Shinsekai Yori: An intepretation of Its Meaning (Anime)
If I mention an anime titled Shinsekai Yori, even if you are an anime fan, the chances are you may not have heard of it. I am one of the people blessed to have watched this masterpiece and through my journey alongside Saki; I have witnessed many meanings, notions and ideas that apply to this society and the possible world of the future.
Shinsekai Yori unravels amidst a utopia one thousand years in the future. It centres around one group of friends who experience life including its many harsh occurrences. The journey begins through rumours and stories, that soon become truth and after encountering a false minoshiro, the group uncover secrets of their distant past. As a result they are thrown onto a dangerous path and Saki loses most of her friends through various incidents. Below are points from the anime of what I believe to hold significance and will contain spoilers, so I would advise you to have watched this masterpiece before reading the notes.
Monolithic stones and structures
The scenery of the anime features monolithic stones and one thing that interests me is the large structure in the background of the anime’s promotional image, a large pointed hollow shape and the few stones that rest in front of the hollow. It appears as though this is some sort of energy generator and from a little research I have come to believe it may be related to that of sacred geometrical structures. If you look into ancient civilisations the use of sound energy is something that we have long lost, and the monolithic stones can represent returning to nature and using earth’s natural field instead of generating through unrenewable sources. They also use electricity in a minimal nature and generate most of it though waterwheels.
Episode ten – The hidden conscience:
In the anime it talks of the human subconscious and how it is vast. With cantus their ability to subconsciously perceive and change the world around them happens. It is revealed that the barriers that enclose the population in villages are to protect them from the inside rather than outside dangers.
This could be perceived as a number of things. Firstly, it could be seen that through influences such as the television and media in this world is what influences the majority and through this mass perception it becomes reality through hypnotisation of our subconscious and therefore it is us that act as a secondary force to influence the world to progress in this manner.
Secondly, the barrier and the influences could be in order to suppress the true power of our subconscious and our imagination which if let loose could grant us true freedom. The barriers could be in place to prevent us from achieving this, and through this knowledge would mean we must accept the responsibility of both good and evil, therefore achieving a balance between them rather than suppression of what we do not like and fear. Through our fear to understand the unknown parameters of ourselves we carve the path that will allow such negativity to accumulate and through our lack of understanding we are unable to combat such threats when they surface.
Taking this on board, if you look at the case of Shun, he is a kind and gentle person. As the anime progresses he realises that his subconscious begins to flow out of control and his parents die as a result, including many people in his village. This could show that by suppressing any negativity early on and ignoring it, it can gradually gather and creep up on you. If you accept the balance and acknowledge certain undesirable traits, such a result may not come into effect. On a grander scale, the adults of the village out of fear have been murdering possible children through the use of fierce cats who murder any children who are believed to possess negative traits. It was only a matter of time before a disaster escaped their clutches.
Episode eleven – Truth
Truth, not everyone can bear it. Some people can endure, learn the truth and stay strong, while others might break down and become unstable. This applies to the current society. If an individual learnt the truth behind the world we think we know, they may be unable to withstand this knowledge and lose their mental stability, while others can and may become the guides to path the way towards a better future. In the anime Saki is that light… She is sensitive and cries, but she is strong and can overcome any truth that she experiences and continue moving forward.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link
The above phrase is used to describe one of the characters in Saki’s group, Mamoru. There is another character that they lost early on who was at that time the weakest link. Children are analysed in the ability of their cantus as well as their personality. A chat that took place between Saki and Tomiko (leader of the ethical committee), reveals that the personality of a person is also taken into consideration and observed at the school.
Maybe the weakest links are taken out due to paranoia and fear that they may be the ones who succumb to becoming a fiend or karma demon. Fear drives the leaders of the education committee who have full custody over the children until they reach a certain age. Saki’s memories, despite her ability to cope were not returned to her, those of the tragedy of her friend Shun. It was due to the fact that if her friends were to discover such information, the weakest link would divulge information and collapse the peaceful community.
This could be what those who control this society fear about those who have awakened to a greater knowledge. They are fearful that the truth spoken can collapse this current structure of society, one which they have a solid hold over its control and are fearful that soon we may be able to reach true freedom, something that would render them powerless.
