Turning Back Time; Jinrui Episode 07

Headless Fairy Football! The Grim! Time loop magical bananas! It seems Jinrui has gotten even quirkier, and that’s saying something.

*Natasha’s Note: I’m sorry about no post for Jinrui, it’s been exams week for me! I’ll join Wendeego next week.

So far in Jinrui, we’ve had talking skinless chickens, self-writing manga and cat-eared satellites. But the seventh episode might be the closest the show has come to an honest-to-goodness fairy tale.

That’s not to say that the humor’s any less caustic, or the vast capabilities of the fairies any less hilarious and terrifying in equal measure. Watashi continues to hold her own as one of the most distinctive anime narrators in ages as silly bits of non-sequitur are interspersed with fairies playing football with decapitated heads, and the show follows up takes on corporate culture, the manga industry, and science fiction with a mind-boggling but memorable time-loop extravaganza. Original author Romeo Tanaka is actually no stranger to messing around with the time-stream—see his work on the seminal visual novel Cross Channel—so it was no surprise to see that while the time loop as a thematic device is at the risk of becoming overplayed, this particular variant on it felt just fresh and off-key enough to work.

But let’s take role of the number of fairy tale tropes evoked in this particular episode of Jinrui: selfish and all-powerful fairies. An honest-to-goodness Black Dog straight out of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. A child enslaved by forces beyond her control, doomed to servanthood for the rest of her days. The story of Rip van Winkle, or even the Japanese Urashima Taro, in which a man goes to dance with the fey, and returns to see the world changed. This might be the first episode of the show to bring a real sense of danger to the proceedings, not because the lives of Watashi and her friends are threatened but because for just a moment, the curtain is lifted and an inkling of the true power and nature of the fairies is revealed.

The series so far has made no bones about the fact that the fairies are humanity’s replacements: adorable sprites with unfathomable technology that pursue consumer culture with single-minded intensity. Even the humans of Jinrui are fairly incompetent in the face of the post-apocalypse due to past glories of comfortable living, so it’s both fascinating and a little scary that despite being exaggerations of what appear to be humanity’s worst traits, the fairies thrive as the humans gradually disappear. To this point, though, fairies have remained relatively non-threatening, even subject to being boxed by their own produce. They’ve even helped Watashi and her friends out on a number of occasions, particularly in the previous episode, where they both fought the maruding satellite Oyage as well as using their plot-bending powers to protect Watashi and her friends from falling to their deaths. They can be dense, self-obsessed and gluttonous, but they aren’t as of yet an immediate threat.

Episode seven changes all that. Not only do the fairies take an active role in manipulating Watashi into fulfilling their desires, but they do so without any caveats or interference. There is never an instance where Watashi “wakes up” and attempts to escape the time loop of the fairies. Nobody attempts to interfere and save the day. Once the fairies decide that they will tamper with the continuum in order to secure enough sweets to eat for a year, they do it, to hell with the consequences. The fairies might be annoyingly human in some ways, but in others they are completely, even horrifyingly alien. Watashi’s “imprisonment” might be completely safe and even enjoyable for her, but that doesn’t change the fact that for an unknowable amount of time, the fairies enslaved her and did not even blink.

It could be said that this is a portrayal very much in line with the oldest portrayal of fairies: as mysterious and distant demigods who toyed with the fates of mortals when they weren’t busy feasting or governing their own territory. In this sense the fairies of Jinrui are closer to the elves of The Lord of the Rings then they ever were to, say, Tinkerbell. But there is another way to look at it, and it is this: the true genius of Jinrui might very well be synthesis. Post-apocalypse, science fiction, fairy tale and fantasy, pulled together and given life by biting social commentary from the mouth of an everyman (or woman) narrator. In this sense, the fairies of Jinrui mash together many different archetypes into a single, coherent whole. They are the adorable and helpful Tinkerbell type. They possess their own high culture and society like the elves. They are even, as some have pointed out, trolls. In short, they are the generalized Fairy as Watashi is the generalized I, Assistant the generalized Supporting Character, and so on.

In short, Jinrui isn’t just a hilarious satire of society, a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the anime set. It may be a cautionary tale, a horror story and a fascinating piece of speculative fiction, depending on the week. But this most recent episode of the show may have proved that in addition to all these things, Jinrui is also a fable. Long in the future, when the humans are dead, the fairies may very well tell themselves stories of a pink-haired girl who had adventures with her friends after the end of the world. They might not learn anything from the experience, but they will probably laugh. So do we. What we learn, in the end, is entirely up to us.

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