Post-apocalyptic fiction has been popular for well over a century, having really come into the mainstream with the publication of Wells’ The Time Machine in 1895. The trend in manga began with Go Nagai’s Violence Jack (that of the infamously bad OVAs), which set its story in a Kanto region that has been devastated by an earthquake and a volcano. What few survivors remain have to fight for their lives in the face of biker gangs and warlords and whatnot. Spoiler: Everything and more that you expect to happen in a Go Nagai production happens. In the early eighties, Akira and Fist of the North Star codified the sullen and muddy colour scheme, the bleak tone and the themes of violence.
This depraved, grimdark portrayal of the end of the world has heavily influenced the vast majority of anime and manga that followed it. If I were to ask your average Joe Animefan to think of a generic anime apocalypse, they’d almost think of exactly what I described above. Chances are the words “Neo” and “Tokyo” would feature prominently. It’s pervasive to the point of cliché, which is why it’s so refreshing to see Humanity Has Declined’s decidedly iyashikei interpretation of post-apocalyptic society. Instead of muted browns and greys, here we see a veritable rainbow of colour, from the bright greens of the landscape to the pastel shades in the humans’ clothing. The colour scheme has more in common with the world of Fractale (which, while not technically set after the end of the world, certainly borrowed themes from works that were) than Akira’s Neo-Tokyo.
Judging from the first episode, the overriding themes seem to be more of strength in the face of adversity. While this topic is common in post-apocalyptic fiction, often it is outweighed by the sheer bleakness of it all. The futility of life, how insignificant we really are in the grand scheme of things… Humanity Has Decline has little to nothing of this. Certainly, the main character – forever nameless, if Wikipedia is to be believed – goes about her job as a UN Mediator with a sense of resignation about the whole situation, but she’s a strong person who clearly isn’t afraid of mucking in and getting her hands dirty – even if what is dirtying her hands is carrot juice blood spurting from a loaf of bread.
Violence is certainly in short supply in the world of Humanity Has Declined, so there’s no chance of the gratuitous gorn that often comes with the post-apocalypse setting. However, that isn’t to say the show doesn’t have nightmare fuel of its own. Having mentioned fairies in the title of this post, I figured I should talk about them at some point – they are sinister beyond belief. There’s a fabulous dissonance between their permanent smiles and what they can be prone to saying. The present-humans as they are otherwise known are adorable, but they are frankly disconcerting when they talk about death by starvation as if it could become a fad
(clearly a social commentary on fad diets and size zero models).
In fact, the whole show seems bent on creating a sense of unease through its insane visuals, despite the distinct whiff of iyashikei one gets from watching the first episode. This isn’t Shinbo dicking about with imagery in an episode of *monogatari, this is straight-up insanity. A plucked, headless chicken evades capture by the protagonist; a near-abandoned laboratory seemingly made of a random collection of Lego bricks; a loaf of bread rips itself in half. This show is crazy; Future Diary looks positively calm in comparison.
Humanity Has Declined’s bonkers mental approach to anything and everything means it is easily one of the most unique shows to come out of Japan in recent years. The show does a wonderful job of avoiding the most tiresome of the tropes that ride in on the coattails of its post-apocalypse setting, and while it’s clearly not for everyone, it may just turn out to be one of the shows of the season.