Episode fourteen – Tomiko san: “To protect the town you need someone who is not an obedient sheep. A leader needs to accept the good and the bad and have enough faith to get their hands dirty”.
The words from Tomiko hold great relevance to where we are today. Many of us are obedient sheep; we lack the ability to think for ourselves and to be apart from the majority. To be apart from the majority you must face ridicule, put up with sad times and hard times, but in the end you will achieve something that those who follow the majority cannot grasp or imagine.
This statement also refers to the truth that we are brainwashed. There are those who do not succumb to this conformity and it is those who may find the light amongst this world where we are reduced to living zombies.
Fear through direct violence, wealth and mind control; these words are used in the anime to describe how ancient civilisations, including hours of today maintained power over its people.
Fear is strong within aspects of this anime. Fear is the emotion that can destroy an individual, turn to paranoia and drag them into despair. When in this state of mind one will not act rationally and chose the wrong decisions in any situation. The education committee in Shinsekai Yori is driven by paranoia, and through their control over the children’s lives until the age of seventeen they commit many accounts of murder. They weed out people who ‘could’ but not definitely become a fiend or a karma demon. This also touches on control and freedom that despite the outside appearing a utopia, they are not really free.
Telomeres: The myth to combat aging
In episode fourteen, Tomiko speaks of telomeres, the tips of chromosomes that if preserved would prevent us from aging. Maybe this is a hint to a way that humans could prevent aging and live longer. Tomiko reveals her true age to be over two hundred and sixty years old because her ability is to repair those cells.
The power of knowledge
Branching off from Tomiko’s discussion on aging, she also speaks of this ability granting her power greater than those on the committee. What I believe this portrays, is the notion that wisdom and knowledge is a form of power. This also touches upon those in this world who have awakened; the power of wisdom and knowledge could threaten those whose power involves control through fear and greed.
Tomiko san: “The image you must have in mind when restoring telomere, is similar to one you need when repairing broken pottery”
In the anime Saki’s ability is fixing broken pottery. Now what this could mean is that through humble beginning is where true greatness can stem from, greatness in the sense of knowledge, wisdom and the ability to free the world from its chains. Rather than powerful traits, something simple can be the key to uncovering the truth and once acquiring such knowledge you gain the power to change the world for the better.
Sex is a primal instinct. Relationships in this current society are becoming more common to revolve everything around sex. It is an outlet for stress, anxiety, anger and other emotions. The anime takes it to a new level where homosexual behaviour is the norm until a later age where it turns to heterosexual after adulthood. There are already instances of such in this society where children experiment with the same gender even if they do not possess true homosexual desires.
Sexual behaviour helps to cloud one’s mind from harsh truths as their body dances with hormones and excitement. Another outlook mentioned in the anime is that through these acts, it brings peace (study of certain primates in zoology - When stress or conflict arises, bonobos resolve it through sexual contact. The sexual contact occurs not only between mature males and females, but also between immature bonobos and those of the same sex.). This could however be a false peace, as it hides the truth behind that reality. Through the free and open engagement in sexual behaviour with any gender, the human population could remain desensitized to any happenings around them.
Queerats: Resemblance to humanity?
Queerats in the anime appear to be full of deceit, fear, war and other traits that amount to humanity. These strange beings hold a huge meaning in the anime, and are not to be dismissed as little creatures that are unfavourable to look at. They could resemble the remains of those from society who did not possess cantus and were left behind. They worship humans as gods as although they possess intellect, they do not have the power to overthrow humanity despite humanity’s small numbers. As the story progresses, the queerats become more and more human…
In episode fifteen, there is a notion of a power shift in the colony. Before, the queen held authority while they lived a fairly natural existence in burrows. Squealer represents the beginning of a revolution and through secret information; the first concrete building is built for use as a conference hall. The power shifts from the queen to a government and a democracy is formed. It seems as though there is a strong emphasis on the greed through conquering and power that represents this current society. The likeness is too similar.
The queen is shown to have been stripped of her power, literally stripped and held prisoner and although the government appear to be a democracy, they seem to lack certain morals. There could be some imagery where Squealer mentions that without the queen who holds the ability to produce children then the colony would not exist. Maybe this represents us and the government today. Without people making children to become a new work force, the control and power of this society would vanish as there would be nothing left to control.
