ANIME & MANGA - Review
12:00 - 14th September 2014, by David West

From The New World

Saki and her friends live in a small village where they go to school every day to learn how to use their telekinetic powers. Their society is a peaceful, harmonious one, but from time to time one of the children will disappear from class and never come back. No one ever seems to remark on the vanished kids, but Saki starts to wonder about the true nature of the world they live in.

This elegantly crafted piece of dystopian science fiction is adapted from the novel by Yusuke Kishi and directed by Masashi Ishihama. It starts out fairly innocuously as the children go to class, deal with the challenges of making and testing friendships and struggling to master their mental powers. The hints that something is wrong are subtle at first, but the pace and intensity pick up considerably when the kids go on a camping expedition. A strange encounter pulls the wool from their eyes and they get dragged into a tribal conflict between different groups of Monster Rats – strange, anthropomorphised rodents some of whom are friendly towards humans, some not at all.

Then the plotline shifts to dealing with one member of the group whose powers become a threat, before a third shift in focus for the final storyline that ends with a big cliff-hanger. The script paints a picture of a fascinating society, where stability and security are prized above all else, with a cost measured in human lives. However, this is very much a piece of Japanese science fiction, where the importance of the group is paramount. American and western science fiction stories often pit an individual against a government or group that wants to rob them of their identity. In From The New World, there is a strong sense of the need to sacrifice the individual for the collective good and, at the very least, an ambivalence about the rights of the one versus the many. There is a fascinating idea about building a societal model based on the behaviour of Bonobos – a type of chimpanzee – and this idea really blossoms in the second half as the characters reach puberty. The matter-of-fact portrayal of a gay relationship is refreshingly non-sensationalistic.

The show generally opts for a naturalistic visual style with a slightly subdued colour palette. Character designs give everyone a clear identity, although the Monster Rats are not so clearly individualised and can look a bit cookie-cutter when they appear en masse. Saki’s classmates have distinctive personalities which make them interesting and makes sure the viewer is emotionally engaged in their fate. The series makes great use of foreshadowing, a plot device all too rarely seen in anime where information is often spoon fed to the viewer only when it becomes relevant to what’s happening on screen at that precise moment. Early episodes see the kids talking fearfully about Karmic Demons, Ogres and Impure Cats, but the true meaning of these names only becomes clear later as the kids themselves discover more about the truth behind their existence and seemingly tranquil lives.

How refreshing to find a science fiction anime without robots, frisky catgirls, or fanservice. From The New World is a smart, well conceived series with an intriguing premise and a fully realised vision of a future where telekinesis is part of everyday life. The underlying message about group cohesion is typically Japanese, but this is an exceptional, distinctive show.
SCORE: 4/5
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