From The New World Episode 25 and Final Impressions

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Recap: The Fiend is defeated, but at a great cost. In the aftermath, Yakomaru is bought to trial and Saki wonders what the future will bring.

Aqua‘s thoughts: Zigg and I have been intentionally kicking this post back until the very last possible moment, and this should tell you something. I suppose it is safe to say that the both of us have had it up to here with further subjecting ourselves to the sheer stupidity this once clever show has turned into. It’s like being a teacher and watching that ace student you adored degenerate into a delinquent after they have graduated from your class, and being left with the lonesome feeling that they could have easily become a doctor if the world had not been so damn cruel.

Alas, poor From The New World, I knew you well when you were a poignant epic about the price innocence has to pay in a world recovering from its supposed end. A price you yourself ended up paying just as well, tempted by fate, a cruel mistress indeed, and biting off more then you could chew, creating a mess so inconsistent it can barely be summarized anymore. A stark contrast with its clever, provocative pilot, From The New World’s finale will go down in history as twenty-two minutes of lunacy so incomprehensibly obtuse it insults the very group of people it was supposed to appeal to in the first place. With some mind-boggling ethics at work here, for once, making a Nazi analogy would actually make sense.

Whether it was the original novel’s intention or not, the ending of From The New World is an uttermost depressing, misanthropic pamphlet stating that humans are violent, mindless, sadistic creatures who are incapable of change and will eventually destroy themselves over and over again. In se, this message by itself would not necessarily have been a reason to deride From The New World, if it had been delivered well. However, I cannot shake the feeling that this anime really wanted us to think that the humans are the good guys. We have gotten to know these kids as are clever, brave and caring people, whereas Squealer has always been portrayed as a cowardly liar and a cackling baddie who sacrifices his own troops. Saki and Satoru are clearly the intended heroes, while Squealer is quite obviously the villain. Until this episode, that is. With the Queerat on trial essentially being turned into Martin Luther King and every human save for maybe Saki actively being in favour of the straight-up genocide of his species, I cannot help but to think that someone on the writing staff tried way too hard to be “morally ambiguous” and provide a “scathing criticism of human nature” as is often expected from series such as this one.

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I have to call From The New World out on this shoehorned sudden role reversal, because the other possible interpretation seems even more out there. If we were indeed expected to root for the humans in this episode, that would mean From The New World is actively telling us that democracy is a bad thing and that “inferior” species, such as the Queerats, need to know their place and submit to the “superior” species, in this case the humans. The brave, sympathetic Kiroumaru in his death accepting the imminent genocide of his entire species and the shot at the end with Saki happily announcing the obedient colonies that will be spared from total extermination even seem to downright justify the genocide of lesser species.

The real insult added to injury raises its ugly head when Satoru, our so-called hero, reveals that the Queerats actually are human, yet still refuses to acknowledge their equality and even manages to doing away with Saki’s guilt over killing so many of her own kind with the downright insulting implication that due to their monstrous appearance, the Queerats are not human anymore, and thus deserved to be slaughtered. All of this gets cloaked and neatly packaged in a wrapping of expository narration of events the producers were too lazy to actually show and the clear implication that a world without Queerats, where the dictatorial reign of the Ethics Committee is still in full force is a nice place to live. Our supposed heroes are even being shown breeding Copycats, the very same monsters that hunted and threatened to kill their best friends when they were children, as their contribution to society! What in the name of all that is holy were they thinking?

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This final stretch of episodes to me felt as a big fat middle finger to viewers and even to humanity as a whole. Why did an intriguing character like Tomiko get killed off off-screen? Why did our supposed heroes use Kiroumaru, one of the few sympathetic and pragmatic characters in the entire show, as cannon fodder? Why did the Fiend randomly die when she figured out she wasn’t a Fiend? Did she get hit by Death Feedback because she killed a member of what she thought to be her own species? Even though she saw her own reflection in a mirror last episode and must have realized she looked more like the people she had been killing than the people she thought to be a part of? If Death Feedback were indeed a strictly psychological thing, would it not have kicked in back then? What sort of sense does that even make? Why do Saki and Satoru get married while Saki spent pretty much the entire show longing for Shun and Maria? Why does the show still end with Shun being shown as arguably the most important person in Saki’s memories, even though she just got married to Satoru? By the way, if the Shun Saki saw two episodes ago was just an imaginary friend, how could he have told her the Fiend was not actually a Fiend? What is wrong with this show? What were they thinking? WHAT WERE THEY TH–

We interrupt this broadcast due to technical stupidities.

