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Final Impressions: Humanity Has Declined

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It's like a tea party's going on in my head

Humanity Has Declined is an exceedingly smart show, at least compared to most of the fare that populates the typical anime season. It's a rare beast in any field of entertainment (cartoons in particular) that's willing to employ a sense of subtext and actually give the impression that it has something to say.

The message here is clear as its title, but its true success here is that the delivery comes off less like a polemic, and more like an off-hand admission, with a healthy helping of other things to think about for folks not into being depressed.

In that way, when Humanity Has Declined wants to talk about how humanity is in decline, it sounds less like a funeral dirge and more like whistling past a cemetery. Upbeat, but still a little morbid at the core, and that's not a bad thing at all.

Ironically, if there's anything that you can't accuse Humanity Has Declined of, it is being consistently on-message. Were one to simply take the show week to week, without looking for subtexts, moral lessons, and the message, you'd find a cute romp with laid-back pace, dry wit, and ocassional, jarring shifts in tone - especially in the final two episodes (more on that later).

Those familiar with the source material note that the episodes are shown out of order, more or less moving backwards through time, with the last arc effectively an origin story for our Protagonist*. Unlike Kyoto Animation or SHAFT's chronological stunts with Haruhi and Bakemonogatari, Humanity Has Declined's narrative goals aren't clear. The result, rather than fully engaging the audience with the mystery of finding out how and why these people meet, is slightly alienating, the only hook being the relentlessly weird goings-on, what with suicidal carrot bread, world-dominating chickens and prehensile hairdos.

Then again, that's enough of a hook. AIC and Seiji Kishi may well have known what they were doing when they opted to pick the most compelling, weirdest episodes to capture minds with out the gate, with Mai Nakahara's delivery at its driest and most endearingly sarcastic (an achievement in a language that tends to have difficulty communicating irony directly). Picking a more logically placed incident wouldn't drive the impact as sharply, not draw as much of a contrast between the show's cheery exterior and disturbing subtext.

But Humanity Has Declined also has little interest in staying focused (much like its Protagonist, to an extent), and meanders from point to point, from commenting on the manga industry to space exploration to ecology to manufacturing, even giving a nod to nature-versus-nurture at one point. And time travel at the same time, to boot. It has the freedom to, really, with such a broad premise and such a liberated aesthetic. 

That in mind, the show's most striking trait, the one that hits after you start combing for subtexts, moral lessons, and the message, is the tone. It's weird and cheery-looking, sure, but the show's unique tone is best reflected in its leading lady. Deadpan and dry, with a ghost of smugness and confidence in wit, Humanity Has Declined, through its Protagonist, draws a picture of civilization long after it has simply given up on winning the endless battle for life. In fact, it's so resigned to that fact that it can't be bothered to go to war and all that hassle anymore.

Actually, that the title is in the past tense conveys the thing retroactively. Humanity has declined, the fairies are the future, and pretty much everyone seems entirely content on fading away, so long as those final moments are reasonably comfortable, ideally spent with good friends of like mind (read: Y and The Assistant) or a group of acquaintances with amusement on the brain (read: Fairies)

Take it all in our present, real-life context, and things feel even more alien. Six weeks from a major election (for Americans at least), and in the midst of a global turndown (for almost everyone), messages of hope, change, and impending resurgence are inundating the airwaves. For every verse of doom-soaked invective there's a promise that "we" will rise again, that the dark times are past, and that revival is nigh.

Humanity Has Declined will have none of that, but rather than descend into despair and lamentation, it leans back, nods sagely, and says "Hey, we did have a pretty good run, didn't we?"

Of course, upbeat as that might sound, fatalism in any form is inherently depressing. No matter how much a terminally ill patient says they're prepared and OK with that, and have had a pretty good run, they're still going to die. When a young girl feels that she'd be better off alone than to deign be with people who might be below her intellectually, that's also depressing - though this particular case turned out for the better, ultimately.

And in the end? Humanity Has Declined leaves its last line as a combination of parting-kick-in-the-nuts and message-of-hope:

"At this time, Humanity is still in decline!"

It's a kick in the nuts because, duh, humanity is declining. It's a message of hope because, hey, unlike those poor sods, we might just have a chance at turning that shit around.

Maybe.


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Josh Tolentino
Josh TolentinoManaging Editor   gamer profile

Josh is Japanator's Managing Editor, and contributes to Destructoid as well, as the network's premier apologist for both Harem Anime and Star Trek: Voyager For high school reasons, he's called "u... more + disclosures


 



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