Management: While my opinion of the show is positive overall (broken records all around), this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes. This essay, in particular, is a breakdown of Episode 9 of Humanity Has Declined, “The Fairy’s Survival Skills.”
Monuments to Humanity
On the surface, Humanity Has Declined is a rather wacky, individual two-parter arc to singular episode based series employing a plethora of absurd scenarios and characters to carry attention and interest. The absurd’s certainly entertaining in its own right if executed with enough consistent finesse, but that’s definitely not the show’s end all, be all. Those moments are referencing something, satirizing something. Satire uses the oft ridiculous, but always the comic and sometimes even the surreal to make a critical statement about something or someone. Individuals who are otherwise dismissive of critical statements would find more palatable and receptive under a comedic framework. The creative angles afforded by a comedic framework may likewise encourage individuals consider issues in different lights.
What Humanity Has Declined is satirizing is humanity, and one of the human things Episode 9 of Humanity Has Declined, “The Fairy’s Survival Skills,” is satirizing is exceptionalism.
Monuments to Exceptionalism
A community of tiny, magical, humanoid creatures known as fairies has outgrown their living space, and with the issues derived from overpopulation, among other issues, the wider fairy community began to alienate the some of its members. The show’s protagonist, Watashi, is therefore tasked to mediate the solution to this dilemma by overseeing the exodus of these disaffected elements to an uninhabited island space to establish a new fairy community.
Unfortunately for her, the boat to the island takes water along the way, and she and the remaining fairy pioneers ended up stranded on it. Rather than immediately setting out to constructing a new boat, the fairies get swept up in a nation-building fervor and crown Watashi as their nascent nation’s queen. Watashi decides to go along with it, officially in order to fulfill her mediating duties in a broad-sense, unofficially to be a lazy couch potato.
And while her life is initially easier, a lazy couch potato she does not altogether become, as she directs the fairies in the construction of their civilization, and a prosperous civilization it eventually become. Plenty of entertainment. Full employment. A comfortable standard of living, complete with hot running water and electricity. And sweets. As much confectionaries as the fairies could eat (Fairies like sweets).
Subtle indications of the transient nature of this utopian model of living were apparent since the island’s first tree was felled, but what really yanked the tube out of this rising civilization was the culture this rapid ascent of comfort ended up fostering. With society at its functional apex, the fairies began constructing monuments of all shapes and sizes in glorified testament of how far they’ve come, only to realize (and by that, I mean Watashi), that their industry spree had used up already limited fuel and construction resources, scarred the soil, and soiled the water supply. This prompts Watashi to order them to dismantle some of their monuments for material for immediate fixes to more vital infrastructure. The fairies do as they’re told so, albeit reluctantly.
With this incident, it becomes immediately clear that their golden age has ended. Entertainment begins to dry out. Employment drops. Lifestyles becomes harder, tighter. Sweets are rationed, and storm clouds brew figuratively overhead. They also form literally, as it’s discovered that the aggregate depression of the fairy population are magically creating storm clouds that aggregate into a violent tempest that wipe out the declining civilization. And so, the cycle of civilization, from rise to fall, completes itself.
Monuments to Hubris
Exceptionalism is tied to the concept of expectations. As expectations go generally go, people are ecstatic when they are exceeded, content when they are met, and betrayed and disappointed when they miss the mark. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and this adage also generally applies to expectations, such as in instances where blind hype, sometimes unwarranted, is so grand for certain shows that an across-the-board sense of discontent is enough to produce across-the-board negativity, regardless of whether or not the severity of criticism towards those shows are reasonable.
Blind hype is dangerous, especially when it’s entangled with the survival of a civilization. A love for country certainly isn’t a bad thing, but when, according to Humanity Has Declined, when invest so much in our expectations of our nation’s grandeur, we may pressure the nation-state to overextend itself or otherwise ignore gradual signs of rot. Our collective egos may prevent us from realizing we’re walking towards the edges of cliffs or erecting living arrangements on top of crumbling edifices. An inflated sense of exceptionalism is like a bubble, and sooner or later, usually when we begin seeing the bottom of the bluff or the cracks in the floor, the bubble bursts.
And when it bursts, rather than looking at the situation soberly for a measured solution, people tend to get intoxicated once more, with dread and fatalism in place of positivity and pride. These low feelings but exacerbate a perhaps already bad strait to something more dire, hobbling a nation-state’s capacity to overcome its decline. It’s entirely possible, even, that the fatalism, the nihilism triggers a vortex that just keeps spiraling downward into ruin, or, out of desperation for a return to those glory days, the nation-state makes a rash gamble that dooms it once and for all.
This extreme exceptionalism, and the resulting fall out from its blind faith, gouges people’s eyes out to the present and has them chained to their pasts, unable to move on in order to salvage what they can in order to make a fresh and enthusiastic start. Fairies, in the show, represent the a blown up version of humanity’s worst excesses, above all being short-sightedness. Already too late to salvage the island, Watashi tries in her final days as monarch to commission the construction of the a boat to leave and start anew somewhere else. To no avail, the fairies are too depressed to work, and their increasing despair is literally fuel for what ultimately does them all in.
If these humanoids’ actions and mannerisms seem too hyperbolic to attribute to mankind in any way, humanity is also guilty of constructing physical reminders of their former greatness in the form of the Human Monument Project covered earlier on in the show, its intent being a final statement to humanity’s glorious past, in spite of the general consensus of humanity’s present decline.
Civilizations rise, and fall. Humanity struggles to remember the mistakes that led to their demise. They more easily reminiscence and rage about the lost glory. The faeries were too proud, their pride embodied in the monuments they built, and when they had to break those monuments, they broke themselves in the process. It’s not out there to suspect humanity might rise and fall into the same misery.
These monuments of exceptionalism. These monuments to hubris.