The anime girl, seemingly lost in eternal study, is teaching us to be our most lo-fi selves
We’re living in a weird fucking time, and one in which we badly need a hero. But not all heroes wear capes – some prefer headphones instead.
I think the anime girl doing her homework forever and ever in the popular lo-fi hip hop radio beats to relax/study to video is the poster girl for responsible coronavirus behaviour for Gen Z and millennials alike.
If you're not a fan of the video stream already, then you might have heard about it a few weeks ago (which, in coronatime, now feels like several decades), when YouTube mistakenly pulled the video and then reinstated it less than 24 hours later after the internet collectively lost its mind. I’d assumed that the video stream was important to a small but dedicated group of people, because there’s a scrolling comment section next to the video, and if you have a lot of time (or you’re a freelancer and use the video compulsively, hi!) then you start seeing the same names popping up time and again, but when this happened, it was like finding out that the weird noise band I liked was actually the Beatles.
As such, the anime girl had already set up shop in my head when I started self-isolating ten days ago. A lot of people I knew weren’t sure how to solve the puzzle of a post-coronavirus social life, and as they tried to apply a Rubik’s Cube logic to their communal interactions (“Let’s just drink at someone’s house instead of a bar,” or “Let’s sit at the tables outside the pub and just sit really far apart!”), I’d started wishing that I knew more people like the girl in the video.
Because I am convinced that the anime girl is just a deeply responsible twenty-something in the coronavirus era. Yes, she looks incredibly young, possibly even teenage-young, and there’s certainly an argument to be made that she’s still in school, and that’s why the collective internet refers to her doing her “homework”. But the details in the animation — the vintage Anglepoise-style lamp, the indoor scarf, the surviving-but-not-thriving-pot-plant — all make me think she’s in her twenties. Besides, what teenager can afford those Beats-style headphones and a Mac? In this economy?
There has always been something melancholy about the video stream girl, even long before coronavirus. Why was a young woman in an exciting metropolis (the city outside her window always looked like some dream mash-up of the best parts of Lisbon, Barcelona, and Paris to me) choosing to stay in writing 24/7, and not out at a bar seeing friends? In the past, I’d diagnosed her as “girl who went out too much last year and now really needs to get a good score in her final year of university to compensate for her mediocre grades”, “girl whose friends are all doing their Erasmus year in another cool European city and she’s taking some time for herself”, or “girl getting over her last romantic partner who shares the same friendship group so parties are awkward right now”. But, as Nick Quah has already speculated at Indoor Voices, it now seems crystal clear that the anime girl was always operating in a post-coronavirus reality.
“Responding to the coronavirus with a modicum of sense has absolutely nothing to do with channelling the Blitz spirit, stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on mentality, and everything to do with being your most lo-fi self”
So, respect where it’s due: the anime girl is clearly committed to staying mentally healthy throughout this thing. Instead of festering in bed in the same leggings she’s been in for the last four days, scrolling dead-eyed through Instagram, she’s upright, at a desk, blasting some lo-fi hip hop and writing. Maybe we were wrong all along. Maybe the writing isn’t homework (or her thesis), but journalling. Maybe she’s maybe a devotee of The Artist’s Way, getting her Morning Pages out of the way. Or maybe she’s just spilling her feelings in her diary instead of suppressing them.
One of the hardest things to wrap your brain around right now is how coronavirus has shifted what we generally understand as heroism, especially the British variety. As we’ve learned from the government’s series of mixed messages, peaking with Boris Johnson telling the public that they should accept that members of their families would die while continuing to promote herd immunity, responding to the coronavirus with a modicum of sense has absolutely nothing to do with channelling the Blitz spirit, stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on mentality, and everything to do with being your most lo-fi self. For the first time ever, being a hero is not about going out and helping people, but about helping people by staying inside and (if you’re economically able to) shutting yourself away in your bedroom and working/studying from home, for the greater good.
The anime girl might not look heroic, in the way we normally understand that word. She’s just a person, sat at a desk, listening to some excellently chill music. But she’s part of a demographic who, if they contract the disease, will probably be fine. The Telegraph reports an “infection fatality rate of just 0.03 per cent of 20 to 29-year-olds”, and – if we assume that the anime girl (or really anime woman) has her incredibly powerful skincare regime down and is significantly older than she looks — “0.08 per cent of 30 to 39-year-olds”.
The anime girl isn’t self-isolating because she’s worried about her own health. She’s cancelled all her plans for the foreseeable because she cares about solidarity and – I assume! – she thinks the idea of sacrificing a large fraction of an entire generation and exhausting those who work in hospitals, just so she can keep going out, sounds pretty repugnant.
But she looks despondent, not broken. She looks comfortable and ready to wait this thing out. The calendar propped up on her bookshelf suddenly seems poignant. Maybe social distancing is going to be in force for six months, maybe a year. A calendar probably isn't necessary anymore, is it? But she’ll be OK. She can do this. We can do this.