Unpacking Jinrui wa Suitaishimashita

DAMN OUR COLLECTIVE HUBRIS

Tanaka Romio’s Jinrui wa Suitaishimashita is making an early bid for show of the season. It is poignant, witty and belligerently hostile towards the excess of modern society. There’s a lot of stuff covered in the short 20 minutes of Episode 1, so I will do my best to unpack (hopefully all) of the salient themes contained within. In addition, I will attempt to track them throughout the series. Hopefully, by the end of the summer season, we’ll be able to better understand the show’s various influences. Most of these will feel very obvious to readers, as the show is a definitely on the spoon-feeding and preachy side.

Pastoral/Urban

The pastoral/urban dichotomy plays a fundamental role in Jintai‘s setting. The opening shot of the show contrasts with other “stock openings” featuring a bird’s-eye flyby of urban sprawl, although if one looks closely, one can almost see that the country itself is organized in much the same way a cityscape would be― a central “hub” featuring “spokes” branching out into wilderness.

I find Jintai‘s lack of sentimentality regarding the pastoral to be fascinating. In both Western and Japanese media, the pastoral is often portrayed as a desirable alternative to the harms of urban living. Clean, spacious and quiet, the pastoral frequently features all the comforts of urban living without any of the smoke and noise. Even in series where the countryside is portrayed as backwards, it is still intimate and peaceful. In Jintai, however, the countryside is, well, backwards. That, and nothing more.

Even more fascinating, there is a distinct reversal in the roles of the pastoral and urban in Jintai: in modern society, we often think of the country as producing and the city as consuming. However, the country produces virtually nothing in Jintai. Farmers (or, what we think are farmers) are unable to keep control of their own chickens, and must rely in turn on industrial production for meat. It’s an intriguing role reversal, one which puts the humans at the mercy of others, denying them self-sufficiency.

Deference to Authority

“SENSEI!!!”

Moving on, we see Watashi moving into the village, enthusiastically greeted by the villagers. Their constant cries of sensei symbolizes their deference to authority. Their earnest cries for meat, followed by their unwillingness to slaughter the chickens themselves, confirms our suspicions that they are both unthinking and useless. Later, as they attempt to catch the chicken, they look again to Watashi to provide guidance and support.

In like manner, the villagers’ meeting again exhibits this theme of deference. When a villager proposes to “split up and search the area”, he is repudiated by his peers. After many hours of fruitless quarrel, Watashi’s grandfather, a learned man, steps in and offers the exact same solution, which is accepted immediately. The masses are willing to do whatever those in power tell them to do, and also rely upon those with knowledge and power to guide them throughout life and make decisions for them.

Industrial Food Production

No one really knows how a live chicken becomes fried chicken. It’s a mystery. We just don’t know.

There is a step (well, a few steps) between “live chicken” and “juicy chicken nuggets”, but as Watashi suggests, no one really knows what they are. It’s a common problem in industrial society. We would rather not see images of food production (as a lawsuit in San Francisco aimed at stopping the live slaughter of chicken in Chinese street markets would indicate), preferring the lie that is pre-packaged, industrially-produced meat. This problem seems to be especially acute in Japan, where children are said to have drawn pictures of chicken nuggets when asked to draw chickens― similar to how a headless, skinless chicken was still positively identified as “chicken” by the village girls despite bearing almost no resemblance to the live chickens at the episode’s beginning.

This is probably better than what most Japanese children think chicken looks like.

Industrial food production is a nasty business. One can smell offals and blood from miles away. No wonder we don’t like to think too much about it! We almost unquestioningly eat anything that’s on grocery store shelves without really pausing to think about the origins of our food, and Jintai critiques industrial food production by taking it to its logical conclusion― food directly produced from food waste, in the form of bread made from garbage. As in a real factory tour, Watashi is given a chance to “try” the bread, despite hearing about its dubious origins; the invitation to try the mysterious synthetic bread represents an attempt on the part of the corporation to assure consumers of the safety of its products, despite blatantly lying about its quality. Which brings us to our next theme…

The Evils of Corporation

Meetings: Because none of us is as dumb as all of us.

The evils of corporation are many and varied, or so claims Jintai. This is one of the biggest themes in the show, and there are many different angles that Romio takes when critiquing our beloved engines of capitalist growth.

First, there’s the bureaucratic nature of corporation. The meeting called by the villagers to discuss the chicken incident illustrates this point:

Meetings often ramble on without agenda. Unwittingly, they turn into monsters with all sorts of hidden costs.

―Watashi

As it turns out, the meeting is pointless. Underlings squabble among themselves until finally, an authoritative figure appears and offers a solution to the problem. People gobble it up without thinking, with everyone praising the decision. The outcome of the meeting had, of course, been decided already, but the illusion of due process holds an important position in our modern world. This point is emphasized by Watashi’s sarcastic quip that she should write a book on management to warn everyone of the dangers of holding meetings. (As a side note, Watashi’s quip itself is a parody of the plethora of useless books on management which seem to sell like hotcakes, taking up much of the space in Japanese bookstores today.)

Watashi’s visit to the factory sheds further light on the absurdity of corporation. The factory is occupied by a single man who knows nothing about it. His incompetence and ignorance underscores a fundamental problem in today’s methods of production: the disconnect between production and management. It is rare that people who run companies have any kind of perspective on the particulars of production. In addition, the man’s recent arrival to the factory can be read as an allusion to outsourcing, which only further distances management from production. In any case, what is clear from Episode 1 of Jintai is that the employees of Youseisha do not really have any idea what goes on in their own company.

