The Philosophical High Road in Manga: Examples

Copyright 2000 by Eri Izawa On this page, I have compiled and hope to continue to compile examples of manga (Japanese comics) teachings of a moral, ethical, spiritual, or otherwise philosophical "high road" -- preferably in unusual settings apart from the stereotypical and frequent example of "save a weaker person from a crime." Disclaimers: This listing is by no means comprehensive, nor should it imply that all manga have these attributes (they do not). Furthermore, just because a teaching is listed does not necessarily mean I personally agree with it. And of course, authors' philosophies do not always match! I'm starting off with a cooking manga because this was the one that inspired me to start this page. I suspect that the very topic -- cooking -- may be a surprise to some who are not familiar with the breadth (and depth) of Japanese comics. Weekly Shonen Magazine Issue 14, 2000. Title: Shouta No Sushi Author: Terasawa Daisuke Shouta, a young sushi-maker, is in a cooking competition. While one of his opponents (an arrogant "bad guy") uses fancy techniques and equipment to create masterful sushi, Shouta relies on a quasi-spiritual technique that involves using his fingers to "taste" the fish flesh to find precise locations where the flavor is concentrated and intensified. (As a note, how the artwork conveys the sensation of eating sushi is pretty impressive.) Some interesting ideas introduced include: Cooking, it is implied, may be turned into a spiritual journey -- and it may be turned into a dark path or a light one. While the "bad guy" wanted to gain power over people by having them lust for his culinary creations, Shouta's goal was to bring happiness to people. Implied: While cooking technique can produce remarkable results, those with purer spiritual motives will eventually be rewarded. Though not really a "high road," the series does imply that delving deep into any art will yield new surprises and opportunities. In this case, the art of cooking is supposed to be a lot deeper and more complex than seen on first glance... the more one learns, the more one can produce amazing results, to the point where truly good food can cause physiological and spiritual reactions in people, ranging from relaxation, to ecstasy, to a complete state of bliss. (I used to think this was severely unlikely, but just recently found that certain foods/flavors do seem to have immediate physiological effects, though not quite to the same extreme.) The series has its stereotypical moments, but I found these ideas to be indeed intriguing. Speaking of the spiritual high road, it's a common theme in: Weekly Shonen Sunday late 1990s-2000: Series: Dandoh!! Author: Sakata Nobuhiro (story) and Banjou Daichi (art) If you have followed any of my reviews in the Shonen Sunday update section of EX magazine, you'll recognize Dandoh as a boy who, with his deep love of golf and faith in friends, manages to win golf competitions as well as re-convert cynical or selfish golfers into being happy, honest players again. Some ideas that this series has promoted include: Putting confidence and trust in people tends to draw out the best in them. Of course it is not an immediate result, but gradually, if someone believes in a person, that person will respond to that confidence and will blossom. It is possible to inspire someone to turn away from the wrong path by providing a good example. Some golfers have lost their love of golf to the pressures of competition and the hard knocks they've experienced. But they can be reminded of the true joy of the game by the influence of someone who still has faith in the game. True friends and respect for others helps one survive tough times. Although golf is not a team sport, our hero is able to draw on his fellow golfers' friendship and caring to pull off remarkable wins. His task is to find a path that can integrate friendship in the midst of competition. It is better to be honest and caring of others, even if it hurts one in the short term. In the long run, selfless compassion will bring about the right result. As with the cooking content story, Dandoh has quasi-spiritual abilities to sense the patterns of the winds and other such aspects of nature, to the point where he practically "sees" Asian dragons that represent air currents. He has great respect for the forces of nature, and not only works with them, but thanks them for showing him the correct path to take. Shonen Sunday, 1999 - 2000: Series: Kamoshika! Author: Muraeda Kenichi This series is about a city employee whose job it is to help the town's citizens. His big heart leads him into trouble, but usually he winds up doing the "impossible" and helping where there was thought to be no hope. In episodes 34 and 35 (Shonen Sunday issues 9 and 10, 2000), we see our hero Momokuri saving a group of small neighborhood stores which had been threatened by a large supermarket. No one thought it was possible for him to succeed; yet with a lot of determination and the help of friends, he does so. Some lessons from these issues: Don't work for your own glory. Our hero's role in inspiring and organizing the events that save the stores is forgotten in the shadow of a famous rock star friend, who has helped out by having a concert. But Momokuri's response to this is to say, "I didn't start this to get praised. This is just my job!" If you believe in something, don't give up. Our hero's words (from above) are overheard by an older employee, who had been trying to undermine the community revival. This man realizes that Momokuri's can -do attitude was one that he used to have himself, until he'd run into what he thought was a brick wall. Unlike Momokuri, he'd given up, turned cynical and jaded, and was now working on the "wrong side." He suddenly realizes he could have accomplished the same things, if he had simply not given up and had persevered instead. Here's a bundle of lessons all in one: When fire breaks out at the giant and much-hated supermarket, the