Shinsekai Yori and True Heroism

I have to admit, I’ve been kind of dreading this essay. Granted, I actually dread pretty much every essay – this may come as a surprise, but writing mostly feels like work, and it’s only having written things that I normally like (or the feeling of editing something I’m already happy with, or that last-act stretch, when the writing feels like those burning, fleeting seconds after a shot of whiskey, and the absolute worth of the task tingles down to your extremities… okay, yeah, writing is actually pretty great). But normally I only fully break down shows I’m very passionate about, and the reason I’m saying any of this is because that’s not how it’s going right now. Right now I’m going to talk about Shinsekai Yori, and I have to admit the show left me kind of cold.

Not that it’s a bad show! No. It’s actually an extremely good show. Many people already love it, and many more should be introduced to it, because they will love it too. It has a remarkable number of strengths in its favor.

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Thematic Integration and Philosophical Discussion


As a fan of philosophy, I tend to enjoy shows that take the time to discuss their philosophical or ethical questions, such as Psycho-Pass or Evangelion. However, it seems clear that writers can go overboard with this, and that sometimes these discussions can seem inappropriate or even pretentious. Do you think there’s a specific pattern to when discussions like this are appropriate, and when they start to become pretentious?

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Suisei no Gargantia – Review

Suisei no Gargantia is a strange little show. It covers all of Urobuchi’s pet themes at once, while also shifting wildly in tone and pacing throughout. It combines a number of seemingly incompatible genres, including Ghibli-esque adventure, slice of life, sci-fi drama, action, and even some moments approaching psychological horror. It clearly displays some of the most supportable accusations generally leveled at Urobuchi – that his characters lack nuance or depth, and that his stories work primarily in support of ideas and have little power as narratives in and of themselves. Gargantia by itself is a pretty cogent argument for why Urobuchi is such a polarizing writer.

But the thing about polarizing writers is that for all the people they turn off, there are also plenty of people who really like what they do. Like, for example, me.

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Craft Exercise – Little Witch Academia as a Series

Management: I’m aware I basically plot out the most standard possible genre piece here. The point was not to outline something potentially groundbreaking, it was to illustrate the amount of work a first episode generally has to do regarding narrative structure. A really great first episode would require a much larger infusion of creativity than the structural hack job I perform here.


Little Witch Academia was awesome! Do you think it could be turned into a full series?


It was great, but it was also solidly self-contained – it told a fun, breezy story that doubled as a metaphor for that “showy entertainment is needed to inspire the young” theme (words on that if you’re interested), and everything was written/characterized to the extent needed for this one thing. It answered all narrative questions it raised and fully articulated its thematic intent – I think it’d have to be quite different to work as a series.


Can you elaborate on that? What made the OVA unsuitable as a first episode, and what would have to be changed to make it work?


Well, the main problem is that like I said, it basically answered all of its own questions, which is something a first episode generally doesn’t do (though this obviously isn’t a rule, and I’m not the story police – for instance, Cowboy Bebop’s first episode is virtually entirely self-contained, though it does actually raise the core theme of the difficulty of escaping your past identity and choices). Anyway! The conflicts Little Witch Academia raised were:

  1. The protagonist gaining acceptance and respect at her school.
  2. The protagonist proving the legitimacy of her idol.
  3. The protagonist resolving her specific conflict with her rival.
  4. The treasure hunt/dragon fight.

Additionally, the thematic point that I’m fairly sure this show as trying to make was:

“Ostensibly low-art popular entertainment like the flashy shows of this protagonist’s idol are actually not just entertaining, they are incredibly important as inspiration for the next generation – as an example, here is a story of that actually occurring within a piece of this kind of entertainment created by a group of people who were in this way inspired.”

The OVA resolves every one of those conflicts entirely (she saves the school, thus resolving 1 and 4 – she does it by using the wand of her idol, thus resolving 2 – she ends the series by being rescued by and bonding with her rival, thus resolving 3). While doing these things, it acts in its entirety as the thematic argument I outlined. This is all great storytelling, and I think the piece totally works on a surface and thematic level because of it.

However, if I were to make a full series of this, I feel something like this would act more as “proof of concept” than a first episode – you can’t really have the first episode of your show not leave any suspense, or unanswered questions, or possible new avenues for conflict, or not-fully-explored themes.

