Final Review: Shinsekai Yori

DISCLAIMER: Anime reviews on this blog will attempt minimal to no spoilers unless other noted. If a review seems dull or shallow, it’s because I’m trying to make sure not to go into too detail for those who are actually interested in the show before or after reading the review or those who have yet to finish the title. If you want further details, there are usually tons of reviews that can be found elsewhere on the internet. Furthermore, anime reviews in general are the sole opinion of the author writing it and thus differ across the users. There is no such thing as a “right answer” only a majority agreement. You are free to have your own opinions and thereby free to state and/or argue/debate in the comments section below or on the Fansub TV Forums. The review is not necessarily meant to serve as a recommendation but rather a personal opinion of having completed the series.

Welcome to the Winter 2013 reviews. Barring Kingdom and Smile Precure! aside, I thought Shinsekai Yori deserved the first spot this season to be reviewed given the abnormal premise of this show compared with everything else recently. Shinsekai Yori is based off a 3 volume fiction novel by Yusuke Kishi. The series is set a millennium from the present in a utopia-like society. There, a group of friends: Saki, Satoru, Maria, Mamoru, and Shun are raised with the “god-like” powers known as Cantus. Those with Cantus are considered the “elite” in the society. Little did they know, however, that they were living in a society where “big daddy” was always watching them. It is not long until they begin to come across the secrets of both humanity and the world they are raised in and how different society has become over the last millennium. This marks only the beginning of a life-threatening adventure for the group. Shinsekai Yori premiered during the Fall 2012 season and ran for 25 episodes through Winter 2013. It was simulcasted by CrunchyRoll and licensed by Sentai Filmworks.

Shinsekai Yori started off as a very confusing series. There was no clear direction and very little revelation occurred in the first half of the series. There was definitely an intriguing premise hiding in this series and given the length of the novel, it really is not a surprise that it took a while for stuff to finally flush out. The characters seem rather dull and naive kids in the first few episodes but grow infinitely more interesting as the series progresses. A lot of the elements in this show are a bit out of wack and it doesn’t do a good job at explaining a large amount of the terminology in the early episodes. That said, once the ball got rolling and the viewer finally gets a hold of the terminology in this show, it becomes a highly engaging title that will keep you on the edge of your seat. However, that doesn’t mean you will understand what is going on in the overarching story, at least not until half way that is. Shinsekai Yori operates in a typical mystery novel fashion: question arc first, answer arc last. Granted that Shinsekai Yori is not classified as a mystery title, it certainly sets itself up as one in the anime adaptation. It constantly throws out all these questions about the society and why it is the way it is early on. The thing is, many of these little questions are actually riddles within themselves that lead to relatively logical conclusions in the series later on. Now the biggest negative to Shinsekai Yori I’ve heard is mostly from novel readers who have complained about the story not being adapted faithfully. Considering I’ve read a portion of the novels, I do have a few complaints (mostly on the gender of the fiend) but the staff did what they really could in 25 episodes given how much material is in the novels. Maybe not the most optimal presentation but it certainly got the message across. In fact, you could actually make 3 full length Lord of the Rings like movies with Shinsekai Yori given its content, which I certainly would not mind seeing. Conclusion wise, it’s quite solid. It ties many elements presented earlier on in the series in its home stretch though I can’t say it was 100% believable given some of the more wacky elements they pulled (i.e. Shun’s “return”).

Art is gorgeous. The scenery definitely had some thought put into it when presenting the dystopia setting. Characters are a bit plain particularly when the protagonists were younger. As if it wasn’t enough for the story alone to confuse me, I recall having a hard time differentiating Shun, Satoru, and Mamoru for a while given their near identical hair color.  Animation is by A-1 Pictures who has generally been solid but Winter 2013 was exceptionally bad. While it wasn’t particularly noticeable in Shinsekai Yori, there were some obvious animation dips and inconsistencies about 3/4 into the series. Regardless, it was one of the better titles this season by them and possibly of equal quality as Sword Art Online episode 1.

Music wise the show had no OP theme except episode 16, which ended up being the second ending theme anyways. The first ED theme is okay but the second ED theme is amazing and fits the mood of the show very well. Not to mention a fantastic video to go with it. Sound effects is excellent and fair sound effects. Seiyuu is mostly monotone despite a high quality group. There’s really no sense urgency at times from them given the “life-threatening” adventure they go through.

