Shinsekai Yori (From the New World)

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This is a story where the antagonists are the main characters. Either that, or it flips up the romanticized notion of revolution. Wouldn’t it be awesome to just go guns ablazing into Washington DC? Wouldn’t it be fun to kill all the powerful people that dehumanize us, make us work in low wages and study in their jails called schools? Only we forget powerful people also bleed. Beautiful people suffer from rape, and famous actors develop anorexia.

If only we could change.

Our relationship with beauty is odd. Although political bands make money off hating rich people, beautiful people may have more power. That’s thanks to the Halo Effect. If we perceive a good quality in a person, it makes all other qualities look better and the bad qualities look a little worse. Throughout the anime, we see a bunch of pretty kids/teenagers do their stuff. They fall in love, they have a lot of sex and they have fun out in nature.

Compare them to the queerats. It’s not that they don’t look human. They look ugly. They’re desexualized, have rough voices and do manual work. Surely, such stupid and ugly creatures deserve their place. When hundreds of people die, we can’t help but despise them. It’s not like the people of the villages are evil. They’re perfect, stick-thin intelligent people who care for the order of society.

“but they all forget somebody’s gotta scrub the toilets” – BioShock.

The anime is, at its heart, about power imbalance. Its way of exploring this idea is by deliberately making the powerful people sympathetic and appealing. There are two reasons for this. Evil people don’t really exist. There’s a coherent theory behind the oppression of the queerats. Also that often we won’t rise up against powerful people because we love them. It’s easy to hate the rich fat dude, but what if it was a beautiful women who enslaved people or send them to the gas chambers?

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The faction you side with tells a lot about your preferences. The story is the basic old tale of the oppressed rising against their oppressors. If you’re siding with the villages, then maybe justice isn’t in your priorities. The villages are more appealing, more like how we want to be. If you side with them, you just might be a victim of the Halo Effect.

If you hate the humans and relish all the death and destruction, then you also missed another point. There’s no difference between dehumanizing people for being powerful and dehumanizing them for being ugly. The anime makes the villains appealing both to reveal how the Halo Effect can make forgive terrible things, but also how people who do terrible things have their reasons for doing so.

Underneath all these philosophies of power there’s also an emotionally engrossing sci-fi story. Shinsekai Yori is a great argument for how sci-fi can be about human relationships and drama, not just showing off about possible technologies. Sci-Fi isn’t about predicting possible technologies – how a car works isn’t a story. It’s about how our society might look like if a certain technology emerges.

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It’s about what would happen if we’d become too powerful for our own good. If I were an expert in Japanese culture, I’d say there are parallels to the atomic bomb. The Cantus is a genetic mutation that gives human beings ridiculous amounts of power, but you can replace it with any possible mutations – super-strength, super-intelligence – that will cause a power imbalance.

Every human in the villages is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Despite the peaceful exterior, danger is ever-present. It can coming from inside – one of us loses their mind and goes berserk. It can also come from above. The masters can take you away because they consider you a danger.

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We humans have a hard time building an honest society. We feed our children a lot of things they later have to unlearn – there’s no tooth fairy, the people in TV aren’t your friends and schools don’t teach you anything. The ‘growing up’ the kids do is realizing that the world isn’t peaceful and cannot be. The Cantus is part of human nature. Reality is hostile from every direction – your servants can rise up, one of you can go berserk and someone from above can erase you from reality. You learn similar lessons when you grow up – the job market is cruel and being a programmer isn’t enough, rapists can be sexy and you might get sent off to war.

Like any other organism, we’re constantly trying to remake the environment in our own image. By constructing a peaceful environment, we could ensure our survival. Utopian fiction often portrays these environments as a jungle of machinery and wires. So the main lesson we learn is that technology is evil, savages are noble and we all should be one with nature. The villages are ‘one with nature’. Technology hardly exists there yet the world is still hostile. Cantus isn’t just a genetic mutations. It’s a physical manifestation of the power we hold over each other. Organisms by nature are dangerous. No amount of sex or being one with nature or creating a class of ugly people can solve it.

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Shinsekai Yori is so good that talking about the technical side is pointless. It’s fantastic in how it explores its themes and anime like this are why I put so much effort into writing reviews in the first place. Every year a thousand works of fiction come out, and books or live-action movies may seem more mature but I doubt many come close to the lows of this anime. It’s at once simple, emotionally engrossing and explores its themes to the fullest. There isn’t a reason for anyone to skip this.

If only we could change.

4.5 Queerats out of 5

Cassandra Clare – City of Bones

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Other reviewers listed the stories that this novel borrows from. Characters are, apparently, plucked from someone else’s movie or book, given a different name and a slightly different attire. I’m not familiar with the Big Things of teen fiction. I’ve never watched Buffy and never immersed myself in Harry Potter. This still felt so derivative.

