks that they’re invaders (right before he takes one out). Let me just say, if I saw that whole army of them standing there, waiting to take me on, I’d be more than a little scared. I’m amazed that the group didn’t collectively freak out, seeing as how they were basically powerless without the use of their PK.
But then again, with Rijin’s summoning (? Uh…what the heck was that figure inside the tornado? Was that just Saki imagining things? Or was it actually there?) I might be less afraid. It was an awesome scene that does a good job of building up to the final moments, when the Blowdog freakin’ bursts out from under the pile of dead Queerats! WHAT? Yeah, that was scary and surprising in the best way. The colors were also very nicely done, with the hot oranges and reds on the Blowdog’s stomach, to the colors of the sunset in the background.
While a lot of questions are answered in this episode, there are just as many introduced to take their place. What are these new Queerats doing here? What’s their goal? Where’d they come from? My personal theory regarding the Queerats is that they’re what the non-Cantus using commoners and hunter-gatherers “evolved” into. I think that they were changed in the same way that many of the animals from last episode had been changed by the effects of people’s minds. That’s why they look vaguely humanoid (enough so to produce the Death Feedback) and why they can still almost speak human words. Since they’d be subservient to the PK users for so long, they eventually did turn into the slave-like creatures their masters imagined them to be by force of thought. Then you have that whole weird tornado thing. Was that a spirit inside it or what? Was Rijin sent with a purpose or was he really just passing through? Now that all the kid’s powers are sealed, how are they going to get them back? Or survive? And the Blowdog. Did it explode? How is it a real animal, when they were treating it as something similar to Bigfoot?
This was a crazy packed episode, and I’m sure there are a lot of things I might have skipped mentioning by accident. But if this episode is any indication, it looks like the show has finally hit its stride (not to say it wasn’t good before) and it will keep moving a long at a good pace from here on out. Next episode looks like we’ll be introduced to Squealer, who if you’ve read any of the promotional stuff etc, will probably have a big part to play influencing Saki and the others. After the cliffhanger from this episode, I’m terribly excited for the next one to hurry up and come out! I need more dammit! Although…maybe next time gimme an episode that’s not so…dense. Yeah, that’s a good word. Dense.
Final Thought: If Rijin’s voice isn’t done by Jouji Nakata, I’ll eat my hat. I swear I’ve heard that voice before…can anyone help me out here? Did anyone even read down this far? No? Okay…