Pop Culture and the COVID-19 Outbreak: Life Imitates Anime & Videogames

Whether it’s domestic or from abroad, pop culture as a whole has a way of being ironically prophetic. In May of 2000, The Simpsons managed to predict that Donald Trump would become president (amongst other things). Shortly before 9/11, Family Guy made a joke about Osama Bin Laden causing a terrorist attack through the use of airplanes. However, this goes beyond comedy. Even classic literature at times has predicted the future, most notably in the works of Jules Verne. In some of his classic novels, not only did he predict that mankind would go to the moon, but it provides a partial idea as to how.

Of course, not only has American pop culture and classic literature oddly predicted the future, so has Japanese pop culture through anime, manga, and video games, and with the way things are now, we and many fans have found many unique parallels with what’s going on now with COVID-19. And that’s what we’re talking about today.

Anime Predicting the Crisis

Ghost in the Shell predicted the internet nearly ten years before it took off, and even after all these years, it manages to reinvent itself due to how relevant it continues to be. Most notoriously, the movie Akira managed to predict the Tokyo 2020 Olympics over 35 years ago. Unfortunately, as we all presently know, the Olympics have been delayed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 crisis. Ironically, while the original Akira anime and manga doesn’t directly say that the government cancels or delays the Olympics due to what happens in that story, the audience can easily make their own conclusions. However, not only does Akira manage to prophesize the present Olympic situation, but a lot more as we now face a global pandemic.

Government Failure

While the original Akira movie or manga isn’t necessarily about a global pandemic, it does cover other relevant issues, most emphatically, the failures of the government in protecting its people. While there are those who have been quick to criticize Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis since the very beginning, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe didn’t officially declare any state of emergencies until the end of March! In his defense, he has to issue a state of emergency after thorough consultation with experts. Many domestic and foreign critics bashed Abe and the Japanese government for their handling of the crisis because Japan feared that they’d probably lose the Olympics and economic opportunities if the government announced that the pandemic was severe in Japan, too. Since then, Tokyo has seen an increase of 100+ new cases a day upon the drafting of this article. Many speculate that Japan may have cases in the six-figure range!

In addition, people speculate that some politicians used the crisis to make a profit. North Carolina Senator Richard Burr reportedly sold stocks shortly prior to the market crash and some people speculate something fishy is going on. Like in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, there are elites who have used certain illnesses for profit.

Impact On Our Children

While this quality gets more emphasis in the original manga, Akira explores themes of at-risk students. In Akira, Kaneda and his friends attend a school for troubled youths and are repeatedly subjected to corporal punishment. In the original manga, you see some of the students forced to take medications along the lines of Ritalin, which was popularly used in treating ADHD during the time of its original serialization.

While some of our youth affected by the crisis aren’t likely to be members of motorcycle gangs, the shutdown of our educational systems has further highlighted some concerning problems that may prove otherwise. In case some of you may not have known, many low-income kids can only get a proper meal at school, where they can get it for free. In addition, many parents who are still commuting to their places of work cannot bring their kids and leave them at home. UNESCO has expressed concerns that leaving them on their own can negatively affect their behavior. As seen in Akira, Kaneda and his friends are orphans and without any proper parental guidance, they end up becoming carefree delinquents.

Draconian Enforcement

Please keep in mind that we’re not exactly claiming whether or not Akira predicted the present COVID-19 crisis. We’re conveying how the original story relates to present-day society both domestically and internationally. Whether it’s the anime or manga, it still uniquely prophesized a lot of things beyond the 2020 Olympics and its unfortunate delay. Akira also predicted the possible consequences of repealing Article 9 of Japan’s post-war constitution, which makes the country denounce war and prevents them from officially having a military.

In recent years, Shinzo Abe and the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party have wanted to reform the amendment due to rising tensions with China and North Korea. Some nations have taken drastic measures in enforcing their quarantines. Notorious Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, for example, has been issuing orders to law enforcement to shoot those who violate the quarantine on-sight, further strengthening his reputation of shooting who he deems to be criminals.

Japan as it is now cannot legally enforce quarantines in a Draconian manner akin to some nations and states in the US, only encourage people to stay inside, not force them to by rule of law. As for the US military’s role, they are being deployed in a humanitarian aide manner (such as in New York), and not for law enforcement purposes. Even prior to that, some governors of certain states such as Doug Ducey of Arizona have activated the National Guard to assist in keeping store shelves stocked. Thankfully, no first world countries have deployed them as a means of oppression in comparison to the likes of North Korea, which is an entirely different story altogether (hopefully with unicorns).

