After a rather lengthy sequence of weekend watch sessions, I finally finished the highly regarded series that is Shinsekai Yori.
It’s bizarre how long it actually took me to watch this show. Despite its popularity and how well it’s been received critically, I’d always refrained from giving it a shot. It never caught my attention back when it was first airing and when I eventually tried giving the show a shot in the Summer of 2016, I passed out due to lethargy and never tried again afterwards.
But after a long, difficult struggle, I finally found the time and desire to give the series a proper shot. By desire I actually mean “you guys recommended I watch it”, but I digress.
As usual, I jumped into Shinsekai Yori completely blind. I had no idea what the show was about or what its main focus was going to be. After the first couple of episodes I thought the show was pretty mediocre. I had an alright time with them, but they weren’t particularly anything special. The show felt like a typical dystopia series with a fairly dull cast of characters and a narrative that was uneven and unfocused with a seemingly predictable path laid out for it. I wrote a First Impressions post after watching these episodes which you can find here.
But after ploughing through a few more episodes of the series, I ended up getting a lot more engaged with the narrative. As the show went on it began to have more of a focus and presented a really interesting look into the history of its setting and how the dystopia came to be. Once I knew these details, it made all the difference with regards to my enjoyment of the show, because suddenly everything had context.
And while I still don’t think Shinsekai Yori is particularly fantastic or worthy of its legendary status as having one of the greatest stories in the medium, I did have a fun time with the series.
I’ll give the script credit where its due. My predictions completely off when it came to where I thought the story was going. I thought the series was going to go in the typical direction of the cast of characters finding out that their peaceful society is riddled with corruption and have them trying to rise above the regime and eventually breaking down the dystopia, but instead it was quite the opposite. Because despite learning about the nature of their world and that their lives and paths are controlled and determined by the higher ups of society, they’re aware that the system works, and actually do everything they can to maintain the social order, even if it isn’t beneficial to them.
This is an element of the story I was really able to appreciate. There’s one scene in particular, my favourite in the series, where one of the characters willingly sacrifices themselves to prevent risking the lives of their people because they’ve become a danger to society and therefore must be eliminated. And knowing this, they accept their death in what is an extremely powerful scene that’s become one of the most moving moments I’ve seen from an Anime series in a long time.
And Shinsekai Yori has a lot of these moments. The story is filled with these emotional scenes that make much of the shows drier and more slow paced parts feel worth it. Whenever you reach these moments of pathos it feels earned, which is by far the shows greatest strength.
Unfortunately though, it’s also the shows biggest weakness. While these noteworthy parts of the narrative are incredible they often come at the end of major story arcs, and there are episodes upon episodes of build up between each of them. And while this build up is often necessary and can sometimes be fun, there are many times where it feels as though it’s there for padding or is just plain boring.
Speaking of padding, the series is also paced pretty horrendously. There were times where I’d watch an episode and think to myself “not much happened that episode” because not much happened that episode. There are some episodes, especially towards the beginning, that I could summarise in a span of two whole minutes because not all that much was going on. And I get it, Shinsekai Yori is the kind of show that aims to be a slow burner but the fact there were entire episodes I felt could have been glossed over almost entirely just felt kind of weird to me.
These issues aside though, the story itself was also a fairly mixed bag. I really enjoyed the direction it took. It was unexpected and there were plenty of enjoyable twists down the line that I definitely didn’t see coming. As a big fan of unexpected narrative shifts, I had great fun with these. However, there were some moments that really had me facepalming as well, in particular one of the early episodes where two of the main characters are trapped in do or die situation that seems hopeless and one of them is blessed with a literal Shounen power up that saves the day. There are several convenient moments like this throughout the show that damage the otherwise pretty good script, and it often just felt silly, especially considering the kind of show Shinsekai Yori is trying to be.
I was worried that the characters of the series weren’t going to grow on me, but they kind of, sort of, did when all was said and done. I found Saki to be a serviceable, but otherwise unimpressive protagonist. She fulfilled her role decently enough, but did far less than I expected of her. Satoru on the other hand was more of a driving force and I found him to be a much more dynamic and impressive character. He matured well over the course of the series and when all was said and done, I really liked him. Shun was also really great and had by far the most interesting character arc of the main group. The other two played their roles in the story fine, but I’ve genuinely forgotten their names already, likely because I’m terrible with names, but… I didn’t particularly find them all that interesting as characters.
As I said previously in my First Impressions, the visuals of the series started off fairly mixed. They remained as such. The backgrounds were absolutely stunning, but aside from that there was little that I’d deem as visually impressive. The character designs were your simple A-1 Pictures fare. However, the creatures of the world of Shinekai Yori were uniquely designed and really added to the overall atmosphere of the show. They were misshapen, weird and pretty cool. The animation production was also average, but considering the kind of show this is, it’s not much of an issue and there are plenty of well animated scenes when there needs to be, especially towards the end.
Shinsekai Yori was a fun watch. Despite my complaints, I had a good time with it. It has some fantastic scenes that really play with your emotions, a wonderfully crafted fictional setting and a fairly decent narrative with plenty of unexpected twists and turns throughout. However, it’s a slow burner, with many of the best scenes having a lot of unnecessary padding in between. Meanwhile a large chunk of the characters are fairly forgettable, and despite the plot being well executed in a lot of areas there are a lot of places where the writing falls flat on its face.
It’s a show that I feel tried really hard to present as tightly written a narrative as possible, but unfortunately didn’t quite succeed in its ambitions and at times came off as kind of pretentious.
It’s far from the pinnacle of storytelling in this medium, but it wasn’t bad at all.
Shinsekai Yori had a lot to prove and a lot to live up to and after hearing so much positive buzz surrounding this show for the past 4 years, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed.
However, if you’re looking for something with a unique atmosphere and enjoy moments of emotional pay off and satisfying pathos I’d recommend giving the show a shot. You’re guaranteed to have a good time.
I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on this one!
The next Readers Recommendation has already been decided. The next show I’ll be tackling is another A-1 Pictures show: Anohana!
See you all next time!
Interested in my scores for this and other Anime titles? You can find them on my horrendously incomplete MyAnimeList page.