This is another book that came out of fan fiction. You’d expect it to have more verve, more energy. Copy your favorite story, but at least show the passion you have for it. If the novel had the rabid energy fans express over Harry Potter or Star Wars then the unoriginal story wouldn’t matter so much. It’d at least have excitement.

City of Bones feels tired all the way. It’s written by an amateur author who has little experience with what stories can be. It never imagines stories can do other thing than just become more convoluted. We all had this phase when we thought that plot twists was proof the writer was clever, but I thought we’d outgrown it. Surely, even the overrated Nolan proved thrillers have more than just “Surprise!”.

Clary does nothing. Calling her a ‘weak female protagonist’ would at least means she has some sort of role. A female whose role is only to help the main male character at least does something, active in some way. Clary is an observer. She stands around and things happen.

It’s amazing how many events rain down the characters and how little of them are instigated by them. It’s not the examination of “life is out of control” idea. The events have nothing to do with the characters and Clare doesn’t examine their reactions. She introduces a conflict, the characters solve it because of brute force and then they wait until something else happens.

If Clary helped solving the cases, it’d add some intensity. She tends to sit back and look at everyone do their thing, Shadowhunters shadowhuntin’.

There’s something tempting about such protagonists. They’re easy to write and they give the reader (or more important, the author) a hole to insert themselves in. This way, you can watch the story happen through someone’s eyes.

This character is never actually a part of the story though. The camera is never a part of the film’s plot. Some stories deliberately create such characters, but this ‘observer’ nature is addressed in the story and a part of the personality. Clary’s personality is never meant to be a shy observer.

Perhaps she’s meant to be some sort of sassy heroine. She sometimes slap people or gets mad at them, but that’s not enough for a character. A character’s personality is established by multiple incidents that can be connected. More importantly, how the character reacts needs to be connected to the personality. Even if all your characters are cruel, they each need to do it in their own way (something Future Diary does well, for example). Clary just gets angry.

The other characters don’t have much going for them. The other female is supposed to be much prettier (although Clary gets the red head), there’s a gay dude who could have been interesting and the Nice Guy/Brooding Assole dualism. Is daddy issues a new thing in this type of fiction?

You know these characters are different because the characters themselves say it. Somehow, they see things that Clare didn’t write or left off. Everyone talks in the same way. Everyone makes the same sarcastic jokes. I know sarcasm seemed like the newest thing when you’re at your teens but isn’t it a little old? So the books are set at a time when sarcasm is still new. There’s no way everyone is witty.

Her world borrows every fantasy staple. She adds nothing we haven’t seen before and none of the staples she uses are interesting. Vampires still suck blood and have pale skin. Werewolves learn to control their shape-shifting, mostly because one of the good characters is a werewolf and that would be inconvenient. Warlocks are more interesting. They’re hedonistic party animals who dress like they’re in a rave. Here’s a way to modernize a fantasy staple. Too bad that the warlock only appears for one scene and his role is (like everyone else’s) to give us more exposition.

It always happens with such books. The side-characters end up being more interesting because they’re more conflicting. Even Alec, who gets little page-time is a more interesting idea. He’s a gay who’s into a straight dude. That’s a worthwhile situation to write about, but that would require focusing on psychology and character interaction. Such a story couldn’t rely on events just happening.

Using Biblical names and fantasy staples doesn’t make your fiction fantastical. The world here is so familiar, so ordinary and I’m not even well-versed in fantasy. I also watched High School DXD while reading this and the whole devils ‘n’ angels things kept getting mixed up. The difference between the two is that Clare has no purpose for what she does. DXD knows it’s just an overblown ecchi show.

We also get an evil character who wants to purify the world and kills what he considers bad. As Fallout 3 displayed, this idea is still worthwhile. It can be used to explore racism and bigotry by giving the bigot some reasonable basis for his beliefs. Clare had a potential here because the creatures the bad guy wants to kill are a bit in the morally grey area.

Instead of showing the issue from different perspectives, we just have the bad guy laugh maniacally and dream of strength. Then again, halfway through the book or so it’s revealed the series is named after a series of plot coupons.

Clare’s writing isn’t too dense, but it’s also not smooth enough. There are a lot of similes, many of which are pointless. Clare doesn’t overdo descriptions. She lingers on the odd details, the type that stick out to the eye. Her description of a party room is great, pointing out all the colors and odd shapes.

Her way of writing is devoid of personality. The smilies are random, exists mainly because Clare can’t think of describing something without a simile. At first, the huge variety of them is fun. After about fifty of them it gets tiring. It’s a sign Clare has no interesting way of looking at things or of writing about them.

