When your story is supposed to be set in present-day Japan, how long until it starts looking weird that no one is wearing a mask or staying home?

While some anime and manga series take place in fantasy realms or far-flung corners of the galaxy, there are tons of series that are set in the real world, and specifically Japan. In any anime TV season or manga magazine you can expect to find a lengthy list of protagonists, whether super-powered or not, who are high schoolers or office workers in Tokyo or some other actual Japanese city.

It’s easy to understand why: art is most relatable when it’s imitating life, and so imitating life in Japan makes a series most relatable to its Japanese target audience. But with the coronavirus outbreak triggering some major changes to daily life, is it time for those changes to start being reflected in anime/manga?

That’s the question Kuromaru (@kuromaru_ on Twitter), artist of manga series Kudakeru Purin, has been mulling.

“Recently I was talking with some of my manga artist friends, and our conversation turned to ‘In the manga I’m drawing right now, there’s no coronavirus, but it’s starting to feel strange, so what should I do?’

Especially for seinen [young men’s] comics, you can’t really ignore things that are signs of the current times. There are lots of scenes of conferences, business trips, dates, and singles’ parties. In-world for our manga, people on the street aren’t all wearing masks, and convenience store clerks aren’t wearing gloves.

Not sure what to do.”

It’s an intriguing question, and one that’s made even more complex by most manga and anime releasing new chapters and episodes every single week. Because of the steady stream of new content, for fans following the newest releases the sensation is almost like the events are happening in something close to real time, so eventually it’s going to start looking weird to see anime and manga characters’ stories unfolding in a Japan where there isn’t a public health crisis going on.

Bumping into the beautiful but mysterious new classmate as you round the corner running to school in the morning? Forging a friendship in your extracurricular club’s meeting room as you promise to go to nationals together? The gruff and aloof yet handsome young section chief, who only lets his guard down and shows his soft side to his female assistant after the rest of the staff has gone home and it’s just the two of them working overtime together?

▼ “Miss Tanaka, shouldn’t we both be working from home? Shouldn’t we be wearing masks? Shouldn’t we be refraining from ACTIVELY BREATHING ON THINGS OTHER PEOPLE ARE GOING TO PUT IN THEIR BODIES?”

The longer that readers/viewers spend isolated at home social distancing, the more those scenarios are going to start feeling as relatable as falling into the cockpit of a giant robot or a talking cat telling you to throw a tiara at a monster in order to save the world. Other online commenters agreed that the coronavirus is going to start making anime/manga plotting tricky.

“This has started distracting me when I watch live-action TV dramas too.”
“I remember thinking something similar after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.”
“Thinking about this, I’m not making any progress in my manga plot outline at all. Maybe I’ll just say it’s taking place in a parallel world?”
“Well, at least [Ghibli heroine] Nausicaa wears a mask.”
“It’s like the normal world we all knew is the fantasy now.”

No one is thinking the coronavirus pandemic is going to be permanent, but it’s also turning out to be much longer than most people expected, and with no clear sign of when it’s going to be over, maybe the only thing for new series to do is set themselves in an alternate world.

Source: Twitter/@kuromaru_ via Otakomu
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso 
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