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Shinsekai Yori, or From The New World is a story set 1000 years in the future where humanity has gained the power of telekinesis. Back in our time as certain people's powers awakened it sparked a series of wars and murders as anyone who has the propensity to use these manifested skills now contain immensely destructive powers within themselves. As the people fought and attacked each other the earth was thrown into turmoil and much of the knowledge and remnants of the old world were lost. A millenium later the humans now live in villages inside a sacred circle that protects them from the outside world and are now pacifistic, unable to hurt their fellow men. Beyond the boundary lies many twisted and grotesque creatures caused by the flow of telekinesis tampering with evolution. But some say there are even worse things out there... known as ogres and karmic demons. It is in this new world that a group of children are learning how to use their telekinesis; their names are Saki, Satoru, Maria, Mamoru, Shun, and Reiko. In the school they attend they are part of group 1 and work together to move up in the class. However peaceful the world may be at first glance there is filth bubbling under the surface, a darkness that lies over the seemingly tranquil town. Early on in their class Reiko keeps on messing up her lessons and ends up disappearing mysteriously without a trace, and her group members seem to have no recollection that she exists. As they age the other five children must come to understand the ways of the planet and information that has lain dormant for hundreds of years. From the new world comes a wind of ill omen that whispers of the horrors that lie hidden at the society's core.
Fair warning, if you want something with a hero that overcomes all odds to magically fix all the problems and bring you a happy ending then you are going to be sorely disappointed. There are no people left in the world that could be called heroic. There is only the innocence of youth and the selfishness and hatred of the older generation who is tainted by the cruel practices that they continue to prop up in the name of stability and peace. Shinsekai Yori tells a story that bemoans what humanity can inflict on others and what people can justify as a means to an end. There are flashes of beauty in the story but before long they're always washed away in the crushing maw of despair. This is most definitely a series to make you think, not the kind of anime that you escape into a fantasy world. As you journey along with Saki and company you see everything through their eyes as the world looms bright and carefree for what seems an eternity, and yet only in a blink their utopia collapses around them as they start to see what really lies underneath the halcyon days of their childhood.
The characters are varied in their own personalities and yet thrust together and united as friends in a sadistic land that threatens to swallow them away at any moment much as it did Reiko. Saki is the most level-headed and calm amongst them. No matter the hardships she faces her spirit always rebounds as untainted as ever. Satoru is kind of the silly jokester who nobody can take seriously. As the series progresses though he evolves from his persona into something truly amazing (you can probably tell he's my favorite of the five). Shun is a child prodigy whom Saki loves and is incredibly intelligent. Maria is a bold and seemingly carefree girl who specializes in levitation. And Mamoru is an extremely quiet and sensitive soul who has little backbone to speak of and spends most of his time pining after Maria. The five of them suffer hardship after hardship together and the bond between them remains strong even if they become separated in the stream of time.
As for the rest of the characters it's more or less the adults of this world who take up the rest of the major players. The various councils in the village have the final word in what happens to the people that they oversee. As I stated about almost all the elder generation, throughout the series they do their best to hold on to inhumane practices and decides who lives or dies based on their own fear and paranoia. They're the sword that hacks away at the innocence of the youth until the impressionable minds of the newest generations becomes just as twisted and defeated as the adults. In a world populated by such horrors as ogres and karmic demons they go to obscene lengths to make sure nothing like those appear in their settlements. Working under the remnants of humanity are a species known as monster rats, a type of mutant that shares many similar attributes with humans such as bipedal locomotion, self-consciousness, and some can even speak. The monster rats worship the humans and their telekinetic powers as gods and are almost blindingly loyal. They live in clans in tunnels under a queen who gives birth to their race much as a colony of ants. The chief named ones among them are named Squeara and Kiroumaru and both of them play a major role in the plot.
The visuals of Shinsekai Yori are straight-up beautiful. From the gorgeousness of the sun reflecting on a river to smoke rising up in the sky the art is crisp and immaculate. The characters aren't too far removed from the styles prevalent in today's anime, but they have enough unique features to clearly separate the designs from most other things I've seen. Thus without looking too weird or generic the characters absolutely enthralled me with how they were drawn. And by Haruhi the first ED for the series approaches 5 Centimeters Per Second levels on just how much it enraptured me. It makes stunning use of light and shadow, the clearly defined and the abstract all into one amazing spectacle. Oddly there's no opening, which I don't really see too often. The OST for the series though has several standout tracks that are even pleasurable to hear on their own, full of some great orchestrations somewhat reminiscent of Studio Ghibli's works. I have no clue if there's a dub or not, but the Japanese seiyuu do their job splendidly.
Final verdict: 8/10. After spending so much time praising the aspects of the anime you're probably wondering why I didn't rate it higher. It goes back to what I talked about with the lack of heroes and the pessimism that hangs like a shroud around the series. It's a crushing atmosphere that makes it hard to look forward to what happens next when you feel all the pressing weight of the horrors prevalent throughout. To truly drag you through the depths of despair I feel as if a series also needs to show you happiness, to show you light so that the shadows can manifest. But when any moments of hope are few and far between like in this series I quickly gave up expecting a change from the status quo and just like the new world I accepted my fate to continue on a path of agony. It's kind of equivalent to running a blunt knife over your finger as it wears down and beats down your spirit instead of having the power to truly draw blood. Instead you're left with a sort of numbness as you reach the climax of the series and beyond. The entire time I was wanting HOUOUIN KYOUMA to come in and upset the ruling structure of the world. Shinsekai Yori is definitely a good series, no... great even, but holy hell it has an aura of intense darkness unrivaled by any other anime I've seen. As it doesn't ease up on it from beginning to end it takes the impact off when you're just constantly expecting more suffering around every corner. So long as you can resign yourself to this fact from the onset there's still plenty to enjoy here, most of all the fact that is simply smart and will make you ponder the folly of humankind and its intrinsic flaws. From the new world rages a tempest of cruelty that extinguishes innocence before it like the snuffing of a candle flame.