Soap Opera Disease

Her condition was a case of terminal moe, a dangerous illness which crops up in anime whenever they want to make a character more sympathetic through illness but don't want to actually attribute a real illness to them.
Gabriel Blessing comment on the real illness behind Chiho's condition

Common ailment found on the Soap Opera. It is notoriously difficult to diagnose, and often exhibits vague symptoms. Often fatal, but victim can linger on for a long, long time. Sometimes results in a lengthy coma which, upon the victim's recovery, may also manifest a radical change in appearance (see: The Other Darrin).

J. Michael Straczynski has mentioned one riff on this, in which a soap opera writer supposedly put a character into a coma with very specific and carefully-researched symptoms, for a plot that was only supposed to last a couple of episodes... and then realized that if the character's recovery was delayed, he could continue to crank out script after script without ever needing to worry about a pink slip, since nobody else on the writing team knew enough about the disease to write the character's recovery. The actress didn't mind either, since she got a paycheck day after day for a few minutes' lying absolutely still in bed. The producers were somewhat less than pleased at this.note 

The anime trope of the Ill Girl suffers from the same plague of vague. See its page for the full story but the gist of it is the same; some kind of frailty to gain sympathy.

A common mutation anywhere is the Incurable Cough of Death; a terminal illness with no symptoms of any kind besides coughing. More likely than not evolved from Victorian Novel Disease. The character may insist the illness is Definitely Just a Cold. Not to be confused with Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome, which isn't actually a disease so much as a Plot Hole that sucks up children and spits out teenagers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • At one point in Ranma ½, Master Happosai suffers from a case of this. Unfortunately, he gets better. Also, the teacher Hinako Ninomiya had a case when she was young. She gets better as well.
  • Sahana from Sundome, with her nosebleeds, dizzy spell and bloody coughs. In the end, it gets her, and there is nothing that can be done. Hideo does his best to make her last days happy. He succeeds with that.
  • In The Borrower Arrietty, the male protagonist Sho has a heart condition ever since he was a child. Just a short period of physical activity can cause him pain.
  • Variable Geo: Satomi's kid brother, Daisuke, suffers from an unspecified medical condition that keeps him bedridden with a hacking cough and, occasionally, seizures. The costs of his treatments are expensive, even with Satomi working two jobs. Which is why she originally wanted to enter the VG tournament in hopes of winning the prize money and real estate.
  • In CLANNAD, Nagisa suffers from an undefined disease which prevents her from attending school from time to time. Her daughter Ushio gets the same undefined condition. In both cases, it turns out to be fatal.
  • Mad Scientist Ghinias Sakhalin in Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team has some sort of disease that he has to take medication every day for. It mostly looks like paranoid schizophrenia, but he does have some poorly defined physical symptoms as well. The symptoms seem to fit Wilson's Disease, a genetic disorder that prevents the body from metabolizing copper properly whose most common symptoms are brain damage that often presents with schizophrenia-like symptoms and liver disease.
  • Trisha from Fullmetal Alchemist died of such a disease. It's never stated what it was but fans consider it either stress-related or cancer. Averted in the manga, where it's said she had a disease that was going around.
  • In My Neighbor Totoro, the disease that Satsuki and Mei's mother has is never revealed.
  • Similarly Tsukimi's deceased mother in Princess Jellyfish had a vague, deteriorating disease that apparently lasted a few years. Eventually she was hospitalized and died.
  • Kagerou Project: Haruka Kokonose (Konoha's former self) has a rather ambiguous illness (although a shot in the Konoha's State Of the World PV seems to imply it's a heart condition) that lands him in hospital for weeks, and prevents him from participating in physical activities. He dies at 17, after a few-months-long Timeskip after his introduction. However, since it was triggered by the Big Bad on purpose, we'll never know how long he would have lasted on his own.
  • Kousei's mother in Your Lie in April died of an illness that left her wheelchair bound. Kaori suffers from a similar disease that caused her to gradually lose the ability to play the violin or walk over the series. She dies of complications during surgery instead of the illness, though it was terminal.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • In Travels of the Trifecta, Paul and Reggie's mother died of an unnamed terminal illness. Paul learns that he has the same mysterious illness because it's genetic. It seems to have periodic coughing up blood, physical frailty and weakened immune system as general symptoms but it is not stated to be any real-life disease. Given that Pokemon has animals that don't exist in real life, the Pokemon world having its own genetic diseases isn't too unusual.
  • In Kill la Kill AU, while they are not terminal, although severe, some of the illnesses Ryuuko suffers from are not named and neither are her symptoms described, however, she is often seen attached to machines and intravenous drips. This is played with in Room 002108, chapter 9, where it is stated by an American doctor that she has some unknown illness, the which turned into septicemia, which implies it was some kind of bacterial infection, causing her blood to poison her, the which almost killed her or should have.
  • In the Gensokyo 20XX series, this is played straight in six instances. The first time is with Keine and, besides the fact it was terminal, the symptoms were only described as "pneumonia and lumps in her lungs". The second time is with Reimu's mother, Reiko, and she passed away of a long term illness, although this is justified in that they didn't know what she has and neither could they diagnose it but it is implied to have had something to do the radioactive fallout. The third time is with Ran and, apparently, it's chronic but not terminal, however, it does leave her with bouts paralysis. Likewise, the same occurred with Yume Ni and her chronic illness, the which she's passed away from and with Reimu and frequent illness (the which are treated with intravenous therapy) and Renko's illness which caused her a degree of brain damage, leading to some degree of blindness and memory loss.
  • From one Kill la Kill fic, titled Asuka, we have this with either Satsuki or Ryuuko (it's never made clear which), who was diagnosed with something that is described to be "chronic sans cure" and she dies of her illness in the end
  • The illness an implied to be Secretly Dying Ryuuko has in Raindrops is not named, yet the symptoms are vaguely described, although it is severe and does result in her death. Averted in the case of Satsuki in Sunshnine, who explains that she has leukemiia and was Living on Borrowed Time.
  • This is averted in the fanfic Endless Numbered Days by janewithawhy with Satsuki's illness being lung cancer, the which progresses to terminal.
  • Naruto's illness in Accidental Companions isn't named, however, he has been ill with it for a long time and is implied to have died of it

