Humanity Has Declined (Cert 12)
2 Discs Blu-ray/3 Discs DVD (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment) Running time: 307 minutes approx.
Arguably one of the boldest titles we’ve seen for an anime series but let’s face it, one look at the news with its daily reports of senseless killings, wars, mass exodus, political corruption and more, it is hard to dissent that the world is suffering a moral freefall.
However, leave to anime to put a colourful sugary veneer on this dour and serious issue which is exactly what they have done, courtesy of the light novel series created by Romeo Tanaka. Taking in subjects such as capitalism, consumerism, corporate greed, bullying and false idol worship among others, the setting for this social conscious series is a post-apocalyptic world in which declining birth rates have failed to ensure repopulation of the land.
Because of this the remaining humans have fallen under the control of the fairies, tiny rictus grinning little elves with an excessive sweet tooth who use their abilities to wreak havoc at the human’s expense for their own amusement. Serving as a mediator between humans and the fairies is an unnamed girl who, along with her grandfather and her mute Assistant, travels the land to keep the peace.
At this point you are either intrigued or put off by the above plot summary and to be frank both reactions are completely valid. If the title wasn’t enough of a clue this isn’t your average anime show, so it is worth suggesting that one keeps an open mind and not assume you know what’s coming because the surreal bent will keep you guessing, making the journey either worthwhile or all the more confusing.
Unfortunately “confusing” is a valid description as not everything presented to us is afforded a clear explanation which isn’t helped by the apparent anachronological running order of the episodes. For instance the opening episode sees the mediator with short hair, which was cut as punishment for a prior failed mission; that failed mission isn’t covered until episode six.
A quick side note on this release – the episodes are mostly broken down into two part stories, but for some reason the chapter titles haven’t been translated for the on screen subtitles, so you aren’t seeing things when every other episode title reads “#1”, it simply means a new story has begun.
While the themes and central premise are very serious the show more often than not embraces its humorous and satirical side rather than focus on being too downbeat. This is evident by the fairies with their permanent gaping grins on their faces, full of energy and pep to match their excitable helium voices and complimented by the gaudy but vibrant pastel colours of the visual presentation.
In the first episode the mediator arrives in a town where she is to help the starving people butcher some chickens for food but the chickens prove evasive. The next day a company called FairyCo floods the village with food and other products but when the Mediator and Assistant pay the factory a visit, they are greeted by a sentient piece of bread which makes itself bleed!
And did I mention the chickens are fully plucked, limbless and headless? Oh it gets more surreal – the next adventure sees the mediator and Assistant witness the rebirth of manga when a woman named Y discovers an old disc with a BL manga on it. She prints it out, sells it, the demand for more is created and kick starts a new industry, but the fairies aren’t happy they’ve been left out so they trap Y, Mediator and Assistant inside a manga!
Other scenarios our nameless protagonist gets caught up in include being caught in a time loop and cloned, fighting off robot dogs and being made queen of her own island of fairy zealots. The out of sync backstory chapters recall the Mediator’s first job, how she met Assistant and her school days, all of which help to fill in the blanks set up by the subsequent stories being shown first.
The tone of the show is deceptively light and upbeat offsetting the cynical and sardonic intent, which will make the consumption of this show much more palatable for those who may find the satire a little dense for them. That is not to impugn the intelligence of the audience but this is a smart show and may be a little too smart for its own good, largely because of the distinctly esoteric Japanese approach to its objective.
As such, the humour isn’t as broad for international audiences as it may initially seem from the opening episodes and after a while the jokes are supplanted by philosophical and existential musing on everyday morality issues. The overall presentation is one of colourful quirkiness, hesitant animation and deliberately loose artwork; the under drawn perma-grinning fairies are far more devious than their overtly cute comic exterior may suggest.
Coupled with how each story takes off on a flight of fancy that enters the realm of the surreal and absurdist, this makes for a show which stands apart from the rest of the bunch, flying in the face of the many by-the-numbers harem/high school/mecha/shonen offerings.
This creative bravado should be embraced, and no doubt will be by many fans, but the danger of being so offbeat is equally likely to alienate those who look to anime for simple entertainment. Not that this is a preachy show – it may ponder and discuss many salient and important issues but it offers no solutions or remedies, just ideas and food for thought.
Humanity Has Declined is a difficult show to rate but don’t take that to mean it is a bad show; it has plenty of the best anime traits to offer initial appeal to a wider audience fans while its intellect and inventiveness will appease the more discerning viewer. Despite its frothy exterior this is the definition of a “niche” series so it is best to follow the example of the Mediator and make of it what you will.
Japanese Language 2.0
Disc 2 only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Survival Of the Fittest
Rating – ***
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