Between Mister Rogers and Transformers is Precure

I had the opportunity to watch the Mister Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and one of the topics it discusses is the origins of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kind of counter-programming to the fast-paced “bombardment” that was (and continues to be) a staple of children’s television. Mister Rogers was meant to slow things down, and give kids a quieter and more contemplative half hour for them to learn and grow. Fred Rogers’ decades-long show took on an important challenge, but there’s the seed of doubt about its efficacy on people like myself, who remember their young childhood TV experience more along the lines of action-packed cartoons like Transformers or GI Joe. How do you reconcile the allure of such shows with the noble cause of trying to help kids learn to be better people? 

Especially in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a trend of including public service messages in those merchandise-shilling action shows—”Knowing is half the battle!” as GI Joe would say—but they would often come across as unbelievably hokey or even disingenuous. Going from watching GI Joe’s forces blow up an enemy Cobra base, to seeing kids learn how to install a smoke detector—it never felt right.

I began to think about if there were any children’s series out there that integrates a nice balance between satisfying action and good advice to children, and one answer popped into my head immediately: Precure. More than a few magical girl shows carry a strong sense of positivity and wonder—in fact, I once referred to 2001’s Princess Comet as being distinctly Mister Rogers-esque—but they often don’t hit that pleasure zone that comes with watching heroes vanquish villains the way Precure does. After all, its origins are built on “a magical girl show from the director of Dragon Ball Z, and while its staff has changed numerous times, it still more or less maintains that legacy. But when you also look at the various heroines throughout Precure, they serve as confident and inspiring role models for young viewers in ways that almost betray the heavy consumerism that it also engenders.

Consider Cure Yell in Hugtto! Precure, who’s all about giving support to those both looking for their dreams and those pursuing them. Or how Cure Flora in Go! Princess Precure overcomes a major problem by realizing that the power to change and improve comes from within. Or how Cure Heart in Doki Doki Precure! reaches for the stars in everything she attempts. These heroines are only the tip of the iceberg, as many individual episodes also try to speak to the concerns and worries of children, and how to deal with the complicated and confusing emotions they experience growing up.

I think this is why I am, and likely always will be, a fan of Precure. Its creators know the power of being a GI Joe, but it also knows the value of being a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Striking that middle ground can come at a price—a muddled message, perhaps—but attempting that alchemy is valuable in a world where ideals and cynicism alike clash with each other on a daily basis.

Futari no Social Distance: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for May 2020

Anime Expo: Canceled. Otakon: Canceled. EVO: Canceled. But it’s all for the best as we try to keep one another safe in these strange times. I’m thankful to all the organizers for making the right choice, and I hope to see you all at conventions eventually. In the meantime, I find myself trying to make the most of my time spent at home.

Thank you to all my supporters on Patreon again this month, especially these fine folks below.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from April:

Their Problem is Our Problem: The Promised Neverland, “Coronavirus,” and the Systems that Force Inequality

The Promised Neverland brings the fury as it asks readers to think about the world around them.

When Comedy Goes Nuclear: Spy x Family

This popular new Jump+ manga is probably going to be the next big hit. I highly recommend it.

Eureka Seven, Holland, and Fujiwara Keiji

My tribute to the recently deceased voice actor who brought his A-game to every role. If you want to see my Top 10 favorite anime roles of his, I also wrote something up for Apartment 507.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 27 is, at last, the big performance…with a dash of possible romance.

Patreon-Sponsored

My Favorite (?) Anime Computer Games

It is what it says, sort of?

Closing

I’m nobody special when it comes to giving advice, but I hope everyone can enrich themselves and stay sane in these crazy times. As for me, I’m finding great joy in AI-generated memes (like the one you saw at the top of this post), and incredibly dumb and hilarious #partyparrot memes. (The joke is dicks.)

