Warning: there will be minor spoilers in this review.
Born into a world a thousand years in our future, Saki and her friends Satoru, Maria, Mamoru and Shun have lived their entire lives in what seems to be a perfect utopia. Not only is their small, idyllic community overflowing with clean rushing water and abundant green foliage, but almost all technology has been rendered irrelevant by the magical power of “Juryoku,” the psychic ability to materialize anything one desires. But when Saki discovers a long-lost artefact from the past, the facade of their world is shattered and the cracks that split the foundation of their reality threaten to swallow them whole!
That whole synopsis up there has been taken directly from the MVM website; normally I’d go out of my way to write my own spin on the plot but this time I just cannot. I’m thirteen episodes into From the New World and I have little to no idea to what’s going on. I cannot elaborate on what’s said above because the series does nothing to help with my bewilderment.
The opening episode is one of the worst I’ve seen in anime in a long time; on the technical side it all seems fine and dandy – animation is good, voice acting is passable and music is beautiful, but the plot and pacing? They’re all over the place. At the end of the first episode, you’re none the wiser as to what the show is about. It’s like experiencing the first few hours of Final Fantasy XIII all over again; it’s pretty to look at but the world, characters and story are not established, we are thrust into it without any explanation at all.
Let’s explore some story elements to try to get what’s going on. We are introduced to six friends who live in a future world where apparently everyone has psychic powers, they all attend a school to develop said powers and there’s apparently a fear of losing said powers or not developing correctly. Why? No idea. As part of their world there are these beings called mutant rats – where they come from, why some talk the human language and some don’t is not elaborated. There are also apparently ogres and demons that live outside the ‘spirit barrier’ that the towns apparently have around them to keep the villagers safe; again it’s said in passing but little to nothing is shown or given context behind it. The six friends quickly become five as more and more students suddenly go missing. The said students that disappear are given a frame to see their face, or sometimes just their names before vanishing, making it really difficult to build an emotional connection with what’s going on. It’s not until episode 4 when the rainbow unicorn-like demon decides to explain the back story (yes, that is a thing that happens) that some small pieces start falling into place, and bigger problems being to emerge.
This is a show full of mystery, not just the dark secrets that the children slowly start to uncover but the entire series is cloaked in it, and the storytelling itself is an enigma. Creating a series about a giant conspiracy is a fine foundation, but the problem is that in order to distinguish what is ‘abnormal’ you first need to lay out clearly what is ‘normal’. From the New World does not do this. During the previously mentioned rainbow unicorn-like demon scene, the demon explains in graphic detail how humans have been physically altered over the years so that they are biologically incapable of killing other human beings. The children who hear this are clearly traumatised by what the demon says; they can’t bear the thought of one human killing another, but my first reaction was; ‘So?’ It was not shown or even hinted at what is considered an unfortunate but regular occurrence in our time has been eliminated in theirs. Aside from the obvious powers flying around, we’re given nothing to establish what are the limitations in this world compared to our own. We see glimpses in the first few episodes but a lot of their ‘rules’ and terminology are tossed into dialogue with no context behind them, therefore we do not know and cannot feel a connection to the series.
The biggest reason for this is the pacing which is agonizing at times. It’s so fast and eager to get going that it does not leave any breathing space. Characters often talk over each other, time skips from past to present and jumps all over the scenery, even at one point skipping two years right after a big three-part battle that seemed really important, and any emotional or story revelation is not given sufficient padding to allow the audience to absorb it. This is not just for the story, there’s also little to no character development because the series just won’t slow down to allow for it. All the kids have similar personalities so it’s hard to differentiate them at times; there are hints throughout the show that they seem to have varying degrees of power amongst them, but the limitations of the magic is never set. One minute they’re able to set fire to trees with their minds and stop explosions, but later on they are hit by a snow avalanche and do nothing to stop it. One girl seems to have an affinity for flight, another girl seems to do it as and when the plot needs it. Sometimes the characters mutter something to themselves before magic happens, it’s not something that is explained, it’s just something I happened to notice whilst watching so that the first time I saw it, I thought that the dubbing went out of sync with the lips. Then there’s the ‘sex’ scenes, there’s absolutely no build-up to them. Aside from Saki occasionally looking lovingly at Shun (which ultimately leads to nowhere) there is no development of the other relationships, they just happen and then move on.
Undoubtedly, there are some fantastic elements and atmosphere in this series; a society based upon secrets, the darkness invoked by the children’s powers, the mystery of the missing kids, the various mythical creatures that crop up – they could have all easily been used here to create an amazing and unique supernatural series. But the pacing and the lack of groundwork to set up the world before racing towards the development of the mystery really damages any good this series tries to do. By episode 11 the pacing finally decides to slow down a tad and some of the story developments start to sink in, but that’s way too far in. There are too many instances when something random happens on screen and the audience’s only reaction is ‘what the heck is going on?’; some answers crop up a few episodes later but so many other questions have yet to be answered.
The animation quality is very inconsistent despite being one of the highlights; it makes great use of colour and shadowing, often blossoming at times when the series takes darker turns in the story, but it dips and peaks in quality from episode to episode. The backgrounds are lovely and a lot of detail has gone into them to create some atmosphere, especially for the closing animation, but the character designs leave much to be desired; the kids often have the same face with minor hair style differences to tell them apart, and the mutant rats are not memorable either. There seems to be an unhealthy obsession with zooming onto crotches and bums of the characters too.
DVD extras include clean closing, Japanese promos and trailers for various MVM series such as Familiar of Zero and Accel World.
From the New World is a frustrating watch; its fantastical ideas, themes and atmosphere are overwhelmed by the awful pacing, unmemorable characters and failing to set out the groundwork before trying to build the ‘big mystery’. I wanted to like it as it has a lot of the supernatural and horror elements that should be praiseworthy but there are too many instances where its too confusing to get involved in what was happening. I certainly won’t judge anyone who cannot get past the first few episodes due to this. Maybe the questions will be answered in the next set, or maybe not. If you are a fan of the genre and have a level of patience to wade through the show’s vague storytelling, then rent it and proceed with caution.