The new storyline in Humanity Has Declined is tackling yet another facet of fandom: The RPG.
It’s yet another fan reference, but it isn’t annoying me the way episodes 3 and 4 did, mainly because we don’t have a character whose sole purpose is to stand there and explain everything in excruciating detail as if we’re a bunch of fucking idiots. There’s actually an attempt to blend the references into the story, rather than having one of the characters be a walking GameFAQ guide.
What keyed me in on this was the way that cat-eared girl was introduced. She rattled off some generic “I’m searching for X” bit to the main girl, but it was the way she couldn’t quite process her name and the name of the person she was looking for that made it click with me. It was as if she was having to access some piece of data that isn’t inherent to the text she’s spouting– that “data leak” she’s experiencing is like a glitch in your NES game pak that’s making it hard for the game to read the name you imputed when you started the game.
And yeah, the whole set-up of this episode reeks of that first adventure you go on in an RPG. Random adventurer comes to a village looking for something. Villagers go into some old ruins looking for lost magic/tech/whatever. A maze-like structure. Adventurer has to intervene when said villagers run into trouble. Seemingly inconsequential items becoming magical at just the right time. SLIMES. SLIMES.
Then you have that bit where the girl’s reading a guide describing how the number of fairies in your vicinity is proportionate to your chances of survival. Not only does it feel like someone reading a player’s guide to a game before actually playing it, it’s also getting into that deus ex machina shit people like to harp about– the elves are there to make the plot work, and it shows just how many fairies are needed for a particular plot to progress as needed. This stuff isn’t really an RPG reference so much as it’s a way to explain the way these sorts of plots work. It’s that metafiction shit.
So all of this is pretty straightforward. Nothing new’s being said about the RPG. What makes this work a hell of a lot better than the manga arc is the lack of someone shouting out all of the references as they appear. It all plays out naturally as the story progresses. We get the same effect– the same critiques of clichés and how these methods of storytelling can be lazy– but it has a modicum of subtlety. Not much, but it’s like being slapped with a sardine opposed to the full-on trout.
But what’s really cool about this episode is the talk of electromagnetic waves. Given all the stuff that’s been going on with the sun and people talking about the threat of a flare messing up the world’s power grid, it’s surprisingly topical. Then you get the little story about how the people of this city built everything to withstand electromagnetic waves. Maybe a flare from the sun was a trigger for humanity to start spiraling towards extinction. The grid was wiped out and humans never quite recovered. This city built itself to withstand such a disaster, but apparently it collapsed from within.
You could look at this as a critique on our dependence of such technology. We’re doom to extinction if we lose the devices we depend upon, but even if we’re able to hide away and retain that tech, we’re fucked. Both fates are filled with arrogance and hubris, it’s all a matter of which way we screw over ourselves.
Yeah, this was a major turn around compared to the last two episodes.