***This is a spoiler free review***
There was one show that stuck out from the rest of the crowd during the 2012 summer season. This anime, Humanity Has Declined had the randomness and uniqueness of Gintama and while I would say I enjoyed it almost as much, certain parts of the season really brought it down.
So starting out with a downer, the plot is very incoherent. To give you an idea of what the show is about, we follow Mediator who is in charge of overlooking the fairies in the surrounding area. She and her assistant, Assistant (what a cleaver name…) run into many different experiences over the course of the season. The first story arc is brilliantly funny and a joy to watch but the following arcs felt…out of place. We learn towards the end of the show that the final episodes actually take place before the first four or so episodes in the timeline. Why the creators arranged it this way I do not know but whatever effect they were shooting for missed me completely. While I generally enjoyed the show, the order of events really threw me a curveball. If your main focus is on the actual content and whether it is worth watching, I would say yes it is. Most of the story arcs have a very dry, dark humor but the character interactions break the tension. The main cast along with the fairies work very well with each other. The major flaw with the plot though (the sequence of events) just really lets the show down. If you want a coherent experience, you are almost better off watching the last two episodes, then the ones before that, then starting from the beginning. This might not affect a lot of people but whenever I watch a new anime or tv show, I cannot start it until I am fully aware of the beginning episodes. I just cannot stand jumping into the middle of a season.
While the animation won’t blow your mind away, it is very unique and distinctive from other shows. The show sports a plain, matte looking color scheme that fits the post world war whatever environment. The character models also have this slick, reflective look that make them stand out from other slow paced shows. It’s hard to explain the appeal but just know that it is not amazing but by no means horrible.
The first episodes really shine in the sound department. The music played during the chase scene at the end of the first arc was brilliantly placed and the voice actors really nailed their character’s personalities. While the quality of the voice acting continues onto the very end, the background sound tends to sizzle out. I even started to notice that they were reusing some of the musical tracks in the ending episodes that were present in the first couple ones. The best thing about the sound however is the opening theme. It is by far the catchiest opening I have ever watched…and I tend to stray away from J-pop. Overall a great sounding anime.
This is by far the most stand out point of the show; the characters and the chemistry between them. The main character, Mediator deserves character of comedy anime of this century award by far (either that or a very close tie with Gintama). Her morbid thinking and decision making process makes every episode a blast to watch. Assistant also tends to steal the show while he is present due to his very crude humor and his use of his sketchpad. Other great characters include Grandfather, Pion, and Y. The fairies also provide some very funny moments in the show. There is however a problem; while all the characters present in the show are well written and amazing, they tend to stay on the sideline too much. After their respectable arc is over, we hardly see anyone but Mediator. Even her Assistant is absent in the middle of the season for a lengthy amount of time. If they would have worked these characters in some more, I would have rated this category with a ten without a doubt in my mind.
Do not let this score stray you away from this show. While the timeline really screwed up my experience, this show has too much greatness to offer. If you want a very dry humor and interesting comedy to watch, then look no further.
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Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita
It's hard to talk about the story of Jinrui without giving too much away. The series takes place in a world where humanity is gradually dying out (title drop!) and follows the work of the Mediator, an individual chosen by the United Nations to work as a liaison between the humans of the dying world and the fairies, a race of tiny cute beings with strange technology that seems to have sprung up to fill in the ecological void. It's an often confusing but overall enjoyable romp through the leftovers of human culture and dwells on the way means of life have progressed over time.
The show presents itself as a semi-episodic mystery/adventure/gag series heavily tinged with meta-humour and tongue-in-cheek references to other works, but it's also a retrospective of consumer culture as a whole, particularly the way it's developed in recent years in Japan. There's a lot of black humour and twisted aesops there for those who choose to read between the lines - as such the show could be said to belie its depth with a cutesy exterior.
The production values aren't anything remarkable for 2012 but the visual style is quirky and distinctive and works as a part of the overall package very well. Backgrounds are often done in watercolor style. Detail is always present and sometimes almost overwhelming. There's a lot of deliciously contrasting elements here, from the plainclothes/anachronistic dress and architecture of the villagers to the ruined and sometimes preserved cities of old to the insanity-inducing buildings and vacuous grins of the fairies. There's a lot to love about the visual style here. The series' creators have carved themselves a niche very effectively.