The novel relies mainly on things happening. Werewolves arrive, parties are getting rocked, someone turns into a rat, swords clash and blood pours. This can be exciting even if your characters have no reason to exist but enact these events. Clare’s writing isn’t exciting. It doesn’t drag the scenes down but doesn’t add energy to them because she has no interesting phrases. The event themselves can’t stand on their own. It’s mostly blood pouring and swords clashing.

There’s some fun to be had in this novel, but I expected more. Even as just a Young Adult adventure about hot brooding guys, paranormal beings and saving the world this could’ve been more fun. Clare writes like she’s just trying to please herself. I hope she’s passionate about generic werewolves and passive heroines because it sucks to write about things that bore you. Still, if only a little passion leaked to the page it’d elevate the story. The only remarkable thing about this is the controversy surrounding it.

2 cities out of 5 bones

Future Diary (Mirai Nikki)

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Mirai Nikki’s mission statement is one of its more obscure characters. Yomotsu barely has 20 minutes of screen time. He seems at first like an out-of-place oddball with his posturing as a Hero of Justice. This posturing is crucial. He says that the way to know who’s just ad who’s evil is according to who wins.

It’s a blunt way of saying it, but it’s true of many stories. Our hero defeats the villain with brute force, and we know he’s right because he didn’t deliver a speech about World Domination. In Death Game scenarios, it’s even worse. In Hunger Games, Katniss never has to come to terms with killing innocent people.

The Death Game scenarios are scary because they force people to fight who’d otherwise won’t. Katniss never has to face her fellow players’ humanity. She just happened to face the cruel ones. No such shortcuts are taken in Mirai Nikki.

Everyone is funny in their head, but no one is outright evil. Some are more crueler than others, but that cruelty is explained. We’re invited to understand these characters. Even when the cruelest of them die, there is tragic vibe to it. Things could have been different for them. Reisuke and Tsubaki are characters who made wrong decisions based on their circumstances.

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Blind and batshit crazy

Even John Bacchus, the character who could most easily become a caricature isn’t. He has grand plans for humanity, but not cheap World Domination. We see his plan’s failure in action, rather than have a boring speech about megalomaniac aspirations.

This approach to the Death Game brilliant. Not only it gets why the scenario is interesting in the first place, but it makes it more thrilling. Some have criticized the show for having a cast of stupid and psychotic characters, but that’s the point.

The best thrillers aren’t just a bunch of intelligent people playing mind games. Playing games is more fun than watching others do it, anyway. The best thrillers are those that are concerned with the emotional consequences of the scenario. They create thrilling set-pieces. They use atmosphere, symbolism and visual style instead of constant feedback.

Mirai Nikki is closer to thrillers like Pi and The Machinist, rather than the constant build-up of Death Note. It has a cast of weirdos who are thrown into a scenario with other weirdos and try to navigate it. The thrill comeד not from wondering What Will Happen Next, because it’s interesting to see these personalities clash.

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Best twintails in the history of anime

There are not highly-skilled badasses. Since they’re all emotional wrecks, that makes them unpredictible. We can expect an intelligent person to come up with a solution, but we’ll never know when a regular person will act on his rationality or on an emotional impulse. Whereas many thrillers just give the characters random skills, Mirai Nikki literally gives skills to the characters based on who they are. A loner is given a diary which records all his future observations. A couple is given diaries which predict their lovers’ future. An owner of an orphan home is given the ability to produce diary owners, like giving births.

If this starts to sound meta, then it only gets worse. Aren’t Yukki and Mur Mur a paralell to the us, the viewers? Yukki was, until the game starts an observer who wrote what he saw but didn’t participate in things. That’s how consuming media often works, especially when you write reviews like these. Mur Mur’s motivations seem like she might be evil for evil’s sake, but her desire for amusement is familiar. Don’t we watch these Death Games stories to be amused, too?

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Getting weird with my weird friends

While the Death Game scenario is the main theme the series questions for a while, there are a bunch of other ideas scattered around. Romance is being satirized with Yuno. Her character is more clever than people give her credit for. She’s a response to people’s desire for someone to love them deeply. Yuno’s love is serious, but it’s also selfish. She’s concerned more with protecting Yukki than what Yukki wants, although she matures a bit as it goes on.

There’s also some things about the nature of God. If Deus’ death seems like a giant plot hole to you, then you’re unfamiliar with mythology. Gods die and humans replace them all the time, and Gods are often limited in their power. We also get a Badass Switch, which addresses the topic at hand. Yukki doesn’t simply become a gun-packing OG. He’s suppressing his sensitive self, but still acts on his desire to help others. We even got a Metaphysical Rebellion thing going on. The owners are all given the ability to change the future, yet do they really change it? Yomotasu appears again. He’s being told he will die, so he just kills himself.

