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.

Voices of a Social Distant Star: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for April 2020

Well, what a month it’s been. Back in March, the threat of COVID-19 was real, but I did not expect things to escalate so quickly. The number of sick and dead ever increases. We’re seeing the Tokyo Olympics get postponed to 2021 and Comic Market 98 get canceled. New York City and the United States have become epicenters of the virus. I’m among the many currently sheltering in place and doing my social distance thing, and I’m fortunate to be in a position where my life isn’t thrown into total disarray as a result.

Part of that has to do with the ongoing support of my Patreon supporters, especially the following.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Not only is it a bit of extra cash, but having this blog and the responsibility of making sure the Patreon is worthwhile helps me maintain a schedule and keeps my mind active. Sometimes I need to remind myself that there’s always something to talk about on an anime blog, even if we’re seemingly entering a new period in the story of humankind.

That being said, if anyone can’t afford to keep up their Patreon subscription for Ogiue Maniax, don’t feel bad about putting it on pause for however long it’s necessary.

What remains to be seen is how many COVID-19-related puns can I make for these monthly updated posts.

Blog highlights from March:

Friends with Consequences: Spotted Flower, Volume 4

It’s been a few years since the last volume of Spotted Flower, and it ramps up the insanity of this Genshiken what-if like nobody’s business.

Brief Thoughts on Anime, Manga, and COVID-19

It’s the talk of the town…! I’m curious as to how the current pandemic might shape the storytelling and themes we find in anime and manga going forward.

Space Cases: Star Twinkle Precure

The recently finished Precure series is not just yabai, it’s kirayabaa~.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 26 has me legitimately wondering if Jin might be on the spectrum.

Patreon-Sponsored

Aikatsu as Absurd Idol Anime Turning Point?

Idol anime can get quite zany these days. Is Aikatsu! the reason?

Apartment 507

I wrote a review of the Nintendo Switch version of Touhou Gensou Mahjong.

Closing

Stay safe, and remember that we’re all in this together.

Oh, and uh, look behind you.

April Fool’s ha ha ha…

Brief Thoughts on Anime, Manga, and COVID-19

It’s rare that anything can have such a visibly profound global impact, but that’s what we’re seeing with COVID-19. I find it funny that I tried last year to predict what the 2020s would hold in store, and it hasn’t even been six months before everything has gone sideways. For many people around the world, it has disrupted various aspects of life, and even the anime and manga industries have already felt its effects. Notably, A Certain Scientific Railgun T was delayed for a little while specifically because of the novel coronavirus, and its situation portends to a general trend going forward.

But COVID-19 likely won’t just change the production logistics of anime and manga—there’s also storytelling, themes, visual expression, and just about all the things we might take for granted or perceive as the norm. While we’re probably see works that either try to explore disease and pandemics (either directly or metaphorically), even more escapist entertainment is going to have the specter of the coronavirus hanging over. What does a harem manga even feel like in an era of social distancing? What about seeing characters just give one another hugs? To what extent well even the fantasies of fiction feel odd? In recent days, I’ll look at old videos from a month ago—including but not limited to anime and manga—and their tacit assumptions about the world already feel…dated.

Another big factor is how globally common the problem of COVID-19 has become. Something like 9/11 affected the US differently compared to other countries (though the US’s actions continue to have widespread effects). 3.11 hit Japan in life-changing ways, but that’s not as much the case in other areas. COVID-19 feels different in that its basic consequences are similar the world over. The disease spreads very easily, and it doesn’t discriminate. Old people are most at risk but no one is necessarily “safe.” Restaurants, theaters, and other social gathering sites cannot function as normal. Staying home as much as you can in order to help out is the name of the game. This universality means any media or entertainment made in response to COVID-19 will be understood virtually anywhere. 

Incidentally, Season 2 of the Cells at Work anime was just announced for January 2021. How ironic it would be if that series got delayed due to these circumstances…

The way COVID-19 has changed and will continue to affect everyday life is difficult to fully grasp, and I hope humankind can come out of this safe and sound and ready to tackle whatever problems still face us. In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to see how our art and entertainment reflect this new world.