Seduction of the Innocent: Spotted Flower Babies

Spotted Flower has long been a bizarre, twisted version of Genshiken, but a couple of side chapters posted (temporarily) for free on the Rakuen: Le Paradis website reveal an extra wrinkle to its story. Portraying two groups of parents, it shows their actions inadvertently corrupting their children.

In Chapter 33.5, the wife (not-Kasukabe) is trying in vain to get her infant daughter, Saki, to raise her head. When the husband (not-Madarame) drops his phone by accident and it shows an old picture of him getting his necktie pulled (much like that famous moment in Genshiken), Saki’s eyes go wide with excitement. When the husband picks his phone back up, Saki’s head follows, and voila, she’s able to lift her head up under her own power. In that one moment, a fujoshi is born.

Then, in Chapter 34.5, not-Ohno has put her two kids, Shin (three years old) and Yuu (one year old) to bed alongside her. On her other side, however, is her husband (not-Tanaka!!), and she’s in the mood for some intimacy.. Not-Tanaka notices that she’s actually wearing pantyhose from a Kakegurui cosplay, which clearly shows that she’s been wanting this, but when she also tries to put on a Yumeko wig, he nixes that idea. The mini-chapter ends with them having sex off-panel, with Yuu being woken up and then lulled back to sleep by the sound of his parents knocking boots next to him.

The idea of seeing these geek parents influencing, even if accidentally, the next generation of degenerate pervy otaku is an intriguing one. What makes it all the more…special…is specifically that it’s the Spotted Flower characters doing this instead of the Genshiken ones. What will the future hold for these kids…?

M-Pros: Hashikko Ensemble, Chapter 27

It’s the Hashikko boys’ first real test: performing at the M-Con!

Chapter Summary

The Chorus Appreciation Society is up at the M-Con, and their performance impresses at least one of the judges. While they’re part of the “free” section—i.e., participation only—Akira and the rest take it very seriously. In a powerful moment, members of the audience could swear they heard an angel, thanks to the harmonizing by the four on stage. In the final moments, Jin’s thoughts are about proving how great choruses are.

Afterwards, many congratulations are had, including from Shion’s mom and the Nishigafuchi club members who attended. Nishigafuchi’s message is loud and clear: you’re good enough to compete. Elsewhere, Yumerun is observing from a distance, and seems upset about Jin to the point of tears. Hasegawa spots her and, mysteriously, offers to exchange Line account info with Yumerun.

Shuusuke, who was on piano due to Shion’s injury, offers to take a photo of the club (plus associated classmates). However, when Shion tries to assert that she’ll be the one playing for them next time, she trips and falls into Shuusuke’s arms in a repeat of a childhood moment between the two. The situation seems ripped straight out of a romance manga, which causes a great deal of shock and blushing, albeit for different reasons. While Akira very clearly has feelings for Shion, Kousei is just mad that Shion’s nickname for Shuusuke, Shuu-chan, is what he used to call his deceased little brother. In the end, they manage to take a rather awkward but hilarious group photo, while also giving (Mashino) Shuusuke a new nickname: Masshie.

The Judge’s Thoughts

I found the aforementioned judge to be an interesting part of the chapter because it showed how an expert would see a fairly amateurish club and still recognize in them some potential. In my view, the key is when he describes what proper harmonizing is: It’s not about thinking, “I will try to let my voice out in a way that matches up with the others,” but rather, “If I let my voice out, it will match up with the others.” 

He also expresses being impressed by the way they transform into tenuto in their performance, which is a musical direction meant to convey “holding a note for its full length.” (I’m not sure I’m using that term correctly, so feel free to correct me!) Jin actually reaches him for comments afterwards, and he encourages them to get more members so they can participate in different types of competitions.

I hope this isn’t the last we see of him.

Romance in the Air?

I’ve written a good deal about the potential for romance and love triangles in Hashikko Ensemble, but I’ve tried not to focus too much on it because I didn’t want these reviews to overly emphasize that side to the extent that people might assume this was a primary focus of the series. That being said, it’s now crystal clear that Akira has a thing for Shion, and that it wasn’t just him being somewhat naively overprotective. There also might be something going on with Yumerun too, but those tears are kind of ambiguous. 