concert stage must be taken down to make room for the fire fighters. No one wants to help our hero do so. But unlike the jaded city employee, who would've given up, our hero decides to go at it alone. When he accidentally falls off the concert stage with a heavy board, he finds himself caught by many, many helping arms. This spurs them into joining him in taking down the stage. His inspiration enables the people to overcome their prejudice and unite together as one to accomplish a big task based on compassion. So, here we see: Help others, and they will respect and help you (the people knew Momokuri and trusted him, and were there when he needed them). If you know you are right, don't give up. Your example may help inspire others. The work of many united is more effective than the work of a single person. The right thing to do when your enemy is in trouble is to forgive and to reach out in compassion. Weekly Shonen Magazine Issues 10 and 11, 2000: Series: Ryouma Eh Author: Mutsu Toshiyuki In episode 4 and 5 of this semi-historical series, young Ryouma's mother lies dying. He painstakingly crafts a firework shell that he wants to show her, to "give her a light" in the darkness of her coma. His effort is tremendous, and he must get help from a bitter old ex-firework-maker. At last Ryouma finishes, but it seems that he is too late: his mother is apparently dead. He doesn't know this, but he knows that she can't wake up, and he wonders if his creation is a failure. But the old firework-maker tells him to pray to Heaven that his creation will reach his mother's spirit. "Pray! Pray with all your heart!!" he is told. So Ryouma summons the memories of his mother's caring and thanks her from the bottom of his heart, and his mother, saying she heard him calling, wakes up and opens her eyes long enough to witness the triumphant explosion of the shell. When she passes on, she is wearing a smile. This story suggests that tasks such as creating fireworks must be done with the right spiritual intention of helping others. The ex-firework -maker recalls his past, in which his brother had said, "Fireworks must be created with a `right spirit.' ... Because the world is full of darkness... fireworks need to not only explode, but they should be built so that when they explode, they shine a light in the darkness of people's hearts, even if for just a fleeting moment!" As with the series Dandoh!! and the Kamoshika example, Ryouma's dedication to making fireworks for the right reason changes others -- in this case, it "opens the eyes" of the ex-firework-maker who had been bitter since his brother's death in a tragic explosion, which had been caused by the former's mistake in the quantity of explosives. There is a respect paid to the determination and hard work with which Ryouma built his firework shell. Finally, it is implied that a work created with deep and selfless devotion, combined with sincere and heartfelt prayer, can produce personal miracles -- such as a mother's spirit returning long enough to witness her son's farewell. Weekly Shonen Sunday Magazine Issue 17, 2000: Series: Brave Monkeys Author: Matsuura Tokihiko (This one was a little stereotypical, in that it involves a guy saving a bunch of people from disaster, but it's a good example nonetheless.) On a plane where the pilot has passed out and others are panicking or getting angry, our hero Daichi leaps into the pilot's seat and says, "A man should act before he starts complaining." Even though he doesn't know what to do, his courage and optimism bring out the best in the others. He exhorts them: "There are still seven lively people in this aircraft! Using the 8 plus liters of brains between us, we should be able to do something!" The others rally around him and offer their own knowledge, helping him to fly the aircraft. Later in this episode (which is, by the way, the first of the series), Daichi declares: "Don't worry! ... Because no matter what the situation, my way of life is to never give up and to do my best!" Here again is the familiar theme of never giving up, the idea that determination eventually leads to success. We also see an emphasis of proactive action over whining. Finally, as with Kamoshika!, the premise is that providing a good example can help inspire and unite others... ...and again, when people unite, the results are better than if someone goes it alone. Weekly Shonen Sunday Magazine Issue 17, 2000: Series: Major Author: Mitsuda Takuya Confronted by Shigeno Gorou's fiery spirit and complete disregard for the high school's cookie-cutter style of "manual baseball," baseball director Shizuka wants to have nothing to do with him. He reminds her of her brother, who died living the same kind of fiery dedication to baseball -- an incident that prompted the development of the almost mechanized method of churning out superior but spark-less players. But her other brother comes by and points out that one reason their sibling died was that no one stood with him. This time, though, they are in a position to work with Gorou and prevent the same thing from happening. Moreover, Shizuka is told, "I think ... that to carefully bring up players means to not just train their bodies, but to also cultivate their spirits as well." It is implied that, if no one stands by a person, that person is more likely to fail. Hence, it is the duty of those who care to stand by the lone fighter. Another message is that it is the job of an educator to not only train the outer part of a student, but the inner as well. It is also implied that a cold, heartless "machine" that churns out cold, mechanical people is fundamentally wrong, even if it is efficient and seemingly successful. There is a hint of redemption, of the idea that people can learn from tragedy and make sure it doesn't happen again ... but (implied) there is a right way and a wrong way of preventing tragedy. The wrong way is the way that forcibly suppresses individuality, and the right way is the way of helping the spirit grow and mature. Weekly