Some of them try to rebel, to do something other than become Gods. Mostly, they all go along with the circumstances they’ve been given. That’s the reason why many of them became crazy in the same place. It’s not an accidental detail. The whole Final Battle is one big metaphysical rebellion. It sees the characters trying to create an alternative future.

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Where do you think cruelty comes from?

All of this sounds very clever on paper, but the execution is closer to the violent use of that word.

The problem with Mirai Nikki is that it’s too original and has too much to say. It’s full of ideas and it wants to deal with them on its own rules. We get a few pretty women, all of which spend more time being characters rather than let us stare. There’s an extended sequence where Yuno is in underwear but it never slows down to give us good-looking shots. There are shifts in tone that feel appropriate. Such an overblown story can’t work without some humor. The progress of the story is more thematic than realistic. Things exist and happen because they fit the tone and meaning. Questions like ‘how did Rei get the poison?’ are left unanswered because they’ll most likely not add much.

The problem with creating your own rules is that you’re a first-timer in the game. Digimon Tamers might be brilliant, but it’s the result of past failures. The story is archetypical. The creators looked back on similar stories, saw where the holes were and filled them.

Mirai Nikki has no such tradition to draw from. It borrows freely from School, Death Game, Psychological Thriller, Action and Fantasy. It’s both excited by what it has, and unsure of itself. That’s why the pace is too fast, but the series never runs out of stream even when it’s off the rails.

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Everyone suffers eye damage, for some reason

Normally I’d complain about a few unnecessary episodes, but this one needed more. The characters all have quirks that point to a personality, but that’s all they do. Their defining features are too often external – a tragic event in their past, an ill son. We don’t get enough of moments that show us how these things affect them.

They are affecting them enough to feel different. Both Rei and Tsubaki have their tragic pasts, but one is full of hatred and the other is just cruel. That’s a pretty significant distinction. It’s not explored, though. These characters die too quickly.

What made the Cult of the Sixth so exciting is because it threw all these weirdos together. Instead of having boring one-on-one match, we have different people doing their things according to how they see fit. You can’t do it for 26 episodes if everyone is constantly dying. They kept some of them alive for a long while, so why not all the rest?

There is also an added mechanic which might feel like an asspull. It actually fits the theme of the series and is necessary for the metaphysical rebellion thing. The problem is, by the time it appears our story shifted focus. We’re no longer following a cast of weirdos and their plight, but see the metaphysical rebellion itself.

It’s interesting enough, but it calls for a different series. A story ends when its ideas conclude, not when stuff stops happening. In this case the survival game ended, therefore the first story is over. Shifting a focus just causes unnecessary confusion. If they dedicate 26 episodes to their ensemble and expanded the final battle to a short second season, it’d be better.

At least the the series never runs out of steam. From the beginning the show feels like it will go off the rails, and it does. The train keeps going forward though. The track might be lost, but you won’t reach your destination by standing still. Even when it loses itself it refuses to play by anyone’s rules but its own.

There’s something admirable how it keeps going forward. Better anime than it fall to convenience when things get too hard, but Mirai Nikki just speeds forward. If we compare anime to Icarus, then Sword Art Online gives up on the sun and drowns. Mirai Nikki forgets about the sun and tries to fly to outer space, but burns in the atmosphere.

Credit must be given to the visual style. Mirai Nikki features some of the best character design in anime. No one is spared. Many anime have talented designers, but only the women get this treatment. Just look at Date A Live, which has brilliant designs like those of Yoshino and Tokisaki, but Shido might as well be a stick-man.

Here, we have an attention to detail. Yukki isn’t just another black-haired hero but given an actual style, even if it’s less flamboyant than others. Everyone has their own facial expressions, their own hairstyles and their own outfits. It speaks volumes about the series when it creates pretty women but doesn’t linger on their bodies, and finds room for a deformed one too. There’s something beautiful in the picture of the ending theme. We see all the owners’ shilouttes standing, each with his own unique shape.

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This isn’t Freddy Fazbear’s!

This makes everything feel so alive. It may look unrealistic. Marco’s hair definitely can’t stand like this, but that’s not the point. Animation is expressing ideas using visuals. Human beings are often weird. I lived with many of them, and few turned out to be normal. Their personalities are closer to Mirai Nikki‘s flamboyant design rather than Mushishi‘s, where everyone looked the same. Now what is more realistic?

Mirai Nikki is full of flaws and little holes. There are       average anime with less obvious problems. There are also not many with so much life and energy, that play by their own rules rather than someone else’s. There is a masterpiece here somewhere, but the pacing is too rushed and there are too many ideas than it can carry. It’s never boring, it’s rarely convenient and it’s always unhinged and bizarre. In this case, I’m willing to forgive the flaws.

The biggest plot hole that nobody talks about is Uryuu Minene never wearing her twintails again. These are the best twintails in the history of anime. Why not use them?

4 blind eyes out of 5