I still wouldn’t quite classify Hashikko Ensemble as a romance manga, though. Rather, it’s a story about human connections through the world of music, of which love is one possibility. It’s exactly the kind of story Kio Shimoku excels at, and why I continue to be such a big fan of his.

Back to the subject of Yumerun, I would think that everything about this chapter—the encouragement Jin got to find more members, Yumerun’s reaction, Hasegawa’s gesture—would lead to her joining them. However, that would first require her to transfer to Hashimoto Technical High School, an environment likely unsuited for her implied musical talents overall. It would be a hell of a move, and if it happened, it would signal some very clear intent on Yumerun’s part.

I also got a kick on the little swerve we got in terms of Kousei. It seemed like he had some feelings for Shion, but it turned out to be something about his little brother instead. It’s a bit of dark humor that ironically lightens the moment.

Songs

Naturally, the only song this month is (once again) “Miagete Goran Yoru no Hoshi o” by Kyu Sakamoto. 

Final Thoughts

It’s clear from previous reviews that I didn’t quite understand what the “free” part of M-Con meant. I took it more as like, an “open competition,” as opposed to being the distinction between “For Fun” and “For Glory,” to use Smash Bros. terms. 

I think this is probably inevitable with my writing about Hashikko Ensemble because of how music is not my forte. It makes me want to see someone who does know a thing or two about music read and review this series!

Eureka Seven, Holland, and Fujiwara Keiji

Voice actor Fujiwara Keiji passed away recently on April 12, 2020 at the age of 55 due to cancer. In my eyes, he was one of the greatest, and I had even written a little about him in my review of The Wonderland. That’s why I really wanted to delve into my absolute favorite performance of his: Holland from Eureka Seven

Holland is amazingly written, and one of many examples of both the rich characterization and extensive character development that help make Eureka Seven such an absolute masterpiece. He’s the leader of Gekkostate, and thus the most prominent face of rebellion against the government. He’s initially worshipped as a hero by the protagonist Renton, but as the two get to know each other, their relationship changes because Holland is not a perfect human being. He’s hot-headed, ill-tempered, and impatient. Perhaps more importantly, he has long envisioned himself as a hero of sorts—not out of a desire for glory but a feeling of dire necessity. When he begins to realize that he’s not the “chosen one,” so to speak, his character’s journey becomes about learning how to support just as much as he leads.

What Fujiwara gave to Holland is a performance that’s always convincing. The turbulent storm of emotions that reside in Holland having to do with his position, his self-image, and his relationship with both his real and adopted family, are always delivered with such absolute sincerity thanks to Fujiwara. To be sure, Eureka Seven is full of excellent acting from everyone involved, but Holland is a downright challenging character to give voice to, and Fujiwara just nails it. I can actually close my eyes and hear his performance in my head—the expressions of joy, frustration, enmity, and sadness. 

Finding out a voice actor is gone always feels like a bit of a shock. It’s less a matter of age, I think, and more about knowing that you’ll never hear their performances ever again. And unlike movie actors, their physical appearance is not as major a factor in the types of roles they can land (though many actors do transition to older characters over time). Fujiwara’s passing is not necessarily surprising, but I do wish he could have kept contributing his immense talents to projects of all kinds. He will be immortalized in roles like Holland in Eureka Seven, and the world is a better place because of what he gave. 

My Favorite (?) Anime Computer Games

I was asked via Patreon to write about my favorite anime computer games, which should theoretically be an easy proposition. The only problem: I’ve never been much of a PC gamer, and more recently, I haven’t had much access to a Windows PC, where most computer games reside. Thus, the scope narrows from “my favorites” to “the couple I actually played and remember with some fondness.” Hopefully that still counts.