First thing's first. The OP is an utterly addictive earworm and will have you humming and possibly dancing along within two episodes if you have half a beat in your body.
Music in-series is quirky and bouncy and fun when it shows up, not taking itself too seriously and working perfectly in harmony with the overall premise and themes. Seiyuu work is outstanding. The fairies are my favourites.
The Mediator is a deadpan snarker narrator, a position often held by flat masks held up in front of an empty void, but she develops an interesting and consistent personality through the time we see her to an extent that's quite uncommon for a comedy-focused series. The secondary characters vary widely in their level of depth, often being played for grotesquery. That said, Y is the fairies' gift to humanity and, in my opinion, almost impossible to dislike.
It's very much an offbeat package, constantly breaking the fourth wall and occasionally making very little sense, but I greatly enjoyed the overall effect of Jinrui. For a show that doesn't take itself seriously in the least it actually has some fairly interesting things to say about the way we live. That and it's often just flat out hilarious. Can't go wrong there.
When the 2012 summer anime season was first being revealed Humanity Has Declined is the one series I never really looked at. A comedy, set thousands of years in the future where humans are becoming a dying breed and once more living very basic and different lives from those of us currently, mixed with fairies. Strangely enough that didn’t catch my interest, and if not for a close friend of mine, I’d likely never have gone near it. However, that isn’t to say I’m not glad I did start watching it, because odd as the series may seem, it is very, very funny and an enjoyable watch.
As I write this I have watched eight of the currently released nine episodes. Eight episodes cover four different story arcs, as each story is split across two episodes. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked the idea of the story being split like this or not, however as the series has gone on I’ve come to view it as a good move. It allows the stories to go on long enough where they aren’t feeling rushed for the sake of fitting into 20-ish minutes, but don’t go on long enough to becoming boring. It also means that, if I don’t like a certain story for whatever reason (which has, so far, only happened once), I at least know it will only last for two episodes and then we move on to something different. The one thing I will say about these stories, however, is the fact they aren’t being shown in any kind of order. For example; the story which takes place across the fifth and sixth episode happens before the events of the first and second episodes story. Seems to be an odd choice of pacing, but that doesn’t matter too much for such a crazy show, and certainly never really effects it. It could also be seen as a plus point for those who come to rewatch the series, or wish to follow it on and off. If nothing really follows on you don't need to worry too much about having seen every episode.
The series itself is based around three main characters and then the insanely cheerful and childlike fairies, which cause no end of trouble for the poor humans. Firstly we have our, currently nameless, heroine who acts as a mediator between the fairies and humans (Read; keeps the fairies under control). She tries to keep a cheerful persona; however the show does a very good job of also showing us her actual thoughts, which are normally completely different to what she’ll say to a person’s face. We then have heroine’s grandfather, who generally seems to know a lot about life in the “past” and tries to guide his granddaughter through life correctly. Lastly we have the heroine's assistant, who simply go by the name of Assistant. He’s quite a funny character for the fact he never speaks, yet he and the heroine still manage to interact and understand one another perfectly. We then, of course, have our very strange cast of fairies, who will help you out if you pay in sweets. The fairies hide from everyone except the three main characters, but generally speaking anything they do tends to affect all the humans, even if humans don't always notice it. The fairies live very simple lives, however they’re always out to obtain sweets and wish to be amused. Therefore they’ll normally mess with the humans to get what they want, which is basically our plot; the messes the heroine ends up in because of these fairies.
It really isn’t as simple and boring as it sounds, however. Each story is different enough where you aren’t going to sit and think “boring, seen this before” because this world so many years in the future it's completely different from ours now (they don’t even have manga anymore, which leads to one story being centred around it being brought back), and the characters are interesting enough where you want to know everything about this crazy place, even if it makes no sense at all. The humour will generally suit everyone one way or another, from crazy fighting ‘super heroes’ to skinned chickens which, for some reason, are alive and causing trouble.
