The Best Character in Shinsekai Yori

my name is squealerLast time I discussed the characters in Shinsekai Yori, I half-jokingly noted that Squealer, “the little rat dude,” had been my favorite character in the series so far. That claim was then intended to be a blow against the series – pointing out that if a random side character, especially a non-human one, was more interesting than the main cast of humans, the show really needed to step up its characterization.

While this was partly a joke at Shinsekai’s expense, I did legitimately find Squealer to be a curious fellow, and felt like there was something “off” about him and his actions. They all seemed very calculated, much moreso than was required by the circumstances or suggested by the outcomes thereof. However, that post was written during the first half of the series, a time when it was still stumbling over itself trying to find a clear direction, a time when there was no indication that it would take the path that it did. I even noted (and am glad to have been proven tremendously wrong) that it was “too far behind at its halfway point to become a truly great series,” and that it needed to decide what to do with itself. It was a point where the focus on queerats in episodes 5-7 seemed like a diversion, a waste of time. I figured that if this was like any other anime, Squealer would have been no more than a guide through the world of the queerats, one small part of a larger tale and a larger world, and that once they left that world, we wouldn’t see much, if any more of him. Shinsekai would move on from that and have a different vignette to tell about the world, with different creatures and different conflicts.

But Shinsekai is not “any other anime.” The fact that Squealer seemed like the most interesting character in the show was not the result of flawed characterization priorities, however glaringly present as such flaws were early on. Squealer seemed like the most interesting character in the show for the simple reason that Squealer is the best character in the show. He is, it is revealed, the driving force behind all of the show. He is simultaneously Shinsekai’s greatest villain and its greatest hero. A proud warrior and a brilliant strategist fighting for a noble cause. A mass-murderer and brutal pragmatist for whose ends no means are too low. He is easily more multifaceted – and perhaps even more human – than any of the human characters. We see all of the horrific things he’s done, to humans, queerats, and other creatures alike, bringing so many lives to their end and manipulating so many others in the most perverse, twisted ways, and yet we can see all the ways that he – and all of queerat kind – have been so dreadfully wronged, and we can still have sympathy for him. As human viewers, we ultimately want to see humanity prevail, but neither do we want to see Squealer defeated. No side is in the right in Shinsekai Yori. And no side is in the wrong. While each side may be equally human, each is also equally beastlike. And of all the characters, there are none who represent that as well as Squealer.

Also, he is incredibly moe.

Also, he is incredibly moe.

From the very beginning, Squealer sets himself apart with his cunning and charisma – a pair of very human, very sapient traits uncharacteristic of what we would expect from a queerat. He showcases what is perhaps his greatest talent, his ability to convince others to fight for him. Again and again he gets Saki and Satoru to come to his aid, and while each time his motives seem more questionable than the last, it is never enough to seem unreasonable so much as unsettling. As the series progresses, we can see him bend increasingly unlikely parties to his will – his fellow queerats soon put his goals before their own lives, he talks the department of queerat affairs out of punishing his colony for their actions against the giant hornets, he is able to get even non-queerats to detonate themselves strategically in battle for his cause, and finally, he raises Maria and Mamoru’s child to identify so strongly as a queerat that his natural “death feedback” works in reverse (not to mention that he was able to acquire their child for himself in the first place). It was always equal parts impressive and terrifying to see just how far he could string others along – he made it clear that he would do everything it took to win, and that he could make anyone do exactly that, so how far would he have to go to finally succeed? In this way, his ruthlessness made him a very exciting character to behold.

