Following up with my Twitter poll anime reviews, the next show came from friend and fellow podcaster Jeff. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the show that was chosen in Jeff’s poll was a show that he himself had already written a review about. If you’re interested in Jeff’s thoughts on it, you can find his review HERE. However, I couldn’t very well refuse myself the opportunity to write a review after 25 episodes of notes, so please enjoy my review of…
From the New World
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Director: Masashi Ishihama
Aired: Sep 12, 2012 – Mar 23, 2013
Episode Count: 25
Languages: Japanese with English subtitles / English Dub
Genre(s): Mystery, Drama, Supernatural
Price: $69.99 (Blu-Ray) / $55.99 (DVD)
When Jeff recommended this show, I had no idea what to expect. I was aware that an anime called “From the New World” was held in pretty high regard by some in the community, but other than that I was a completely blank slate. After successfully completing this 25 episodes I certainly see where the acclaim comes from, but this isn’t to say it’s without its issues. Masashi Ishihama was the director in charge of this A-1 Pictures project, which seems like it might have been a bit of a gamble for the studio. Prior to and after this release Mr. Ishihama had not been an overall director for many works. However, it’s clear that when the dust settled on the 25th episode that Mr. Ishihama and his whole staff had an anime that they could be pretty proud of. I apologize that the subsequent review can’t possibly due justice to the show, and be warned that I can’t tell you about the story without spoiling some pretty climactic moments.
From the New World opens with a quick paced introduction to the main character of the show (Saki Watanabe), and her friends/classmates (Satoru Asahina, Maria Akizuki, Shun Aonuma, Mamoru Itou). The society they live in is one of psychics who focus heavily on the education of their young, but the projected serenity of the town hides the sinister truth that children who don’t make the cut in education are eliminated. On a school trip past the sacred border (the edge of their society) the group of children runs across a monster called a Demon Minoshiro, a beast from out of their childhood tales. However, when they capture this monster they find that it is a biocomputer with thousands of years of stored data in it. From this creature they learn that the population of psychics among humanity became larger in 2011 CE, and that their society was founded after 1000 years of war and strife among humans and psychics. Furthermore that their societal stories are meant to breed out aggression in the young, and that many of the things they were taught were natural were manufactured into them either through teaching or genetic engineering. From this point forward the group must live their lives with forbidden knowledge, constantly wondering whether they will be pruned from society.
The group goes through a trial by fire involving a sentient species called monster rats, and after their run in we leap in time to the characters at age 14. The show leaps in time twice, each time to display a point of conflict for Saki and her friends. The knowledge they gained is constantly lost (later revealed to be due to brainwashing), only to be regained again during times of high stress. Saki’s journey through adolescence into adulthood is fraught with fear for herself and her friends from authority figures, but it’s through this journey that we learn one of the central themes of the show, survival. The adults of the society have practice “weeding out” danger among their young as a means of keeping the species alive. The psychic power these humans possess has a history of causing incredible amounts of suffering, and through trial and error the people of this civilization have came up with a seemingly safe way to ensure the survival of their species. This theme of carrying on the species comes back in a big way later in the show with the monster rats.
[Major Spoilers] When we join Saki as an adult a confederation of monster rat colonies join together to attack the humans. Without psychic powers this should be impossible, but the attack is devastating nonetheless. This is because the monster rats have stolen the child of two run-away psychics, and raised it to believe it’s a monster rat. Due to the genetic manufacturing of the psychic humans they cannot physically harm another human without harming themselves, so the monster rat’s psychic is able to run rampant due to her belief that monster rats are humans. With no way to kill her Saki ventures to the ruins of Tokyo to find a way to stop this child from destroying her society. With the help of a loyal monster rat, Saki is to defeat the child the invasion falls apart. The society is able to rebuild, and there’s a semi-depressing feeling that nothing was really going to change for the humans of this civilization. The ending is a decent cap on a story that depicted a moral grey area, wherein the viewer is forced to begrudgingly agree with some unsavory means of advancing and preserving a species.
All the characters get a decent amount of screen time, but Saki is clearly our protagonist in this story. At first she seems somewhat timid, but her outward apprehensiveness belies a steady nerve when the going gets tough. She’s constantly the one to seek answers where the other characters would rather go with the flow of society, and her ability to think on her feet is impressive even at a young age. While I didn’t appreciate all of her development, it was all believable enough for a girl going through puberty into adulthood. Never once did I feel like she strayed too far out of character, and her development through the 25 episodes was some of the best I’ve seen. In terms of anime protagonists in this kind of setting. You really couldn’t hope for more than Saki in a show like From the New World.