It hurts. It just hurts to see something you initially dedicated so much of your enthusiasm to slowly devolve in a prime example of how to not adapt a novel into a television series and eventually, a disaster that would make both Murphy and Godwin proud. There was a little touch of sweetness in the final scene, showing Saki as the pseudo-messianic kind heart she was back when she was an interesting character putting Squealer out of his misery, seemingly being the only human who really understands him, but by any other means, this was a hideous, nonsensical finale to a show that tried to have as many faces as conventions it managed to disrupt, only to end up with even less redeeming qualities than Blu-Rays it sold: very little. Sadly enough, I know the lukewarm reception of this show in Japan had nothing to do with its quality, which in the end, makes From The New World‘s humiliating downfall even more painful to swallow.

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Zigg‘s thoughts:  Aqua has already articulated most of my issues with this episode, so I’ll try and keep this relatively brief. I agree that by far and away the biggest problem with this episode is its moral dissonance . Futuristic dystopias tend to reuse one moral due to how effective it is – mankind is the real monster. We definitely get that vibe here, and yet it’s humanity which triumphs, damning the Queerats to a vicious round of ethnic cleansing (because make no mistake, that’s what it is) and their leader to a horrific living death which appalled even my flinty heart. The re-establishment of human society is unashamedly treated as a good thing, and yet this is the same society which indoctrinates its people, kills its children and is ruled by a shadowy committee of pseudo-illumanti.  The thing is, there’s potential here, if the story was clever enough to reposition this as a downbeat or morally dubious finale. Such endings are difficult to achieve, but when done well (1984, Blade Runner) they can add a weight of darkness and ambiguity to a story that can be extremely powerful. In fact, it’s possible that the show thinks this is what it’s doing, but I just don’t buy it – we even get the fairytale marry-and-have-kids happily ever after conclusion for the main characters, and it’s one that feels deeply wrong to me.

In fact, after this episode I’m even more ill-disposed to our lead characters than before. You’ll recall that Saki destroyed the Psychobuster because there was a chance Shun might be killed in the fallout also. She then promptly turns around and formulates a plan that involves certain death for Kiroumaru – he literally has to die for the plan to work. There’s never been a better example of how humanity thinks of Queerats. In fact, if the show were cleverer, it could almost be a masterstroke of bitter irony, but I’m not buying that for a second. It’s not exactly a great way to go out for Kiroumaru either, since his big moment basically just involves walking towards the Fiend until they both fall over, though there’s a certain element of badassery to be had. Likewise, the big twist about how Queerats are actually modified humans is sort of neutered by the fact that anybody with half a brain could see that coming from a million miles away – I certainly did. It’s also cloaked in the trademark long winded buildup of the show and then brushed aside ridiculously quickly – Satoru simply declares they weren’t humans after all and that’s that.

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There’s also the old chestnut of poor pacing raising its head. The deaths of the Fiend and Kiroumaru are the story climax, the thing we’ve been working towards all this time. That scene should be very focal point of the episode – instead it’s dealt with in five minutes and then the rest of the episode is cooldown. It causes the story to lurch badly, with the dispatch of the Fiend so quickly making it feel cheap and easy, and an unnecessary amount of time spent on the after – did we really need more than one line about Saki’s parents for example? Sometimes the less you know, the more powerful a story is. That should have been the case here. Instead we get an ending that’s as confused as what came before it, one that’s supposed to be happy but makes me unable to feel that way. It feels, cheap, false and unearned, and there are simply too many moral and logical holes in it to accept the validity of what we’re being shown.

