A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed; Jinrui Episode 11

illegenes: (Whoops! Turns out that I was wrong; Jinrui still has one episode left to go) For weeks we have all come to grow fond of the wonderful character Watashi. But for the first (and last) time, we take a look at what makes her tick, why she’s so damn awesome, and why Jinrui may be greater and more intelligent than you think it is. Cue some Damages references because the series finale aired yesterday and I have feels, but also because there are some great parallels that can be seen.

[trigger warning: bullying]

A couple of episodes ago I reviewed on how and why Watashi was such an interesting addition to what it means to be a female protagonist; she was manipulative, clever, but never downplaying her femininity. She’s smart but not overly arrogant, kind but not in abundance: qualities which are important in Jinrui as they serve to give us a sort of ‘control’ against the overt extremes of the show. Watashi is the rock of balance for the show to lean on, and while in context she seems quite normal, in a universal sense, she’s quite twisted. I would say she often borders on narcissistic, although more subtle than others (see: Y). In essence, she’s kind of like a mix between Audrey Horne from Twin Peaks (“I’m Audrey Horne and I get what I want!”) and the lighter version of Patty Hewes from Damages. But up until now, we never really understood what made her so fun to watch; the development wasn’t something necessary of course, as Jinrui is a show that relies more on the execution of its story rather than the story itself, but it’s because Watashi piques my interest that I was hopeful in getting to know her a little better.

So when this episode came along and gave background as to why Watashi has always been a loner, and why she strikes up a friendship with the fairies, consider me pleased. While it may have turned Watashi more or less into a cliched character, I personally still think that it’s solid enough of a story that makes her believable.  For one thing, including bullying into the show along with Watashi’s response – which most people seem to think was out of character – was necessary to understand the life she led before becoming a negotiator. Watashi refuses to become friends with anyone not because she lacks confidence, or because she pities herself. On the contrary, she distances herself from people as both a defense and attack mechanism. For Watashi, what counts is the score. To win. As long as she can move up a grade and get out of school as quickly as possible, she doesn’t need people to distract her from herself and her work. Patty Hewes functions the same way; there is no life outside of work. She can’t even maintain a proper relationship with her son, and refuses to connect with anyone because her job requires that she be precise, methodical and logical. More than anything though, Patty is obsessed about winning – she will even kill to make sure she wins the case.

Jinrui and Damages don’t paint these respective characters into stereotypical villains despite their qualities. They are both, in a sense, the heroes and anti-heroes of their story. Damages never condones Patty for being malicious – in fact, she often gets away with what she does because of her ferocity. Likewise, I don’t think this week’s Jinrui was about poking fun at bullying or Watashi, despite it being a satirical show. Nor does it really give us time to warm up to Watashi and truly empathize with her actions. While Watashi is alone, it’s not like she was forced to – she did it through choice. The show neither criticizes this action nor praises it; on the contrary, if anyone is to suffer for Watashi’s actions, it is Watashi alone. Of all the relationships to seek out, she chooses a solitary fairy, and may have paid a terrible price for it. It’s all just pure speculation, but I believe that what the fairy did to Watashi was similar to the jokes that were made earlier about the ‘white powder’ in the show: that Watashi’s pain of loss and loneliness were ‘numbed’ or erased to an extent to the point where she no longer has that fear and desire to befriend humans. Watashi instead is conditioned, or rather pointed toward the direction of befriending the fairies. (When was the last time we saw our Narrator lose her cool or let her emotions take control of her?) It’s a horrible, dark subtlety, and I may be over thinking it, but I can’t help but shudder when the fairies always express an innocent and almost cruel lack of understand of these certain human concepts.

Despite this, Watashi still remains to be witty and sarcastic as ever, even when she befriends the one person whom she thinks is the perpetrator of all the bullying. It’s here where Jinrui separates itself from being the cynical, sweet-covered sarcastic show it usually is though. Whereas a typical episode of Jinrui would have this girl being the bully – showing how twisted humans can be – it doesn’t and shows that Curly is genuinely a good hearted and loving girl.  And to me, this is essential because Jinrui has been many things, but never emotional. This week’s episode changes all of that without unbalancing the show and what it stands for, which to me, is a sign of excellent execution. Bullying is no doubt, a serious topic, and Jinrui this week, showed me that it can take itself seriously when need to, which is so important in satire, because there is always a line, and what separates an intelligent and effective comedy from an offensive and useless one is where that line is drawn. Especially considering how serious of an issue this is in Japan, I was more than impressed.

