It was a recent episode of Sound! Euphonium that made me think of Shinsekai Yori. Not because there were any plot parallels, though it would be hilarious to see Kyoto Animation do an anime as dark as Shinsekai Yori. Rather, it was the music, particularly the scene in which Euphonium‘s Reina plays the second movement of Dvořák’s From the New World Symphony. So before we go on, here’s the New World Symphony, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Paavo Järvi:
The New World Symphony is superb, especially the second movement which stands as a sharp contrast to the other movements. The first movement is moody, the third movement is energetic, and the last movement delivers a grim march for its grand finale. Comparatively, the second movement is peaceful and bucolic. The serene English horn melody carries melancholy undertones akin to those found in Negro spirituals, religious songs that also told of the hardships African-Americans experienced as slaves. Dvořák drew inspiration from Negro spirituals and incorporated their tonal elements into the Symphony.
Beyond the structure of the symphony itself, the second movement can function as a standalone piece. One of Dvořák’s students, William Fisher, took the melody, wrote some lyrics for it, and gave this hymn a title: “Goin’ Home”. Its lyrics speak of “fearing no more” by returning to the safety of family and friends and expands upon that by talking about the joys of the next daybreak, as restless dreams and shadows disappear with the dawn. Those sentiments are lovely and match up closely with the world of Shinsekai Yori. (Spoilers ahead)
In Shinsekai Yori, you’ll hear the second movement of the New World Symphony sound out just before sunset to summon the children home where they’re safe from the dangerous creatures that live beyond the village’s magic barrier. So when you take the lyrics to “Goin’ Home” and the and combine it with the situational context, the implementation makes a lot of sense.
But the anime title, Shinsekai Yori, which translates to “From the New World”, is more than just a passing reference to the use of the second movement. Rather, it captures the totality of the anime’s world history and speaks to the main influence that Dvořák incorporated into the Symphony: the Negro spiritual.
For one, Shinsekai Yori‘s world began to unravel once a small population of humans developed psychic abilities. This rift led to a bloody history, one that only stabilized once the psychic humans were able to engineer themselves incapable of killing other humans. Humans who didn’t have psychic powers became second-class citizens and were subject to genetic experiments so that they could be controlled. Their DNA would be spliced along with that of the mole rats, creating the Monster Rats that inhabited the world of Shinsekai Yori and were generally subservient to humans.
The subservient monster rat and the African experience under slavery aren’t altogether too different a concept (with the former bringing to mind the infamous Tuskegee Experiments). Take that connection a step further and you find that Dvořák’s New World Symphony‘s Negro spiritual influences, with its exhortations for freedom, are used by the psychic humans but are more applicable to the monster rat’s situation.
This yearning for freedom from the psychic humans motivated Squealer and his colony of monster rats in their eventual failed uprising against the humans. His vehement, resentful cry that monster rats are people too resounded across Shinsekai Yori‘s powerful finale. In doing so, the bonds that tied Dvořák’s New World Symphony to its namesake anime would be complete, laid bare for all to see and hear.