But what is eventually revealed to be even more fascinating than this powerful ability of his is his motivation for using it. What Squealer wants, more than anything else, is to be seen as human. And not just him. He wants all queerats to be recognized as the humans they are – as equally intelligent, equally worthy beings. His biggest strength against the humans he fights is his ability to think like them and to know how they think. He has some source of human knowledge – likely a devil’s minoshiro – that he uses to continually make his queerat society more humanlike. From their weaponry to their form of government, he increasingly rejects the “old way” – the queerat way, a way of servitude – and moves towards a model more similar to that of the humans – one of autonomy. He chooses to go to war to overcome the biggest obstacle in the way of his goal of humanizing the queerats – the humans themselves, who refuse to see them as anything but inferior. The fight for humanization becomes much more poignant – and literal – with the reveal that queerats were in fact once the humans without cantus, oppressed and subjugated by the powerful dominant race of cantus users, viewed as a lesser people, belittled and dehumanized to the extent that they were physically transformed into something that was literally unrecognizable as human – so much so that the cantus users’ biologically-programmed death feedback would not even apply. For Squealer to fight – and so heavily shake – such a deeply-ingrained oppressive construct is a testament to just how remarkable an individual he is, and it is enough to even make some human members of the show’s viewership side with him even as the queerats steal babies and destroy villages to push the fight onward.

It also makes his ultimate defeat – and inability to effect permanent positive change for the queerats – all the more heart-rending to watch. The final stand he takes in his trial is at the same time his proudest and most humiliating moment – more accurately, it is incredibly powerful in how it takes his proudest moment of defiance, his most heartfelt cry for the recognition of his – and all of the queerats’ – humanity, and kicks it so mercilessly to its knees. Standing naked and judged as a crowd of his oppressors tower over him, his pleas to be treated as an equal are met with the very laughter he has been fighting to prove he does not deserve. He is denied a chance even for martyrdom, and the remaining queerats are put under even more restriction than before. While he certainly deserved the highest of punishments for his actions, one cannot help but feel that justice has gone unserved here.

we are humanSquealer at his trial was Squealer at his most human, and it was there that he proved himself to be more so than any of the humans who judged him.

Advertisements

About BokuSatchii

Yoroshiku ne!
This entry was posted in Checkpoint, From the New World and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Best Character in Shinsekai Yori

  1. striffy says:

    Wow, that was an excellent post. You managed to point out everything everybody watching this show happened to miss. Squealer really was the best character in the show and had he been a bit more aesthetically pleasing (most people don’t find him moe, sorry bro) I’m sure he’d have a much larger fandom (us anime fans can be pretty shallow).
    So what were views on all the other characters Saki and Satoru? Personally, I found them to be more of plot devices than anything and I was REALLY unattached to them.

    • BokuSatchii says:

      Not moe? Are we talking about the same character? The same show? It’s PSYCHO PASS that’s not moe – Squealer is as adorable as they come! These “most people” you speak of clearly have terrible taste.

      I kid, of course. But in seriousness, I think the fact that he is aesthetically displeasing is a part of the point. He’s a queerat. The queerats are descendents of a group of people so oppressed by cantus users that they literally lost all their human qualities and were physically transformed into beasts – into the subhuman creatures that cantus users viewed them as being. It’s a symbol of just how deeply oppressive the system was that Squealer was fighting. That we as audience members have trouble identifying with him is a reflection of how dehumanized he is to the characters. I feel like making Squealer an attractive character, while it would probably win him some so-called “shallow” fans, would in doing so sacrifice a deeper significance that his appearance holds in the show.

      It also makes the joke in that gif funnier.

      Oh, I could’ve sworn I linked to my earlier post about my views on the other characters. I just went in and added it now. I had a real laugh re-reading it as I was writing this post, because Shinsekai went on to address so many of the points I brought up and it was fun to see just how much some of my views have changed. Here it is if you don’t want to have to scroll up, because I know I wouldn’t: https://satchiikoma.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/from-the-new-world-episode-11-forgetfulness-and-forgettability/

      As I mention there, I completely forgot who several of the characters even were, or that they existed in the first place. My view of the characterization (and memory of the characters) has improved quite a bit since then as all of them have now gotten at least a little time in the spotlight, but it hasn’t ultimately changed – I still feel strongly that the human characters were one of the weakest parts of the show. Even once the main story with the queerats kicked in, I found them to be very lacking as characters, but I didn’t mind too much their role as plot devices once the main story kicked in, because the story they were advancing was so good. And they had just enough in the way of development to placate me.

