As you may (not) have noticed, I didn’t make a post about episode eight of Humanity Has Declined. That’s because in between studying for an exam, watching House and nearly dying on a train I barely had any time to write. By the time I did have a spare moment no one would actually have cared because five days is basically ancient history in Internet terms. So instead, I recommend you read the excellent illegenes’ post over at Isn’t It Electrifying?
Jonathan Swift’s snappily titled Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships is perhaps the magnum opus of Juvenalian satire, lampooning (among others) European politics, religion and corruption. If you’ve seen this week’s Jintai, the comparison between it and Gulliver’s Travels is self-evident. Watashi and a group of fairies are stranded on an island, whereupon her distinctly Lilliputian companions start a nation and choose her as their queen. Gulliver was a visitor to a strange world, and Swift recounted it as such. A frequent source of ridicule is Golbasto Momarem Evlame Gurdilo Shefin Mully Ully Gue, the emperor of Lilliput, but Jintai goes down a different route. The emperor is replaced by a queen – our very own protagonist. As I’ve mentioned previously, near enough the entirety of this show is framed through the eyes and mind of Watashi. As such we get a rather unique perspective on events – that of the ruler herself.
In a purely literal sense, the plot of this episode has stark few similarities with the first part of Gulliver’s Travels beyond the initial shipwrecking and the race of little people. Thematically, however, they hit a lot of the same notes. Swift’s criticism of religion is brutal in its efficacy, comparing Catholicism and Protestantism to one’s preference for eating a soft-boiled egg (do you break off the big end or the little end?). Jintai is brief on the subject of religion, but acknowledges the triviality of the whole business:
Fairy: Start with the necessities!
Watashi: What comes next?
Fairy: I have a checklist!
Watashi: “Items to Invent: Bed, massage chair, humidifier, rubber band, Rube Goldberg Machine, religion…” Religions are invented? I’ve learned something new.
Even though the fairies do regard such items as humidifiers as necessities, merely mentioning them in the same breath as religion certainly makes the position of the author clear.
As far as politics is concerned, Swift was mostly critiquing the differences between the two major political parties of the day (Whigs and Tories). All sorts of political themes are touched upon during Watashi’s stay on
Fail Fairy Island, from genetically modified foods to societal depression; Japan banned GM crops last year, and the country has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. When the fairies accidentally create a plant that produces candy, Watashi orders that all resources be diverted into researching the plans and creating new strains – within hours the different candy plants have overrun the island and left the earth infertile and useless. Concerns in North America over GM foods are not particularly high, but in Japan and my own country, Britain, it is a highly-divisive issue on a national scale. Being as I am a rationalist and apolitical after being burned by the Liberal Democrats in the last general election, I see it as more of a scientific issue than a political issue, but with parties in this country holding opposing views (Plaid Cymru and the SNP are against GM, Labour and the Conseratives are broadly for) it’s an unavoidable matter that is plagued with misinformation and strawmen.
As the fairies population rises (recall that they reproduce when they are having fun, and what with all their nation-building they’ve been having an awful lot of it; that sounded a lot less like a double-entendre in my head), so too does unemployment. It is an attractive prospect to chalk this up as a criticism of overpopulation, but one must consider this: Japan has the second lowest birth rate in the world (United Nations, 2011). No, this goes a little deeper – the fairies’ island has too few jobs because their queen does not create more ‘projects’. But the fairies have fun when they work, so they reproduce more and you’re still left with a fairy who is out of a job. It’s a paradox that thus far hasn’t presented itself in society, but people in steady jobs are more likely to be able to afford to start a family. With job creation programmes in full swing, this could become an issue with the next generation – it presents in Jintai because of the grossly accelerated growth of the fairies (a ten-hour-old fairy is seen working at one point).
So, Watashi and her obsession for candy plants and hot running water have ruined the fairy utopia. She decides that they must leave as soon as possible, and orders them to tear down the monuments they made (pictured above) for materials to be used to build a boat. The prospect of razing their city to the ground doesn’t sit particularly well with the fairies however, and they fall into a deep depression. As Watashi reclines inside the castle they built for her, complete with stained glass ceiling (on the first day of her ‘reign’ she remarked upon how the manufacturing of glass would be impossible), she decrees that the work shall begin once the rain stops. And then it rained for three days. The reason? When fairies are upset they produce ‘gloom clouds’ raining upon them – by sheer force of sadness a huge raincloud was formed from them all and kept them trapped on the island.
It’s a pretty obvious criticism of your bog-standard depression (not the medical-grade depression, a genuinely debilitating condition), the sort that keeps NEETs locked indoors. I’ve been through that cycle many times, especially in the last year – it was such a struggle to get motivated for anything because my studies were going so badly. My second year of university was when I hit a brick wall – academic progress until then had been easy, and I was completely floored by the realisation that I was useless at the subject I had devoted four years of my life to. My overdraft was stretched to its limit and I’ve put on weight that I’ve found exceedingly difficult to remove. It’s a destructive cycle that no one should have to go through. Japan has a huge problem with NEETs and a general depression over the nation – suicide is the biggest cause of death amongst 21-44 year-old males.
But what of corruption? This is a major theme in Gulliver’s Travels, and accordingly we see Watashi succumb to the comforts of her reign. She becomes so lazy that she allows fairies to prepare all of her food, make everything she uses and even open doors for her. Whether she is ordering them to do these things or not is a moot issue – she is complacent in permitting them to carry these tasks out. By the time of the discovery of the candy plant she truly has been changed by the power. Previously she had made sweets for the fairies, since they were unable to, but if she could force the plants into doing all the hard work for her she could just have the quality, hand-made sweets for herself. And yet for all the power she has over the fairies, she is powerless to help when her actions doom the community. I wouldn’t say that Jintai is staunchly anti-monarchism, but it certainly exhibits some republican elements. As a comment on the impotence of modern government and heads of state it is much cleverer.
This is one of the best single anime episodes I’ve seen in a while – probably the best since Steins;Gate 22 – and I see it as a return to form. The last arc felt a little misguided and unfocused. It never really got into gear with the social criticism (you may argue that not every episode of a show should have a ‘message’, but Humanity Has Declined had rather locked itself into that very prospect by having its first three arcs filled to the brim in commentary), and as a result the ultimate conclusion felt unsatisfying. Plus, as many have alluded to, it was essentially all for the sake of that time paradogs pun. This has happened before, in Jintai’s very first episode (both 神 and 髪 are read as ‘kami’, meaning ‘god’ and ‘hair’ respectively – remember when Watashi remarked upon being saved by the hand of God?), but there was at least a message to interpret among it all. I had so little to say about the episode that I’m actually rather glad an exam got in the way of a post, so to see Humanity Has Declined back to and surpassing its best is a welcome sight indeed.