About three-quarters of the way through the series, I realized that I rather liked Humanity Has Declined. The show is a good satire with a great setup that does an excellent job commenting on many of mankind’s most inherently human yet ultimately self-defeating behaviors. In particular, Jintai’s race of fairies, through their combination of extreme impressionability and fascination with human culture, serve as an effective magnifying glass for some of our biggest recurring mistakes. The show’s human characters provide them with a basic model of human behavior through instructions, encouragement, and example, the fairies blow it up to extreme proportions, and hilarity ensues.
The problem is that it took me until the third-to-last episode to really be able to appreciate this. Jintai was aired out of chronological order, and the first episode of the series was for some reason moved all the way to the 10th spot on its 12-episode runtime. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with achronological storytelling, provided that the flow of the story is still maintained. Unfortunately, the end result of Jintai’s approach was that it considerably dumbed down its most important mechanism for satire – the fairies – making what should be sharp satire and dark comedy appear aimless and confused.
The first episode (or in this case, arc) of a show is meant to set the scene. It is here that implicit promises are made to the viewer regarding what the series will be about. The primary theme or conflict or other driving force of the plot is set into motion, we identify the role of the main characters in the story or setting, and – perhaps most importantly – the most basic rules of the world are introduced, established in some way that grounds them in a reality we can understand. While Jintai’s first arc does involve its driving theme, it takes a backseat to the mystery behind the chickens and the abandoned factory, leaving its message vague and unfocused. It does a decent job introducing our nameless heroine (henceforth called Watashi), but pushes the fairies off to the side. Rather than a driving vehicle for the series’ commentary, the first arc establishes them to be supplemental joke characters who have cute :D faces but say depressing things. And to top it off, the arc throws viewer headfirst into a world with seemingly no underlying logic. Anything can happen at any time for any reason, it seems, rendering surprise meaningless, speculation pointless, and the audience confused and frustrated. Not only that, but the indecipherability of the world is a large part of what dampens the satire – satire in general relies on its audience’s ability to recognize and relate to it in their own world. The thing is, the arc does have a point, it does have an underlying logic, and it does use the fairies well, even if it is largely through their absence. You just wouldn’t know it being thrown headfirst into the world like that.
Contrast this to the tenth episode – the first chronologically. We can identify the primary ideas of the show – we see Watashi trigger exaggerated forms of a number of human ideas in the fairies and we watch how they all go wrong. Through this, we also learn the correct place of both Watashi and the fairies in the grand scheme of the series, as opposed to just Watashi. The episode is also largely self-contained – everything that happens and appears in the episode is explained within the episode, and it all makes sense where it’s coming from. Placed first, it also sets the stage for all the episodes to come – we can see how the rest of the episodes build on the fairy civilization that this episode sets up. It is such an ideal first episode that it made the entire rest of the series more enjoyable for me in retrospect once I’d seen it. Rather than a grand reveal, however, episode 10 is an important piece of context that would have been essential for the rest of the series to build upon, but for some reason, it was placed after every other episode that rely most heavily on the context it establishes. The enjoyment came in the form of “I would have enjoyed the series more if this was the first episode – that way I wouldn’t have spent three quarters of it feeling like I was wasting my time.”
The chronological order of the episodes is as follows: 10-7-8-5-6-1-2-9-11-12-3-4. This is the order in which I’d recommend watching, because up to episodes 1 and 2, each arc really does build on the developments of the previous one. This is really the end of the main story, with 9 being a standalone episode that occasionally reflects on earlier events, 3 and 4 working as a lighthearted stinger, and 11 and 12 giving some extra character backstory while at the same time setting up the epilogue. This is also why episodes 1 and 2 were possibly the worst place to start the series. The first arc is essentially the conclusion – it is the culmination of everything that occurred prior, and without the backing of the previous episodes, the world they so carefully built is alien to us, and the catharsis they were moving towards is empty. It’s almost like being told an inside joke that you’re not in on. I have no idea why the creators of the show chose the episode order they did, as there doesn’t seem to be much purpose to the order they chose, and the chronological progression of episodes build so nicely on each other.
All of this said, the airing order is really the one major flaw with the series. There are a few hiccups here and there – for example, I thought the conclusion to the arc in episodes 5-6 was pretty dumb and very out of place. Some people also may not like Jintai’s at-times very upfront sense of cynicism, and it can be quite harsh, but if you don’t take it too seriously, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker. It’s important to remember here that the show is primarily a comedy, and the point isn’t to deliver a doom-and-gloom message, but to be funny – the dark comedy is funny precisely because it is blown so far out of proportion. Everything else about it is very well-done. From a technical standpoint, its unique, brightly-colored art style and its upbeat soundtrack are a great foil to the show’s dark comedy, and the voice acting is also quite solid, particularly Watashi’s snark and the fairies’ cheery presentation of despair and apathy. The humor and the plot are also good fun, provided that they are allowed to operate properly (i.e. in chronological order).
In conclusion, carrot bread is delicious.