As far as the animation goes the show is very colourful and lovely to look at, although the backgrounds often aren’t very detailed. This can be forgiven however for how nice and interesting the character designs are. It is, however, certainly quite a unique style and one once I haven’t happened across before. As far as the music goes; apart from the opening and ending themes, which I can’t get enough of, nothing during the episodes seems that memorable, but it could be different for other viewers.
All in all this is a very nice comedy, and one which I’m really enjoying. Unless it goes downhill very quickly during the next few episodes, I can’t see my view on it changing.
Story: Humanity with all it's hubris, technology and nuclear bombs, nuculear power plants, nuclear fission and all that nuclear radioactivity falls to decay and loses all the good stuff. What's left is what Humanity Has Declined deals in and it deals some real good shit.
Surprisingly good as it gets off to a slow start that gives it a laid back slice-of-life/slow-paced vibe until the second half kicks in and things take a turn for the weird and morbidly hilarious. Morbid at times though with no thanks to the faeries. The stuff they say is downright hilarious and borderline realism in terms of seriousness. Pessismisitis- Cynical? Just that they can switch moods in a jiffy while keeping a wide grin makes it pretty damn entertaining. To help combat them is the Mediator, the one who usually talks with them and shares witticism and deadpan remarks. Pretty funny in her own right and the script between those two (Just going into them script-wise) is pretty hilarious. It's just funny.
The episodes can be split into pairs with each pair dealing with a scenario; be it the factory, a convention an island or what have you. It's varied but some are just better than others. At times I found my interest waning a bit but the output is more often than not good than bad and usually rates from crazy to batshit lunacy.
Animation: Someone threw paint in my anime and it looks damn good. Watercolours for the background and it works amazing. Contrasted with the more... less painted characters but not packed with detail. But again, for the Mediator's eyes, they look like they're shaded in pencil, which is a really nice touch. And the faeries, constantly smiling no matter what. Always a stepford grin that covers half their whimsical face.
And that dance for the OP, boogie worthy.
Sound: Speaking of OP, the OP is just catchy as all hell. Infectuous as the best of them and that beginning, so fashionable! And the EP, love the singer. But the voices, those I can comment on: The faeries could have been so annoying but they're actually pretty good vocally. It's not a constant high-pitched sound and for that, making them tollerable in a more... mellow way, like they're just talking (Know what I mean?) gives craploads of points for sound. And from the Mediator to Pion (Loved that verbal tic), the voice acting is tops.
Character: The deadpan snarking, morbidness extends here, so top marks here again. The Mediator and the faeries are the stars of the show and don't disappoint with the excellent chemistry they share. Everybody else is either there for the arc, minor or there for a few episodes at most but not overly prominent. Some of the characters are either quirky non-humans, laid back directors but we don't get to know much about them, which is a bit of a bummer. The world revolves around Pinky and the Faeries but it still has a good cast overall. And chemistry again, this has it in spades.
Overall: Was a bit uneven for me but the faeries were consistently funny. They could have easily been annoying but due to some miracle they aren't and overall, it was entertaining. This is easily worth a tryout but don't stop at the first half of the episode! It's true visage shows in the second half.
Humanity Has Declined is on the surface a super-cute show with some super-cute mysteries. But the secret to the show is actually in the name. Every single two-episode arc focuses on a different part of the troubles of society. The scathing critique is hidden behind colorful and simpistic art, cheerful voice acting, childish humor, a positive soundtrack, friendship, and cutesy metaphors. The self-destructive nature of consumerism, shallowness of culture, loss of connection to reality, the search for self definition, and more get their moment in the particularly bright sun.
Of course none of the metaphors and social commentary would be of any interest had Humanity Has Declined been bad. The unique charm of this anime makes these themes be an addition for the mature viewers that gives a lot of added depth for what on the surface is just another cute show about a cute girl in a cute world doing cute things with a cute attitude. Humanity Has Declined is extremely cute, did I fail to mention?
The entire writing and art is centered around cuteness with a sour edge. From the upbeat opening sequence that drips happiness and naive charm, through the intentionally impressionist influence on the backgrounds, down to the positive ending for each arc, we get a nice strawberry cake of disgustingly cute things. But the whole point is that like the afformentioned cake, there are undertones that aren't sweet at all (a metaphor that is actually pointed out in the final arc). That contrast is what makes it delicious.
