There’s a lot to say about the indomitability of human ingenuity. After all, we discovered how to use fire and agriculture to stake claims on formerly rugged land, etching out the outline of civilization on the wild skeleton of Mother Nature. Electricity, space travel, and penicillin are all monuments to the sheer breadth of boundless creativity that the human mind plays host to. As wonderful as these achievements are, they’re all the products of undoubtedly brilliant men that stand leagues above the herd. Yet, when it comes to the trivial things that we all use to distract from the stress of our lives, we all have it in us to make MacGyver weep in an impotent rage.
Tragically or hilariously, your viewpoint depending on how much schadenfreude you want in your life on any given day, this drive seems to (mostly) only apply to what people want. Do they want to distribute stories of sweaty gay sex across famine-stricken land? They’ll set up a system more efficient than anything run by the government or intervening parties in order to give the huddled masses their daily dose of musky man ‘mance. That’s the third episode of Jinrui in a nutshell: Post-apocalyptic distribution of female-oriented literature featuring male on male romance and intercourse. And it’s enjoyable as fuck.
What sets this episode apart from its predecessors is the detached, objective view it takes of Y’s rise as the founder and head of the manzine industry. It’s almost like a documentary as we take the point of view of Watashi while she slings dry quips with the best of them. And, frankly, the rise of Y’s manzine empire and the cultural movement in general is possibly one of the most fascinating, if baffling things I’ve seen in awhile, mostly because of my own admitted lean toward the heteroromantic side of the sexuality spectrum. It’s refreshing having a viewpoint for me to take for once, to see the world through the impartial, equally baffled Watashi’s eyes as popular literature becomes significantly more shounen-ai-y than it has in the past.
What’s great about the premise is it doesn’t so much ask “what would happen if shounen-ai was the only recoverable remnant of manga culture, and some dingbat decided to revive it as a cultural tour de force?” as “what if there was a spirited, if irresponsible fujoshi responsible for uncovering and displaying subjectively culturally significant materials?” The end result is something that doesn’t so much criticize and deride fujoshi culture as it does Y and her numerous impulsive decisions that she makes in lieu of doing her job. I mean I wouldn’t trust recovering, say, Assyrian artifacts to somebody that puts herself in debt in order to buy a car, or chooses to start manga publishing instead of doing the job that she’s been assigned.
Y is a great character in general for this role. She’s been appointed to an important role, seemingly against her will, and she uses this to abuse her power for purposes that aren’t strictly business-related. Putting her responsibilities aside, she’s able to channel her entrepreneurial spirit into doing something that she loves, even if it’s ultimately a selfish endeavor.
Even then, Watashi, and the audience, can’t help but admire all the hard work that she puts into making the manzine the dominant cultural movement of the time. It’s a well-oiled machine, a veritable force of nature that manages to grow to gargantuan sizes and attract crowds from all over; hell, this episode wouldn’t be out of place as a documentary of the actual birth of the manga industry. Even when distribution halts due to competing for space with basic life needs, ways are found to spread it to the people and keep competition going between the different manzine creators.
It’s definitely an exaggerated, goofy representation of what would happen if one was asked to bring back formerly well-circulated materials following the collapse of society, but it’s also sobering. After all, cultural significance is something completely subjective that varies wildly from person to person. If somebody let their own interests dominate a society where the only shared media is related to food and generally remaining not dead, who’s to say where that could take it in a year, or even ten years? While sharing Boys Love is fairly benign compared to some other things that could escape the maw of societal amnesia, it’s still humbling to think that somebody put in a position of authority could very well change the cultural landscape for several months, or even years, just because of their preference in literature. Especially when that person is as brash, unstable, and conniving as Y.
However, there’s also a sign of something encouraging buried under the neutral look at the rise of a cultural phenomenon. If people can focus their energy into making magazines that peddle specific kinds of stories, is it not a sign that the species as a whole still has a shred of self reliance? Humanity hasn’t declined; it’s just risen again in entirely new ways. New, homoerotic ways.