Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Sep 26th 2012
Humanity Has Declined
Episodes 7-12 Streaming
As we head further into Watashi's past we see her meet Assistant for the first time, return from school for her first parlay with the fairies, and ultimately attend grade school. Watashi being Watashi, the fairies being fairies, and their world being what it is, none of that is in any way as normal as it sounds.
Humanity may have declined, but Humanity hasn't. Sure it stumbles occasionally, sure some if its ideas die on the vine or are abandoned before coming to fruition. But that's to be expected in a series where every new episode is an experiment; that is as capricious as it is intelligent, as fun-loving as it is fore-planned. You could stand around griping about how it never gels into anything greater than a series of short stories or how parts of it never make total sense—and you'd be perfectly justified for doing so—or you can let yourself be carried along as it bounds carelessly from one story to another emitting a machine-gun stutter of hilariously odd sci-fi concepts as it goes. No prizes for guessing which is the more enjoyable option.
In keeping with the show's more or less consistent reverse chronology, the first of these four stories delves a little further into Watashi's past. Specifically to recount her first meeting with Assistant, the mute, blonde island of inhuman calm who plays Watson to her Holmes throughout the earlier episodes. We learn here where Assistant comes from, why he never talks and always wears a Hawaiian shirt and why nothing ever seems to faze him. And also, perhaps, why he always has Watashi's back. That's hardly the point of the story though. The point is to tie the space-time continuum in gnarly knots. As ever, the fun of the story is figuring out exactly what manner of insanity is going down, so it wouldn't do to give too much away, but suffice to say it involves the world's most elaborate scheme to get sweets and results in one seriously disorienting head trip of a tale. Other pertinent details include multiplying dogs, a spectacularly annoying horndog brat, and a banana that gives a whole new meaning to the term “time slip.”
From psychedelic time-folding, the series then turns to Lord of the Flies social microcosms. Watashi and a small group of fairy outcasts head to an island to create a new fairy land, and naturally get stranded. In the following days Watashi and the fairies learn, first of all that Watashi makes a terrible head of state, and then that even fairies aren't immune to the fatal arithmetic of population growth and resource depletion. Watashi and her tiny terrors run through the mistakes of the Easter Island ecological disaster (portrayed with exacting though humorous accuracy I might add) in less time than it took actual Easter Islanders to throw a “we just cut down all the trees and now we're doomed” party.
Though the episode is less interesting for what it says about resource management than for what it tells us about the fairies themselves. We learn more about the nature of the fairies here and in the episode that follows—during which Watashi ends up as a fairy God on her first day as mediator—than in the rest of the series combined. The mischievous “current humans” are probably the series' greatest invention after Watashi herself: perpetually smiling, strangely fatalistic little beings who are both simple-minded and totally and utterly alien, and whose civilization changes constantly and recklessly to match whatever whim takes their fancy that day. Imagine children with memories no longer than a day and attention spans shorter than that. Give them unlimited technological powers and twin addictions to sugar and play and you have some idea of what fairy society is like. And Watashi is their Fairy Whisperer; a girl whose sharp wits, sense of fun, and inability to be thrown by outrageous developments make her ideal for handling the fickle little things—a power she must learn to control, as her initial meddling leads to the immediate rise and fall of a Watashi-worshipping fairy civilization.
If the first story is Assistant's and the middle two the fairies' then the last is, appropriately enough, Watashi's. Unlike the stories preceding it, it has no real sci-fi core; it's just the story of an alienated girl fighting her way through school. Which is something of a shame, as the series is generally at its best when mixing sharp ideas with off-kilter humor. Sure the portrayal of school life in the shadow years of humanity's decline has some teeth—one character points out that children in such times cannot be innocents, and boy howdy are they right—but nothing punches you in the brain the way the time paradoxes, lonely AIs, and analysis of the effects of fairy density on reality in past stories did.
Ultimately it's a fair trade though. The series is often more interested in ideas and narrative experimentation than heart and character, so the change is not unwelcome. Plus we get so see what made Watashi who she is; to see her evolve from a lonely, coldhearted girl into a bright, sarcastic, and generally just fantastic young woman. (Supported all the way by a spirited performance from the great Mai Nakahara). These are easily the richest and most touching of the series' episodes, which isn't saying too much but does mean that we ache a little when loneliness finally breaches her defenses and cheer more than a little when she earns the strength to become the girl we know and love.
If that last story does nothing else, it drives home just how narratively and intellectually restless the show is. The series' first story was a gung-ho comedy that whacked your funny bone until you thought it'd never recover; its second was a two-episode manga-industry in-joke; the third was a manic but secretly melancholy examination of artificial intelligence left behind by the civilization that spawned it; the fourth is this set's time-tripping mind-bender, and so on to the darkly funny coming-of-age drama of the final tale. The series is clearly never content doing the same thing over again; it tries on different narrative forms and ideas and tones with an ADD enthusiasm that its changeable little fairies would surely appreciate. It can make the series seem like a bit of jumble—especially given that it tries on and discards sci-fi concepts with the same gleeful speed—but it also keeps it fresh and fun and forever interesting.
Seiji Kishi has some difficulty keeping up with the stories' shifting directions though. He gets the energy right, and the bright fairy-tale undertone, but he doesn't shift his visual style drastically enough to match the series' shifts in narrative style. Not that he's a disaster. He works the dark loneliness of Watashi's school story effectively enough, and handles the surreal strangeness of the time-warp episodes with reasonable aplomb. But his episodes still look too much alike to really match the tone and intent of each story. Add in his less-than-delicate touch with Kô Ôtani's appropriately fairy-tale-ish score and you definitely start to wonder if the series would have been better off in the hands of a director who's as adventurous as it is. Though undoubtedly that adventurous director wouldn't have Kishi's infallible nose for killer gags. And we'd miss that. Why dwell on what could have been, when what is is so much fun?
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Another run of widely-varied, intellectually adventurous, and often hilarious post-apocalyptic short stories; good back-story for most of the cast.
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