Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita: Seeing A Post-Singularity World Through Pre-Singularity Eyes

source: pixiv

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?

20 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita

20 responses to “Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita: Seeing A Post-Singularity World Through Pre-Singularity Eyes

  1. Fucking christ now I’m depressed. Thanks a lot.

  2. Someguy

    This post made my day! Very interesting read, I might consider rewatching Jinrui in chronological order….

  3. This is a surprising yet seemingly coherent critical reading of Humanity, though after reading it twice I have reservations because some of the evidence that lead us down this insidious rabbit hole don’t add up.

    Certainly a few major revelation – Watashi’s name, the emergence of several autonomous, human-level or greater intelligences, and the fairies’ abilities to manipulate memory, fabricate material wonders, and seemingly warp reality itself – opens the possibility of Watashi’s own Truman Show-like existence.

    But the meanings and motivations you assign to the fairies’ behavior rings false. The fairies occupy the places humanity once were, but they clearly avoid and fear humans in the early chronology. If their cheery appearance is meant to appear harmless to our heroine, wouldn’t she or we notice moments of deeper thought or insight when they’re caught unawares? The fairies’ guileless, sugar craving nature is more like childish curiosity rather than a purposeful endeavor to preserve the last of humanity.

    Still, this is a compelling explanation for the presentation out of chronological order. Yet, the fact that the light novels series Humanity is based on is currently ongoing may mean this thesis is also incomplete.

    At least Humanity deserves another viewing for the inquisitive, in chronological order to see with eyes unclouded. I think the order is:
    11-12, 10, 7-8, 9, 3-4, 5-6, 1-2
    based on my memory of events like the Assistant’s introduction, Watashi’s haircut, and the Human Monument Project, but someone correct me if I’m mistaken.

    Lest I digress, let me end my comment here. This was a post worth thinking about and truly a pleasure to read.

    • Vance

      The order is 10-7-8-5-6-1-2-9-11-12-3-4.
      11-12 take place after Watashi had already become a mediator for a while, compared to her being new to the job in episode 10. The flashback in 11-12
      is not the true time sequence for those two episodes. Episode 9 takes place after 5-6, which also places it after 1-2, since they happen right after one another. The reason being that she was less fearful of abuse in episode 9 than in episode 5. She mentally feared that the Assistant and herself would get beaten in episode 5, as compared to her more relaxed, embarrassed reaction to her screw-up in episode 9. Episode 3 started in winter, making it by far the last in the sequence, and with Watashi stating that Y was new as a mediator, she most likely became one recently, putting 11-12 right before that, giving Y some time to move back and become a mediator.

    • I believe the fairies more manipulative nature is on display numerous occasions, note the number of times they mettle with Watashi’s memory. That alone would enough to keep her from noticing I think. As for their early fear of people it’s probably partly instinctive due to their origin and partly knowing what happens when a strong and advanced culture comes into contact with a weaker one. As to their nature I don’t believe it’s false, they are rather young as species go, just that it’s not all they are. In “The Fairies’ Earth” our heroine has to teach them about names, this coupled with the rule off thumb we learn in “The Fairies’ Homecoming” about their reality warping abilities being stronger the more of them are near suggests a hive-mind to me, which would make the subterfuge easier to pull off and make them frighteningly intelligent.

      As for the LNs I’ve a rule to judge works in differing media as separate things, I’ve been burned too often by “That’s not what happened in the book!”

      I delighted you enjoyed reading my little theory even if you ultimately reject it because the reason I thought it up and defend it is because it’s fun! :D

      • I’m not rejecting this hypothesis, I’m acknowledging it as a possibility that is not yet definitive. The nature of popular televisual entertainment is to make its meaning known at the end. If the creative producers went to such lengths to spin this elaborate yarn, why withhold the dramatic reveal and the narrative payoff to follow? Why keep it a secret to the end? More precisely: why not make it obvious so everyone is clued in?

        This is the first post I’ve read on the ‘sphere that has shed light on this conspiracy. Is Humanity Has Decined way too clever for its own good, fooling all but the most astute viewers who put in effort to construct and rewatch the entire series in chronology? Are you simply exceptional, having sniffed out a major turn that will make itself evident in a sequel or upcoming novels?

        My feeling is that Humanity is too idiosyncratic and off-the-wall-for-crazy’s-sake to have constructed this reading deliberately. The idea of Watashi’s real name does follow with the overall theme of the story, and there are topical snippets of higher intelligences and reality-warping abilities that give this theory legs. However, without viewing the show again I cannot discern the fairies’ true motives and connect them with Watashi’s ultimate condition.

