Sunday, April 12, 2015

Anime Review No. 99 (From the New World)

‘A Bloody History’
From the New World (2012-13 TV Series)
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Director: Masashi Ishihama
Script: Masashi Sogo

So the core of speculative fiction, of which science fiction rests in, is centered around a rather simple question: What if? Of course, if one takes a look at any story in sci-fi or fantasy it is never simply What if but includes more information certainly, be it Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, etc. That is part of the appeal, to make us wonder about other worlds and places that reside in the imagination. Today I will discuss From the New World, an amazing anime piece of speculative fiction.
These poor children.....
From the New World, or Shin Sekai Yori, is an anime based on a novel of the same name by Yusuke Kishi released back in 2008. It tells the story of Saki and her friends that reside in a quiet village Kamisu 66 about 1000 years in the future. Oh but that’s not all, for she and her friends (Satoru, Maria, Shun and Mamoru) and in fact the whole village have psychic (PK) powers, of sorts. But that’s the least of their problems, besides dealing with that they also have to deal with enemies both out in the wider world and within their own secluded communal village.
Given the context this shot is very striking
I won’t go any further than that, because I am of the opinion that this is a show that must be seen and experienced first hand. That is the best way to describe SSY, as an experiential story. The speculative question at the core for this story is this: “What if human society as we know it went backwards?’ Part of the show is exploring the why and how of this question and a lot of the implications that stem from that. It is the future as reflected from the distant past and informed by the present. The future presented is so compelling in part due to how very possible it could be, and that is a scary and terrifying fact. It also dwells on the iterative nature of history and make approaches to the conceptual notion of infinity, but doesn’t quite get there due to the inherent limitations of humanity.

The opening scene is in fact one of the most striking and sudden moment in anime history ever. Slowly and surely this future Earth is presented to us and also the deep and dark secrets of humanity of this future. I like the slow burn pacing and the nice use of gradual world building. Small events have big ripples, as things that occur in first few episodes end up being very important down the road. Now there is a reason I am not talking about the characters and that’s aside from really two characters that have a story arc (Saki and Squealer) over of the course of the 25 episodes, the rest of the cast is developed just enough for the story itself but nothing beyond that, which does make them come across as slightly under-developed. But at the end of the day it is all about the experience, which is helped by a great sense of mood and atmosphere, which definitely enhances the experience.

Ohhh...pretty background 
Of course, what doesn’t help this story is the animation production, which is spotty at best and inconsistent at the worst. A-1 Pictures handled the production and they clearly only gave the minimum of budget for the show and it shows painfully at points: off-model moments, obvious CG, sketchy art, etc. This isn’t helped by the fact that A-1 Pictures was working on SAO at around the same time and that show has slightly better production values despite it being not too good. Granted at times, it works well but the show is barely functional given the somewhat low production values. There are also times when it does become visually impressive.

Wow, Saki, u be having some fecked up dreams 
That being said, the soundtrack is quite great, one of the best I have listened to. It is full of ambient sounds and noises which enhances the mood and atmosphere of the piece. Most of it is soft strings and woodwinds mixed with ancient tribal chanting-like music and musical silence. The titular theme is something familiar to me even before I heard of this show. It is the opening bars and initial theme from the Largo (second movement) of Antonin Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony, which subtitle has the same name as the novel. This theme has a special place for me as that symphony was the first one I purchased back in my youth and introduced to other symphonic classical music. It fits the themes, mood and feel of the show to a tee and becomes more poignant with every repetition. On a side-note, the sound design is quite exceptional.

Now onto the english dub. Now I did watch this initially subbed back in summer of 2013 and the acting in the original Japanese is well done. But then I heard that Sentai Filmworks had picked up the show for release and were giving it a dub, which I was excited about. Christopher Ayres helms this dub, and its my second favorite dub of his that I like right behind the Ef series, if not greater than that dub. He assembles a great main cast consisting of Emily Neves, Monica Rial, Greg Ayres, Clint Bickham and Blake Shepard. Bickham also wrote the dub script and proves that he is capable of writing both comedic and serious shows, complementing the nice and well-done direction by C. Ayres. The dub is good to great overall in terms of performances, but there are 2 standouts in my mind. First is Emily Neves as Saki, who gives a full sincere performance throughout and does a good job on the narration as well. The other is John Kaiser as Squealer, the other main character of sorts. He is a little known character actor who has popped up here and there in a few ADV and Sentai Filmworks dubs. Here he gives one of the more interesting character acting I have seen in a dub in a while. There are some highlights in the dub that are exceptional, be it the near theatrical duo between Neves and Bickham in one episode or a particular moving monologue by Rial in one of the more heartbreaking episodes in the series. There are some amazing supporting cast performances by David Wald, Carli Mosier, John Swasey, David Matranga, Allison Sumrall, to name a few. In fact the last 8 episodes offer some of the best dub work out here and makes this an exceptional dub.

My reaction face when finishing this up. No joke I just about choked up at the finale
Overall From the New World is an unique, visceral and thought provoking experience of speculative fiction. Its a show that grips you from the first moment and never lets up until the very end. The answer that the story poses to the initial speculative fiction question is an interesting one, that despite all adversity (from within and with-out) and struggles humanity will endure, as we have in the past, as we do now and as we will in the future. As part of my own experience as an anime enthusiast, this is the anime that helped me reignited my interest in more new and recent anime, without it I might not have seen Kill la Kill or Yuki Yuna among others. For that I am eternally grateful.

So remember when I’ve said that Evangelion and Read or Die were the anime that solidify myself as an enthusiast? Well the 100th review is for another anime feature that I saw around that time as well, and that will be Review No. 100, it’ll be really special.

Til next time dear readers

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