I’m not an expert on ‘mind game’ films. Most of the time, I watch movies to wind down or relax (or procrastinate) and that usually involves an easy to follow, feel-good story. So although I don’t watch many of this genre myself, what I am interested in is how they can truly mess with your mind – specifically television series, considering that they are much longer than a two hour film, the effects of the ‘mind-fuck’ can last much longer and have a greater effect. Elsaesser and Hagener discuss that films don’t disappear right after you watch them. They “continue to live in us and can haunt and influence us in much the same manner as past memories or actual experiences”(Film Theory: An Introduction through the Senses, pg 151). They stick with you for a while – sometimes just an hour or sometimes for your whole life. One T.V series that came to mind while we were discussing this in class is the 2012 anime Shinsekai Yori or ‘From The New World‘. I don’t make a point to watch films or series that will mentally confuse the heck out of me but sometimes you stumble across one without knowing what’s in store. And this was one that certainly messed with my mind and still has has a small lingering effect on my brain to this day.
The story is set a thousand years from now, where people have developed telekinesis and similar powers that once caused war and havoc, until the small population who are left create a peaceful society. However what seems like a utopia actually turns out to be more borderline dystopia. The plot follows a group of kids who face various coming-of-age trials but also start to question how their society came to be the way it is. And this is where the mind-fuck happens.
What puts From The New World officially on the ‘mind game’ list is that the story is super complicated and there are a lot of mysteries to be solved that cause the characters to question their reality, have different levels of paranoia and survive though traumatic experiences (that I as an audience member also found quite traumatic). The plot is linear in the way it is told and it’s not particularly hard to follow, however it’s the concepts the story deals with and how the characters deal with knowledge and lack of knowledge that makes it such a mind game.
Right from the start, a student from the kids’ class struggles with her powers and suddenly disappears and is never seen from again. This already had me questioning what sort of messed up things were happening behind the scenes of this world – but it got so much worse. To summarise the biggest ‘mindfuck’ moments, the kids find a database of info about their society’s bloody past and are confused, disturbed and horrified by what they hear, which the audience also feels after being empathetically aligned with these characters for a few episodes. They get captured by monsters, have their powers sealed away, become involved in the monster’s war, yet somehow manage to get out of it all – and eerily enough, don’t ever discuss what happened. A couple of years later, one of the 5 main characters seems to know things that the others don’t, warns them about punishment for what happened in the past and drops out of school. They try to find out what’s going on, but it’s almost like some higher force is trying to make it like he never existed – with every authoritative figure they have being forbidden from telling any truth. They are hunted down and almost killed by mysterious creatures that eradicate troublesome kids (finally an answer to what happened in the first episode). What got to me the most, is that this boy is sent to live in isolation so he won’t hurt anyone with his powers, but was really being set up to be killed by this creature, and his friends efforts to find him were in vain as his uncontrollable power causes his death.
This is all only halfway into the series and it just gets worse with their memory of their now-deceased friend being erased and what happens after they try to remember him. There is politics, uprising and betrayal with monsters who are equally as intelligent as humans but are treated like slaves, and it becomes a struggle to attain cultural freedom and equality. The characters keep suffering and being put through trials until only two of them are left alive. I was watching intensely to try and understand what on earth was going on, I felt confused, disturbed and found myself crying all the time because the events happening on screen were so upsetting. Yet the point is that the series was doing something right if it was making me feel this way and I was still watching it – it was successfully playing with my mind, and I wanted answers. (Although I do get really involved in series I watch, and am known to be emotionally on par with the characters so it may have affected me more than it would others).
I watched all 25 episodes over two days – the second half marathoned with my friend. When it was over, we just looked at each other and had nothing to say because we were both speechless by what we had witnessed. Thankfully, there was a happy end and the narrative was relatively closed off. It wasn’t on the same level as the mind game films that leave you completely bamboozled and questioning reality as you know it – however I’d still claim it to be part of this genre due to how it affected my friend and I as we were watching it. Also because I was a mess for about a week afterwards. To quote myself from three years ago ‘this anime destroyed me’, and I haven’t gone near a single ‘mind-fuck’ series since.