      • In short, my argument is that in order for your hypothesis to be true, Humanity must have broken its own modus operandi of how every episode had played out. Every visual gag, parody, and critique of modern society had been spelled out clearly. I think this is too sneaky to be intended; Bruce Willis would have realized he was a ghost.

  4. Tzu

    As a critic to humanity, Jintai was very good, my favorite element was how uninterested the humanity was in the worlds end; I think that matches our current line of thought very well. We as humans know we are messing up nature so much we won’t be able to live here much longer, yet we keep doing it. If we exaggerate our current state and fast forward a few hundred years, I believe we will look a lot as the humans in the series, conscious but indifferent. We know meetings are useless, we know monuments are useless, but you know, whatever.

    Now, let’s remove the consciousness in our current humanity and fast forward again. We would be left with with only our addiction to emotions, in particular, to have fun. We, current humans, drown ourselves on internet, anime, games and whatever media we can, but in Jintai the world is ending, so there’s no more media. If we were suddenly left without media, just as the fairies, we would be a happy, intelligent, empty casket of emotions.

    That part of Jintai was very good, the animation and music were good as well. However, as a series I found it boring at times. I also confess that I didn’t like the ordering of the episodes, this isnt haruhi you know. Let’s look at it backwards and start with the final arc. That would have exposed the protagonist’s personality as a child, then we would have learned about the fairies, then about the assistant, etc. I kind of would have liked that way more.

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  6. jreding

    Lovely post, Blackholeheart – after reading it I just couldn’t resist re-watching most of Jintai w/ focus on the issues discussed here. How do the evil chickens who managed to take over the fairies’ factory fit in the picture?

    In earnest: I take the chickens blister packing the fairies as an indication that Watashi’s reality is not just a simulacrum created by the same fairies. Also, the fairies’ time and reality wrapping in eps. 7/8 and 3/4 is not only experienced by Watashi but also by Assistant-kun in and the latter case by Y. I do think, though, that Watashi seems to be the only one left who has critical intelligence and sound judgment, the last homo sapiens so to speak!

    Re episode order: I rewatched it chronologically (in the order Vance kindly assembled). Eps. 3 and 4 (the last ones) are really bothering me – eps 11/ 12 were a sweet ending imo. 3 and 4 feel more like a side story or an OVA in their otaku/ manga industry centered plot. So I decided to ignore these eps for myself and take the series on a positive note – the story a little girl who grew up w/ her grandfather, wise beyond her years but lonely and awkward, befriended fairies and robots and – through their help – finally also fellow humans like Y.

    Postscript: You mention Watashi twice during the series being alone in a mechanical hallway filled with bones. One time is in ep. 11 (your picture) – when was the other one?

  7. dm00

    An intriguing possibility. I’d like to propose somewhat more prosaic reading.

    The opening of Humanity has declined features a shot of a modern city, immediately followed by a rural landscape. It appears to me that both the city and the landscape share a topography. Watashi’s rural village is actually on the site of what was once a thriving metropolis.

    One of the aspects of Jinrui is the substantial lack of children — Watashi’s school is the only one around, and it eventually closes because there aren’t enough children to keep it open.

    Japan is facing a demographic transition: its population is declining, it’s becoming an older society as its population ages. This is the result both of a preference for smaller families and restrictive immigration policies. This puts both creators and audience into a frame of mind that contemplates decline and incursion by “aliens”.

    The fairies aren’t avatars of a post-human singularity, they’re just immigrants: capable (sometimes frighteningly so), effective, but they always get subtle (Japanese) cultural elements just a little bit wrong. I imagine you could make the argument that the food factory in the early episodes was really just Macdonalds.

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  11. > 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.

    Yeah, I can’t agree with this reading at all. Isn’t it implied that the *previous* mediator met a messy end at the fairies’ hands? Given how many close calls Watashi has, that suggests it’s only a matter of time before she fails to figure out a scenario or ask the exact right question to escape. The mediators are the firewall for the remaining humans, putting themselves at risk to deal with the fairies; Watashi has a lot of free time – just like many people in extremely risky occupations.

    Further, in the episode where Watashi first makes contact with the fairies, at no point do they seem to exert any agency or want contact. She has to seek them out, bribe them, capture them for longer contact which terrifies them and indicates they see her as an enemy (recall the urination?), and slowly gain the skills to survive in the treacherous world of fairies.

    I don’t think the fairies are malicious towards humans, but I don’t think they are more than sporadically benevolent. Mere fairy indifference to humans is a serious danger when the power disparity is as extreme as depicted; Eliezer Yudkowsky has a good line: “the AI neither hates nor loves you, but you are made of atoms it can use for sometihng else.”

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