「妖精さんの、ひょうりゅうせいかつ」 (Yōsei-san no, Hyōryū Seikatsu)
“The Fairies’ Survival Skills”
It’s tempting to think of this episode as “A Faerie History of Japan”, but I suspect that would be reading a bit too much into the satire – and believe me, there’s plenty to read into it anyway. Still, as an island nation Japan (like Britain, for example) has some unique elements in it’s historical development, and even more so in the sense that over most of its history Japan had very little contact with the outside world and almost none with the Western World. As such, its history is a great place to look for interesting case studies of human cultural development – and this episode toys with the notion of the rise and fall of a culture in a few short (about nine, to be exact) days, thanks to fairy magic.
I’m grown spoiled by the irresistibly charming relationship that’s grown up around Watashi and Assistant over the course of Jinrui, and I confess I missed having it this time around. Ample consolation was provided, though, both by an overdose of fairy hilarity and a truly majestic performance by Nakahara Mai. She’s been great from day one here – a strong candidate for seiyuu performance of the year – but I think this ep represented her finest work yet. She’s asked to carry a disproportionate share of the load in this show every week, but her deadpan credulity is absolutely essential to making this episode work.
As for those fairies, they remain a fascinatingly bizarre and mysterious force, and Tanaka’s greatest vehicle for his rapier wit. Because of their insanely kawaii appearance he can put any dialogue on their lips and get away with it, and pull in extra humor from the dissonance between their appearance and their often shockingly misanthropic world view. Needless to say this episode was brilliant – they pretty much all are with this show – but I think the satire is a little more universal than normal, and you don’t have to work as hard to make the connections – indeed, the hardest part is keeping up with the machine-gun pacing of the humor, as each joke is in danger of being drowned out by the laughter from the last one.
I still don’t really understand how the fairies work within the Jinrui mythology, though I’m definitely getting a handle on how they work as a literary device. The insanity starts with a discussion of politics, where the subject is fairy elections (they have them, I guess) and one says his platform is “equal distribution of sweets” to which the reply is “You sound like a commie!” Turns out the Fairy population is exploding, which is leading to bullying and persecution. So Grandpa decides Watashi needs to take a bunch of asylum-seeking Fairies to a sparsely populated region where they can found a new nation (I find it very interesting that he tells her it’s a punishment because she was “responsible for the Fairy population increase”). After a mishap involving a rotted dock, she and the Fairies wind up stranded on an island in the middle of a lake – which they decide to make their new nation, and appoint her as Queen.
I won’t attempt to list all the cultural references and clever jokes attached to the dialogue here – just make sure you’re paying close attention. I especially enjoyed the fact that the Fairies had a “Rube Goldberg Machine” and “religions” on their list of top-priority things to invent (though their first creation is, oddly, a Queen Anne vanity), the “Ffee-co”, and the “Narcotics” plant. As Queen, Watashi has her own mustachioed advisor on her shoulder and two Fairy beefeaters to guard her. They start slowly, making her a leaf bed, but then a house starts going up around it – along with a Fairy-powered railroad, water-treatment plant, pineapple-powered electricity plant. The real fun, though, starts when the Fairies decide they want to create monuments – and when one of them accidentally figures out a way to “grow” sweets, which Watashi has been providing for the population as a sort of price of admission for her constant adulation.
It occurs to me that everything with the Fairies is a problem of proportion. Ironically for such tiny creatures, what they tend to do is take everything a human says (or does) and expand it to a degree where it becomes preposterous. Watashi’s careless “Yes?” in response to a Fairy’s “Your Majesty?” is an invitation to build a culture around her. When she says they can build a monument, overnight they’ve created the pyramids, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Easter Island heads… When she tells one to concentrate on growing more varieties of “sweets plants”, they ravage the ecosystem with genetically engineered crops. The Fairies have no sense of restraint, and take what could (not always) be a good thing in moderation to the point where it becomes a threat to society itself – which is never more evident than in this self-contained island and its nine-day development. Everything they do takes resources – their cocoa plant foils the lake with it’s backwash, they destroy all the trees to build their factories and monuments, and they breed so quickly (how?) that they almost instantly have problems of unemployment and NEETs. No, there’s definitely no social satire to see here – just move it along…
After the resources run out and Watashi decides it’s time to leave the island the Fairies are depressed – and what do we make of the notion that it’s the “gloom clouds” that form over the Fairies heads when they’re depressed that cause the rains that submerge the island, because there are no trees to control runoff? I’m not sure if there’s a specific metaphor at work here, but I was fascinated by the conversation between Watashi and the “Rurouni” (Miyata Kouki), a religious pilgrim who confronts her about her decision to abandon the island. She reasons that it’s beyond saving, and it’s surely better to accept that and move on – to which a Fairy replies, “Would you say that about a sick relative?” It’s hard to escape the implications of that statement as it relates to our society and indeed the series title itself – “Humanity Has Declined”, indeed – though I’m not sure what Tanaka-sensei is suggesting as the right answer. Watashi can only plead “Don’t ask me that question!” – which in itself is a line of dialogue whose implications are hard to escape.
The end of the ep is interesting in itself, no less so than because it represents the conclusion of the arc in one episode, a first for the anime adaptation. The Fairies gloom clouds flood the island and it disappears beneath the swollen lake. When Watashi wakes Grandpa and Joshu-kun are there, having come to her rescue (I take some satisfaction in the fact that “Joshu-san was worried” is a reason Grandpa states for why they’ve come, as well as his embarrassed expression). Gramps tells her that the former island used to house at least three native species of rare spiders. Watashi nervously laughs it off, trying to cast the blame on the Fairies. Grandpa provides the ultimate moral of the story in the final line of dialogue: “Learn to clean up the mess, Foolish Child.” If only it were so easy – but, oddly, I think this coda adds at least a slightly hopeful tone to what’s otherwise a hilariously depressing commentary on human culture.