Saturday, 11 January 2014

3000 Episodes Reflection: From the New World

Wow. 3000 episodes of anime. That's quite a bit of time that I've spent on my hobby in the 3.5 years since I started; if I were to watch that continuously, it would take more than 1 month, 2 weeks, and 6 days (or so says my tracker website). Now, those numbers are kind of misleading, I'll admit. Most likely I didn't really just hit the 3000 episode mark. There are some series on there that I kind of guessed how many episodes I had seen (i.e. Pokemon), but the point is it's really close, and I've spent a lot of time getting there.

Actually, interestingly enough, the 3000th episode (and 200th watched or dropped show) that I watched was the Mushi-shi special episode that just came out. You have no idea how excited I am for the second season that's starting in April. As a result, I felt like having a bit of a celebration and taking a look back at a series that I just recently finished: From the New World.

Now, this won't be a review of the series necessarily. The point of this is not to go into detail about what the show did right and what it did wrong, but rather to look at some of the points that it tried to raise and some of the messages that I think it tried to give to the viewers. This was a show that made me think about the actions of individuals and the nature of humanity itself, so that's where I'll be focusing. As a result, this post will contain some amount of SPOILERS for the show, though I'll try to keep them as minor as possible.

The main characters standing on glassy water reflecting the sky with the logo.
Don't they all look so cute and innocent?
If we were to give a genre to From the New World, it would be placed into the realm of Speculative Fiction, an area that is (generally speaking) a twist on the Science Fiction genre. Science Fiction can be broken into two broad categories: Hard and Soft. Some people define these categories differently, but for myself the difference between the two is that Soft stories contain elements well beyond our current level of understanding (i.e. the lightsabers in Star Wars), while Hard stories are built using technologies that exist today or conceivably be created, and they make an attempt to be grounded in science (like Planetes). Speculative Fiction stories are often built around the idea of taking up-and-coming technologies and looking at how they might impact our world in the future, so they fit in quite nicely with Hard Science Fiction (although they may still contain Soft elements). Coincidentally, I just started into Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, another Speculative Fiction work.

The setting in From the New World is Japan 1000 years in the future. Not a lot of information is given to the viewer right off the bat, but it is known that humans have attained something called "Power." The show opens with a flashback to near modern-day Japan where we see humans wielding their power: blood splashes on the windows of a classroom as the students inside explode, red stains are all that are left on crosswalks as the people that used to be standing there are murdered without anyone laying a finger on them. The "Power" that humans have is a telekinetic ability, and it is being abused.

Back in the future, we are introduced to our protagonists: a group of 5 children (the ones in the picture above), all of whom are around 12 years old. Their powers have all recently awoken, so they have graduated from elementary school and moved on to the next level. As the show goes on, we learn more about the society that the children live in, where everything is not as perfect as it seems. Not nearly. Outside of the safety of the village, Ogres and creatures called Karmic Demons are rumored to live and prey on those who leave. There are creatures called Monster Rats that are servants to the humans, but are advanced enough to understand and converse with humans. Things have changed in the past 1000 years.

Two Monster Rats prostrating themselves.
Don't they look so cute and... Yeah, no.
If there's any message that this show is trying to get across, it's that humans are evil. As the show goes on, some major things about the world are revealed, and each one just points back to the complete depravity of the human race. Not only is the society of the future itself set up around some principles that would revolt the modern person, but the 1000 years of history between the show and the present day are filled with example after example of the evil choices that humanity has made.

The show is split into three major arcs, each of which contains a significant revelation about the depths that humanity has sunk to and the evils that they are willing to entertain. In the first arc, we learn about the bloody history of the power-infused humanity and the different genetic modifications that were performed to people in order to keep them from harming each other, with safeguards like the "Death of Shame" built in. In the second arc, we learn the truth about what Karmic Demons and Ogres really are, what the side-effects of having power are, and how that all relates to the children who never graduate from elementary school. The final arc focuses on the human treatment of the Monster Rats, and shows the horrendous lengths that humans will go to in order to get revenge.

