What They Say:
Saki and her friends Satoru, Maria, Mamoru, and Shun have lived their entire lives in what seems to be a perfect utopia: a world where almost all technology has been rendered irrelevant by “Juryoku,” the psychic ability to materialize anything one desires. But when Saki discovers a long-lost artifact from the past, the façade of their world is shattered and the cracks that split the foundation of their reality threaten to swallow them whole! Faced with a bloody secret history of how their world really came to be and thrust into a nightmarish new paradigm, Saki and her companions are confronted with dangers they never knew existed and a series of choices that may change the fate of every intelligent creature on the planet – human and otherwise! Because when your whole world is a lie, the truth can be the deadliest weapon of all in FROM THE NEW WORLD!
Both the Japanese and English soundtracks are encoded in DTS-HD Master 2.0. The soundscape is used purposefully and with some restraint. For example, sound effects often have a localized feel that creates a sense of presence, pulling the detailed world into the viewer’s sound stage. Sounds like twigs breaking underfoot or a door’s bolt snapping make use of the front soundstage and create off-screen depth. One scene used the front channels to do a nice job of representing disorientation through an auditory overlap that mimics the visuals. While most of the sound works purposefully to construct the world and mood, some episodes had background music that brought me out of the experience. Overall, the audio works as it should, and while it will not give your theater a workout, it will remind you of why more data can make a better audio experience.
Originally broadcast in 2012 and 2013, the video is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in a 1080p using the AVC codec. Computer animated backgrounds seem highly polished and emotive. The artwork for the world creates a sense of space and place by using highly detailed backgrounds and sets. Colors pop in this series, and the HD quality maximizes their impact.
The three discs come in a standard Blu-ray case with the first two discs on opposite sides of a hinged leaf and the third hub on the inside back cover. Each disc is printed with original art that offers the physical copy more value. The front cover has artwork with the Group 1 characters as 12-year-olds seated on a white field that is split by a starry sky. Scenes from the show feature in the tiles lining the summary. Another piece of original art shows Saki and Shun as 14-year-olds. The bottom third has clear credits in white font on a blue background, and the technical grid is clear and appears accurate.
The menus each have original artwork. Each shows characters from the respective story arc. Disc 1, episodes 1-9, repeats the image of the 12-year-old group from the cover. Disc 2, episodes 10-18, shows the group at 14. Disc 3, 19-25 and special features, shows 26-year-old Saki and Satoru sitting in front of a loyal monster rat as a shadow rests behind. The scenes have a peaceful watercolor style and mimic the repeated metaphor of streams of water and power.
The only extras included are the Japanese promos and the clean closings.
This fantasy/sci-fi show creates suspense and dread by purposefully foreshadowing but never fully explaining what is going on. While based on a novel by Yusuke Kishi, this 25 episode series does a capable job of both world building and telling a good story.
In my experience, fantasy shows have a hard time creating and sustaining a serious tone. The bucolic setting and combination of historic styles of fashion also hint at fantasy as the creators’ inspiration. Even though we know the show is set in a distant future, the world is very basic. People live in wooden houses without electricity, and even information is limited to the few pages available to the population. Much of the town and houses appear to be from a distant past. Often, the designers create environments that prominently feature a limited range of one or two color families. This works as both aesthetic design and to shape viewers’ emotions. For example, an outdoor scene colored in rich shades of yellow gold creates warmth, while green may create a sense of cool or fresh. Many scenes are shaded in darker colors, and the transfer maintains a good separation allowing subtle details to remain visible. Character designs, while artful, often seem so flat as to be images imposed on the world. While they may look good, the limited animation and absence of facial movement had the potential to make a character feel oddly dead in the vibrant background.
Technically, I guess this is more sci-fi than fantasy, but the science does not explain the source of telekinesis and there seems to be a spiritual component to the gift. The first scene of the first episode, and the one used in the trailer, shows what appears to be a teen, in our modern world, causing the violent deaths of many people. But from there, we experience the future world with 12-year-olds who form Group 1 at the Unified School. Here they learn stories, compete with other groups, and learn how to control their power. Early on, viewers learn that children seem to be “removed” if something about their behavior is deemed abnormal. Saki, a new girl in the school, meets up with old friends from an earlier school. Together they begin to question the surroundings and share a distrust of the adults. There are three story arcs. The first is when the group is 12 years old, the second when they are 14, and the final one at 26. Each has a narrative journey with danger and conflict, and they each progress the story through the protagonists uncovering knowledge.
To fully experience the series a viewer should go in without too much knowledge. So if you love that type of experience, skip to “In Summary.”
Arc 1 introduces us to the characters and their world. We see Saki receive her power and then she is taken to a place where monks seal her power. Physical maturity and mental maturity are not the same things. Once the children receive their power, they are sent to the Unified School to learn to control it. The first episodes show their attempts to learn while showing the kinds of things that make children disappear. Early on, we understand that the children who remain seem to forget about the missing. On a field trip, Group 1 discovers a creature that holds information about the past. As they learn about the history, they question their world. When a monk sees this, he seals the kids’ power and plans to lead them to a temple. They come under attack by a colony of monster rats, sentient beings who have the ability to communicate and work like humans. Unlike humans, they don’t have power. The monk is killed and the kids get separated. Saki and Satoru are helped by a group of monster rats loyal to humans. Saki hypnotizes Satoru and unseals his power. After escaping and helping the monster rats defeat the invasive colony, the kids escape back to their town where they hope they can unseal their powers without anyone finding out they had broken the rules and learned banned knowledge.
Arc 2 opens when they are 14. Two of the boys in the group, Satoru and Shun, have a romantic relationship. Saki and Maria, another girl, have their own relationship. It seems free love is part of the culture and has been explained as a means of reducing stress and violence in the population. These pairings are not explicit and serve more to create a set of motivations later in the arc. In this arc, we see Shun transform from human to something that requires him to be removed from the school. Trying to help Shun leads group 1 to more knowledge that causes the weakest member of the group, Mamoru, to become fearful. This culminates with Mamoru running away and Maria forced to decide whether to remain in the village or go with him. This creates strong tension amongst the Education Committee, a group who seem to have life-and-death authority over all kids. Saki learns she has been noticed by the governing leader.
Arc 3 shows the monster rats attacking the humans. The rats have a secret weapon that the humans cannot directly fight. It is up to 26-year-old Saki and Satoru to find an ancient weapon of mass destruction to alter the power. The final information to understand the world is uncovered by Saki and Satoru.
This series offers a solid narrative with many emotional moments of tension, fear, and even sadness. For those wanting to watch with the English dub, I think that you will find the voice talents maintain the intentions of the original. In one important scene, I believe Shun’s American voice actor adapted better to the stoicism of the moment. There are a few plot holes, but many are intentional and get filled in later episodes. The remaining ones, I can live with them because trying too hard to explain would have diluted the emotional impact. The series has interesting characters, and the focus on a few specific characters offers a nice alternative to what may otherwise have been too broad to have a satisfying ending. The ending fits the mood of the show and does not undermine the most important aspects of its underlying philosophy. The world exists as it does because the narratives focus power where it needs to go. It shows how populations create their own realities and ignore those of others. In the end, we understand that the only way to find hidden truth is to use our imagination to question the larger reality.
From the New World is a keeper.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Promos, Clean Closings
Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: February 2nd, 2016
Running Time: 625 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Samsung 40” LCD 1080P HDTV, Sony BDP-S3500 Blu-ray player connected via HDMI, Onkyo TX-SR444 Receiver with NHT SuperOne front channels and NHT SuperZero 2.1 rear channel speakers.