While the government of Japan isn’t constitutionally capable of being strict with its enforcements, Japanese corporations—notorious for forcing long working hours—are an entirely different story. Though some companies have allowed their employees to work from home, Tokyo’s train passenger capacity has only gone done 30%. While that may seem like a lot to the uninitiated, keep in mind that during regular rush hours, some train lines such as the Tokyu Denentoshi Line (which is featured in Persona 5) tend to be packed at 180% capacity! In that sense, 30% isn’t really a lot. Many companies are still keeping their attitudes that if you don’t show up, consider yourself fired.

Essential Workers

In addition to Akira, many people on the internet are notably making comparisons of the present pandemic with the plot of the PS4 hit by Hideo Kojima, Death Stranding. While “the explosion to end it all” hasn’t exactly occurred yet (if it will occur at all), there are some notable common qualities we can point out. For starters, much of the world is not just merely in quarantine, but in isolation as to not be affected by the incident, which caused the dystopian nature of the game.

Through Sam’s journey and what the world is experiencing now, we are starting to learn the value of essential workers. In the case of Sam who delivers packages from one KNOT to another, players can learn that carriers are valuable. As many shops and restaurants across many states and nations now switch to delivery, the world can see that those who deliver, such as postal workers and food deliverers, are truly essential in keeping our society going.

Environmental Effects of Quarantine

If any of you have played Death Stranding or seen images or videos, you can see that despite taking place in a dystopian world, much of the world is clean and environmentally abundant with nature. It’s a very unique parallel to how the orders of staying at home in some places have affected the environment in the real world where people are isolating themselves so they can be safe.

In Venice, Italy, the waters of their famous canals have become clear for the first time in 60 years and dolphins have been reportedly sighted! In Los Angeles, where it is notoriously smoggy, now has cleaner air than ever! Their situation has improved to the point that they now have one of the clearest skies in the US! The same has also been reported within numerous parts of India where its citizens can finally see the Himalayas!

Economic Effects

While pop culture mostly focuses on certain factors of pandemics that could affect the world in a more drastic manner, very little do they address the economic impact as we’re seeing right now. Many people around the world are losing their jobs and there are concerns this could potentially lead to a depression. In Japan, many who cannot afford Tokyo’s exorbitant rental prices tend to reside in net cafes. The media has labeled such individuals as “net café refugees.” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has encouraged that establishments such as net cafes be closed so to prevent any more infections. As a result, many people who use the net cafes alternative housing are officially homeless, but the government is doing what they can by providing shelter. In Yokohama, the government is using martial arts training facilities as homeless shelters.

Anime and Game Industry

As some of you may already know, the crisis has also affected the anime and game industry. While Final Fantasy VII Remake managed to get an earlier release in some parts of the world, CERO, Japan’s equivalent to North America’s ESRB for rating games, has presently ceased operations. As a result, numerous games could be delayed in Japan. Then, certain anime such as the second season to Re:Zero, has been delayed to June.

As to how it relates to Death Stranding, you see a world that is trying to regain its culture through documents that were thought to be lost. Some documents include books, movie scripts, and toys. While we’re not trying to sound pretentious being an anime and gaming site, but to us, it is our culture, and we hate to see it potentially go away due to this.

Final Thoughts

In the end, Akira, Death Stranding, and a number of anime and games have predicted certain things we’re seeing as of now. Economically, it is undeniably bad. Environmentally, it has been good. Can a cleaner environment fix our situation? We’ll admit we’re not the experts on that, but all we know for sure is that we’re going to get through this. All we can say for sure is that we do need to re-open our economies, but not at the cost of human lives. We don’t want to see any more anime, games or movies delayed, but our health comes first.

To all of you reading, if you’re presently working in deliveries, supermarkets, in the food industry, in the medical field, military or as first responders, we thank you for your continuing service. You deserve all the recognition in the world. All we ask from our other readers is to join us and extend our condolences to those who are putting their lives on the line.

akira-Wallpaper-500x500 Pop Culture and the COVID-19 Outbreak: Life Imitates Anime & Videogames


Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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