So yes, this episode wasn’t as funny, yes this episode wasn’t as random and ridiculous, but I still think it was an important contribution to Jinrui– no, Watashi’s story. It may have lacked the emotional power we often resonate with in a drama, but it still had an effect. Like all episodes of Jinrui, it’s about what you take from that effect, and for me, I saw an episode that attempted to take a peek into one of the more horrifying and darker aspects of society, without covering it all up with candy and colorful fairies. I can’t say enough how much I’ve enjoyed Jinrui this season – it may have not been the most consistent show, but it was certainly the most interesting and dynamic, and I’m going to be sad to see it go so quickly. But let’s save the goodbyes for next week! We still have one last episode to go.

wendeego: Interestingly enough, this episode of Jinrui isn’t the only thing that Romeo Tanaka has written about bullying. Adult visual novel A Drug That Makes You Dream (also known as Yume Miru Kusuri), which Tanaka played a key role in creating, had a whole route devoted to the psychological and physical torture of a high school girl by her classmates. Jinrui never reaches the insanity of Drug (tasers are involved) but this particular episode, in my mind, did manage to tackle a very serious issue without embarrassing itself, or casting off its uniquely satirical identity. I’ve read some complaints on the internet that this most recent episode was not funny enough, or not satiric enough, but I’d honestly ask those people whether it’s possible to make bullying funny at all. It’s a serious issue, especially in Japan.

It’s not hard to find examples if you look.  This year, a boy from Otsu (west of Tokyo) jumped off of a building and killed himself, allegedly due to bullies who were forcing him to “practice” committing suicide. This is only the most recent case of a much larger social problem, and since (a) this is an anime blog, not a social justice site and (b) people who know much more about this than I do have already posted tons of essential information said much better than I ever could, I would link the interested reader here, at the very least. It’s a lot of information to absorb, but I think it’s important to know what we are dealing with here, and what Jinrui was trying to say in this episode. A brief story hearkening back to Watashi’s childhood, depicting her as a victim of abuse, only sounds cliched and overdone if you’re not familiar with the stakes. Seen in its proper social context, episode 11 of Jinrui is, to put it frankly, absolutely terrifying.

That said, I would be lying if I said it would be entirely effective. After ten episodes of relentlessly creative storylines and direction, reducing Watashi’s climactic realization that she is very, very alone to a simple run-through of the school hallways while screaming out her inner thoughts is a bit pat. It wasn’t bad, and the emotion behind it certainly sold the scene. But not only did that display of emotion seem a bit out of place in the normally deadpan Jinrui, but a better director could have almost certainly found a way to convey Watashi’s release effectively, rather than resorting to cliched measures. The scene with Watashi crouching in the field of bones came the closest to being inspired, but all in all I think the big emotional beats of this episode could have been done more effectively.

That said, the little details–the robot running itself into the wall, the dark and unsettling backgrounds, the portrayal of Watashi’s general alienation and the question of how much was really her fault–were all done fantastically. There have been plenty of unsettling episodes of Jinrui from an existential perspective, from endless time loops to the fall of civilization. But this was the first episode to really put Watashi’s well-being on the line, and while I can’t say it was an unqualified success, it was certainly a daringly different installment in a series where practically every installment is startlingly unique to begin with.

Finally: while I still think that the director of Jinrui could have done much better in justifying the unique chronological order, I think it’s fairly obvious from this episode why later, funnier installments in the series were picked first for adaptation. While starting with skinned, sentient chickens and moving on to the narrator’s bullying is already a major tonal shift, the opposite might have been too much to bear. As the dust begins to settle and the true shape of Jinrui is coming into the light, I’m beginning to adore the thing more and more. It’s hardly a perfect (or even consistent) series, but it’s a show that’s never lacked for energy and invention in a field of work where both are becoming harder and harder to find. No matter how the last episode turns out, I’m glad that eccentric director Seiji Kishi chose to adapt Romeo Tanaka’s work to the screen.

Enjoyment Level: 8/10

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2 responses to “A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed; Jinrui Episode 11

  1. But Jinrui already made bullying funny! In Episode 9, when the bullied fairy got his desk thrown at him and the bullies say “No desk for you” with their static smiley face. It’s frigging hilarious.

    • I feel like that was more or less a kind of subtle way at poking the nature of the fairies and how cruel they can be? To me, this episode was focusing on human bullying and how seriously detrimental it can be to one’s mental health. Watashi throughout this episode was shown to be an unapologetic and cold but still very lonely girl who ended up pushing everyone away from her. The scene you’re talking about was very brief and served more as a way to poke humor at the fairies and how harmful they can be, despite their harmful appearance? That at least, is what I got.

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