Anime is often praised for their sheer diversity of topics and approaches to those topics, but biting comedic satire is a rather uncommon occurrence. This is what the Summer 2012 series Humanity Has Declined brings to the table, and I consider it to be the #1 show of the season.
Based on a light novel, the show takes place in a world where humanity’s population is a smallfraction of what it once was. and many of its technological advances no longer feasible given a scarcity of resources. Life in some ways resembles the 17th century more than it does the 21st. The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed woman—referred to in some material as “the Mediator” but in actuality is only ever mentioned in the show as “I” (Watashi)—whose job it is to communicate with the “fairies,” small, human-like creatures with large smiles permanently plastered onto their faces, who are a source of great frustration for the main heroine.
In the story, the fairies are referred to as the “new humanity,” a title which makes sense in two ways. First, with humanity in decline, they are now in a way the dominant species on Earth. Second, and this is in my opinion the more significant allusion, is that the fairies are like a hyper humanity. More technologically advanced than the humans, they’re able to create almost anything practically overnight (the one exception is that they are incapable of creating desserts), but their incredibly poor memories and utter carelessness cause them to make the same mistakes repeatedly. Most of the time, when asked any question, whether it’s a difficult one (“Where do you expect society to go”) or a simple one (“Where do you live”), their response is a simple “who knows.” In addition, the fairies have a tendency towards jumping on fads at an accelerated rate, accomplishing the most astounding feats of civilization only to abandon them days later. Strangely naive, the fact that they often get ideas from the humans means that, much like the Twilight Zone episode “The Little People” (or its Simpsons parody), they mirror the follies of mankind.
The humans she communicates with are also prone to folly, just that their impact is nowhere near as severe as the fairies. As such, the heroine takes this all in stride, at least on the surface. Presenting a pleasant demeanor on the surface, her inner thoughts reveal a harsh cynicism that is all-too-appropriate. In one case, she mentions to herself (and the audience) a meeting between people in her town which accomplished nothing but allowing the people to say they held a meeting so that they can show that they made an effort. The way in which the heroine casually holds back her mild disdain actually becomes one of her more charming features, and she never winds up feeling like a whiner.
The series couches its subtly dark humor in a bright, pastel palette, giving Humanity Has Declined a visual aesthetic reminiscent of a European children’s book. At first, this cute appearance can seem like a concession to convention, and in some ways it might well be, but what becomes apparent from episode to episode is that it winds up having the opposite effect. That fairytale-like surface, when combined with the actual content of the series, winds up actually making the entire show even more bizarre. Because of this, even when the show seems to be undergoing a significant tonal shift, it actually isn’t all that unusual in the context of the anime.
Overall, Humanity Has Declined is an anime quite different from the norm, whether that’s the norm of typical light novel output and adaptations, or the norm of trends in anime both new and old. It’s a clever show that’s hard to box in any particular categories (though I definitely tried), and it’s all the better for it.