Comprehending Watanabe Saki (Shinsekai Yori)

Shinsekai Yori or From the New World has remained in my top five favorite anime of all time ever since I saw it five years ago. I will be posting more Shinsekai Yori content in the future. In January, I literally wrote a 50-page analysis and defense of the series. “Comprehending Watanabe Saki” is one of the shorter chapters. Now, for the purpose of this post, let me clarify the terms I’ll use.

The psychic powers of the humans may be referred to as Power, Cantus, or sometimes PK. I use the words Monster Rat and Bakenezumi rather than Queerat. The translations of Shinsekai Yori that translate Akki as Ogre are wrong. I use Fiend, since Akki actually means evil spirit. Messiah is the name of Maria’s child, the supposed Fiend, in the novel version of Shinsekai Yori. Lastly, as a reminder, Tomiko Asahina is the Head of the Ethics Board and the village leader for most of the series, and Kamisu 66 is the name of the small civilization of psychic humans in Japan’s Kanto region.

Saki Watanabe around age 12

What exactly is Saki’s personality like? In case a reminder is needed, the main female protagonist in Shinsekai Yori can be described this way. Resistant to hypnotism and memory modification, she’s a critical thinker who can be defiant. She has a strong natural curiosity about life, the village, and the world. The leader of her group of five, Saki can have emotional reactions, but recovers quickly and starts using logic again. Saki loves her friends and family, and her home of Kamisu 66; she is rarely, if ever, cruel or spiteful. She possesses great intuition, and is capable of brainstorming solutions to practical problems and postulating hypothetical complications.

With her friends, Saki’s words and actions are unguarded and volatile. With others, both humans and Monster Rats, she tries to behave in a polite and understanding way. While Saki is much braver than average citizens, she can become stunned with terror or grief. Her true strength is that she can move on and keep going even after a severe loss or during an ongoing catastrophe. That brings us to the main point of this section.

For some reason, many reviewers of Shinsekai Yori misunderstand Saki’s personality and/or don’t buy into Tomiko’s assertions that Saki is amazingly well-suited to be a leader. As her mother says in episode 22, Saki is “Tsuyoku.” This Japanese word sometimes means “strength” in the sense of fighting ability, but in other cases it refers to mental “strength.” Saki isn’t braver, smarter, or a better Cantus user than any other character. She isn’t any less emotional, either (though her feeling stabilize quickly).

The only thing Saki has that other people don’t is resilience. Nothing ever breaks her. She experiences trauma but doesn’t stay traumatized. She learns dark secrets of the world, sees humans and nonhumans slaughtered, and loses her lover; yet, she inevitably returns to a rational mindset.

Saki Watanabe around age 15

(The one real exception in the series is when Saki disregards basic sense to save Satoru in episode 24. Just as Satoru throws the vial of dormant anthrax toward Maria’s child, Saki realizes that, given the range, he would definitely inhale some of it, too. Horrified at the thought of losing her very last friend and partner, after losing every single other person dear to her, Saki saves Satoru. In so doing, she also botched the plan to kill Messiah.) 

Is Saki’s strength the trait of never changing, or never having personal growth? Not at all. Saki’s core personality doesn’t change too much over time, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t struggle or grow. Facing sadness and trauma can warp or darken the habits and thinking of the best of us. It’s much harder to stick to your original sense of integrity than it is to undergo changes in life. It takes lot of mental and emotional strength to move on from tough emotions, find meaning, and keep accepting reality. Still, while her fundamental traits stay roughly the same, Saki is extremely adaptable to different situations. She responds better than anyone, overall, to new circumstances.

Perhaps you need examples of the previous statements. Saki knows how to deal with the False Minoshiro in episode 3: track it, drive it into a corner, and do a little damage until it stops hypnotizing her friends. In episode 4, Saki struggles, but stays calm when listening to the False Minoshiro. In episode 5, she figures out the secret of mantras, and successfully reawakens Satoru’s sealed Cantus. In episode 9, she realizes Shun’s house and village is destroyed, but stays composed. She doesn’t act afraid or guilty when talking to Tomiko in episode 12. The examples go on and on. There’s usually at least one instance of Saki being amazing in each episode. For episodes 13-25, watch the series again and observe her actions compared to those of others.

Left to Right: Saki, Shun, Maria, Satoru, and Mamoru

A valid point was made by one ani-tuber, who realized that Saki had more mental grit than any of the side characters, but wasn’t sure this was true when compared to the other (human) main characters. Is Saki really the most resilient one in her group of five? If you examine the personalities, responses, and actions of each of her four friends, you’ll probably arrive at the same answer I did. Saki is still the most mentally stable over time, but she isn’t always the bravest one, or the first to act; that’s Satoru. In addition, Saki isn’t the most gentle, perceptive, or calmly logical one in the group; that’s Shun. Suppose that Tomiko set up the five kids in order to pick the one best suited to lead the village. If Shun hadn’t died, wouldn’t he or Satoru win out over Saki?

Shun’s noteworthy intelligence and amazing skill with Cantus, coupled with a genuinely kind personality, made him a great leader candidate for a Cantus User society that stresses harmony. The problem with Shun was that he was too sensitive. With how much he loved wild creatures and how strongly he became attached to his pet, would Shun be able to consciously slaughter Monster Rats if the need arose?