While not a masterpiece, Humanity Has Declined is a very different take on anime, and is extremely refreshing in the way it works. It is not for everyone, and just like many of the story arcs, there is an underlying theme to the show that is obviously not for everyone. And yet, I can't really fault a show that is both enjoyable and harmless on the surface, yet makes such clever use of metaphors and themes to satiate my hunger for more mature ideas.
Writing (Story and Characters):
Humanity Has Declined is what people would consider "hard scifi". It is centered around a world and philosophy, and the characters are not particularly relevant (they are there to add some color and guide us through the story). It takes place in a post-post-apocalyptic world, where humanity is cheerfully continuing its lifestyle as it strides towards extinction due to its own helplessness and inability. And yet, everything is described in such a cute and harmless way that the entire theme isn't disturbing in the least.
The story is a combination of semi-episodic arcs that are told out of chronological order. We get to see mankind's failings on every level, from destruction of education, working at things completely irrelevant to making their lives better, and generally being at a complete loss with how to cope with the world. There are faeries, and depending on the interpretation they are either naive protectors, malevolent antagonists, a metaphor for the way human culture is evolving, or all of those at the same time. Each arc in itself gets its own simple resolution, and together they create a tapestry of simply walking through life's challenges unaffected and ungrowing, pointing out the theme: Humanity Has Declined.
The characters aren't particularly interesting. None of them are really memorable, nor do they need to be. As with hard science fiction, the characters are here to guide us through a world and philosophical point, and they succeed doing that rather well. Also as is the case with most hard science fiction, they are completely forgettable and show no growth. But hey, they do what they are meant to. It's quite wonderful overall.
Anime usually fails at delivering when it comes to hard scifi ideas. Most science fiction is soft sci-fi and character driven stuff, or when it is hard sci-fi is centered around being all grim and ends up being rather one dimensional. Humanity Has Declined is magnificent in that it offers something that is usually seen only in western hard scifi, which is a colorful and optimistic take on the hard science fiction route... even if like its name, it is about a critique of modern society. While the story and characters on their own are good, their combination works wonderfully. What can I say, I am both a hard scifi and anime nerd - the writing is tailored for me.
Art (Animation and Sound):
The animation is simplistic, and it is obviously meant to be that way. There are bright and colorful themes everywhere, the rustic charm of the backgrounds is amazing (even if you notice that at times it is the decaying remnants of humanity), the character designs are particularly simplistic, the soundtrack is cheerful, the voice acting is optimistic and happy, and in general everything is just so cute. As opposed to most anime who take either the realistic or the abstract approaches, the artwork here is heavily influenced by impressionism, which is a very refreshing take.
The animation is hard to judge. The artistic merits are there, and yet you could point out the simplistic nature of it and the lack of abstraction to add depth. And yet, like any good bit of impressionism, the point of the animation is the emotional impact (and some would even say "impression") that the artwork has on the viewer. On one side, this is very far away from the modern realistic approach you might see from studios like Madhouse, or the abstract intellectual approach from Shaft, which in itself is a strong point. AIC A.S.T.A. may have had budgetary constraints, but they covered for it by making the animation different and artistic. I think its good, but like most impressionist art, impressions may vary.
The sound is solid and well done. The soundtrack is cheerful and well executed, the voice acting is surprisingly good, and the effects are actually pretty clever. There isn't any particular fault in anything. There are moments of brilliance (the opening is perfection itself), there are moments where it is unimpressive, but overall the sound just adds another layer to the vision behind the show. That being said, it isn't top-tier stuff, just very good.
Overall, the artwork, like the writing, are slaves to the vision behind Humanity Has Declined. And in that, they are a huge success. The light-hearted and warm art are a huge strength in making this anime unique and enjoyable, without trapping us in a maze of dark metaphors (*cough*Ergo Proxy*cough*). That being said, it is not in the top tier from a technical perspective - just very well done and with a clear artistic vision.
I enjoyed Humanity Has Declined on many levels. The writing is top notch if you are a hard science-fiction fan, but lacking if you expect anything character driven. The artwork is top notch if you want something different than the norm, but lacking if you want it to wow you with technical precision. But it seems that I am the target audience, and therefore have no choice but to give a warm recommendation.