The colony is named ‘Robber Fly’. There must be no coincidence that the word robber is used as they rob authority from other clans to build their empire… Effectively robbing individuals of their true freedom.
Discrimination: “Isn’t it a mistake to judge queerats through the lens of human ethics?”
Saki’s words in the above statement seem to apply to discrimination. The queerats actions and morals differ to their own, does that give them the right to strike prejudice through the perception of one’s own views?
We discriminate through our own perceptions and beliefs without thinking of the other person’s view. We may consider it to be unjust or not acceptable, but are we really the ones to decide that for the individual or being in question?
Similarity: “They seem too similar to humans. It can only mean they are trying to take for themselves the material culture which we abandoned”
Satoru also mentions the possibility that queerats were attempting to replace humans, which is later revealed to be the case in the anime. The above statement applies with great relevance to the world of natural order that people could live, a world where we live alongside nature in a sustainable and peaceful environment. To do so would mean abandoning many material aspects of today which we are very much caught up in. In the anime, humans have long forgotten such culture and do not have ugly concrete buildings.
Episode eighteen – a link to the heavens?
When the queerats attack the village, one of the powerful leaders falls. When he dies a light reaches for the heavens and Saki witnesses a woman, or angel type being within that light. It is possibly to emphasise our origins, that our spirit came from the essence of life and creation itself, and its power returns to this stream, the astral plain.
A new cycle?
Towards the end of the anime, the queerats have gained knowledge of ancient technologies and evolved into a fearful force who aims to conquer the world and overpower the human race. It resembles a repeat of the previous civilisations and if they had succeeded would begin a new dark age. Looking back from this point, maybe the reason the children were killed by the education committee was not only to protect their species, but also to extinguish the destructive trait of humanity that still lingered in the depths of their souls who erupted as fiends and karma demons.
Even though it seemed cruel in the children’s perspective, from another view, as one who leads, one must accept the good and the bad, protecting the species even if it means one might be portrayed as inhumane and evil.
Episode twenty-one onwards: The ultimate weapon of the queerats is a human – thus the following statement arises – The greatest threat towards humanity, is, will be, and has always been humanity itself.
The child of the deceased Maria and Mamoru is raised by the queerats into the ultimate weapon against their gods. A human cannot kill a human, but this child believed themselves to be a queerat therefore the death feedback shifted towards queerats and gave him the freedom to murder humans at will.
It turns out that Squealer did indeed deliver human bones to the village, which were truly Maria and Mamoru’s remains; therefore there is speculation that Squealer had a part in their deaths in order to achieve his goals.
Through the child’s belief that he was a queerat, it therefore neutralized his own death feedback towards humans. This brings up another question to ponder over…
Could it be that through a different upbringing, perceptions and our nature itself can be altered in its entirety and therefore, can that really define if you are human or something else? What are we? We are influenced in the millions through those who are above us… they are the ones who have installed upon us the perceptions we believe and know, and therefore what does that make us? How does that define our true selves? How does that impact upon who and what we really are?
Last episode – the final conclusion
The jury asks Squealer what he is after all the atrocities he had committed to both the humans and his own kind. His behaviour baffled them. Tomiko asks him, ‘What are you?’ To which he replies full of conviction, ‘I AM HUMAN!’
The jury laughs in prejudice and thus brings forward the question: What makes a human? Is it our appearance? Is it what we are inside?
These beings, the queerats were intelligent and the only thing they lacked was the power of the cantus that humans in the anime possessed, but because they looked like beasts and not very attractive to humans, they were dismissed as animals despite their apparent intelligence.
What does it mean to be human? That is the question raised here. What makes us human? Just because we call ourselves such, does this mean that no other being that exists who hold the same or a similar intellect can also be accepted as a human even if we do not understand them? And is human even a word? What is it to be human?
It is all but a mere perception. We treat ourselves as the ultimate authority and we treat everything that we feel is inferior to be beneath us… What gives us this right?
