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From the New World (Shin Sekai Yori) PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 29 April 2013 00:00
From the New World is one of the most intriguing shows of recent years - just how would humanity deal with the emergence of telekinetic powers that gives those who possess them the ability to kill with a thought? And how would people with those powers treat humans who didn't have them? In both cases, the answer is "badly"...

Telekinetic powers first began to emerge in what seems to be our present day, or thereabouts, and a proportion of those who gained them went on quite epic killing sprees. A quick trip forward through the timeline sees humanity pass through a new Imperial age, when telekinetic emperors killed their subjects at a whim, and where violent and short-lived rebellions were common. By the time we reach the setting of From the New World's story, though, humanity has settled down. Life is almost a rural idyll, intensive training that begins with the emergences of "Power" in teenagers keeps their abuse under control, and on the surface, all seems happy.

Into this world has been born young girl Saki who, on the emergence of her Power, joins the Unified Class with other children her age. There, they're taught about Power - its origins, its limits (both practical and by taboo), and how to control it. Within the class she's part of Group One, along with Satoru, Shun. Mamoru and Maria. When the group are assigned an overnight camping trip, though, they scratch the surface and begin to see the unpleasantness that lies beneath. After encountering a 'false Minoshiro' - in reality a biological memory store, holding taboo knowledge of the past 1,000 years of humanity's history - they become involved in a war between two rival clans of 'monster rats' (humanity's genetically-bred slave race) and see the beginnings of Shun's descent into insanity, as be becomes unable to control his Power. And when the possibility of someone losing control of their Power arises, the village is prepared to take any steps to make sure it doesn't happen...

Those who lose control are referred to as Karmic Demons or Ogres, depending on the route they take - either way, not good, as there's very little that can be done to fight against them. So, at the first hint that someone may go that way, they're usually killed. That's just one of the more unpleasant aspects of life that Saki and the others uncover, as the story unfolds over the course of some 30 or so years, seeing the group go from kids just entering their teenage years to mature adults with leadership resonsibilities. Those that survive that long, anyway.

It's hard to describe the appeal of From the New World without delving into spoiler territory, but I'll try. On one level, it's a story of love and friendship between the various members of the main group of five - the pairings sometimes shift (love & happiness is shown to have a controlling effect on Power, so genetic modifications have been made to humans to make them more amorous), but from the moment they're assigned to Group One together strong bonds develop between them. It's also about the inherent unpleasantness of humanity: in controlling those with Power, to keep anyone from losing control, the value of life has been greatly undermined. People can be killed without penalty, and in securing their position at the top of the food chain, Power users have also made alterations to the world around them that would unthinkable to many. But that unpleasantness is kept thoroughly under the surface until it's forced to the surface by the actions of Squeara, the leader of a clan on Monster Rats who's not longer content to have his people be a vassal race, and rises up in rebellion - in the process turning Power on the people who would normally wield it with impunity.

As the story unfolds, we get epic battles between clans of Monster Rats, and between the Rats and their Power-using masters; we get to see Saki in the depths of despair as she loses those around her, and then turning her life around to take part in a quest to save her village and friends; we get to see the truth behind the fragile world the Power-users have created be exposed in all its savagery. For the most part it's engrossing viewing - pacing in the early episodes is a little variable, and it can feel as though nothing's really happening, but as the series goes on it becomes clear that those early passages are essential bits of world-building and background information that eventually get tied into events extremely well. The relationships between the characters, and how they each react to the events they've been caught up in, is as much a part of the enjoyment of the series as the story itself, and while it's nothing overly special on the technical front it still manages to impress with its scope and ambition.

Overall, as I said at the start, one of the best shows of recent years - which makes me rather annoyed that it seems to have bombed horribly in Japan. Not enough loli imoutos with overdeveloped brother complexes, I guess. Snark aside, though, while it's a slow starter, I'd class From the New World as essential viewing, although the pacing will put some people off. It's just a shame there isn't more like it.

Rating - ****