She’s an adorable schoolgirl with blue-and-green hair. She’s fragile and often wears a surgical mask due to an unspecified illness. She’s really into recycling. And whatever the kids at school say, she is not flat!!! She’s Earth-chan, an anime representation of the planet Earth, and meme-makers on Reddit are obsessed with protecting her.
Earth-chan began life as a throwaway Twitter joke about a common trope in anime and manga. The “pettanko” is a small-chested girl who’s fixated on her breast size. Sometimes she’s proud of it, but often she’s embarrassed and will take offense at anyone calling her “flat.”
When you combine that with this year’s resurgence of the thoroughly debunked “flat Earth” theory, you get Earth-chan—the Earth insisting she’s not, in fact, flat.
@Trinimmortal created the character in this Nov. 30 tweet:
Someone should make an anime where the planets in our Solar System are cute anime girls attending school and there's a running gag where Earth-chan is self conscious about her smaller chest, to which she constantly responds "I-I'M NOT FLAT!"— TrInImMoRtAl MiGhT aCtUaLlY bE a GeNiUs (@Trinimmortal) December 1, 2017
and @felipecunhaeloi responded on Dec. 4 with this drawing of Earth-chan, establishing her as having a short, blue-green hairstyle:
It's not an anime, but .. pic.twitter.com/vG3PjyYU2M— Desempregado-sama (@felipecunhaeloi) December 4, 2017
Soon, though, Earth-chan became more than a throw-away joke character. She became a… recycled joke character. Or at least a character who loves recycling.
On Reddit’s anime memes subreddit, r/animemes, it’s all Earth-chan all the time right now. Fan art and memes of the character are everywhere, and she’s become someone the subreddit wants to nurture and protect. Memers have fleshed out the original “flat” gag by adding the environmentalist trope that Earth-chan is sick and needs us to save her—from both bullying and pollution.
Earth-chan memes are fairly split between flat Earth jokes and the campaign to “protecc” everyone’s favorite new moe character. (“Moe” refers to a cute fictional character that fans love and adore, but don’t lust after. Moe characters are often, but not always, anthropomorphized girl versions of some non-human object.)
Some fans on r/animemes and DeviantArt have even expanded the Planet-chan anime concept with drawings of the other planets. And the Sun, who is possibly a teacher in this universe. DeviantArt poster DatWeirdoWhoLuvsMilk is responsible for some of the most popular and elaborate concept art in the fandom.
The Planet-chans are part of a long meme tradition of personifying concepts, brands, or objects as anime characters. This is a logical extension of anime series like Hetalia: Axis Powers, which anthropomorphizes the countries who fought World War II, or Kancolle, where various types of naval warship are personified as cute girls.
Earth-chan is just the latest, cutest one of these characters to inspire devotion from fans, and she’s really putting Reddit’s animemes community on the map. A map of herself, I guess, because she is Earth. Weird.