The truth comes out!

Finally, the attempt at portraying Youseisha’s (undesirable) products as desirable critiques the corporate tendency to manipulate its consumers. Calling synthetic bread “cheap and healthy”, claiming that it has a place on “the honor roll of foods” all culminates in a (hilariously failed) attempt to convince Watashi that synthetic bread is, in fact, safe and edible.

“Excellent”, “Good”, “Fair”― let’s positive thinking!

In fact, Watashi and her entourage are not free from this vicious cycle of doublespeak. Her assistant can only assign three grade qualities to goods, “Excellent”, “Good” and “Fair”, a result of his training which stressed “positive re-enforcement.” (Humorously, in one of my friend’s firms, the associates are taught to say “It’s unclear” as opposed to “I don’t know”, a real-world example of this kind of corporate-speak.) As a person in a position of authority, Watashi also uses her knowledge in an attempt to manipulate people who are reliant upon her, in a failed attempt to cover up the headless processed chicken fiasco.

But What About the Fairies?

I haven’t yet spoken about the fairies, as I find them difficult to read. Bitmap posited that they represent present-humans (plausible, given their name), as they are greedy, self-centered and bored― certainly three salient features of modern culture. With nothing better to do, they are even willing to attempt death by starvation, claiming that it could become a new fad, underscoring the severity of their boredom.

Remind you of capsule hotels? It should.

I will go one step further. Fairies represent the urban class― consumers of goods, provider of services, perpetually bored and always chasing new fads. Possessed of immense technological prowess and almost wanting for nothing (other than sweets, which the producers (humans) do not have― echoing a similar situation in cities when farms fail to produce enough… produce), they are willing, literally, to bore themselves to death. They also live in cramped quarters, separated by nothing other than a thin wall of wood, yet fail utterly to interact when placed in such living arrangements. To me, this evokes a passage from the Tao Te Jing: “Neighboring countries see each other, roosters and dogs shriek and bark, yet the people, from birth to death, never speak and never meet.” A truly sad state of affairs!

A Loss of Autonomy?

Perhaps the thread that ties together all of these different strands together is the loss of autonomy. People have declined because they’ve stopped being able to think for themselves and provide for themselves. Farmers have forgotten how to slaughter their chicken, people can no longer hunt, the masses cannot make decisions for themselves, and even fairies, with their superhuman technology, still rely on people for food and entertainment. It is far to early to proclaim any of these themes as the “main theme” of the work (if one even believes that Jintai has a main theme to begin with), but I will definitely be following this series as it continues.

Find me @Akirascuro on Twitter. I’m a slave to it.

6 responses to “Unpacking Jinrui wa Suitaishimashita

  1. Great read! I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s posts on the first episode of this series. Everyone is getting something a little different from it, and I’ve been impressed at how high of a percentage of bloggers are looking beyond the (amazing) surreal elements and catching some of the show’s themes and social commentary.
    It’s a zany show, but it’s really getting a lot of us to ponder about things that we normally wouldn’t give a second thought to! If every episode is this jam-packed with thought-provoking concepts and imagery, this will quite likely become one of my top favorite anime.

  2. Sorry I don’t have anything smart to add here. I just wanted to say thanks for this post, because it’s been a big help in increasing my understanding of a lot of the things that happened in this episode. Your insightful observations on the themes being pushed by Romio sensei has a significant part in making me fully appreciate the episode. Will it be too much to hope for a weekly analysis of the following episodes though, Akira?

  3. I believe you were able to unpack everything, sort it out nicely, and present it to us in a way that we can understand with excellent examples. There are quite a few themes floating around in this first episode, especially as you were able to tie everything together with the theme of autonomy. I spent most of my time after the episode digesting Watashi’s character and why I found her to be so enjoyable, and I can’t help but notice how she fits into that them of autonomy as well. She seems reluctant to be in the village with the other people. She doesn’t seem as fully invested with those people (slaughtering the chickens, the chicken meeting, the chicken chase) than when is with her Grandfather or the fairies. It adds an interesting contrast, I believe, to everyone else who relies on authority to do everything to them. I kinda like it.

    Anyway, thanks for a wonderful post on the themes of the series. I’m already looking forward to your next post on this anime.

  4. Ahem.

    Anything with the word “unpacking” in its title is required to feature the sentence “Check your privilege” in it prominently.

    This sentence does not appear once in this post.

  5. I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head; It looks like its going to be a social satire. The fact that it is disguised underneath a colorful world with fairies is quite fitting considering the subject. This episode did seem kind of preachy, but I really didn’t find it that annoying. The parts that seemed rather blunt actually fit in smoothly and usually had some decent humor behind them too.

    I loved the artwork and color (especially the ED) so it has that going for it as well. From the shows I’ve seen so far this season, this definitely has the most potential.

    And the bread…. there was so much blood… why….

  6. Suicidal bread robots? FK YEAH! I died laughing from that scene…damn…that poor little robot! Rest in piece…I think I just love the idea of how off the wall this series can be like the naked chicken running around? Yep! I need to watch more just to see more random scenes pop up.

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