Random observations:

  • Up until this point we’ve referred to the Fiend as male because that’s what he is in the novel. The revelation that it’s a girl is pretty apropos of nothing and the change seems pointless since she never does anything to make her sex relevant.
  • Seriously, how fucked up is Yakomarou’s sentence? His trial is clearly a total sham too. Saki putting him out of his misery was one of the few things that worked in this episode.
  • Reiko, who died in episode 1, appears in the end sequence. Kiroumaru, who sacrificed himself to save the human race like a total badass, gets nada.
  • So what was with Shun. Was he just some sort of magic ghost?
  • The sound of children laughing in the final shot is super super creepy and I’m not sure if it’s deliberate or not.
  • What’s with all the random shots of scenery? Did you really need to pad your finale?

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Final Impressions

Aqua‘s final impressions: If you have read this blog at some time during the last half year, you probably will not expect to find a lot of positivity in these final words I will ever dedicate to From The New World. What started out as an exciting post-apocalyptic epic and pretty much the closest thing any anime has ever come to being indie, with gorgeous art, suspenseful storytelling and awesome music, gradually turned into a hotchpotch of bureaucratic nonsense, half-abandoned plot threads, pseudo-social commentary, incomprehensible symbolism and a morality with more double standard in it than South Africa during Apartheid. Yet underneath the angelic lesbians, rodent politics, exploding dogs, deus ex machina resolutions, suspiciously fascist finales and constant vapid yells of “Do ho ho, look how clever we are”, does lurk a story worth being told. It is in the execution and adaptation of said story that From The New World completely loses its way.

From The New World can be easily split up in three halves. The first half, from episode 1 to 7, is about the children as twelve year olds venturing beyond the Holy Barrier separating their sheltered lives from the harsh outside. This is clearly the third of the show I would recommend to people, as it shows the franchise at its narrative and creative peak. While certainly not without its faults, these first seven episodes masterfully indulged us in the show’s wonderful setting and its intriguing inhabitants, while heavily counteracting an almost slice-of-life-y childlike innocence with suspenseful moments of mystery and horror. After the first time skip, however, things start to turn around. Episodes no longer have any narrative or artistic consistency and the plot starts to move from a world-centric horror story to a dialogue-heavy, character-centric mystery without ever really implementing any real mystery. While some one-off directors still provide some truly poignant, creative moments, the story starts to lull heavily. When the narrative skips ahead a few years once again and turns into a political story where a lot of the captivating mysteries that defined the earlier episodes has been entirely forgotten about, starring Saki and Satoru as mere shadows of themselves, it becomes harder and harder to muster up a sliver of motivation to continue watching.

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It is strange how sudden the switch came where I started delaying watching From The New World until the very last moment before these blogs were supposed to go life, in stead of watching it immediately when it came out. At some point, A-1 Productions must have realized From The New World would not turn out to be the hit they wanted it to be, which resulted in the quality taking a very deep nosedive almost overnight. The writing became shoddy, the characterization began falling apart, the animation turned from gorgeous to downright appalling, the direction went from artistic to lazy, the soundtrack got reduced to five different tracks repeated ad nauseam, the supposedly clever analogies to human politics and history got screwed over by a team of writers that clearly had no idea what they were talking about, the pacing got knocked off the rails and I even suspect them of lifting entire passages from the book to serve as expository narration. What we’re left with is clearly the product of some initially very ambitious people having given up entirely. Whether or not the book From The New World is based on is any good, it is pretty evident that this one is a story that should have stayed on paper. Despite the anime most likely remaining the only way us westerners will be able to enjoy this story, I find it extremely hard to recommend From The New World. After all, what’s the point of starting a good story when you know the end result will leave you clawing your eyes out?

Nevertheless, I am glad someone had the courage to make From The New World. It may have utterly failed at pretty much everything it tried to do, up to absolutely bombing in the sales division and falling all the way down from the third-most anticipated series of the fall season to the third-least appreciated series of the winter season, but at the very least it was unique. At the very least it managed to avoid or straight-out avert pretty much all the anime clichés in the book. At the very least it decided to look for source material beyond the realm of half-baked manga and light novels about little sisters with horrendously long titles. At the very least it decided not to do things the easy way, and judging by From The New World‘s sales, it will take another two years before the next brave soul decides to give disregarding conventions another go.