Each of these revelations gets progressively darker and darker, until the final revelation of the whole show left me sick to the stomach and feeling empty inside. Immediately after finishing the show, the only thought that was in my mind was: "Human nature really is evil, isn't it?" And you know what? Having thought about it more, I now realize just how true that statement is. Humans suck. We're all so sinful, and we live in this horrible fallen world where so many evil things happen, many of which are caused by humans ourselves. Left to our own devices, we really would sink to the horrible depravity that's shown in From the New World, where countless innocents are sacrificed for the cause. All I can say is, thank goodness we have a way out. We have a savior who came to rescue us from our sin and set us free from the evil of our world, and it is so good to be set free.

The show doesn't spend all of its time pointing out the general evil of humanity though; it spends a fair amount of time showing the evil that each individual is capable of as well. In the first arc, the children are attacked by a rogue colony of Monster Rats and they are forced to defend themselves. But after they have safely escaped, they decide to continue attacking the Monster Rats, to wipe them out completely as punishment for attacking humans. One of the main characters is particularly vicious, using his power to crush them with rocks, or boil them alive, or burn them into nothingness. Several times one of the other children asks him to stop, but he keeps going, as if possessed with the desire to kill them all. Later on, a character is introduced whose hatred causes the entire village to suffer on an unimaginable scale. From the way certain characters act, it's clear that the Monster Rats are truly viewed as slaves to the humans. The hatred isn't limited to humans either; the Monster Rats have their own problems. The web of hatred gets deeper and deeper until everything finally comes to a head. But by the end of the show, the hatred has not been solved. The truth is discovered, but nothing is done about it.

That's some pretty deep stuff that this show has brought up; or at least it's deeper than what most of the shows that I watch bring to mind (as much as I like K-On!). Now don't get me wrong: I'm certainly not giving this show my wholehearted recommendation or anything. This show has some pretty big flaws, and there are many aspects of the show that I really didn't enjoy (the whole Seki X Maria, Satoru X Shun thing seemed like it was put in there entirely for shock value and never contributed anything that couldn't have been achieved in other ways), but I can't say that I didn't enjoy the show as a whole. I do think that it was worth my time overall, and I feel like I really gained something by watching it. Should you watch it? Well, it's not for everyone. There some scenes that will definitely turn some people off (such as a scene of underage children getting uncomfortably close to sex), and the visuals in this show are often not for the faint of heart. The violence doesn't come too often, but when it does, it is definitely at a mature level. The show may be about children, but that does not mean that it is for children at all.

A series of screencaptures from episode 3 showing off the different art styles of the show.
The different art styles of the series. (from Meeping Anime)
On the topic of visuals, this show does have a distinct art style. The top two frames in the above image are from a flashback that starts off one of the episodes. Every time there is a flashback, the entire art style of the show is overhauled, giving the flashbacks an ethereal, dreamlike quality. That was one of my favourite parts. The rest of the visuals in the show are pretty plain looking (especially the characters), but that only helps to reinforce the beauty of certain scenes (such as the amazing starry sky reflected in the water or the False Minoshiro shown above). It's really a treat to look at, and it was beautifully animated by A-1 Pictures (responsible for a lot of great shows like Silver Spoon, Servant x Service, and Sword Art Online). Interestingly, the show has no opening sequence at all, instead deciding to throw viewers directly into the action each week. Almost every anime ever has a 1:30 intro with a song and animation showing people what they should expect from the show, but From the New World decided not to for some reason. I'm not complaining though, because the awesomeness of the rest of the soundtrack makes up for it. The first ending song (Wareta Ringo) is absolutely fantastic, and the main theme is perfectly eerie for the mood of the show. I don't know why, but the sound of young children chanting really gets to me.

At the end of the day, what do I have to say about From the New World? Well, if you want a show that really drags you into its world and makes you think about some of the darker things of life that you may avoid, this is the show for you. It's pacing is such that it is definitely a binge-watch show, not a weekly ordeal. Plus, the show is based off of a novel and it comes to a definite conclusion by the end, so although you may be wanting more by the end, you won't feel gypped out of an ending like so many shows have done recently (*cough* The Devil is a Part-Timer! *cough*). All-in-all, a fascinating show that is well worth your time if you can stomach a bit of objectionable content.

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