Shin Sekai Yori Episode 11: Winter’s Distant Thunder
“Sometimes the truth is cruelest of all. Not everyone can bear it.” -Maria Akizuki
Summary: Saki, Maria, Satoru, and Mamoru realize that something seems amiss with their happy school lives, and as they start to question their memories and the reality of their world, their actions come to the attention of the shadowy Ethics Committee.
Impressions: Dear Shin Sekai Yori, why must you only be on once a week? And end in cliffhangers all the time? You’re not doing my heart any favors, you know. This weeks episode was a bit of a breather from the emotional rollercoaster that was episode ten. Although it didn’t really let up for very long (the ending!), this episode does serve to show us a bit more of our heroes, and the ties that bind them together. It also concretely answers some questions that up until now have been speculation.
Things start off with Saki and the rest of the gang back in school. It’s obvious some time has gone by (we don’t know how much exactly, but I’d guess a couple of months?), and the seasons have shifted to winter as shown by the icicles, class room heater, and the change in wardrobe. We’re introduced right off the bat to Ryou, a new character, who for all intents and purposes, is Shun. And by that I mean that he’s taken Shun’s place in everyone’s memories, as well as having taken his place inside the group. Ryou’s memories have even been altered so that he thinks that all the things that Shun did (like going on the summer trip together, and dating Satoru) were actually done by him. Shun has been completely erased and replaced.
Up until now, I’d only been speculating that people’s memories could be altered, like with Saki and her sister, and how at the very beginning no one seemed to remember the kids who would go missing, but this week we get the hard proof that, yes, some how, someone is changing people’s memories at will in order to keep up the facade of a safe and happy environment (I’d probably put my money on this being done by the Ethics Committee, but you can never be too sure with this show.) That’s not to say that it works completely, as Saki more than anyone else, has the distinct feeling that something is not right. Satoru feels it too, as well as Maria and Mamoru, but they only really realize it when they concentrate very hard on their memories.
All of this is first brought up when Ryou asks to talk to Saki alone, in order to ask her to be his partner. This is tantamount to a love declaration, as these “duty partners” often go on to have relationships or get married (at least that’s the feeling I’m getting from it.) Saki, who even without remembering the reason why, knows to stay away from the courtyard, and that same subconscious feeling makes her question Ryou, and just how “real” her own memories are. After dreaming about Shun (though she can’t remember his face) and a mirror imbedded in a gravestone, Saki wakes up and searches for that same mirror. She finds it, and when she uses it to reflect the sun’s light, writing appears in the reflection. The strange dreams, uneasy feeling, and doubt all combine inside Saki, making her very sure that Ryou is not really the person she’s remembering. When she questions him further about events that he should remember, it becomes clear to her that Ryou is not who he says he is, and she rejects his proposal of being partners.
It’s Saki’s feelings of uneasiness and her questioning nature that leads her to talk to Satoru about Ryou. Satoru has also been feeling the same subconscious uneasiness about Ryou, and when Saki says that he can’t be the one that they both fell in love with, Satoru seems to be incredibly relieved that he’s not the only one that has been feeling that way. Armed with this, they discuss it with the rest of the group, and decide to go investigate where “X” (as they decided to refer to Shun, since they can’t remember his name) lived. They go to the village formerly known as Pinewind, now known as Withertree, which has abandoned and the landscape around it altered by a massive amount of PK. As they approach the area where Shun’s house would have been they find…a lake. OF COURSE it’s a lake. Just like the story of the Karma Demon, Shun and all tangible evidence of his existence have been sunk to the bottom of a watery grave. Not only does SSY make clear connections between the Karma Demon story and the present, but as the group struggle to remember Shun, they also start to remember the sixth member of their team, Reiko, who disappeared in the very first episode. Bet you didn’t think she’d every be mentioned again, right? I sure as hell didn’t, but it shows that practically everything is somehow important, and nothing is left to chance here.
As everyone tries to remember more and more, Mamoru has a bit of a break-down, and Maria insists they change the topic. They go back home, and after seeing Mamoru off, Saki reveals her theories about her sister Yoshimi and how she might have been deposed of by the school because her powers were too weak. Satoru and Maria, upon examining the mirror that Saki found earlier, both are more inclined to think that Saki is missing a lot of evidence to back up her theories. Maria in particular warns Saki about causing too much trouble, saying that not everyone is as strong as her and can deal with facing the dark truths that are hidden under the surface of their society.
Mamoru in particular, is brought up as an example of someone who isn’t mentally strong enough to deal with such a harsh reality. He needs to believe in the way their society works, because a betrayal of that magnitude would probably break him. While Maria might act high and mighty at school, and rubs her relationship with Saki in Mamoru’s face, deep down she really does care for him, as we see this episode. She comforts and protects him, to the point where she’s willing to tell Saki to not mention any of this around him again. We all have guessed at Mamoru being the weakest of the group, and this week we see just how fragile his is (and if that isn’t an open invitation for horrible things to happen to him, then I don’t know what is, poor little baby.) It is nice though that instead of cutting Mamoru out, they decide to protect him and not mention any more of this while he’s around, even though Saki says she’s not going to stop her inquires.
If I were being perfectly objective, I’d say that the episode probably should have ended there, because the last part felt really tacked on. I know they did it to end the episode on a note of suspense, but it felt a little unnatural, like the episode had already come to its conclusion but then wait! here’s some other little part that could have just been the beginning of the next episode. Two adults show up and request that Saki, Maria, and Satoru all come with them to see the head of the Ethics Committee, Tomiko Asahina. Since the identities of the members of the Ethics Committee are secret, not even Satoru knew that his Grandmother was the head of it. When it turns out that she wants to talk to them all individually, it set off some alarm bells in my mind. I find that generally when characters are purposefully described by other’s as “kind and friendly” they turn out to be anything but. Tomiko obviously has some serious business to discuss with Saki, as the previews hint at, so I’m looking forward to another episode full of plot twists and interesting reveals next week (can’t say I’m looking forward to how much typing I’ll probably have to do though.) Will we find out what exactly the Ethics Committee does? What’s their grand plan? What exactly do Saki and the rest of her friends have to do with it? And just who is that wandering around covered in blood in the previews? The suspense is killing me!
Final Thought: I know I’ve mentioned this previously, but hat’s off to SSY for its constantly changing wardrobes. This is probably one to the only shows I can really think of off the top of my head that has so many different outfits for each character. Everyone’s winter cloths this episode were really nicely done. I really wanted the big scarf/neck-warmer-thing Mamoru had, and Maria’s outfit was really cute as well. It’s just one more thing that shows the level of detail in this series, and makes it forgivable that sometimes other aspects of the animation aren’t as well done (like their faces sometimes look really strange) because I’m sure that it cost more to have your characters wearing a bunch of different things (especially as detailed as some of it is) than it is to have them wear the same outfit over and over again.
Final Final Thought: I though it was interesting to note that every time someone was having trouble remembering something clearly, their eye would twitch and they would then rub it or kind of hold their eye like they had a headache. And it was almost always the right eye. Just another fun little detail to point out.