Wednesdays Watching Anime – Humanity Has Declined
December 2, 2015 § Leave a comment
Sorry for missing last week, but it was the day before Thanksgiving and I was overwhelmed. I’ll make it up to you by picking one of my favorites: the OP for Humanity Has Declined, “Real World” by nano.RIPE!
Maybe I’m just interested in anime with episodes that aren’t ordered chronologically. The rearrangement of events in the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya to tell a different narrative than actually happened in linear time is easily one of the best parts about it. The interpenetration of events in Serial Experiments Lain, wherein causes in later episodes have effects in earlier ones, is beyond intriguing to me. Baccano! delights in using the proliferation and overlap of narratives to make an implicit statement against chronology as a tool for understanding. All of these are legitimately great shows made even better by their decision not to adhere to a single straightforward system of timekeeping and causality.
I’m not sure Humanity Has Declined is doing that. Its episodes are out of order, yes, but still grouped into clusters that tell traditional-format stories, and the vague direction of the anime is really just moving backwards in time. The most obvious reason for this structural choice is to reverse the emotional arc of the main character and narrator, a girl known only by the first-person pronoun, who started out bitter and withdrawn while in school and then gradually came to accept the primitive state of post-apocalyptic society and her agency within it. Perhaps the desire was to acquaint the audience with Watashi in her best and happiest form, the better to invest them in the journey that she took from her grimmer origins, but I’m not entirely sure of that.
As can be seen, I’m as willing as ever to guess at the deeper meaning of an anime that does interesting things thematically and structurally, but Humanity Has Declined doesn’t really help me in that task. No, it’s definitely part of the current trend of shows putting on all the trappings of a trifle in order to disguise (and sometimes, perversely, thereby to allude to) hidden depths. The art is bright and colorful, especially in the OP, which is literally exploding with candy and fairies in festive dress. The music by nano.RIPE is enthusiastic and effusive, almost to the point of stumbling over itself, and fits the surface aesthetics of the anime perfectly. There’s no hint of the darkness that’s slowly revealed in later episodes of Humanity Has Declined, the childish bullying and the threat of certain annihilation and all that, but that’s fine by me. You want that stuff to creep up on you, not be shoved in your face every time I watch an episode.
And, you know, I like the aesthetic presentation of Humanity Has Declined, even absent any thematic complexity. It puts me in mind of a comment made in a comparison of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, one of my favorite novels, to the recent television adaptation by Amazon. Laura Miller describes the unique feeling of the book, which was absent from the show, being the placid acceptance that the time for action has passed and everyone’s fate has been sealed. Humanity Has Declined doesn’t quite approach the dreamlike defeatism that pervades The Man in the High Castle, but there is a palpable sense that society has permanently been dissolved and now people are just trying to live their lives in as orderly a fashion as possible. Many post-apocalyptic settings have a reversion to subsistence farming and pastoralism, but virtually none have it be a conscious choice by humanity as a whole in order to make way for a new form of sentient life. It’s curious, rare, and delicate to see in this anime. I wish there were more of it.