Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita (lit. “Mankind has Declined“) certainly would have gone underneath my radar this season if not for that little clip there. But scathing social commentary on the nature of Big Food aside, I’m struck in particular by how popular the aesthetic shift has become away from burnt-out desert wastelands to lush overgrown cities as the backdrop for classical post-apocalyptica; more Jungle Book than Mad Max.

Certainly Mankind has Declined is not the first show to attempt this; other notable ones that come to mind are Fractale and Shangri-La, and if you go even further back you could even make the argument Blue Submarine No. 6 is an example of this sort of shift, sort of a realization even if man doesn’t survive the apocalypse, the rest of nature probably will.

But what’s particularly interesting about the look of Mankind has Declined is that it’s consciously artificial – the colours are all bright, cheery pastels and our protagonist’s village is a picture-perfect European rural town idyll, all straight out of a storybook. The unreality of it all adds a subtle edge to the satirical proceedings about the origins of food production and how food preparation is at heart a form of artifice – a way to distance yourself from “step 2” of the process from living chicken to chicken meat, to quote the show.

If anything, the show feels a much closer cousin to the recently aired Tsuritama by A-1 Pictures; insofar that they are both on some level about getting back to basics – namely, the basics of food acquisition. Where the vivacious colours in Tsuritama serve to provide an impressionistic experience of what it might feel like out fishing for wild food, the pastels in Mankind has Declined highlight the artificiality of processed food. In a sense, both narrow in on a facet of the post-apocalypse that’s often glossed over: surviving the destruction of our food “know-how” – and one could certainly make the argument that most modern humans in developed societies have already lost quite a bit of it!

Pilot Charles Karino is tasked with a daunting assignment: fly a special passenger on a journey of over 12, 000 kilometres. The script is by Satoko Okudera, known for his work on Summer Wars and The Girl who Leapt Through Time. It’s coming out this month, so it will likely be some time before a BD release is available.

It turns out that we do not get to see Kinkakuji in this episode, but rather Nobunaga’s rebuilt Azuchi castle – built not only to be a defensive structure, but also a testament to his power and wealth. The location of Azuchi Castle is not far from the capital of Kyoto, however, and was intended to safeguard the approaches into the city. As usual, more notes to follow after the jump.

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Mamoru Nagano is working on this project.

That’s all I need to say.

Episode 2 begins by introducing us to Sen no Soeki, who seems to be standing in for Nobunaga`s historical tea master Sen no Rikyū. The writers likely have decided to use a different, less well-known name, as most famous individuals in Japanese history had several, or have created a fictionalized counterpart to better fit the intended story. In any case, Soeki’s influence is at least comparable to Rikyū’s, and even his appearance is similar.

As usual, due to the density of the material being covered, I have opted to highlight my more important points in bold. Specifically Japanese terms are italicized. More notes after the jump.

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Boy, this show is rich. Incredibly rich. Hyouge Mono is a 13 episode series being produced by Bee Train – and more importantly, Japan’s public broadcasting station NHK – about a retainer of Oda Nobunaga who is caught between loyalty to his lord and loyalty to the art he is most passionate about – the Japanese tea ceremony. Thanks also to bateszi for alerting me to the fact that we finally do have some translation available.

The series is flying under the radar of most blogs, likely due to both a)it’s relative obscurity, and b)the fact that it draws on a deep reservoir of Japanese culture and history. Hopefully, this blogging series can help ameliorate both of those issues, by providing some historical background commentary and explanation.

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Makoto Shinkai has been hailed previously as the “next Miyazaki”, and he seems determined to claim the title with his newest offering, Children Who Chase Lost Voices Deep Below. Some of the design choices and colour palette are very reminiscient of Tales from Earthsea, Nausicaa, or other Ghibli films. While his previous works have been absolutely ground-breaking in terms of visuals (Place Promised and 5cm per second were both absolutely stunning at the time of their release, and still are), I get the sense that the visual standard, as it were, has only increased with the last few years. Here’s hoping Shinkai has something interesting up his sleeve – the release is set for this May, but a DVD/BD release may still be a while away.

