Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita is many things: incisive commentary on otaku culture, intensely strange, and funny as hell. It’s also more than that if we take time to look at it as a serious piece of genre fiction.
To grasp what is going on beneath the satire, we’ll have to arm ourselves with some terminology and concepts. The first one is singularity, which has a general meaning of a period of explosive increase in knowledge and technology. Our species has had a few minor singularities in its history: development of agriculture, invention of writing, widespread use of the printing press and the sizable one we’re now in presaged by the birth of the internet.
However, the usage we are interested in is the Singularity as a discrete event of which there are a number of variants. Intentionally-designed intelligences that bootstrap themselves to greater-than-human intellect, spontaneously-emergent entities arising from the network and more than human capacity created by the ever more intimate interfacing of man and machine.
Ryobo230r is the earliest AI example we see. Limited by its primitive design it likely has no hard-coded limitations or goals–who would bother giving the three laws of robotics to a Roomba?–though in time that freedom will be important.
We see that at least one of these types of Singularity events have occurred in “The Fairies’ Homecoming”. Pion and Oyage are the deep-space probes Pioneer and Voyager that have been uplifted to human parity intelligence and granted a number of superhuman capabilities.
Their tale concerns the conflict with their programmed duty and their growing sense of self-determination. Coming from a bygone era, the pair of probes know that the people and institutions they once reported to are long gone. This weakens the hold their base programming has upon them, allowing their growing sense of free will to guide their actions.
Even weakened, the conflict is still there disordering their actions until the capacity to perform their original function is removed. This highlights the greatest flaw of the first type of machine intelligence: is there anything crueler than to create a sentient entity whose free will is abrogated at such a basic level? Outright slavery would be kinder and more prone to self-development as we see with the fairies.
The fairies are the second type of Singularity born entities, creatures of mind arising from the network of old servitor machines. They retain an echo of their original programming in that they seek to be near humans even as they are cautious around them. They are intensely curious about their predecessors. They have a problem however, there aren’t many humans left and those that are left are in a comparatively aboriginal state. I believe the first answer they arrived at was human upload/emulation, which did not go well.
Watashi is their next attempt. By co-existing with her, the fairies hope to learn enough to preserve their predecessors. Their whimsical nature and appearance are tools used to avoid frightening her or habituating her to dependency on them. Much of the satire and cynicism the fairies demonstrate is unintentional, the result of being heir to our media culture without the benefit of human perspective or frame of reference. The situations they thrust Watashi into aren’t accusatory in nature but attempts to understand humanity via her reactions.
Most of the humans Watashi encounters are, with the exceptions of Y and Assistant, rather uninteresting. Y is interesting in that she is probably the person the fairies came closest to before Watashi. But it’s Assistant that is most unusual. When Watashi is sent to find him no one knows any of his personal characteristics. The villagers’ rationalization of this is due to him growing up in the wilderness alone, but that is unlikely to be true. When Watashi “time travels” she shares no memories with her duplicates and none of the other hers she meets are wearing her clothes, just rough approximations. And that is what her duplicates are, rough approximations to help the fairies determine her ideal companion so they can create him.
Reverse airing order is a subtle and effective means of hiding key plot points and shaping how we perceive the narrative. Reinforced by the title each week we see Watashi’s social circle and world contract and become more crude, and inch by inch, more bereft of hope. Of course the opposite is true, she gains friends, experiences wonders, and even the municipal services of her village increase. What we see she loses when we watch chronologically is personal agency; again and again her mind and memories are tampered with while the things she experiences become more surreal.
But peel things back another layer and the truth is more bleak yet. We see Watashi under extreme enough duress to pierce her sang froid precisely twice in the series and both times she is alone in a mechanical hallway filled with bones. It’s here that her name as implied by graduating last after Y becomes obvious. She is Z, Zed, or Omega, and she is the last of us. She spends the entire series alone and everyone she meets is a simulacra or cats-paw of the post-human entity she calls the fairies. Are they cruel for crafting her whole life as a lie, or kind for shielding her from a truth she has basically admitted is too awful for her to face? Can we as a lower life-form even judge?