Are we . . . the “bad guys?”
I hadn’t rewatched From the New World until I reviewed it specifically for this list. Because it has been seven years, I had forgotten the actual opening of the series — instead, the ubiquitous image of this show, the children standing on a hill at sunset, is what had stuck in my mind.
From the New World begins with a flickering camera, tension that the viewer can instantly feel, before it’s released in a series of human explosions to Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (From the New World). More specifically, “Largo” or “Going Home” as it’s more commonly known in the United States. It then transitions, still playing this song, to the image I remembered. As if they’re talking to the viewer directly, one of the children says, “When they play ‘The Way Home’ plays on the speakers you have to head back.” It’s equal parts haunting, stunning, and (upon rewatching) emotionally-affecting despite the fact that a fresh viewer knows nothing about the violence shown in brief bursts or these children arguing at sunset.
It’s only a taste of what’s to come.
Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s sexless and totalitarian setting that ultimately results in war, torture, and betrayal along with the rewriting of history is the most well-referenced dystopian media — phrases from George Orwell’s novel like thoughtcrime or Big Brother are now common English phrases — but I’ve always personally been of the opinion that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World has a more accurate and easier method. The people in Huxley’s world are kept in line not by fear and violence, but endlessly distracted into compliance by drugs, sex, and entertainment.
One of the problems I often have with dystopian settings in anime (or any media) is a lack of in-universe consistency. Many anime series try an Orwellian model and fail to pay enough attention to detail to have it logistically make sense (last year’s Darling in the Franxx) while becoming distracted by introducing plot points at random (Guilty Crown). In other series, the dystopian setting is merely window-dressing for something else entirely (AKB0048, Shimoneta). The last hard dystopian anime that really impressed me was From the New World, which employed a similar model to Brave New World but focused on humans developing psychic powers as opposed to rampant capitalism and technology.
The Promised Neverland has similar echoes of Brave New World to keep the so-called orphans of Grace Field House from questioning their future or existence by keeping them happy, healthy, and entertained. They’re placed in a situation where they are fed good food, receive attention from a loving “Mom,” and after they finish their necessary tests, they can play tag or other games on the orphanage’s expansive lawn and forest. The only request that is asked of them is that they don’t pass a fence that circles the house or a large gate, both of which are said to be protecting them.
When Reina Kousaka needs to express her emotions, she plays her trumpet. When that doesn’t work, she screams.