The #1 title that sticks out in my mind is Melty Blood. Though it hasn’t been exclusively a computer game for a very long time, and it’s nowadays known for the running joke that Melty Blood tournaments can (or are forced) to be held anywhere and everywhere, it did start off as a doujin game on PC. I happened to be part of a fighting game forum at the time the game first appeared, and I had recalled a Japanese forum-goer singing high praises for the Tsukihime franchise as a whole. Lo and behold, here was a game that married those two forces—Type Moon and fightmans—together. 

I was never good at the game by any means, but when I think about that very first rendition of Melty Blood, I mostly recall the little humorous touches that faded away over time in favor of a more competitively robust experience. In the first Melty Blood, when Arcueid and CIel clashed with punches, it could set off a sequence that ended with both of them getting cross countered, Ashita no Joe-style. And whereas Mech-Hisui in later iterations has a more conventional forward and back air dash, she originally had a Jet Scrander from Mazinger Z, and she flew at an oddly steep angle when air dashing. It reminds me of the fictional Kujibiki Unbalance fighting game in the Genshiken manga, where the club members talk about how the game adheres so closely to faithfully capturing the characters’ qualities that the balance went right out the window. 

Another game I enjoyed a lot was MegaMari, a fan game that basically took the characters of Touhou and put them into a Mega Man clone. It was more than just a reskin, however, as the game took Mega Man’s famed platforming and added Touhou’s signature bullet hell. Nothing in Mega Man (except perhaps the abusiveness of later entries into the Mega Man X series) could compare to the ridiculous yet beautiful sprays of icicles and swords, and that was in addition to old blue bomber staples like the Quick Man stage instant-kill laser beams. I was never able to complete MegaMari on account of the difficulty, but I appreciated the marrying of two great flavors. It also introduced me to a lot of Touhou characters I didn’t know much about otherwise—Konpaku Youmu, Saigyouji Yuyuko, Reisen Udongein Inaba, and so on.

While my experience with anime computer games is extremely limited, there is one area I wish I could explore more: the Japanese home computers of the 1980s, such as the PC-88 and the PC-98. This is especially because there are a lot of secret shames buried within that time, and it’d be a fun and enlightening experience. Probably the closest I’ll be able to get without jumping through too many hoops is to just get the PC-98-inspired VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action on the Switch. Although that game isn’t made in Japan, it actually got a variety of official art made by Suzuki Kenya (Please tell me, Galko-chan!) for the Japanese release. 

Expect my thoughts on that game in the near future?

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

When Comedy Goes Nuclear: Spy x Family

Comedies based on perpetual misunderstandings can be really hit or miss. Characters misunderstanding one another’s intent and motivations can work as an endless source of humor, or it can eventually lead to frustration over a lack of progress. The manga series Spy x Family by Endo Tatsuya falls square into this category of humor, but it’s able to achieve a nice place between its overarching plot and its chapter-to-chapter antics that keeps it fresh, enjoyable, and even a little heartwarming.

Spy x Family tells the story of Twilight, an unparalleled spy who is given an order to start a family in order to get close to this next target. In order to make the charade seem as real as possible, he takes on a new identity (Loid Forger), adopts a daughter named Anya, and finds a woman willing to pretend to be his wife (Yor Forger). However, while Loid is extremely good at his job, what he doesn’t realize is that his new family members have their own secrets. Anya is actually a telepath, and Yor is actually a top-class assassin known as “Thorn Princess.” They all have their own reasons for wanting to keep this act going, with only Anya knowing the full truth but loving every minute of these bizarre circumstances.

In both story and presentation, this manga is superb. The character designs are excellent and the artwork is consistently solid no matter the situation or setting. The characters themselves are endearing and memorable. Every time I finish a chapter, I find myself wanting more. Spy x Family juggles a lot of balls in the air, whether it’s shifting settings between its three core characters, switching between comedy and action (or a mix of both), or portraying the way they grow closer even as they continue to keep their respective cards close to their chests.