The rest of group 1 are varying degrees of interesting. Satoru is rambunctious in his youth but mellows out as time progresses, and for a majority of the series he plays as sort of a comforting presence for Saki. Shun is more even minded than Satoru in youth, but his teen years are fraught with peril. He also serves as a comforting presence for saki, but in a slightly different way than Satoru. Maria is Saki’s best friend and lover when they are teens. While Saki is outwardly weak but inwardly strong, Maria is the opposite and shows her weakness in times of strife. Bringing up the rear is the last male Mamoru. Mamoru is both inwardly and outwardly weak, and as such clings to his groupmates in times of trouble. All together this group mostly serves to highlight Saki, and individually I wasn’t terribly impressed with them. However, the group dynamic makes up for their individual flaws.
Visuals and Music
In terms of visuals From the New World is quite possibly the biggest rollercoaster ride I’ve ever been on. This show has some of the highest highs, while also having some of the lowest lows in anime art. Early on the visuals are incredible, and they helped to hook me into the storyline. Towards the middle of the first cour, the animation dipped so hard that I actually comparing it to an 80’s cartoon (Watership Down). However, only a few episodes later is one of the most stunningly illustrated episodes of an anime I’ve ever seen. As you can ascertain from my ramblings, it is incredibly difficult for me to nail down my thoughts on the art in this anime. Suffice it to say that by the time the animation dove into the realm of terrible, I was already heavily invested in the story. The only advice I can offer to a prospective viewer is to go into the show with a sturdy stomach for the high hills and low valleys of animation quality, because the story is worth the jarring feeling.
A-1 Pictures pulled out all the stops on the audio production on this anime, and I feel confident in saying the original soundtrack is one of my favorite in anime. The climactic scenes were framed by appropriate music that was sometimes reminiscent of Akira, and the mellow scenes of serenity were shaped by relaxing guitar riffs. Capping the fantastic music was a trumpet theme that played in the psychic villages at sunset that is actually named “From the New World”. Paired with the visuals of the rural psychic society at sunset, this trumpet solo is haunting in its beauty. While this show doesn’t have an opening theme, the ending theme it receives is probably my new favorite ending theme. Artistically and musically it’s a masterpiece of an opening theme, and if you’re interested in looking it up it’s called “Wareta Ringo” by Risa Taneda (or just Google From the New World ED).
There are few anime I’ve seen that match the combined pace, themes, and feelings that From the New World forces you to contemplate. The story is incredibly compelling and thought provoking, and the music goes above and beyond the scope of most anime. While the animation does dip quite a bit in quality, the episodes where the animation picks up is well worth suffering through the terrible ones. If I had to lobby a complaint towards this anime, it’s that there wasn’t more of it to answer how the civilization adapts to the events at the end of the show. However, if this is my only complaint towards the story, then it is safe to say that From the New World did a fantastic job keeping me invested in its plot. When the dust settled on the discussions this anime provoked, I must admit that Jeff was 100% right when he told me this was a must watch anime. If you’re a fan of post apocalyptic storylines, incredible soundtracks, or plots that really make you question yourself then I would absolutely recommend this show.
TL;DR: From the New World is an amazing mystery that takes you on a trip through some exceedingly heavy themes. It drops information on you in a way that has you constantly guessing at the questions it leaves open, and the information you get to fill in the blanks slowly colors your view of the world. The animation takes a massive dive in a couple places, but if you can bear through these few instances you’ll be rewarded by some excellent visuals and a consistently amazing soundtrack. If you’re here just to ask whether or not you should watch it, then my answer is, “Absolutely, watch it”.
Recommended Audiences: On top of heavy themes, this anime also has some pretty mature content. Due to the high sexual content and violence, I would say that the key age group for From the New World would be young adults. The heavy themes that might go over the heads of less mature viewers serve to reenforce my recommended age group. Fans of mysteries, supernatural anime, and drama with suspense will likely find this anime agreeable to their tastes. If you’re in one of these groups, definitely give From the New World a shot!
From the New World outwits the ogre, but suffers side effects from the Death of Shame for 4.5/5 HP