To strengthen the above, it is revealed at the end of the series that in their distant history, humans without cantus could retaliate without suffering death feedback after the scientists had installed this trait into those who possessed cantus to prevent any more destruction upon human kind.
Those with cantus were therefore threatened by those who could pose a danger if another war had occurred. Throughout the final few episodes, Saki experiments with mole rats as they almost resemble queerats in their structure and behaviour. She is attempting to uncover the truth behind the queerats.
In the last episode Satoru reveals some disturbing truths in relation to the queerats and speculates that normal humans without the ability of cantus were genetically mutated to an extent using mole rat genes until they were unable to be distinguished as human, therefore preventing death feedback from affecting the recipient if they must use such measures to contain the population.
Satoru also touches on the fact queerats have twenty-three pairs of chromosomes, same as humans, while molerats have thirty, therefore the base of genetic mutation was a human. It possibly touches on the notion of genetic mutation upon humanity itself will soon occur, or is already happening behind closed doors.
It also touches again on discrimination. Just because they are different with the same intellect, does that give us the right to discriminate? Does that give us the right to murder without second thought? At the end of the anime you understand why Squealer revolted. You understand why they began their campaign because they were treated inferior, despite being on an equal intellectual level. The same thing has happened in our past, and continues today with humans themselves.
The beginning of the end
The ending is powerful. Before the credits Saki shows one last act of kindness as she forgives Squealer and accepts him for what he was. Breaking the rules, she is merciful and grants him peace by ceasing the continuous torture and allowing him to die. She recalled the first time they met and smiled to herself at the memories she held of those times before he had turned upon humanity.
Another aspect of the ending reveals that through her efforts the Great Hornet nest that she had promised Kiroumaru to protect was at the top of the list. It is more evidence that she had accepted
the equality of the queerats, and treated Kiroumaru himself as a friend and an equal during their time together.
She acknowledged her appreciation for his aid and realised that it was through Squealer that Kiroumaru aided them as children as an escort up river, and thus she commented with a smile, ‘You always were a liar’.
Saki is the embodiment of what the anime wanted to portray. Through her experiences she stayed strong, she learned knowledge and despite her tough life, she accepted everything. Through her attained knowledge she understood the world in a new light, and one that might hopefully help the future evolve for the better. Her wishes live on within the words she had written upon paper, hoping that in another thousand years humans had not committed the same mistakes as she had uncovered through her eventful life. Saki remains the light, as through her experiences she represents the awakened few in our society. She was not brainwashed, and therefore she maintains her freedom of thought, and freedom through the knowledge she had gained. I believe if the anime continued she would be shown to have had a positive and lasting impact upon the future of humanity.
The anime finishes on the most powerful note, and this is after the credits so could quite easily be overlooked. The words used are powerful. There is no need to express their meaning as it is self-explanatory…
“Power of imagination is what changes everything…”
Our imaginations hold the key to everything we could ever dream of. We must simply uncover the lock that seals away the chains that bind it – anything is possible!
I cannot help but feel that the final statement that some people might overlook is the most important statement to remember for it holds such truth and is displayed constantly throughout the anime. It is through our imaginations that we can take control of our own lives, learn to see the world in a new and positive light, and begin to live a life free from the control of fear, greed, money and finally experience a true era of peace as we embrace the essence of life itself and learn to become one with nature and take care of our surroundings. Death comes to all of us, our physical bodies are mortal; we must not fear this, but rather accept it. There are some that believe that our spirit, the life essence itself that grants us our consciousness will live on and be reborn once again in a never ending cycle of death and rebirth.
There are many other aspects that other people might witness from this anime and take away their own views and perceptions from this work of art. It appears the director/creator of this masterpiece holds a greater knowledge of certain truths and has cleverly moulded that into this anime. I would not be surprised if certain aspects were to unfold as time passes.
More than anything, I feel this anime represents in its essence, a very real possibility of our future in one thousand years’ time. We may reach a utopia-like existence, but it is too short a span of time to completely eradicate the undesirable traits that humanity has accumulated during the thousands of years we have had such traits installed into us on a deep level. This is where the karma demons could come into play when the individual who is affected is not a terrible person; rather it is the ghosts of the past who have not yet vanished from the depths of their subconscious.