The Japanese concept of a salaryman has been prevalent since the post-war period. It used to be that to become a salaryman was seen as the gateway to middle-class stability, but in modern times it has transformed into a quasi-insult that carries a number of negative connotations. Today’s salaryman has a lifestyle devoted to the pursuit of his work, regularly working overtime, but is unimaginative and uncompetitive. He is content to remain in his entry-level office job, and is constantly deferent to his higher-ups. With so much conformity and boredom there is little to distinguish one salaryman from the next; it’s almost like companies have an army of identical people to carry out the menial tasks.
Humanity Has Declined took a turn for the weird this week, and for a show this mad that’s certainly saying something. After giving the fairies some homemade sweets, Watashi muses that it would be helpful to have multiple copies of her to make more. So that’s exactly what the fairies do, cloning Watashi over and over again through the magic of a Groundhog Day-spec time loop and putting them to work in “a happy land”. So it would seem that after mass-producing everything from sentient plucked chickens to magical hair tonic the fairies have now moved onto doing the same for humans. Whether this episode actually is a commentary on the salaryman lifestyle is unlikely, but that’s how I saw it. It rather ties into the manga arc from earlier in Jintai’s run, a biting criticism of the unoriginality of media and of humanity in general, don’t you think?
To become a salaryman is to conform to the social norm, so much so that to escape from the salaryman lifestyle has its own word in Japanese – datsusara (脱サラ, literally to ‘de-salary’). Graduates are expected to long before their degree is completed, but failing to secure a job immediately is seen as highly undesirable by most companies. Unsuccessful applicants will usually take another year of school, but not everyone can afford this luxury, so graduates are pressurised to take jobs they would not otherwise have wanted. Prof. Yuki Honda of Todai’s Graduate School of Education has said “whether [graduates] get a job when they graduate decides their whole life”, so many feel they have no choice but to become a salaryman.
I feel there is also a two-fold criticism in this episode, and once again it harks to a previous episode. The first arc, The Fairies’ Secret Factory, was broadly anti-corporation, and this theme arises again here. The fairies clone Watashi even after she told them that it was both against her wishes and unethical. Of course, no company has ever been quite as drastic as that with how it treats its workforce, but tales of employees being abused in the workplace by higher-ups are rife. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of, say, Walmart will no doubt be aware of their, shall we say, reputation for employee ‘care’. Sure, a small-time media franchise in Japan is hardly going to bring down the biggest private employer in the world, but the sentiment is there.