So binary is our design, that in order to quell the innate anger, aggression and violence at the centre of our species, a failsafe was written across the infinite tides of our subconscious. This is the fundamental structure on which the tenuous utopia at the heart of From the New World is built.
The thematically dense and explicit exploration of the human condition was first novelised in 2008, before author Yusuke Kishi adapted it into a manga for publisher Kodansha. The inevitable anime followed merely months after, and set the story across 25 episodes, in an emotionally draining and inexplicable experience that retains the intelligence and intention of the source material. It was a story that served as both a discourse on human design, but also one of adolescence.
In the present day 2011, a tiny minority of the global population manifested psychokinetic (PK) abilities, lighting the touch paper of unparalleled chaos. In the 1,000 year gap following this evolutionarily leap – now termed the “prehistoric” – the population has dwindled down to almost nothing, and humans, all of whom now possess PK abilities, live in largely pre-industrial, agricultural communities. Kamisu 66 is one such district, overseen by the autocratic duet of the Education Board and Ethics Committee, who superficially prioritise education and harmony above all else.
Perhaps the most fascinating philosophical aspect of the series was the ‘Death of Shame’. It meant that no human could kill another without bringing about their own destruction. Such was the potency of this biological imperative that even attacking humanoid forms resulted in sickness and anxiety. But this alone was not enough to shackle the evolutionary drive of our species, one that retains its place – both ecologically and socially – through hostility and bloodshed. The village civilisation in From the New World instead relieves stress and aggressive impulses through sexual contact.
Despite her parents’ initial apprehensions, Saki Watanabe’s budding PK powers flourish and allow her to join her friends in Group 1 – Satoru, Maria, Mamoru and Shun – at school where the control and betterment of these abilities is encouraged and examined. We first meet this group at 12 years old, on the precipice of puberty, and as their physiology begins to change, so does their understanding of their surroundings and the powers that govern it. They set out on a summer camping trip, against an idyllic backdrop of lush nature and endless innocence. But their conversations turn to creatures like the Balloon Dogs, who are capable of causing themselves to combust, and the False Minoshiro, which is believed to bring death to all in its path. With typical juvenile chutzpah, the group locate and capture a False Minoshiro which, unexpectedly, begins to communicate with them. It reveals itself as a repository of books and information, like some sort of existential tour guide.
It’s from this captive being that the group learn their true and tumultuous history since humanity first manifested its abilities centuries before. It tells of a child, termed “Boy A” – the Adam for a new era of mankind – whose abilities meant he could open even the most complex of locks. He broke into the bedrooms of and assaulted 19 sleeping women, ultimately killing 17 of them. Even after his arrest, people continued to use their powers to commit crime. They became an avenue to support and enable acts of terror and aid in extremist campaigns. The chaos forced an already fractured society to divide into opposing political, humanitarian and ideological factions. The world plunged into a secondary Dark Ages and, for 500 years, was enveloped in war unlike any other before. During this time, the constant threat to PK users was so rife that it biologically hacked their evolution, forcing accelerated development of their abilities, and the human population plummeted to 2% of what it had once been.