Tag: Post-apocalyptic

Review: From the New World

The start of From the New World might be the most unsettling and interesting opening scene in recent memory, on par with Serial Experiments Lain. The quick images of children, blood, chaos quickly shows the start of events that lead to the utopian like society scene in the rest of that first episode. Mystery, irony, and pulling the curtain back to reveal the larger picture are what make From the New World a compelling piece of fiction.

From the New World is about a group of children growing up in a seemingly idealized society based on feudal japan, except with some comforts of a technologically advanced society. We experience and see the world through the eyes of these children as they grow up from middle school aged to adults working as productive members of their community. The main tactic the show employs is using these children to guide the narrative forward. The audience is slowly introduced to the details of the world as these children, who are mostly ignorant of how their society works, grow up and experience the price humanity had to pay for living a peaceful life.

The show asks one question: what would the world really be like if people developed physic powers. The opening scene is what happened in the immediate aftermath and the children learn quickly that in the era following the emergence of “power” war, slavery, and chaos followed. The utopia the show opens in is a result of figuring out how human beings can co-exist when everyone has god like powers. The main element of which is called the “Death of Shame” which causes any human who harms or kills a fellow to suffer terrible physical pain and most likely die. Only by altering the way human physiology works were they able to build and maintain a peaceful society.

That is one of a dozen serious moral questions the show addresses and forces the audience to struggle with, it effectively takes all of the horrible elements human society had to implement and presents them in a sinister light, but when more is revealed about the reasons for the setup of the world all the elements that originally came off as abhorrent take on a shade of gray. The show runs through a constant cycle of revealing something to make the audience mortified and then, a few episodes later, finds a way to justify it. This cycle is amazingly effective in keeping the audience on the edge of their seats while simultaneously providing a thoughtful moral dilemma that continuously evolves throughout. 

A large portion of the show focus’ on humanities interactions with the “Monster Rats” a race of intelligent mole rats that have taken over as the dominant species on the planet and view the powerful humans as gods. Early in the show Saki and her friend Shun get caught up in a war between two Monster Rat clans and are forced to use the blunt of their power to defend themselves. This is when the audience is treated to the full force that humans have been able to wield using Power, and the result is terrifying. The Monster Rats themselves continue along the same path as the rest of the show. As we live with the Monster Rats and witness their lives and their conflicts we get a thought-provoking shade of gray. Even though the humans have these destructive powers why and when they should get involved in the politics of this “lesser” race is a consistent question throughout the show and these decisions have lasting effects on humanities future.

The only unfortunate aspect of the show is that it does feel a little truncated at times. Adapted from light novels the series does quickly pass over a large section of romance that is introduced, flashed quickly, then is mostly ignored except for a few key plot points. In fact, most of the characters feel a little hollow and interchangeable, with the exception of Saki Watanabe. Ultimately they are used as a way for the audience to get exposed to the world and develop how the politics of new human society work. It’s not a huge fault, as From the New World is a pretty dense show, but it would have given the show a bit more of a personal feeling if I care more about the characters.

The real terror the show presents to the audience is that we are all capable of doing these terrible things and that there are consequences for trying to do the right thing. In “From the New World” the peace that humanity finally one is fragile, and if not maintained properly will crumble quickly. The gift of ultimate power comes at a startling cost and the show illustrates these facts beautifully. While it lacks individual compelling characters the driving force behind the show become the moral questions it asks and the horrifying realization the characters as a group experience when they realize that aspects of their society they wanted to rebel against are necessary for humanities survival.

Grade: A

 

Review: Sora No Woto

 

soranowoto

Sora No Woto is a series that, from the premise, attempted to unite the two feuding cults of Anime fans by combining traditional moe elements with a serious and compelling story line. The result is a story about a young girl, Kanata, who joins the army in order to learn to play music. She is assigned to a post in the most remote part of the nation and ends up living a life of leisure in a world that has been decimated by war.

vlcsnap-2010-09-23-20h59m32s209 Although the production values of Sora No Woto are extremely high overall the show doesn’t have a single original idea. Sora No Woto is a show crafted by committee and it shows in the most obvious places. The character designs and personality types of the main cast seem to be lifted from other popular Moe shows. The main character, Kanata, looks; acts; and has the same musical affinity as K-On!’s Yui Hirasawa and the technically inclined but soft-spoken and shy Noël Kannag is, in personality and character design, an obvious rip off of Haruhi’s Yuki Nagato. There elements give the show an artificial feel and is an obvious attempt at pandering to Moe fans.

However, the world these characters are dropped into is vibrant and quickly becomes the most compelling vlcsnap-2010-09-23-20h59m20s89 aspect of the show. These is a mystery fueled by allusions to a great war along with obvious clues that this seemingly fantasy world the characters inhabit is, in fact, our own. The force that drives the show forward is the question, “What happened?” and that question is explored as these characters interact with the world around them. Unfortunately this element comes to work against them before the end as information given at the start of the show is proven completely false by the finale. The rules of the world shift by the end of the show in order to give the show an ending climax, a lazy tactic that harms the absolute best element of Sora no Woto.

vlcsnap-2010-09-23-21h02m04s145 Even with all these problems there still is a ton of good writing and exploration of philosophy in the series. In fact, Episode 7 represents some of the best animation and storytelling to come out of Japan during the winter season. Those few good episodes are just over shadowed by the inane mindless episodes in between the building plot. The tone of the show shifts from dark and fatalistic to light and pointless from one episode to the next and the show is only good when it is exploring the darker aspects of this world. Again, this is due to Sora No Woto’s attempt to appeal to a massive audience by playing up its cute characters and Moe aimlessness. I don’t want this review to turn into Moe bashing because I do enjoy Moe when it is done right. However, Sora No Woto does it completely wrong. They play up the cuteness and flightiness of the characters in the middle of a story with real danger and serious consequences. That isn’t how Moe is supposed to work and it undermines the realism that is done well in half the episodes.

As a viewer I felt myself drifting away from the series during the episodes that featured the vlcsnap-2010-09-23-21h02m56s207 characters in slice of life moments. There was an episode about Kanata having to wait near a phone for headquarters to call and needing to go to the bathroom for the majority of the wait. Another featured the characters wondering aimlessly through a grassy field on a “training” exercise. Of course, that focused less on anything military and more on how they managed to learn how to fish. I would have much preferred more images of the rich world than either of those pointless adventures. A three second long frame of a half destroyed Japanese class room in the second episode had more substance than both of those episodes combined.

While Sora No Woto has the skeleton of a good show behind it the Moe aesthetic grafted onto it takes away from the serious and deep philosophical moments the show attempts to achieve. Sora No Woto works best when it is at its darkest but, unfortunately, those moments are rare and interspersed into a finely crafted marketing tool directed at Moe fans.

Good

  • – Finely crafted setting that adds to the plot in a passive way.
  • – Brief moments of brilliance when the action, characters, and theme of the show are allowed advance.

Bad

  • – Moe characters feel like carbon copies of characters from other popular Moe shows.
  • – Nonsense “K-On!” esq episodes harm the flow and tone of the series.
  • – Inconsistent character and world development, mismanaged plot.