The closest manga I can think of in terms of being this good at the “comedy of misunderstandings” shtick is Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, but that title is far more extreme when it comes to keeping its characters forever ignorant. Spy x Family, on the other hand, is more than willing to have both long- and short-term plot threads, and it does each kind so well, I would be easily satisfied if it stuck with one or the other. However, it manages to pull both off well, and we’re all the better for it. I think part of the reason Spy x Family succeeds despite not taking the Nozaki-kun route is that there’s actually a character who is privy to what’s really going on in Anya Forger. From her hilarious reactions to everyone’s true thoughts and feelings, to the contrast between her powers and her lack of smarts, to her strong desire to keep the charade going so that she can keep her happy little nuclear family going, Anya might just be the lynchpin of this series.

Spy x Family is available on VIZ’s Shonen Jump app, and chapters come out roughly once every other week. There’s a lot to love about this series, and I don’t see it wearing out its welcome anytime soon.

Shields or No Shields? Platform Fighters and the Question of Defense

As a long-time fan of Super Smash Bros., I’ve been curious about the recent expansion of the “platform fighter” subgenre, especially in indie gaming. Over the past six years or so, more and more titles have been developed that follow the basic Smash formula. I’ve mostly watched tournament matches to try and get a sense of what each game is about, but more recently I’ve been able to try some out. Playing them made me aware of an odd trend: a lot of these games do not have shielding or anything akin to blocking as a sustained stationary defensive option.

The five indie platform fighters I’ve paid attention to are Rivals of Aether, Brawlout, Brawlhalla, Slap City, and Icons Combat Arena (which is being succeeded by Vortex Rising). Of these titles, only the last two have Smash shielding. The first three have, at most, workarounds. Rivals of Aether has parrying, Brawlout has a spot dodge and a Guilty Gear-esque burst system, and Brawlhalla has a spot dodge.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with removing shields from a game, but the decision stands out because of how fundamental blocking is to fighting games as a whole. It’s one thing to have weak shields like in Smash Bros. Melee or Smash Bros. Ultimate, but it’s another to eschew the mechanic wholesale—doing so removes the classic rock-paper-scissors balance of blocks > attacks > throws > blocks. Indeed, while Brawlout technically has grabs, they don’t really function all that differently from striking attacks. The fact that the posterboy for Brawlout, Paco, is a wrestler becomes largely a matter of aesthetics.

The big question is simply, why remove the most basic defensive technique there is? After all, while there are clear similarities between these Smash-inspired games, they’re also not necessarily going for the same exact gameplay. Moreover, as different as the actual Smash titles are, they all have shields. 

The answer, it seems, is to try and capture that ineffable quality called “hype” while keeping players from being overwhelmed by complexity.

In the case of Rivals of Aether, its creator describes the lack of shield as a product of both practical limitation and creative decision-making:

Grabs and Shields were removed from Rivals to decrease defensive options and to reduce animation scope by removing throws.

The aggressive focus on Rival’s engine reflects my style as a player. I gravitate toward rushdown and so does RoA’s middleground.

The RoA fans themselves seem to love this, arguing that it emphasizes aggressive gameplay, making things more thrilling overall. Meanwhile, the official Brawlout website has this to say:

Rather than slow-paced defensive battles, Brawlout goes all-out with the lightning-fast aerobatics which platform fighters are famous for.

By focusing on aggressive mechanics, new players will be able to easily nail impressive combos while not feeling overwhelmed by friends who’ve had a bit more practice.

Brawlhalla doesn’t have any specific mission statements, but its free-to-play nature and its overall mechanics also hew in this direction.

Generally speaking, strong defenses frustrate those eager to be rewarded for offense, and that goes double for less experienced players and viewers. Even titles with crazy combos and pressure like Dragonball FighterZ have people getting salty about players who “spam block.” But there’s also the specific context of when many of these platform fighters began development: during the rise and fall of Smash 4. A frequent criticism of the Wii U entry was that shields were too strong, and discouraged the kind of high-pace aggression Melee is known for. Ultimate itself responded to this feedback by weakening shields in certain ways. The shield-less indie games essentially took it one step further. 

