How is COVID-19 Affecting the Otaku Industry?

We are all aware of the ongoing threat the coronavirus is posing worldwide. The virus, which was only earlier this week officially classed as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has now gripped people with fear as the world seems poised to go into lockdown. Along with fears for basic human safety, COVID-19 is also plaguing businesses and representing a severe threat to the economy. Airlines such as Flybe have gone bust and many social business and entertainment industries have been forced to shut down amid fears of their role as hotspots for contamination. This morning I read a BBC article noting that most coffee shops, restaurants and pubs in the UK can probably only continue supporting themselves for up to three months with minimal income, before they collapse or give into the dreaded concept of taking out loans in the hope of keeping themselves afloat that bit longer.

Even in my workplace, it has taken a significant toll. March was supposed to be a big month for me especially, as I had organised and planned a total of seven conferences and awards that were due to be hosted at trade exhibitions for the feed and food industries in both Abu Dhabi and Bangkok. Both of these events have now been rescheduled to July, to be followed by three more in September in China and Taiwan, but with the virus only continuing to expand its global footprint, it is debatable what the situation will be later in the summer.

But I am here right now to talk more about COVID-19 and its impacts on other, admittedly more trivial, proceedings. How has COVID-19 affected the otaku industry? Japan was one of the first few countries to become infected with the virus when it first started its spread in Asia. Despite this, the virus hasn’t yet spread there in any overwhelming capacity. At the time of writing this, Japan records a total of 1,421 cases of COVID-19, which is remarkably low, considering that here in the UK we already have almost 800 cases, despite the virus having only been present here in any significant numbers for little over two weeks.

So, how has the virus affected the otaku industry? Yesterday I was informed that Niantic’s mobile app Pokémon Go has released an update to minimise the threat of COVID-19 to its players. As I’m sure almost everybody knows, Pokémon Go is a location-based mobile app wherein trainers can explore their local surroundings and encounter Pokémon to catch, gyms to dominate and fellow trainers to battle. The game is entirely based upon users going out and exploring, so with the threat of COVID-19 it is understandable that the game can no longer continue to promote their extremely dedicated fan base wandering around outside to catch all 651 critters currently available in-game.

In order to combat this, the new game update encourages players to stay inside and takes some measures to enhance the playability of the game whilst you are slouched on your sofa. The game now offers a one-time purchase of 30 Incense for one PokéCoin. For the uninitiated, Incense (which usually cost 40 coins each) attract Pokémon to your current location so you can become a Pokémon master without needing to leave the comfort of your home. I tested this out while lazing around in bed last night and was pleasantly surprised by the improvements they had added to the Incense system. Incense now lasts one full hour and rather than having one Pokémon appear once every five minutes as Incense customarily instigates, Pokémon now appear on average once per 60 seconds! In fact, I almost ran out of Pokéballs from all the catching I was doing… which now means I need to go outside to find some Pokéstops and get more Pokéballs. So you could argue that this has just created another issue for players- but the update still remains a welcome one. If you live somewhere with access to Pokéstops, they now do also now drop gifts at a much more frequent rate. Unfortunately I am mere steps away from easy access to two Pokéstops, so they remain on the brink of my horizon, teasing me with their sweet offerings.

Egg Incubators now also take half the time to hatch your eggs, meaning that your trivial wanderings about your house will, in time, lead to your eggs hatching. Abra Community Day, which was due to be happening tomorrow (March 15th, 2020) has also been postponed, and one assumes that future Community Days will also suffer the same fate until the situation improves.

Fans have also expressed their disappointment at recent updates from leading anime studios, who have decided to postpone the release of several series due to the spread of COVID-19. Crunchyroll recently reported that the second season of hugely popular isekai series Re: Zero was scheduled to premiere next month, but has now been delayed to July. The official soundtrack for the series has also had its release postponed- the opening song by Konomi Suzuki will now be available for download on August 26th, and the outro from September 2nd, rather than their original May 13th release date.

The latest Pretty Cure anime film has also suffered the same fate. The massive magical girl series’ latest film Eiga Precure Miracle Leap: Minna to Fushigi na 1-ichi which was due to drop March 20th has been ‘delayed until further notice’. Japanese distributors have also delayed the release of other films such as Shimajiro to Sora Tobu, Eiga Doraemon: Nobita no Shin Kyoryu and Gekijo-ban Ultraman Taiga: New Gene Climax.

My fabulous wheat and aquaculture exhibitions also haven’t been the only mass events to cancel, as big events such as SXSW, GDC, E3 and AnimeJapan have all announced their postponement. Large Japanese venues such as the Ghibli Museum, Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios Japan and Namjatown are also being either downscaled or temporarily closed.

Unfortunately, we can do nothing now but wait and see how the virus continues to spread. If the situation here in the UK worsens, I will be spending most of my time laid in bed playing Pokémon Go and Mystery Dungeon DX.

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