Introducing Shin Sekai Yori, also SAO 13 and Joshiraku 9

The first series of the fall season has arrived, all bright and sparkly! And, in the case of Shin Sekai Yori, dripping with style.

Or in this case, ‘melting with style.’

It was hard to tell what exactly was going on in the opening episode, especially at first, because the show decided to throw a bunch of cut scenes and blurry art in our faces. What we can figure out is that in some city people start getting blowed up in disgusting ways, and there’s a gloomy boy who seems to be the cause, since he blew a taxi door off its hinges, not to mention that elevator. Dead giveaway. Then we jump to the country where some kids are arguing about who won a capture the flag game as the sun sets, and the present day is soon forgotten. We’re told that we’re 1000 years in the future. About the only thing that’s the same is the Dvorak music saying it’s time to go home. Or maybe the music wasn’t actually playing in the present-day scene, but, er, inferred. Many shows want to make an impression with their first episode, especially their first scenes, and this one certainly did, but nothing really struck me until a stunning chant with rock band accompaniment started up and the camera glided beneath a rope barrier with talismans. Then the whole thing became portentous and not a little frightening.

Our core group, more or less.

Things settle down after that. They’re still tossing in scenes regardless of chronology, but they’re feeding each other now. Our heroine apparently is Saki, whose telekinetic powers bloom late, but at least they bloomed, and she rejoins her old buddies … high school, I guess. Apotheosis class, to be precise. We watch as Saki settles in, doing okay with one challenge and badly with others, mixed with scenes of her “cursed” powers and her discovery that her parents first child was lost, somehow. And there’s stories of kids who never finish school and vanish. And that thing they called a Faze Cat. Apart from the fact that a rather hapless team member vanishes at the very end of the episode, we get nothing more than this–infodump scenes jumbled together. So it looks like this show might be hiding a mundane narrative with cute tricks. But it’s too soon to tell, and episode one wasn’t boring.

Watching Sword Art Online 13 I wondered why they put the episode together this way. We have a long and silly honeymoon section where Kirito and Asuna help kill a beast in a lake, basically a fish story except the fish has legs. It looks like they’d be telling this fish story and indulging in pillow talk for the entire episode, when they get word from Heathcliff to cut their vacation short and come back. This prompts some despair over losing the fun they were having, continued in a later scene after they learn what the new challenge is. Asuna makes a point that while they spend their time in this game, god only knows what’s happening to their real bodies. It’s the counter to Kirito’s message to live life wherever you are, a message tearfully repeated by Asuna earlier. The show doesn’t take sides on these conflicting but legitimate opinions. Both sides have a point.

There’s more depressing talk to follow. The mission is a dangerous one and for the first time Kirito brings up the dilemma of wanting to see his partner safe at all costs, in spite of how Asuna might feel. It had to come up sooner or later. It’s another question where both sides have a point, and while you could say that Kirito’s voicing his desire demonstrates that he hasn’t yet learned to work as a team member, he also gives no argument when Asuna says no way is she going to stay behind, no way, not a. I also began to wonder if Kirito might be getting soft; but since he said he worried about that too I worried less. If Kirito’s aware of a problem, you know he’s working on fixing it.

After that it’s back to real action for the first time in a while, and I realized how much I missed it. Heathcliff leads a group of warriors to a boss’s room, and it’s a nasty one. It’s the best action sequence so far. Crazy movement and quick angles that still manage to show the important things like Kirito and Asuna’s teamwork (leave one of them behind? Hah!), Heathcliff’s leadership and fighting skills (the man might be a tool, but he’s good at what he does), while the rest of the fighters get in shots where they can … and it ends. I groaned out loud when the credits started. You know, all the talk scenes in the episode had points to make, but I wish they had cut them short and shown the outcome. On the other hand, would we have known how much the two missed their peaceful cabin-on-the-lake if they had spent less time there?

Like last week I watched Joshiraku raw while waiting for the sub. It’s a way to discover how much information is presented visually (though I do know a few words) in a show that seemingly depends on wordplay. I got that Kigurumi wanted to attract more children to their shows, but they lost me when all the butt references, and I couldn’t tell why Tetora was suddenly munching on snacks. The zoo section was pretty clear, though again I didn’t get any specifics. Nice reference to Polar Bear’s Cafe, though. The sleep talking part needed no explanation at all, well, I didn’t get what the people who came in were talking about. I’d like to keep this experiment going a little longer but with the new season nearly upon us I won’t have the time.

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