It’s hard to engage in the hobbies you enjoy when the world’s on fire. Hyperbolic? Yes. But is it that far from the truth? These days . . . no, not really. The many hobbies and activities people participated in to distract themselves from the real world — watching or playing sports, going to the gym to work out, or dining in a restaurant with friends — have been canceled or closed due to the pandemic, and rightfully so. But it means whatever easy distractions we used to have so readily available are gone now, and that makes it easy to stay on our phones and dwell on the news.
Trying to Find Meaning in Chaos
America is a mess right now, from the systemic and racially-driven vitriol woven into law enforcement’s operations to the heightened level of entitlement and prejudice so strong that it threatens lives. While I’ve been doing what I can to distance myself from the toxicity and discourse of the vocal, moronic people who refuse to listen to reason (or science) and the President’s idiocy and day-to-day spoutings of hoaxes or whatever else pops into his skull, it’s hard to get the right amount of distance from it all.
Some days, I’ve come home from work and done . . . absolutely nothing. Some nights I laze about in bed and mindlessly scroll through Facebook and Twitter, scouring the Internet for any glimmers of something fun or positive as a distraction from how drained I feel. I’ve bought a lot of things that I don’t NEED, but I reason I should treat myself, or I need to buy this pin so I can expand my collection, or, again, I need a distraction no matter how small it may be. For a while, it was a bit of a disaster. But recently, I’ve found the perfect distraction, a combination of pursuits to expand my collections while becoming immersed in the stories they tell. My latest escapes have been manga.
A Humble Collection
My manga collection isn’t especially large or expansive, even if the fraction of space left on my bookshelf begs to differ. I got into anime about a decade ago while I was in high school, and my knowledge of manga was limited to “I know it exists and hey, here’s something different between the Soul Eater anime and manga I didn’t know before,” so I didn’t start reading or collecting manga until college.
After binging the first 50 chapters of Attack on Titan online, I decided that I absolutely needed to own the physical books. A few years later, I watched the No. 6 anime and, while I enjoyed it quite a bit, decided to track down the manga after hearing that it had a more satisfying story and conclusion (which is true). And finally, within the last year or so, the Fullmetal Alchemist manga started being re-released in hardcover (aptly named the “Fullmetal Edition”), and I couldn’t pass up the perfect opportunity to start acquiring them. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is arguably the best anime ever made and I had always wanted to read the manga, but the task of collecting 27 volumes nearly 20 years after the series started seemed like a daunting task. Condensed down to 18 volumes now and featuring concept sketches and notes from mangaka Hiromu Arakawa, this growing collection is probably my favorite of the three so far.
Acquiring New Volumes in Uncertain Times
When it comes to buying books, I am very much a physical shopper. I like being able to go to the bookstore and flip through the pages in person, assess the spine for rips or tears, and check the cover and make sure it isn’t bent. I know it’s a waste of trees, but I’m also a sucker for the smell and overall feel and weight physical books have. But in the current situation, driving over to the bookstore when I don’t have to is stupid. So purchasing the latest books online has been the only recourse, but it’s one I’m wary of even still. There’s always a chance a book may arrive damaged or torn, an inconvenience that can be avoided if you’re able to assess the book’s condition in person before buying it. I’ll admit, I’ve been lucky and the books I’ve ordered online have arrived in very nice condition, but I still get paranoid that I’ll open a package and find a book completely ruined.
On the plus side, each series I’ve been collecting haven’t been outright delayed or halted production for the foreseeable future. I checked the Barnes and Noble website and the Fullmetal Alchemist hardcover books have publication dates Volumes 10 and 11 listed for later this year. It’s reassuring, but I can’t say the same about some other series. Unsurprisingly, the effects of the pandemic have been wide-reaching and include manga serializations. Attack on Titan recently had a delayed publication for a chapter, which will impact when the volume is assembled and published, but at least the series is still ongoing. But for other series that were delayed or halted production, it’s a fact that will no doubt impact the mangaka’s and publisher’s workflow and income.
Being out of a job during these times is harrowing, and the value of still being employed isn’t lost on me. But I think something the people who “prioritize” the economy forget about is the cyclical nature of it all — it’s not enough to just keep businesses open for the sake of keeping them open. Buyers will be more inclined to spend when their income is consistent or high, or they feel safe. The pandemic doesn’t promote job security or safety, so expecting people to go to a bookstore to buy books because it’s “open for business” is ridiculous. Not that there aren’t people who won’t go out and shop. But it’s why I have yet to revisit Barnes and Noble despite it being “open” in the middle of all this and I’ve been resuming purchasing my manga collections online.
Newfound Enjoyment Reading My Manga
My volumes of Attack on Titan, No. 6, and Fullmetal Alchemist have primarily sat collecting dust for the last few years. I read them when I initially purchased them to refresh my memory on certain events or see how the story might play out differently, but that was it for a while.
Nowadays, I find myself looking forward to coming home and reading a volume of Fullmetal Alchemist, rereading my favorite chapters of Attack on Titan, or admiring the art in No. 6. It’s easy to become completely immersed in the drawings and storytelling. It forces me to put away my phone, stay off the computer. I can enjoy each panel and imagine the movement of the drawings in my mind. I can think about how some things are the same in the anime, or why some things were different or removed. It’s such an involved experience that I find myself sinking hours into my books, and next thing I know it’s time to go to bed and start the next day fresh.
I’ve been enjoying coming home and having an activity to look forward to that’s different from my usual routine of playing video games or watching a show. It’s a nice change of pace that helps me appreciate these lovely books while looking forward to getting the rest. And with any luck, there will come a day when people will wear masks, practice social distancing, get a vaccine after it’s been developed, and the world can return to something resembling normalcy. But until then, I’ll curl up on the couch next to the window — manga in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other — and listen to the drizzle of the rain.