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Zigg‘s final impressions: In looking back on From the New World, I essentially see two entirely different shows. One is the sluggishly paced combination of political thriller and monster story that ultimately prevailed as the main plot . The other is the weird, eerie sketch of a crumbling society that so dominated the earlier parts of the series. I don’t think you need to be a genius to work out which I preferred.

Even during its strongest moments, New World was always a show that thrived on the strength of imaginative ideas rather than the execution of said ideas. Animation work has been patchy throughout, the soundtrack repetitive and the pacing often bizarre and ill-advised. I understand that there are problems when you’re trying to turn a massive door-stopper novel into a weekly episodic TV show, but that doesn’t excuse some of the overly excessive dialogue sequences and obvious lack of action. Throughout the show has suffered from an obvious lack of budget and ropey visuals.

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The show failed to play to its strengths, namely unmatched atmosphere and a compelling central mystery based around the human condition. The thing which made the first half so memorable to me was the lurking feeling of unease and ‘wrongness’ which permeated the story. This is one of the rare anime where the characters being children actually aided the story. Their innocence and naivete provided an effective contrast to the moral ambiguity that surrounded them, and allowed the audience to uncover the wrongness of their world alongside them. There’s something so compelling about an evil which lurks in plain sight and this world, which killed its own children and kept its people in line through social, sexual and psychological engineering certainly qualified. The untapped potential of such an environment is huge and I can imagine an incredible story being told purely within the walls of the village.

The problem is, this entire line is essentially abandoned as the show goes on. We uncover the truths behind the society of Kamisu 66 but no steps are taken to address them. The rottenness of the world is made apparent, but it’s almost forgotten about and indeed by the end it appears little has changed. The show instead transition to the conflict against the Queerats, a story which has some neat moments (the revelation of the fiend being undoubtedly the best wrinkle) but has also been told before, and the conventionality of the story is disappointing after the bravery of the world building. It’s especially dubious given the moral stances of those involved – while the Queerats are far from innocent, it’s pretty galling to be asked to root for the human society we’ve seen portrayed. The show’s pacing also becomes increasingly unacceptable in the back half. If you’re telling a thoughtful critique of society that thrives on atmosphere, a slow pace is understandable and even conducive to storytelling. But when a show becomes part thriller, part action story, people standing around talking and extensive flashbacks just aren’t going to cut it anymore, and yet New World persists in such mechanics.

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The show is also dragged down by a bland, unmemorable cast. Saki is sort of generically plucky as a child but as an adult her increasing shallowness comes to the fore, and she’s worryingly passive for someone who’s meant to be our heroine. Satoru is sort of slightly jerkish guy 101 and that’s pretty much the sum total of his personality. Both villains and heroes lack distinguishing features or traits and it’s difficult for them to stir strong emotions as a result. The story benefits in the early parts from the strength of an ensemble, particularly the interplay between the three boys – mature Shun, arrogant Satoru and shy Mamoru. Together the five children are able to complement each other and mask underdeveloped parts of their characters, but once the group starts to be whittled down the inadequacies are exposed. Saki and Satoru have little chemistry and once Mamoru and Maria leave they’re  dangerously flimsy as our main couple.

Despite everything I’ve said, I’m genuinely glad to have watched From the New World. At its best it was a compelling, fascinating study of the human condition and I give it huge credit for tackling complex themes such as societal engineering and childhood sexuality. It’s a brave, ambitious and profoundly uncommercial venture and for that it deserves our support and respect. I’d happily watch it over a thousand dumb high school comedies. But, crucially, being brave and being clever does not disqualify you from having to tell an interesting story. While the show had great ideas it failed to capitalise on them and stumbled badly over many basic pieces of storytelling that the net result is far less than it should have been. I am hugely grateful that the show exists, but it’s a sadly flawed piece of work that never reaches the heights it once threatened to scale.

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