  • Dancer In the Dark, a drama and musical film, focuses on a female protagonist who has a genetic disease that causes her vision to weaken as she gets older. Early on in the film, she is already clinically blind, and this serves as a big element of the plot.
  • Parodied in The Living Wake where the self-deluded main character is certain he will die of "a vague and grave disease" despite clearly being in perfect health. He ends the wake by stepping ceremoniously into a coffin where he instantly dies.
  • Love Story has been accused of playing this straight. (see Magazines, below.)

  • The Infernal Devices: Jem's. It was caused by a demon drug that was used to torture him and his parents when he was younger. There is no known cure for it, and he has to keep taking a specific drug to keep on fighting - as Brother Enoch says, taking the drug means a slow death, but keeping him off the drug would mean a quick one.
  • Appears as Drummant's gift in Annals Of The Western Shore. Justified because that seems to be the whole point of the Drum gift, which is called "wasting". The victim just gets weaker and weaker for no apparent reason until they eventually die, which takes about a year. This is how Melle, Orrec's mother, dies.
  • Sandovsky's Syndrome from Vampire Academy, a Moroi-exclusive disease, which was slowly killing Victor Dashkov.
  • In the Hyperion Cantos, Matrin Silenus mentions that when he wrote his Dying Earth books, book 3 introduced a telepathic child dying from some strange disease. He went into a drinking celebration once he was allowed to let her die in book 9.
  • In Foundation and Empire, Emperor Cleon II suffers from some painful and unknown disease which no one can cure.

    Live Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In the comics, it was retroactively explained that Drusilla was tortured by an "Inquisitor" while in Prague, including the use of a magic torture chair, leaving her in a frail condition. Spike initially hopes the Hellmouth will restore her, but later learns that the blood of her sire (Angel) can cure her affliction.
  • Averted in non-American soaps, which are more concerned with realism. The closest thing seen on Home and Away is probably diabetes.
    • Although Alzheimers' Disease, which normally takes years and years to build up, not only progressed ten times faster than real life, but then slew Mike Baldwin in a matter of mere months in Coronation Street
  • Appears in, of all things, the profiler procedural Criminal Minds. In an early episode, in a very dramatic scene, Hotch's son has had to go to the hospital to get "some tests" done and it turns out he has "a condition". This is promptly never mentioned again.
  • The protagonist in One Liter Of Tears suffers from a harsher and much rarer kind of this.
  • The first episode of Mr. Show opens with Ronnie Dobbs doing a PSA for his disease "Entitilitus." He notes that no one knows where it comes from or what it is but "entitilitus kills." Toward the end of the episode, when Terry sells the rights to make a Biopic of Ronnie after he dies, movie!Ronnie reveals to movie!Terry that he suffers from entitilitus then dies in his arms.
  • This is essentially the fate of The Mother in How I Met Your Mother. The disease is fatal, and that's pretty much all we know about it.

  • MAD referred to this as "Old Movie Disease" in their parody of the movie Love Story, along with the claim that it makes you more attractive so you can die a beautiful death.

    Video Games 
  • In Eternal Sonata, if you're able to use magic powers, it also means that you have vaguely defined illness that is eventually fatal, though it's hard to say exactly when.
  • Any Key/Visual Arts game will have at least one Ill Girl that suffers from this, with the exception of Planetarian where the disease is low battery power with no way to recharge. Thus one of the alternate titles for this page, "Key AIDS".

    Web Original 
  • Inverted in the Paradise setting, in which humans are randomly, permanently Changed into Funny Animals by causes unknown. The change is Invisible to Normals, to whom the Changed will still appear to be his old human self. In order to prevent Changed from being injured by medical practitioners because of physiological differences the medics can't see, the Changed invented a fictitious real-world disease—-"Sleeping Sickness (Ivory Coast Variant)"-—and issued medical alert bracelets for it so that a Changed or Known physician could be alerted at need.
  • From Killerbunnies, we have Anwen's condition and not too much information is known about it besides the fact that will eventually kill her, along with it being progressive.
  • LittleKuriboh parodied this in his Patreon video. He was diagnosed with a specific and chronic, but not fatal, colon condition, and Martin and his wife wept and wailed about it.

    Western Animation 
  • Mocked (as with many other soap opera tropes) in the All My Circuits segments of Futurama.
    • "That was so terrible, I think you gave me cancer!"

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