It’s also notable that these games, as much as they want to emphasize an almost Melee-esque speed, also try to make competitive-level play more accessible than Melee—a desire to, as the old saying goes, be easy to learn and difficult to master. Brawlout, RoA, and Brawlhalla all try to streamline Smash and especially Melee mechanics to remove some of the execution barrier, whether that’s removing the need for “smash attacks” (Brawlhalla) or simplifying wavedashing (RoA).

However, it’s impossible to fully solve the “problem” of strong defense, blocking mechanic or no. Turtlers always seem to find a way, especially when their opponents want to attack without much forethought. Even Brawlhalla, with its flimsy spot dodge, has seen players frustrated by defensive styles. For example, one asked how to fight passive/defensive players, while another understood how to beat spot dodge (bait it out and punish), but hated playing passively.  

There’s another aspect to consider. Smash Bros. shield is a signature aspect of the franchise, and for a long time, it was unique among fighting games. A barrier that successfully guards against nearly everything at first, it shrinks over time, leaving the user more exposed and more prone to getting stunned into a dizzy state (shield breaking) . It’s one way to introduce weaknesses into blocking, which traditional fighting games usually go about through the concept of high/low mix-ups. But perhaps, because the Smash shield is so iconic, the games that do incorporate it seem even more like “clones.” An alternative form of blocking that’s simple and reasonably effective could be the answer to set future platform fighters further apart. In this respect, some games have been trying their own renditions of shielding. Vortex Rising is implementing one-way shields that are inherently vulnerable to cross-up attacks (i.e. attacks that can land behind your opponent where they aren’t protected), while a newcomer to the platform fighter genre, Slayers for Hire, is going for something more akin to a Street Fighter IV-style “focus attack” (for Smash players, that would be Ryu and Ken’s down special).

The shield-less platform fighters have thus far sought to discourage stationary defense and encourage more active movement, and the players who have gravitated towards these games have found them to be enjoyable. But I have to wonder if aggression can truly be considered as such if there isn’t enough to oppose it. In other words, is rushdown truly rushdown if there isn’t an equally strong defense it needs to crack? Whatever the answer may be, having games that remove blocking entirely may bring about interesting results.

Mogusa-san Finds New Success on Twitter

Amid these uncertain times, a strange success story involving one of my current favorite manga artists has emerged over the past few weeks. 

Ootake Toshimoto, author of Mogusa-san and Teasobi, has been drawing a comic series titled 1 Iine 1 Yen de Bangohan o Taberu Harapeko Joshi, or in English, Hungry Girl Eats Dinner Where 1 Like Equals 1 Yen. The premise: Minori Mogusa, the perpetually hungry heroine of Mogusa-san, is in a situation where she gets 1 yen for every Twitter like. Then, she’s supposed to use the amount earned in each comic on her next dinner. In the first strip above, she has 0 yen, so she’s “air-eating.” 

But while the expectation was that she’d get maybe a few hundred likes, and could build a meal based off of that, reality panned out very differently.

The first comic received 70,155 likes. 1 yen is about 1 cent USD, so that’s about $700. Mogusa freaks out.

The second comic received 115,117 likes, or about $1,150. Below is Mogusa gorging herself on 200 pieces of expensive fatty tuna (as well as some salmon roe) in one sitting. 

By the next comic, a rule was implemented so that the ratio would be 10 likes = 1 yen in certain situations to keep things reasonable.

Not only have these manga strips been cute and hilarious, but it’s giving Ootake and the character of Minori Mogusa a lot more exposure. It’s even to the point that other artists have started their own version of the 1 Like = 1 Yen dinner format. It’s fantastic. I love the hell out of the Mogusa-san manga, and I’m genuinely happy to see Ootake getting the notoriety I know he deserves. I hope this gives Ootake a lot more opportunities, and that the world will come to appreciate Mogusa as just an amazing character.