Shonen Sunday Magazine Issue 18, 2000: Series: Mister Zipangu Author: Shiina Takashi In this "parody of history," main character Hiyoshi (theoretically, the 16th century historical figure Toyotomi Hideyoshi) has met a mysterious woman whose predictions of the future are always accurate. In issue 17 (episode 4), she had already said that "violence is not the only form of power." In episode 5, she watches as Hiyoshi, in the middle of a battle, tries desperately to find a solution that will spare everyone's life and result in gain for all. She tells him that his attitude is "true power." She says that "Having only yourself win and survive is not a complete victory." She tells him that while animals may rejoice over the defeat of an enemy, only humans have the ability to shed tears over the death of an enemy. "Your way of living is not wrong. That's why you will become stronger than anyone else. And ... you will become the first king of Japan!!" It seems to me the seer was saying that: Having compassion for one's enemies, and seeking a win-win situation for all, is the highest path. A battle that results in destruction of the loser is not a truly successful battle, because it did not follow the highest path. One who walks the high path has true power, and will triumph. Hana To Yume Issue 9, 2000. Series: Sekai De Ichiban Daikirai Author: Hidaka Banri It seems to me that finding this material in shoujo (girls') manga is slightly harder than finding it in boys' manga, but it does exist. In this example in Episode 53, our heroine Kazuha runs into a villainous teacher at her school, but treats him with friendliness and courtesy. Her best friend doesn't understand her treatment of him, but Kazuha replies: "I've been thinking. It's easy to hate, and it's hard to become strong right away, but wouldn't it be good to have the strength to forgive?" The implication is that: Hating is easy; forgiving requires strength. The strength to forgive does not come easily, but is to be desired. Hana To Yume Issue 14, 2000. Series: Fruits Basket Author: Takaya Natsuki Episode 41, a sub-story continued from previous episodes. A friend (Uotani) of the heroine's (Touru) is explaining why she's hooked up with the girl. Uotani is an ex-girls' gang member, who fell in love with Touru and her mother Kyouko - - with their acceptance and love and their offer of the complete freedom to relax and be oneself. Touru and Kyouko gave Uotani the real love and security her family never gave her, and which the gang didn't truly provide. In really deciding she wanted to change and break free of her cold and angry life, Uotani tried to also break free of the gang, was beaten up, and was rescued by Kyouko (an ex-gang girl herself). Kyouko explained that there are some feelings that only become clear when one has truly reached "bottom," that hatred of "light" things can sometimes only be transformed when one has fallen far and become covered in the mud, and that stumbling and falling is not a wasted thing if one is determined to not waste the experience. Uotani then admitted she wants to be a good friend to Touru -- one Touru can be proud of. Later, thanks to that friendship, Uotani was able to overcome her violent past. And now, in the present, Uotani is an example to would-be gang girls; she defuses their belligerence and even tells one she's always available to "reprimand" them - - essentially an offer to be someone who cares enough to lecture and correct. (This gains Uotani the gang girls' adoration.) True change requires commitment (in Uotani's breaking away from the gang, she wanted to run away but was determined not to) Feelings of hatred of normal family caring, normal life, or other things relatively "light" compared to a state of constant anger and lashing out ... can sometimes only be reconciled within oneself when one is faced with complete darkness. Pain can be a necessary part of growth Mistakes and failures are not wasted if one is determined to learn from them. They can become the "fertilizer/manure which helps one grow." The desire to be worthy of someone else (here, with Uotani wanting to be a worthy friend of Touru) can be a life-changing desire. Friendship can support one through hard times ("It is amazing to (no longer) be alone." Touru's friendship helps Uotani break free of her angry habits.) A person who cares enough to reprimand, a loving authority figure, is something that people, especially young people, want and need. Weekly Shonen Sunday 2000 Issue 31: Series: Karakuri Circus Author: Fujita Kazuhiro One of the main characters of Karakuri Circus is a martial artist named Narumi. In a flashback to the life of a man who lived 200 years ago, "Narumi" (in the memory of an alchemist named Bai-in) meets "Francine," a poor, lovely young woman in a European town. Francine works very hard to help orphans and others mired in poverty; once she steals an egg to try to save the life of a sick child, and is caught, jailed, and branded. But the people think her a true angel of God, who gives them hope in the midst of despair. Seeing this, Narumi/Bai-in goes to his teacher and wants to know if alchemy can do something positive for the people. But he is told alchemy is for knowledge, and knowledge is only for oneself. Even Bai-in's brother believes that the road one lives needs not be concerned with others. But Bai-in says: "What road that is lacking compassion for others has any light shining upon it?" Once again, we see a cold heart being awakened by a selfless example. The question is asked: What is a road without compassion? What is the metaphorical "light" that shines on a road that is full of compassion? Later in this episode, after a falling out with his brother (who is also in love with Francine), Bai-in finds Francine praying in a church. The rich people think a dirty person has a dirty soul as well, but Bai-in discovers that Francine was praying for eradication of illness from the world. In the midst of her misfortune, she still turns her eyes towards others.