How would I go about fixing this?

The world would certainly have to be a bit broader – the current cast/characterization would possibly work for a very simple monster-of-the-week thing, but seeing as how we’re trying to make a good series here and the OVA has already displayed the creator’s interest in actually raising interesting thematic arguments, I’d like to aim a bit higher than that.

Currently, a decent bit of runtime in this OVA is dedicated to articulating the various beats of the thematic argument (the initial performance, arguments both with her rival and with her friends about her validity, all the business with the wand, the final reconciliation) – in a full series, I wouldn’t recommend this, and would probably just have a hint or two of this thematic concern.

The surface conflict would probably have to be shaved a bit and tuned down as well – having our hero save the school from a dragon probably works better for a one-episode OVA than a series that’s supposed to rise in tension throughout, plus having her save the school immediately too easily resolves the conflict of her finding her place at the school as someone who hasn’t come from a classic wizarding background.

Instead, we’d probably want a little more runtime dedicated both to characterizing her friends and rival a little more deeply, perhaps providing first glimpses of a couple more secondary characters for future conflicts, and probably providing a more full picture of daily life at the school. I feel one of the main strengths of this material is “Harry Potter but as an anime with vivid, humorous animation,” and one of the main strengths of Harry Potter was, in my opinion, how entertaining they made life at the school seem even in the absence of any crazy tension or dark forces. Again, since we’re stretching the darker stuff across a greater number of episodes here, I feel the first episode would probably be lighter in tone in general, and ride more on its humor than its adventure-adrenaline rush, as more pieces of the starting template are set in place.

That’s not to say there wouldn’t be a conflict, though – my first instinct would be to have our Protagonist’s desire to prove herself result in some disastrous consequences, with some theatrical conflict that would hopefully complicate the rivalry between her and Rival, possibly accidentally unveil a hint (perhaps only to the audience) of some larger, darker conflict to come, and likely clue the Protagonist in to the possibility that her Idol exists somewhere at the school. This would hopefully offer plenty of opportunity for the story to go in a variety of directions and hints of things to come while still offering immediate entertainment through humor, likable characters, immediately understandable rivalry, the first steps in exploring a very imaginative world, and a fun, brief dose of action to top it off.

Anyway. Those are my first thoughts on how I’d go about converting this to a series.

What’s so Great about Maoyuu Maou Yuusha?


I’ve been following along with the show up until now (episode 9), but I don’t understand why some people seem to like this show so much. I’m having trouble keeping track of the characters, the pacing is weird, I still don’t know what’s up with the lack of names – what are you getting out of this show? Does it only make sense if you read the manga?


Nope! I read a few chapters of the manga, but stopped well before the point the story has currently reached.

I think it’s understandable that many people have dropped this show or don’t really get why others like it so much, because not only is it really mainly about the thematic and real-world implications of its events (as opposed to those events themselves), it also kind of hides that by occasionally focusing on its fantasy elements or characters.

What is awesome about this show is that it is taking a default fantasy world and using the story of that world’s conflicts, religions, and technologies to make universal points about human nature and human history. The characters not having names is actually really crucial – it’s one of the most overt ways that this show is declaring it is more interested in talking about People than talking about these specific people. It is also very frequently interested in talking about Storytelling, as opposed to this specific story, and Worldbuilding, as opposed to this specific world – so things like the hero’s teleportation are not really of interest to the writer, because they are just convenient devices, and getting into the specifics of this world’s magic jargon would dilute the larger points.

All that said, moments like this episode’s speech can come across as both personal and universal – just because the show is not solely focused on the narrow world of its characters doesn’t mean they aren’t well-illustrated and respected by the text. This emotional resolution has been building for almost the entire show, and the way her personal life story mirrors the larger theme of education being the cornerstone of freedom and civilization makes that point hit home much harder. I’d say this show still functions pretty well as a story taken at face value, but you’re missing a lot if you’re not viewing it as a critique of both traditional fantasy storytelling and human nature.

Regarding characters, I think the only incredibly critical secondary characters are the Winter King, the Merchant, the Female Knight, and the Older Maid – all of these pieces represent crucial sides of humanity in the picture this show is trying to draw.