There’s just so much more going on in Jinrui right now than anything else airing that at times, it can almost feel like a lot of work to watch. This is very intellectually dense material to begin with, and the anime packs it full of sight gags and visual puns and multiple narratives – and the thing is, this isn’t just noise. While some of it is undeniably silly for its own sake, mostly this series is a marketplace of ideas, social commentary and philosophy and even character dynamics (which are slowly emerging as an important part of the series). Jinrui definitely rewards the viewer who wants to be challenged and likes to pay attention to what they’re watching. I wouldn’t want every series to be that way, but thank goodness we occasionally get one that meets the description as an antidote to the dozens that don’t.
In addition to providing the least ironic material of the series this far, this sixth episode also answers some questions (while in the process, of course, raising others). Rather than a flashback this arc was apparently simply aired out of sequence – to what end I can’t say for sure – and it concludes just prior to the events of the first episode. In doing so it explains just what Watashi did to get herself punished and her hair chopped off. Perhaps the “Secret Factory” arc was aired first simply because it’s somewhat more approachable and certainly lighter in tone than this one – maybe Kishi-sensei just didn’t want to scare people off. I can’t think of any continuity-based reasons why this arc couldn’t have aired first, though a case could be made that it’s more effective now that we’ve gotten to know the world and the characters a little.
As for the arc itself, as speculated here last week “Pion” and “Oyage” are indeed “Pioneer” and “Voyager”. As this ep begins Pion – who Watashi decides to call P-Girl – seems to have no memory of who she is or what her purpose is. In fact, she continually insists she’s a human – and points out as evidence the very things that define her as a robot. It quickly becomes clear that Oyage has preceded her to Earth, and when Watashi and Joshu-kun encounter him in the subterranean hikikomori city, trouble follows. Oyage (Hiyama Nobuyuki, really great here) provides quite a sharp contrast with Pion. He appears as male, and more importantly, he seems to be quite willfully suppressing his memories. Rather than remember, he prefers to dwell in the “City full of toys” like his Killdozer, transform into giant cats and play forever – and vows to destroy anyone who tries to force him to do otherwise.
The conceit that drives this storyline is an interesting one – that Pioneer and Voyager are sentient beings, and were homesick ones at that. This plays out on two levels – the philosophical aspect as it relates to the two space probes, and the story-specific elements (which are quite intriguing, and which I’ll get to in a minute). Oyage (O-Boy) suggests that the two probes didn’t gain sentience as a result of some anomalous event in space, but were self-aware from the beginning. Oyage returned home of its own volition, and Pion followed – though she was given no order to do so (and who would have been around to give it?). Oyage even references the so-called Pioneer Anomaly – the unexplained deceleration of the Pioneer probes that cannot be directly explained by any known law of physics – as proof of Pion’s self-awareness.
It’s an interesting thought – two probes rocketing through the cold depths of space, longing to return home to the warm embrace of Earth. Given how iconic and elemental the thought of those lonely craft leaving the solar system was, many people surely anthropomorphized them a little – I know I did – and no culture anthropomorphizes more than the Shinto Japanese. It certainly affects Watashi. After Pion defeats Oyage and Grandpa rescues everyone from the underground city, everyone involved with the Human Monument Project is thrilled to be able to access the two probes’ memories – and plans to ship them back to space to continue their mission the very next day. But Watashi steps in and sabotages the connection to the satellite, thus eliminating the electricity source that would have launched Pion and Oyage back to space. And for doing so, she’s punished – including the removal of her hair (though Grandpa can’t bring himself to have her shaved bald). This is a very human moment, one of the warmest of the series – Oyage’s plaintive desire not to return to the coldness of space is probably the most honest emotion of the first six episodes, and Watashi’s actions are certainly understandable.
But that’s really only half the story. It seems very possible that there’s a direct connection between the probes and the fairies. In the first place, the probes apparently can’t see the fairies – Pion can’t, anyway. We also learn that Oyage and Pion have their memory repair function kick in when exposed to microwaves – and that Oyage was intentionally shielding himself from microwaves as a result, possibly using the multi-colored goo. That multi-colored goo, of course, is Fairies (where’s Charlton Heston when you need him?), and all this makes me wonder if the Fairies didn’t somehow come into existence when Oyage returned to Earth (we don’t know how long he’s been back, but clearly it’s been a while). Even if that’s not the case, we know that the Fairies too avoid microwaves (by sabotaging the generator Watashi also ensures that they stick around, of course), and it seems almost impossible that there’s no direct link between Oyage, Pion and their existence.
As if all that weren’t enough there was plenty else happening. In the first place that whole sequence with Watashi reading the fairy book about what happens when humans fall from a 20-story building got its payoff in a big way. And though satire was merely the side dish this arc, Oyage’s underground playground was itself a kind of satirical look at shounen tropes – most enthusiastically embraced by Assistant, fittingly. There’s something happening all the time with this show, something meaningful to look at and to listen to (and sometimes multiple things at once) and it seems almost nothing is truly random – it all fits together, and if we’re paying attention it makes sense. Jinrui is part slapstick, part satire, part hard sci-fi – and completely unique. As such, it’s already establishing itself as one of the best and most important anime of 2012.