It seems like the pressure of being class prodigy was part of what made him spiral into a Karma Demon, so do you think Shun could handle the pressure of leadership? When he suddenly lost his family and his village (because of unconscious Power Leakage), Shun began to break. What also contributed was learning the truth of Karma Demons from the books Mizuho gave him. The last straw was losing Subaru, his beloved pet dog.

Shun starting to lose his mind 😦

On the other hand, look at Saki. In episodes 8-12, she feels a lot of distress, mostly because she knows her memories have been blocked or altered. Unlike Shun, she relieves the burden using her relationship with Maria. After Tomiko said she wanted Saki to take over the Ethics Board, and despite becoming aware of how closely she and her group were always monitored, Saki didn’t break from pressure. She never gets over the loss of Maria, but she also never gives up on life.

Though it can be painful for her, Saki kills Monster Rats in later episodes, and helps Satoru kill them effectively in episodes 5 to 7. Saki lost her family and most of the people she knew without warning during the Monster Rat Rebellion. Just as Shun learned shocking truths about Karma Demons and the outside world, Saki learned of Squealer’s schemes against humanity and the Fiend’s identity as Maria’s daughter. But unlike Shun, she did not despair. She even led the expedition to Tokyo.

Now it’s clear why Saki is a better contender for leader than Shun, even if he had lived. What about Satoru? At first, it seems like he’s got everything required to be the leader. (Though he only really shines if Saki is by his side.) Satoru can pick up on danger and take action sooner than Saki across all ages. He also has more technical knowledge, experience with organized projects, and more powerful Cantus compared to Saki. Since Satoru is less resistant to brainwashing and memory alteration, he understands less about the world and remembers less about lost friends. He thus experiences less distress than Saki as he grows. Nevertheless, he isn’t the best candidate for leader.

Satoru having fun killing Monster Rats

At age twelve, Satoru had less empathy than others, and liked teasing and scaring people, as well as enjoying violence against Monster Rats. This isn’t nearly as normal for boys in Kamisu 66 as it is for young boys in our world. I imagine he was monitored closely in case his boyish delight in nastiness ever turned him into a Fiend. By the time he was fourteen, though, Satoru had stabilized a lot. He partook in the society of love with school relationships, and took a long time to get over Shun, his first love.

Still, through his teens and into his twenties, Satoru remained slightly more impulsive and less empathetic than Saki. By age 26, he remembered less and agonized less than she did. These traits made him a happier and more carefree person, but they also made him less suited to be leader of Kamisu 66. Tomiko once said that the next leader needs to be someone who can think independently; Saki is slightly better at this than Satoru.

The Ethics Committee has more authority and more of a hand in daily life than other admin departments, except for the Board of Education. That doesn’t mean the other department Councils command no power or respect. Satoru would be the perfect choice for the next head of the Security Council. That may have been what Tomiko had in mind for him all along, since he’s so good at fighting enemies. However, to be the head of the Ethics Committee, he would have needed to be more like Saki—unchanged despite remembering so many dark truths, decisive in the face of mental agony, with a balance of detached reasoning, compassion, intuition, and adaptability.

Hopefully, you now know Saki’s personality, as well as how she’s the appropriate choice for leader. Some misunderstandings may remain, though. One reviewer was confused by a specific part of Saki’s behavior. In early episodes, it seems like she loves the Monster Rats, understanding them more than other characters, and respecting them almost like humans. In fact, she’s kinder to Monster Rats than say, Satoru, throughout the whole series.

Saki gets along fine with Monster Rats

Yet, in ep 17, Saki is working for the Department of Mutant Management (or Exospecies Control) which is responsible for keeping Monster Rats in line as slaves. Furthermore, in episode 25, Saki cannot begin to wrap her mind around Squealer’s reasons for rebellion. She only finishes him off, saving him from Infinite Hell, after discovering his kind was made from humans, not Mole-Rats.

So, does Saki like and respect the Monster Rats or not? Putting it simply, she does indeed have a special fascination with and interest in Monster Rats. She respects them in her own way. However, Saki never once thought of them as being equal to humans, nor did she seem to change her opinion of them after discovering they were once human. Does this make Saki cruel or unreasonable? That’s a matter of opinion, but I think not. She has three good reasons for being this way.

To start with, Saki and all humans for the past few hundred years have been taught to believe Monster Rats are below humans. There was no reason to suspect otherwise, at least until the Monster Rat Rebellion. As for the second reason, society would completely fall apart and humans would be in danger of extinction if they thought of Monster Rats as their “kind.” (I may explain in detail why this is the case in another post.) The third reason Saki sees the Bakenezumi as beasts is that their rebellion was so savage. Squealer’s kind destroyed her home and killed her best friend, her parents, her neighbors, the local authorities, and everyone she knew.

Try to keep in mind that Saki is still far kinder and more reasonable concerning treatment of Monster Rats compared to other adults in the village. This is true even after the war, when Saki immediately begins her efforts to save the queen of the Giant Hornets and any other surviving tribes. Despite loathing Squealer, Saki did give him a peaceful death, even if it took her a while to be confident enough.

Saki (age 26) saying goodbye to Squealer

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