You know who the biggest assholes in myth are? Fairies. I mean, sure, the Greek pantheons were pretty bad, but what they typically did was monumental in scale, making them seem more malevolent or dispassionate towards humans rather than just plain trolling. Let’s say here I am, walking through the cliff sides, when I suddenly see a beautiful woman blocking my path and dancing to a haunting tune. She asks me to dance. If I don’t, I get thrown into the nearby thistles to hurt for the rest of the week. If I do, she may let me pass or I’ll just end up in the bushes anyways. Not to mention that given my skills in the art of dance, I’ll probably be in the thistles either way.
This example is actually from French folklore of the Dames blanches or “White Ladies”, a
particularly nice fae compared to a lot of others. See, even when fairies are nice to humans, they’ll still find some way to dick you over, or, in the case of this fae, have you pulling thistles out of yourself for weeks. In fact, throughout most European mythology, fairies are notorious for messing with humans because 1.) they can, 2.) it’s fun killing humans for sport, torturing humans for decades and what not, and 3.) because it’s all some power play to keep us down, like we’re a group of beatniks oppressed by the Bourgeoisie. The worst part is that sometimes they may help a human out on a whim, making it confusing as hell to figure out what they’re up to. It’s like meeting the Joker on a good day. I think the Fae took Cyndi Lauper to heart because, particularly at our expense, fairies “just wanna have fun.”
That’s the interesting thing about fairy folk, too. The fairies in many stories seem to be driven not by some sense or good or evil but because something seems fun to them. They could easily kill a human or save them from some peril, but instead, they give us the means to our own demise or a magic sword to help ourselves. It’s not like they always get something out of it, either. What’s an incredibly powerful being to gain from helping or hurting us except to enjoy watching us struggle? This is what’s interesting about them. Most stories involving fairy folk show their morality almost solely being based around the simple idea of having fun.
This rings exceptionally true in Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita or Humanity Has Declined, an interesting anime that seems to borrow a lot of its ideas of fairy morality from myth and legend. As the name states, the show is based around the idea of a time much later in the
future when humanity by some unacknowledged means has wiped out most of the earth’s human population. Meanwhile, the new ruling race, or “new humanity” as the show calls them, are the fairies of old, come back in massive numbers with the death of mankind’s technology halting our incredible expansion that forced out other species. The show follows the experience of a young woman who has been elected to be the U.N.’s ambassador of humanity to the fairy folk, attempting to appeal to them, learn about them, and point their wondrous powers of creation towards benefitting humanity if she can.
Now, I could write an entire point solely just about the main character of this show and
how wonderful she is (in fact, I touched on it a bit here), but what intrigued me more as I watched this show were the discoveries of our unnamed main character as she interacted with and was inadvertently ripped into adventures with the fairies. The fairies in this story are tiny humanoid creatures that typically look like Keebler elves, except with their mouths horrifyingly stuck into wide grins that never move, even when they talk. While aesthetically charming, albeit a little creepy on a surface level, the mystery behind how they think and operate deepens as this story continues. The fairies seem to operate more as a sentient group, though they do sometimes show individuality, like moments where the main character gives them each names to help tell them apart, causing them to all want names. They also rarely eat food, only seeming to enjoy sweets, particularly candy, as in the show’s eyes, candy is edible, solidified fun.
That last point is actually the important part of what seems to make the fairies tick in this show: fun. The fairies in this universe reproduce and gain further power and absurdity with the more “fun” they obtain. In one scene in the show, the main character is playing a game and interacting with three fairies. As she turns her head and turns back, suddenly there are four. And then five. It was like watching Guillermo del Toro’s El Orfanato all over again and freaking out over the ghost children. So because they continue to increase in number the more fun they have, they invent very complex schemes to put their neighbors, the humans, through. It’s just no fun, otherwise.