Has it really been over 15 years since Macross Plus? The science fiction of the ’90s depicted in places like William Gibson’s Idoru is fast becoming today’s fact…

There are plenty of other videos covering the concert – Megurine Luka (whom I prefer immensely; Miku’s “voice” is a tad sugary for my taste), and the Kagamine twins also make an appearance. Particularly fascinating too is the Miku medley, incorporating a number of on-the-spot costume changes.

What’s even more interesting is the sold out crowd of 2,500 attendees. The energy of the crowd is almost surreal in a way – the throaty roar of a hungry audience as a collection of photons coalesce into the familiar face of their goddess… “man-made idols” indeed. Science fiction hasn’t disappeared, we’re just living it. Small wonder that we have a goodly number of series now that definitely break from the old mold of science fiction – look at Haruhi, or Index – science fiction that simply exists in the everyday. There has been a shift away from the traditional space-borne interplanetary narratives for something a little more immediate.

For reference, the Macross Plus clip from 1994, featuring the artificial idol Sharon Apple. It is eerie how very prescient the whole thing is, but then again, we’re long overdue for Zentraedi contact – I suppose you can’t have it all:

Everyone always post a picture of Re-L whenever Ergo Proxy gets mentioned. You'd think this poor guy would get more exposure, considering the series is named for him.

Bateszi and Celeste recently posted an ingenious 2-part feature talking about an interview with Dai Sato, creator of Ergo Proxy and Samurai Champloo, as well as having been a contributor to other series. You can find the interview here.

What struck me in particular about the interview was the quote here: (emphasis mine)

Sato was upset with the lack of respect for stories in Japan… Sadly, he believes that fans are losing their media literacy – the ability to read narratives and stories and the meanings in the background.

What Sato talks about here is something in literature known as intertextuality, the literary context in which a work takes place, as well as the allusions it makes to other works. I think the real bitter pill for him to swallow is perhaps that in today’s world of hypertext links and Wikipedia – in spite of the easy access to information and the ability for viewers to quickly grasp at allusions – viewers are losing the whole ability to get intertextuality, and understand allusions outside of the medium.

Consider three of his works – Wolf’s Rain, Ergo Proxy, and Eureka Seven – all three evoke images and sensibilities that viewers can only get outside of the animated sphere – Wolf’s Rain creates folklore and mythology in its prophetic narratives; Ergo Proxy grapples with themes from cyberpunk science fiction and existential philosophy; and Eureka Seven grooves to musical and social upheavals from various counterculture movements during the last few decades. I’ve always found all his works brilliant for that reason – they’re crafted for very specific audiences but still retain some appeal even without it.

The flip-side of this, and what I think what he is really complaining about with the trend of K-ON (“kuuki-kei” or “atmospheric-type”) and the like, is that intertextuality in anime is becoming increasingly incestuous. The vast majority of allusions strike me as “otaku-isms”: simple reference-drops to other animated works (always Japanese ones, of course) or other aspects of the entire culture. While fascinating perhaps in an anthropological sense, it does create a certain barrier to the casual viewer (not to mention it may be construed as a breach of professional ethics). I think there’s some truth to this – to the untested viewer who has never cut their teeth on anything animated aside from Disney, K-ON is the last thing I would recommend. On the flip-side, I think the intertextuality behind shows like Wolf’s Rain, Eureka Seven, and Ergo Proxy is precisely what makes them feel so very mature – it gives them a certain weight that no amount of gratuitous sex and violence can accomplish.

Part of what makes Spice and Wolf such an enjoyable watch is that it focuses so much on normally underappreciated aspects of medieval settings. There are tons of little details to be found here that usually are brushed by – food, for example, is lavishly rendered, and there is an attention to the changes in folklore, feel, custom, and characters in each town that Lawrence and Holo pass through. Each is uniquely fleshed out as a culture, but is ultimately expendable – both characters certainly do not double back to particular locales over the course of the series. And, if anything, the series chooses to focus on what most regular people would find important – where to sleep, what to eat, who are friendly people to get to know. It’s a series I find difficult to classify as fantasy – or well, at least the same sort of fantasy anime whose lineage goes back to illustrious predecessors like Record of Lodoss War. I’m hesitant to group it with that nebulous category of shows known as “slice-of-life”; it has some similarities in plot structure, to be sure, but I’m not sure if it’s enough to really put it in the same group.

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