Last 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.
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.