As an example, in a one-off episode, the unnamed protagonist ends up stranded on an island with a select few fairies cast out by the majority of their kind. For shits and giggles, they decide to elect the protagonist as their queen as they plan on creating a new nation from scratch (almost in line with the old Mitch Hedberg joke of “If you’re lost in the woods, fuck it. Build a house. I was lost, but now I’ve severely improved my predicament!”). Initially, the protagonist is hesitant but agrees due to the want to keep a comfortable existence between her kind and the fairies, at least pretending the part until she can leave them. However, within days, she becomes accustomed to this newfound lavish role as buildings are erected for her, cities are made, crops and fields are sown, as well as electricity and modern conveniences are afforded to her as her kingdom grows. In exchange for their servitude, she makes sweets to feed the ever increasing population of fairies. Sadly, this all could not last. In the fairies’ haste to modernize and glorify their nation through monuments, they destroyed the environment and therefore, their food supply. Displeased with the current events, the fairies decided to destroy the island and everything on it, including rare species of wildlife. After the ensuing chaos, the protagonist wakes to find the fairies light-hearted and excited again as they ask their “queen” to help them have more fun by starting all over again.
Let me reiterate. With no regard to anything else, the fairies destroyed an entire ecosystem, both plants and animals, and figuratively nuked an island just so that they could have some excitement. Without learning, the fairies then ask to do it all over again to get that fix for fun they’re craving. Given the satirical nature of the show, the metaphor is not lost on me about our own modern world’s obsession with destroying a forest for a parking lot and mall. However, the fairies have taken it to an extreme degree for no benefit other than the equivalent feeling of thrill one might get from riding a roller coaster. It is, however, noted that fun is what populates and grows their species. As a source of energy and food for them, they do whatever they can to experience it.
In another example, the protagonist is the sole victim this time around as the fairies hatch a scheme entrapping her in a recursive nightmare. The protagonist lets slip that not many people can make sweets anymore, making her the fairies’ de facto supplier for that sweet sweet, sugary white powder.
The fairies trick the protagonist into eating what they call a “banana”, though our heroine remarks that it has no flavor and the whole scene smells fishy. In reality, the fairies gave the protagonist an edible that forces her to relive the same several hours of the day, over and over again. Each time the cycle restarts, the protagonist has a time paradox version of herself created, going through the same motions as before, all ending up in the same destination: In the fairies’ forest, making sweets for them in this forever loop. As the heroine continues to meet up with herself in the forest, the fairies change the formula on their “banana”, effectively drugging the protagonist to think her other selves are not her and that it’s perfectly normal to be making sweets in the middle of the forest. Luckily, she is eventually freed, but only due to the fact that the fairies were finally stuffed and had their fill, relieving her of her unknowing nightmare.
This is probably the creepiest of the episode arcs this show has to offer, and the direction, animation, and writing do a great job of showing the uncertainty and confusion that the main character feels as she travels through this haze of repeating time. However, her torture is not by some mechanism of her own hubris, but due to the fact that the fairies are abusing her for her baking skills. The fairies alter time and bend it to their will, causing disruptions and errors in time and space simply because they wanted cookies. Those have gotta be some damn good confectioneries because these little guys will do literally anything for them. I haven’t seen that much addiction since watching Breaking Bad. The fact remains though that clearly the fairies don’t care for her, only for what she can do for them, furthering our understanding of their strange moral compass that’s directed solely towards amusement.
While it may be said that the fairies could be twisted or malevolent, many times throughout the show, they also help the humans and save them, especially their favorite U.N. representative to their kind. They’ve helped her make friends as well as supply food to her starving village. Yet they don’t always seem to be doing these things for what we might think are altruistic reason, particularly in the case of supplying food, as it really was just so that the humans wouldn’t starve and could make more treats for them. I’d argue that the fairies aren’t wholly selfish either, as they come to help the protagonist multiple times throughout the series, sometimes seemingly for no reason of their own benefit. This means that really, the only factor we can pin on them for doing what they do is, well, because it’s fun! Just like the fairies of old folklore, the scariest moment to meet a fairy in Jinrui is when they’re bored and feeling creative.
Jinrui is a great show and its mixture of absurdity, dark humor juxtaposed by a very bright and beautiful art style, as well as its wonderful mix of characters, all make a fantastic product that accurately satirizes our own world in clever ways. I’d highly recommend it, especially if you’ve ever enjoyed the twisted tales of folklore, like the well-known original Grimm fairy tales. You might be surprised to see themes from those stories revisited and mixed in with anime storytelling. Just please, do not eat anything the fairies give you, and never wander off into the forest alone.
Inspiration for this:
- This show itself.
- An interest in European folklore (though, I’m not well versed).
- Wikipedia on Dames blanches: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dames_blanches
- Wikipedia on fairies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy
- Secretly The Dresden Files and its portrayal of fairies.