You can find all the comics in the following Twitter thread: Hungry Girl Eats Dinner Where 1 Like = 1 Yen. Bon appétit!

Their Problem is Our Problem: The Promised Neverland, “Coronavirus,” and the Systems that Force Inequality

WARNING: THE PROMISED NEVERLAND MANGA SPOILERS

In Chapter 172 of The Promised Neverland, there’s a collage that’s rather conspicuous, given the actual pandemic hitting the world at this moment. As the heroine Emma is confronting an enemy leader about how differences in positions are the root of conflict, one of the images has a wall with the word “coronavirus” graffitied on it. 

Up to this point, it’s been established that the main characters live in an alternate dimension from the regular human world, but there haven’t been direct calls to the reality in which we, the readers, live. I think this “coronavirus” page is a direct message from the creators of The Promised Neverland, Shirai Kaiu and Demizu Ponsuka, and what that message says is: “The ideas conveyed in this manga are not meant to be taken as mere vague abstractions about generally making the world a better place, but as very real criticisms of society.”

When The Promised Neverland first began, it was an interesting manga about a cat-and-mouse game and a battle of wits in a dystopian setting. Originally, the focus was on escaping an orphanage designed to turn children into food. Then, it was about surviving against the demons on the outside. Over time, however, the series has revealed a greater world where the real evil of the series is not scary human-eating monsters but how the corrosive desire to hold onto power at the expense of the greater good. 

In order to survive, some children strive to become mothers—essentially overseers of the human farms, but also chattel themselves due to being the literal suppliers of the chain through giving birth. Mothers are told that the best among them can become a “grandmother,” supervising all the mothers, making them compete desperately too. It’s even revealed that the demons themselves have an oppressive class hierarchy. Eating human meat is what has allowed them to gain a high level of intelligence, but a steady diet is necessary because otherwise they’ll revert back to beasts. The rulers of their world get access to the best meat, and can thus maintain their already massive advantage. Moreover, there turns out to have been a way to permanently prevent the demons from losing their intellect, but the ruling class purposely and violently obscured that information to keep the masses dependent on those in charge. In other words, everything about society in The Promised Neverland is premised around pitting the lower classes against one another to distract from the intentional systemic issues imposed by those in power.

How does that apply to our own world? “The top 1% hold 99% of the wealth” is about how massive inequality concentrates all the power in a select few who inevitably enrich themselves at the expense of others. In regards to keeping the lower classes at one another’s throats, US president Lyndon B. Johnson famously said, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Writer and lecturer Douglas Rushkoff even wrote an article in 2018 about how some of the ultra-rich are preparing for the apocalypse by figuring out how to save themselves while still wondering if it would be necessary to lock down their guards’ food supplies to force loyalty.  And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing how the very same types are retreating further into their massive safety nets, leaving those with less to struggle. It’s crystal clear to me that there’s a similar sentiment at work fueling the overt criticism of the disparity in power and resources in The Promised Neverland

The fact that Weekly Shounen Jump comes out with brand new chapters of manga on a regular and consistent basis can be a blessing and a curse, but one advantage of the accelerated pace of a weekly manga magazine is how quickly it can potentially seize upon the relevant events of the day. What that “coronavirus” graffiti communicates is simple: the crises your heroes are facing in The Promised Neverland are not that far from the problems that plague the very reality in which you live. Emma, as the heart of this series, staunchly opposes false dichotomies that lead to zero-sum situations where one group can only “win” by sacrificing another. Perhaps The Promised Neverland wants us all to be allies in this struggle, and to be aware of the real problems that gave way to our current global crisis: racism, social inequality, intentionally massive disparities in wealth and resources, and an economic environment where those in power are encouraged to let the whole world burn if it means keeping their positions.