Shinsekai Yori First Impression
A good horror anime can at times be very hard to come by without swimming through the backlogs. Just look at the relative failure of Another. The urge that most anime directors in the past five years seem to have when making horror shows is to attempt the kind of things that work in western horror movies. There is something uniquely horror that can be done by a close up of something scary, or jumpy surprises, or the horrifying sight of blood. Unfortunately, very few of these techniques are quite so efficient in animation. The thing that makes blood scary is the way we associate it with our own blood. Animated blood? Animated killers? Not scary.
And yet, horror is a staple of the anime genre. Who would argue for a second that Madoka wasn’t scary? Or Serial experiments Lain? Or Bokurano? To make a good horror anime you have to look past tradional horror and move towards a much more effective form of horror. One that makes use of the capacity of animation to stretch reality, rather then it’s lack of capacity to portray real life. The kind of horror that Shinsekai Yori seems locked and loaded to provide.
Shinsekai Yori is a new show by workhorse A-1 pictures, holding not one, not two, but three running shows this season. And as per the A-1 standard, Yori has a budget of such an amazing size and scale that Atlas himself couldn’t hold it up. Every frame looks like a fucking watercolor. The soundtrack? Perfectly composed and hauntingly beautiful. I know what you must be thinking when I say A-1 pictures. It’s a largely agreed fact that A-1 shows, while beautiful, all tend to have the same pudgy look to them that makes them distinct as A-1′s creations. So it might come as a surprise to many of you to find out that this might be the most unique piece of animation that A-1 has produced in a long time.
The characters are slightly ill defined and oddly cartoonish. The most defining feature of anything on the screen is the doe eyed face that the heroine has near constantly. But, all the children have similarly innocent looking expressions. The backgrounds meanwhile are dark, freaky, and expressive. Often times the incredible level of detail breaks down in favor of more abstract scenery. The direction of it all is incredibly excellent. Many shows put innocent characters in dark horrifying worlds. But, this show literally put several innocent looking wide eyed youths inside frames filled with darkness and the unknown.
The cast doesn’t really stand out too much. Most of them are very distinctly characterized (and indirectly too) and are fun to watch. However, none of them are really capturing yet. This is not an insurmountable problem, there is plenty of time for changes in that department. The premise on MAL even mentions some other characters to be introduced, as does the feature image which shows some owl looking creature. It sounds like something I would very much like to see.
As for the actual story, it was strange and confusing and very exciting. A good first episode gets you hooked. It sinks it’s claws in you and makes you really want to watch more. Action shows try this by providing an appealing example of the kind of thrills you are in for. Amazing first episodes to disappointing shows like Star Driver and Mine Fujiko demonstrate this perfectly. For a horror and mystery anime, you have to drag the viewers into a land of uncertainty and uneasiness, making them just as curious as the cast as to what is happening. This was on full display through this episode, teasing us with psychic children splattering humans over a sidewalk and scenes of monks sealing magical abilities away. The idea of the magical barrier harkens back towards the forbidden forest of Harry Potter in it’s way that the book itself seems to be trying to push YOU to want to explore. You want Harry to go in because you want to break the rule and see what’s out there. I feel the same way regarding this group of children. I want them to explore so I can explore. That is proper horror mystery storytelling.
I’ve heard it been said in regard to video game narrative that you want to put the full extent of your planned scale on display in the beginning. It makes people want to watch until they reach a point that matches the beginning. Anime has a few really great examples of it in use. The beginning of Madoka Magika where we see Walpurgis night and the bends in reality had me sold on the series from minute 1. Gurren Lagann is another great example. The first scene at the beginning that never even had anything to do with the events of the series (eh, maybe symbolically) set the tone of what the ending was going to be like at the beginning, that way all the scenes of pits and moles and whatnot didn’t make you think that the scale of the proceedings are going to be small. I’m not quite sure if that opening sequence depicting what I can only assume to be the end of civilization at the beginning is some series foreshadowing to what the series is going to look like later. If so I am very much pumped.
The horror aspect wasn’t quite as well on display here. Rather then go for anything cheap and easy, they instead opted to just take time to build up the atmosphere. At times it actually got a little excessive, especially with their over use of the ominous music. Still, the connection between the mystery aspect and the horror aspect, as well as the excellent animation, manage to keep you walking along in pace with the show.
Besides some slightly overzealous but still tasteful direction in regards to the horror, the real stand out moments of the episode mostly came from the way the series was directed. The way lingering shadows over cutesy conversation turned what could have been nice and fun into something chill worthy. All the shots and angles seem just perfect. The characters are fluid and when they are in frame are constantly doing something. There are a million little tricks that the director throws in that many might not notice, but everyone gets benefits from it. Often times the excellent animation, the muted storytelling, and the skillful directing are all on display at once. The story of the boy who ventured out to far was beautiful to look at, hauntingly chilling, and masterfully shot. But, did you notice the fact that the child in the sequence was shaped very much like the lead guy? I am pretty sure I did but I could be wrong. What it was however, was a stand in so perfect in it’s lack of detail for any of the main cast members, or even the viewer.
So I liked the first episode. It had everything I could ask for. It was by no measure a perfect first episode, but ti was fun to watch and hauntingly beautiful. If it reminded me of anything it would the first episode of Noein (A show you should all go and watch right now). The doe eyed cast in a horrifying world was used to great effect there. But, it’s not just the animation that reminds me of it. The central premise of a group of kids trapped in a fucked up world seems cribbed from it to, and the directing style took some very large cues from it. But hey, if you are going to jack shit from another anime, you might as well pick a good one. Am I right?