Humanity Has Declined (Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita)
Number of Episodes: 12
Production Company: AIC A.S.T.A.
Brief Overview: After years of prosperity, humanity has suffered several centuries of decline. Now the world is ruled by a race of small fairies, and it's the protagonist of this series who serves as cultural liaison between the humans and these new adorable overlords.
Episode 1 Summary: In the far future, human civilization has long-since peaked and has now entered a steep decline. In place of the human race, a society of super-small fairies has moved atop the food chain and taken command of technological advancement. The unnamed protagonist of the series is an officer of the United Nations, sent to help facilitate relations between the remaining humans and fairy kind. Another facet of her job includes making sure that the humans with which she interacts have enough food and supplies. When a hunting party leaves town in search of meager meat rations, she's tasked with slaughtering enough chickens to feed the rest of the town.
Unfortunately, on her watch, the chickens escape into the forest, and she and the other women in town can't manage to catch them again. Later that day, however, a headless, featherless chicken is seen running around alive and well, and the abomination is traced to a mysterious factory on the edge of town. The factory seems safe enough, but once the UN facilitator and her companions get a glimpse of the processed food being created inside, they begin to have second thoughts.
Thoughts: This is one of the Summer series I was most curious about, especially since its premise seemed very unique and I thought that the colorful artwork would be pleasant to watch. After one episode, I almost feel like I've been trolled by some particularly brutal creative minds; while I'm still interested in the premise (probably more so than I was previously), to describe this series as "cute" or "colorful" would require ignoring the darkness that seems to be bubbling just below the surface (and occasionally spewing-out like a concentrated little volcanic eruption of "wtf").
Fundamentally, this is a show about the (surprisingly probable, if you consider the direction we're headed as a species) final days of the human race. While the exact factors that brought civilization back to the almost medieval way of life portrayed in the series aren't elaborated upon (Disease? Birthrate collapse? War?), the obvious consequence is that humans are dwindling in numbers and no longer wield the vast intelligence and adaptability that they have demonstrated in earlier time periods. This concept is handled with a heavy dose of humor; though the susceptibility of the humans to starvation is a very real threat, the concept is introduced in a darkly-humorous manner that I wouldn't hesitate to call pleasantly tasteless - namely, a group of the fairies describes death-by-starvation as a cutting-edge trend. The contrast between the cute and ridiculous expressions on the faces of the fairies who are speaking and the dark words being spoken is delightful in its own twisted way.
The final moments of the episode become even darker, and it was at this point that I tossed all my expectations of the series out the window. There's an implication which I'm not sure will pan-out that suggests that the mass-produced food products being distributed by the mysterious factory are being cobbled-together from various forms of waste and scraps. There's also the nagging impression that these "scraps" may originate from fleshy organisms; the little bread-shaped robot who interacts with the group (and claims to be made of material derived from carrots) tears open his own head and a substance which looks suspiciously like blood sprays forth, as if he were slashed open by a samurai's sword in an old film. I imagine that if I had been watching the episode in the privacy of my own home rather than on public transportation that I may have burst out laughing from shock. It's this sort of material that I believe may serve as the defining factor in whether any particular fan may connect with this series, because I think the message it's trying to convey is very heavy-handed - processed foods are fundamentally terrible and they're bad for your health, too. I personally find it amusing because I not only agree with the message, but find its delivery method to be a nice change from the norm.
All that said, the show wears its dreamy color palette like a badge of honor and its cute character designs like a mask, its inscrutability becoming one of its most charming aspects. I get the impression that the show might just have some more interesting things to say, and I don't doubt that it will find some more memorable ways to do so.
Follow-up Episode: The second episode of the show continues where the first left off. Our heroine makes a discovery about the "brains" behind the factory, and it takes a fairy invention and several minutes of poorly-translated dialog (delivered in a dialect one can only really describe as "kazoo-like") to figure out what to do about it.
I'm being intentionally vague, because the resolution to this storyline is so funny that it would be a real shame to spoil it in detail. What I will say is that the protagonist does manage to discover the fate of the village's escaped chickens and the fairies, whose life depends on the idea that the humans will provide them with candy, don't end up as starvation victims either.
I'm still having difficulty coming up with a solid way to describe this series, but I am confident enough to say that I'm enjoying it and my desire to pigeonhole it into some category is steadily waning as I become more accustomed to its strange charms. As a "veteran" anime fan, my desire for creative storytelling grows every day while the pool of anime that I'd label genuinely unique continues to decline. This show's bits and pieces aren't especially original; there are plenty of series that try to combine elements both cute and violent and social commentary in anime isn't a rarity either. The way in which this show seems to balance those elements with a heavy dose of comedic cynicism, though, sets it apart from almost anything else I can think of being broadcast today. This will not be everyone's cup of tea, but I find it very entertaining.
- The clash between the cute visuals and the occasionally sinister plot elements is amusing.
- The show seems to have a good grasp on its humor, and uses it to offset some of the more startling revelations while using it to enhance others.
- Some of the commentary may be too heavy-handed at times.
Recommended? Even during a "fuller" anime season, I think this show would manage to distinguish itself from the pack. It has a unique premise that's entertaining in practice and I'm excited to see more.