      It also probably helped that all the less-developed characters died off partway through, so as the show went on it was able to tighten the focus around a smaller group of characters and bring them to the forefront. So I was finally able to become somewhat attached to them by the time the show ended, but even so, no character can even hold a candle to Squealer.

      • striffy says:

        DUDE!!!! Psycho-Pass is the MOE-est shit of the 21st century!! (Btw, I love the gif)
        –> @ second paragraph: once again, the words right out of my mouth.
        So I really was the only emotionally un-invested (can’t think of a better word) person.
        Well, random question, but what do you plan on watching for the Spring 2013 year? (since I’m following you, but I’m lazy and I have no idea if you made a post for that yet)

      • BokuSatchii says:

        Makishima flashing a brilliant smile while we learn how he cut people’s fingers off at the knuckle was truly HHNNNNNNGGG inducing.

        I did gain at least some attachment, even if they weren’t the most enthralling characters out there. I was definitely rooting for both sides in this one, which is part of what really made the show for me.

        I wasn’t planning on making a Spring preview post since I didn’t make one for Winter and I wasn’t really satisfied with the one I did in the Fall, especially given the time it took to write it. In terms of strictly TV anime, I’m probably looking forward to either Aku no Hana or Attack on Titan the most, and I’ll be picking up Azazel, Railgun, and OreImo sequel-wise. I’m also pretty stoked for Yamato, in no small part due to the “All-Star” OP featuring 31 of the best anisong voices in the business, but also because it’s Yamato and I’ve been meaning to get into the franchise. I’ll also be giving all 3 of the mecha shows a try because lolrobots. I have already dropped Red Data Girl, but I will be checking in on Crime Edge, Photo Kano, Hataraku Maou-sama, Yahari, Devil Survivor, Mermaid Thing, Arata, Mushibugyou, Yuyushiki, and Aiura to see if any of them manage to not-suck (I figure there’s gotta be at least one or two). And maybe Date A Live if I give in to the morbid curiosity of just how bad it will actually be. I will also watch an episode of the Tetsujin thing against my own better judgement because I am stupid and hope that it will somehow be good because it’s Tetsujin even though it probably won’t be because it’s not actually real Tetsujin but some fake daily-life short-episode spinoff thing. OVA-wise, I’m gonna watch the Anime Mirai stuff, Girls und Panzer, HoiHoi-san, Senyuu, Moe Mountain Climbing, and that Iron Man thing (which looks much better than the TV show). I don’t know what movies are coming out besides I think Eva 3.0, and I’ll hopefully be getting all my Kick-Heart stuff this season so there’s that, too. And I’ll be continuing to follow Hunter x Hunter, Space Bros, and the last couple episodes of JoJo.

        So I should be reasonably occupied this spring.

        …aaaaaand I’ve just written my preview post.

  2. mumeichan says:

    It’s as you said, Squealer was more “human” than the humans who judged him. He definitely didn’t deserve such a gruesome punishment, but well, that was what the viewer was supposed to see, I believe.

    • BokuSatchii says:

      Very true. That’s where I think a lot of the power of this show comes from – especially in the second half, it’s really got a handle on what exactly the viewer needs to be shown. It’s why the series is so good at infodumping – something which is a massive burden on almost any other show. It’s very precise and purposeful with the information it does give us, and all of it is given to us for a reason.

  3. Alex says:

    Squealer really is amazing.

    He accomplished so much in his life. He took what little he had and turned himself into a warrior, strategist, martyr, liberator, diplomat, general, and an emperor. He was ruthless cunning charming and ambitious.

    After I finished the show I just had to think back to the first time we saw Squealer. He was just a lowly queerat. It’s kind of silly, but he’s a great role model lol.

    • BokuSatchii says:

      Yes! One of the most interesting parts of the show to look back on is how Squealer was able to build up so much from so little. He really had an amazing capacity for getting others to trust and listen to him. Don’t know if I’d call him a role model unless you’re looking to stage a pseudo-genocidal uprising somewhere down the road, but his rise to power is oddly inspiring and empowering to observe, and I know it even made a great many fans of the show start cheering for the queerats over the humans. There’s no doubt Squealer was anything short of a genius, and it was absolutely fascinating to see him so perfectly fill the role of both the primary villain and the tragic hero at the same time.

