As in many tales of the dystopian and psychological genres, From the New World tackles a lot of themes and plot points surrounding ethics. But unlike the standard future dystopias in books and movies, the anime isn’t about the protagonist becoming morally outraged and fighting against the culture. There is no solution in the story that is wholly virtuous, nor are there many evils which are not justifiable. Some say there are no truly good characters (human or rat) in Shinsekai Yori.
The Human Need for Inhumanity and “Squealer Did Nothing Wrong”
In our discussion of the morality in SSY, we’ll start with the humanity and inhumanities of the Cantus Users and the Monster Rats. Necessary evils exist in Kamisu 66 as well as in the culture of the Robber Flies and Squealer’s desired society. The two sides have good in them, and things to which audiences can relate.
The Robber Flies and their affiliates believed in equal rights for all citizens of the colony, as well as democracy over monarchy, and freedom from slavery (whether slavery to the queens, to stronger colonies, or to the humans). But the Robber Fly culture also believed in lobotomizing and tying down their queens. Squealer claimed that what happened to the Robber Fly’s queen was an accident during a helpful surgery. That’s almost certainly a lie, since all the other colonies who joined Squealer did the same thing to their Queens. They all have scars from brain surgery and cannot move due to restraints.
Monster Rat queens are instinctively as domineering and heartless toward their children as the workers are instinctively sycophantic and prone to sneaking and lying. The queens are also many times the size of normal worker rats, able to beat any of them physically. Some are especially volatile; the Robber Fly Queen in episode 5 tried to kill Squealer, her colony’s only literate representative, because he accidentally burned her bedding.
Squealer was coldly practical and not intentionally cruel with regard to the queens. Killing them wasn’t an option because they were necessary for reproduction, but leaving them conscious meant that social reform of the colonies was impossible. Dehumanizing the queens was morally wrong, yet also perfectly understandable.
In their rebellion, the Monster Rats and their war methods killed several thousand civilian humans, including children. None of the timid villagers were trained to kill humanoid beings. This is a despicable way of fighting, but it makes sense given that if even one human was used to killing Monster Rats, he could use Cantus to block all attacks and wipe out all Rats.
Saki speculates in episode 21 that Squealer probably intended to eliminate humans from Japan, and maybe the whole world. She was probably right. This also makes sense because even a Japan-sized Monster Rat Empire can be laid to waste by just a few Cantus Users with especially strong Power. The plan to extirpate humans and the dirty war tactics used in the rebellion were all “necessary evils” for the Bakenezumi species.
Now take a look at Kamisu 66. The humans wanted a peaceful society where nobody would use weapons or Cantus Power to kill each other. They wanted peace and harmony, and most of them were bound together by intense love for their families, neighbors, lovers, and homes. Even without being modified to be creatures of love like the humans in Shinsekai Yori, today’s humans can definitely relate to the desire for amity and the aversion to senseless killing.
To create harmonious society for the many, the village leaders have to sacrifice the few. Using indirect means, they kill numerous children, possibly a hundred plus per generation. Anyone under age seventeen could potentially be offed. Village leaders also resorted to unethical techniques like brainwashing to keep control.
What if Kamisu 66 didn’t have those evils, though? It wouldn’t survive. A psychopath Fiend—or even someone like Manabu who broke simple rules in dangerous ways—could take hundreds or thousands of lives. Every Cantus User is a walking bomb. Someone as delicate as Reiko or Maria could destroy Kamisu 66 by running away and trying to start lives of their own. Intelligent, earnest, and humble people like Shun might turn into Karma Demons and wipe out the Kanto region before they even noticed. Without the memory alteration and brainwashing, too many children and adults may have become defiant, leading to conflicts. Cantus Users have their required evils, too.
Let’s return to the Monster Rats briefly—or rather to one particular Monster Rat. “Squealer did nothing wrong,” is a phrase you might see floating around the internet or being repeated by viewers and reviewers of SSY. That expression originated from reactions to a much older anime (Kenpuu Denki Berserk— “Griffith did nothing wrong”), but the point is a lot of fans don’t see Squealer as “the bad-guy.” I agree. He is definitely an understandable antagonist more than an evil villain. Note that understandable doesn’t equal right, or even acceptable.
Next time: “Why can’t humans acknowledge Monster Rats?” And “Inexcusable Cruelty”