By its own definition, the setting of Humanity Has Declined defies common sense. The episodes are collected in the wrong order, meaning the series feels mercurial, unfinished and contradictory. It’s difficult to get a sense of the setting, its logic, rules or politics, leaving the acutely observed satire floundering. But viewed in the correct order, it’s a surrealist tour de force.
Dwindling birth rates have seen the human race retreat further and further into obscurity, leaving great swathes of the Earth unoccupied. Now only a minor community of humans exist, and the planet has been re-populated by the new humans – ten-inch tall fairies motivated only by having fun and eating sweets.
The anonymous protagonist (referred to as Watashi hereafter) returns to her hometown to take on her grandfather’s mantle as a mediator between humanity and fairies. Their bright garbs, cute voices and perpetual : D faces mask a dour and dejected outlook. Watashi too has a despondency and cynicism behind her happy-go-lucky façade, something expanded on in the fascinating flashback two-parter and perfectly played on by Mai Nakahara (Clannad’s Nagisa).
The juxtaposition of cuteness and gloom is echoed in the vibrant art direction. The story is set against backdrops of blended watercolour tones where shades blur and bleed into one another. The character models have a wonderful scruffy quality to them, a sort of low-key Ghibli. Yet the line art lacks a distinctive boldness, instead it’s soft and flat, almost as though the contrast has been turned up. In this ghostliness is a sense of regression teased throughout the narrative, conjuring at once a simpler time and a crazed portrait of our downfall.
As the fairies are never what they seem, neither is the show itself. Its jaunty score, sound design and lively visuals are a vehicle for some smartly scripted and biting satire, offering a scathing exploration of consumerism and our growing dependence on material goods. The snappy dialogue and cultural lampooning carry over from Romero Tanaka’s light novel series and his own manga adaption. Curiously, Tanaka is a free artist and scenario writer for bishojo and adult games, and Humanity Has Declined explores some of these tropes with a delicate and skewering subtlety.
It’s when the targets are more innocuous, or buried in subtext, that the satire is at its most potent. ‘The Fairies’ Time Management’, for example, offers an interesting look at identity and memory. But of all its targets, which include the manga industry, educational system and industrialisation, it’s the allusions to our relationship with food that demonstrate the deftest touch.
Take the influx of Fairy Co. canned goods that start appearing. Watashi tastes these foods, noting that the fruits are sweeter than any fresh fruit she’s tasted; a parody of how they’re supposed to taste. It emphasises the growing distance between our plate and production, especially the fact that it’s churned out by a company operated by an unknown party masquerading behind a malaise of management and bureaucracy. As Mediator, Watashi takes it upon herself to find who’s behind it all, and to say any more would take the sheer surprise out of the Lynchian twist.
Survival of the Fittest 1-6; Story Digest 1-5; also available from Sentai Filmworks; clean opening & closing animation; DVD credits.