      What a fantastic character.

      • Alex says:

        Well if you compare him to other uprising type of oppressed fictional characters like Neo from The Matrix or Spartacus, he’s right up there with them. If I was in Squealer’s shoes, I would be scared out of my mind to challenge the queen, the other queerat colonies, and “the gods”. He’s a lying, sadistic, tyrannical, ruthless, unloyal queerat, but he did what he had to do under his harsh circumstances. If Kiroumaru didn’t sacrifice himself to kill “the fiend”, Squealer would have ruled the world.

        I’m curious as to how the other countries were like. When the false minoshiro was talking about how people were divided into bandits, scientists, hunter gatherers, and the empires, I wonder if it was just referring to Japan or the entire world.

        Lol, no uprising for me, but if Squealer can challenge the world, then maybe I can make something great out of my life as well =).

      • BokuSatchii says:

        I don’t think we’re disagreeing on anything here except the definition of “role model.” I don’t think Squealer is intended to be a character to be imitated – for being so ruthless on the way to his goal, his ultimate reward was to have eternal punishment bestowed upon him by his oppressors. He may even be meant to show that his methods are in fact not a useful means for effecting real change. The power he gained for himself was inspirational to be sure, but I don’t think his example is one to be followed, as the term “role model” implies. Rather, it is the volume, the scale of his accomplishments that is the greatest inspiration to take away. And it sounds like that’s exactly the takeaway you got.

        That’s an interesting question you bring up about the other countries. I don’t remember if it was addressed in the show or not, but it wasn’t something that I had really considered. I would imagine that it would be difficult for Japan to be like this for a thousand years or however long it was without the rest of the world noticing. Most likely, I want to say that either this was a worldwide phenomenon, or Japan was somehow cut off from the rest of the world, by a quarantine of some kind or by some sort of self-imposed isolation or something like that. Maybe a similar spread of telekinetics occurred in other countries, but it manifested differently, and the bandit/scientist/hunter-gatherer/empire society was a strictly Japanese phenomenon. Maybe in some places the telekinetics were controlled or driven out, or lived in harmony with the others, or eradicated entirely. Now that you bring it up, I’m pretty curious about that, too.

  4. Alex says:

    The telekenetics vs normal human was a world phenomenon I believe. Just curious as to how things developed from there on in other countries. Compared to Japan, think of bigger countries like America and how much more villages, queerat colonies, and telekenetics they have. If the scientist factions did take control of the world after the empire society’s fell, I wonder if they kept in contact with each other internationally.

    If it only happened in Japan, then I’m sure the possibility of Squealer taking over the world with the fiend isn’t as likley as the main protagonist girl thought it was due to nukes and other counter measures they had. I think she thought that because telekenetics (raised by the scientist faction to have death feedback) was all over the world. Wish I could sit down and have a chat with the author.

    When the “Ground Spider Colony” attacked in the earlier episodes, they were referred to as a foreign queerat colony (without those tattoos). I’m wondering if that meant foreign as in they came from outside Japan.

    Guess I’ll never know. I personally consider this anime to be a masterpiece. I’ve tried looking for other anime in similarity, but there’s really none in the same genre (another / shiki / higurashi / madoka magicka / steins gate are great as well, but Shinsekai is my fav thus far).

    • BokuSatchii says:

      I’d have to watch the show again to see if there are any more hints dropped about the rest of the world, but it seemed to me like the scope of the story was pretty contained. There’s not much (if any) information given about what’s happening outside Japan, and I think that, especially as far as Saki is concerned, Japan is the world, given her confined and sheltered upbringing.

      I wonder if there’s any more information on the matter in the original novel – I’d certainly buy a copy if it ever gets translated.

      From The New World was really something special. With the exception of JoJo, Aku no Hana, and perhaps Hunter x Hunter, none of this year’s new and ongoing shows so far have even been able to compare.

      That Squealer gif is incredibly moe. I approve.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s