The lockdown of 2020 sees us spending a lot of our time finding ways to keep ourselves occupied, whether that entertainment comes from home studying, video games or TV shows.

But what happens when one of your most beloved shows runs out of episodes to stream during lockdown?

Sazae-san is the world's longest running animation program, with over 7,700 episodes and has been airing weekly on the Fuji Television channel since 1969. The show has a large following, with millions of people across the nation tuning in each Sunday, almost ritually, between 6:30pm to 7:00pm to watch the activities of Sazae Fuguta and her family.

The story follows modern-thinking feminist, Sazae Fuguta, and her extended family who live together under one roof. Sazae has non-conformist opinions, joins the women’s liberation movement and doesn’t believe that the man should be the head of the household, which at the time of the original story release, was considered rather extreme and left-leaning.

Nowadays, although Sazae herself is still as strong as ever in character, the show seems more politically neutral and follows more “simple” storylines, rather than questioning any present-day societal issues.

Viewers will have to wait to find out what will happen to Sazae and her family next though, as production has come to a halt after the state of emergency was announced at the beginning of last month. The sudden hiatus in production has ultimately led to the television channel running out of new episodes, and so for the second time in the show's history (the earlier break was caused by the 1975 oil crisis in Japan), Fuji TV is only broadcasting reruns of Sazae-san to the television channel.

Interestingly, the original writer and illustrator of the series, Machiko Hasegawa, demanded that despite the show's popularity, no merchandise was to ever be made, including home video rights, which makes access to some of the show’s oldest episodes extremely difficult and a rare find – whether Hasegawa’s wishes have been met, is a hard question to answer as, in 2018, Fuji TV made an agreement with Amazon Prime to release the 1969 and early 1970’s episodes to the streaming service.

Fuji TV announced the hiatus of the show on their website on Sunday 10th May 2020, stating that from the 17th of May the channel will only be broadcasting repeats of Sazae-san. The statement also included the information that the episodes will be featuring the voice work of Hiroshi Masuoka, who sadly passed away in March due to cancer. Another change that viewers may not be aware of is that the “janken” game that has been taking place at the end of the show since 1991, will not take place at the end of the oldest episodes (pre 1991 the show ended with Sazae catching a bean in her mouth after tossing it in the air, this small snippet was changed after concerns were raised that children might copy this action and choke.)

The news of the interruption to the show production comes just one month after actress Midori Kato (80 years old), who voices Sazae Fuguta, spoke to Radio Nikkei about the coronavirus situation. Speaking on the show, Kato reported that the production of Sazae-san had been paused for an indefinite amount of time, due to the risk to the aging cast and staff.

The Fuguta family visit Miyagi Prefecture as part of a tourism campaign. | © PR Times, Inc.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just Sazae-san which is seeing the full force of COVID-19 raining down, as a number of other anime have also been affected by the outbreak of the virus.

Crunchyroll lists One Piece and Pokémon as some of many anime which have had to halt series production due to a lack of safety in the voice recording department – when recording sound for anime, the cast normally record all together in one room, as opposed to in a single-person recording booth, this, in turn, makes it close to impossible for voice actors in Japan to currently get work done. You may wonder why the actors do not work from home, but the harsh truth is that due to the small sizing and thin walls of Japanese apartments, setting up a home recording studio ranges from difficult to impossible, making it not worth the additional cost and efforts.

According to a survey performed by the Japan Actors Union, 70% of actors had no work in April, and 27.6% had no income during the same month.

The talent of voice actors across many shows are what truly bring the characters to life, and without them, it just isn’t possible for anime to continue right now. Everybody’s safety is paramount, and if that means a short pause in the overall long run, then we are just going to have to endure.

With many of television’s popular shows taking a break from recording, it will be tough to get through the hard times ahead. For the time being though, why don’t we step back in time and get to know characters like Sazae from the very beginning?

By - Connie Sceaphierde.