Super Serial: Shin Sekai Yori episodes 4 and 5

When we left off, Saki and crew discover a living archive of knowledge from around the time of the downfall of civilization. As I expected, episode four covers a lot of those events in exposition. Roughly half the episode is devoted to telling us what happened between the awakening of psychokinesis (which happens in 2011) to the five hundred year Dark Age.

We learn that an Azerbaijan scientist discovered the ability of some people to use psychokinesis, and it was these people who abused their power and caused a catastrophic series of wars that would annihilate human civilization. The archive also mentions control methods developed by one of the factions to contain PK users: psychological tests to root out and preemptively eliminate those prone to violence, behavioral modification to encourage affection toward others (more on this in a bit), and genetic modifications to produce an extreme aversion to violence against other humans. At this point the kids probe deeper into the question of ogres and karmic demons, and they do that thing where they essentially ask the plot point to be spelled out so that viewers will clearly understand what’s happening. But then the archive bursts into flames, and a monk, Rijin, appears and admonishes the children for listening to the archive.

Shin Sekai Yori

The episode plays it off like there was some deep secret that was about to be revealed, but I think any viewer with higher reasoning facilities will have already pieced it together. Saki seems to have pieced it together as well, though she doesn’t explicitly say it. But it’s pretty clear that this group of kids is part of that PK user containment program – the unexplained disappearances, the whole ritual in the first episode, and the warning to never ever go outside the town’s boundaries, it all adds up.

I think they could have done a better job at hinting at these things, instead of showing us, like, random school activities. It feels like this twist was written in, and they had to shoehorn in flashbacks to make it seem like that was the plan all along. But it just kind of felt weak. Before the plot advances too far, our heroes come under attack by a bunch of bakenezumi. Despite Saki’s irrational pleas for compassion, Rijin annihilates them all with a sweet black hole looking attack. He also seals away the kids’ powers as punishment for talking to the arhive, which he calls a demon. After the attack, while inspecting the pile of bodies, the group is attacked by a balloon dog. Then cue episode five!

Shin Sekai Yori

So the balloon dog explodes, killing Rijin. Another group of bakenezumi attack and split up the group. The explosion was so devastating that the art style changes. Saki and Satoru meet back up but are captured. Then things get weird. Remember those behavioral modifications I mentioned? They’re designed to make PK users act more like bonobos, which if you know about primates, are all about banging. So now that we’ve been casually told “oh yeah kids also feel each other up all the time in reaction to stress or conflict,” despite there being almost no hint of this at all (the “clues” we see in the flashbacks just show hugging), Saki and Satoru indeed start feeling each other up. Saki doesn’t seem to enjoy it as much, which just serves to up the creepy factor because she plays along while thinking to herself “we’re not monkeys.” Oh but you are, Saki. You are.

Eventually they escape thanks to Satoru feeding an explosive egg to the prison guard, and are led by another bakenezumi (a nice one I guess) to an underground nest. Then things go from weird to terrifying as we meet a queen bakenezumi:

Shin Sekai Yori

Oh yeah, take in them delicious fat rolls. Anyway, the whole point of this exchange is… nothing. Seriously, nothing really happens. Saki and Satoru are asked to help this colony fend off an invading colony (the one that attacked the children earlier). But it seems like they’ve been tricked into doing… something. Because why not.

It’s kind of frustrating keeping up with this story because a lot of it feels like bad retconning. A bunch of mostly irrelevant things happened, and then we get a twist that tries to tell us those things weren’t irrelevant at all. But you know, they still kinda are.