Enjoyment? Slow start but managed to keep me engaged long enough to really praise this show. I had a gut feeling from the get go this show as going to be good and I’m very glad I stuck with it to the point I really want to read the rest of the novels now. The presentation is probably the biggest complaint given it’s lack of a hook for the simple-minded viewers. It also does more talking that showing at times though not as convoluted as say Bakemonogatari. However, given the vast amount of terminology and the complexity of the setting, you may as well say it’s equivalent. Recommendation wise, Shinsekai Yori is probably the best in class. It’s premise at the most basic level is not unique as Haibane Renmei and Shangri-La all have done something similar. Furthermore, you have titles like Fractale, Noein, and same season’s Psycho-Pass with similar elements. However, very few of these titles can really hold a candle to Shinsekai Yori’s unique concept and strong development.

So, I’ve probably confused many of you enough with the story paragraph’s roundabout answer. Thing is, everything in this show is a spoiler including some of the terminology as they all play a much larger role in the overall show. That said, Shinsekai Yori should be approached with a very open mind. If you come in expecting all answers to be spoon fed to you, you’re better off skipping this or gaining some more experience first. The show is a very complex and requires one to think of the elements that goes on. It’s not like Steins;Gate where it keeps the audience humored before getting all serious while explaining the smallest details. Shinsekai Yori is highly recommended for more advanced anime viewers as well as those with appreciation for a dystopia and/or complex setting. It’s definitely not something one should be watching if you’re interested in slice of life unless you have a twisted sense of slice of life. In retrospect, 95% of the things in Shinsekai Yori made sense. It just took a while to unravel as well as some additional outside inferences.

Overall, Shinsekai Yori has become a love/hate show for many this series. It’s a show that you really get into and stick with it or you get bored/confused from the get go that it turns you off for the remainder of the series. As said many times, it’s not an easy story to comprehend let alone grasp until possibly you’re about 20 episodes in the series where everything from prior episodes finally begin to make sense. Without a doubt, however, it is arguably the best title in the last three anime seasons if not more. Chihayafuru 2 may give it a run but the two are really not comparable. It’s a gem that I highly recommend giving a chance but, again, requires watching with a clear mind to fully appreciate and stay engaged.

 

Story and Character:

  • Premise (1/1): Interesting setup. Lacking in direction
  • Character Personalities (0.5/1): Initially bland but a fun and enjoyable cast
  • Character Development (1.5/2): Deep, but could be better. Skips over many details and expects the viewer to interpret.
  • Character Usefulness/Presence (1.5/2): Took a while to really differentiate certain characters given the vast amount of information being thrown early on.
  • Pacing: (1/1): Slow start but overall no major complaints.
  • Reasonable/Plausible (2/2): In retrospect, 95% makes sense except that one thing about Shun really bugged me.
  • Conclusion (1/1): A tad anti-climatic but solid and conclusive
  • Total: 8.5/10

Art and Animation:

  • Backgrounds (2/2): Beautiful.
  • Character Designs (1/2): Tad plain
  • Fluidity (1.5/2): Hiccups 3/4 way through.
  • Visuals/Special Effects/Flashiness (2/2): Great
  • Art and Animation “Expectation” (1.5/2): Inconsistencies when A-1 takes up 5+ shows in a season. One of the better titles to date.
  • Total: 8/10

Sound and Music:

  • OP/ED/Insert Themes (2.5/3): ED1 is okay. ED2 is fantastic.
  • Background Music (2/2): Outstanding
  • Sound Effects (2/2): Greate
  • Seiyuu (2/3): Mostly average. Kana Hanazawa as Maria = best character in this show.
  • Total: 8.5/10

Enjoyment:

  • Amusement (2/2): A lot of fun elements scattered through this series.
  • Weekly/Next Episode Anticipation (2/2): Engaging and best show to look forward to weekly.
  • Presentation: (1/2): Very weak hooks for viewers who don’t like thinking when watching anime.
  • Re-watchable (1/1): Very good. Been a while since I’ve really been able to say this about a show.
  • Recommendation (2/2): Excellent as there are very few shows that portray dystopia settings in a complex and intriguing manner.
  • Value (1/1): Underrated gem that deserves more love.
  • Total: 9/10

Preliminary Score: 7/10

Final Score: 9/10

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