Friday’s Feature: Philosophy in Anime

These days it seems everyone has a personal philosophy (or at lease a fortune cookie slogan that they hold up as one) and anime isn’t any different. There are literally barrels of characters who will throw their own personal view of the world at you (ad nauseam if someone else in the show doesn’t hit them first). In a previous feature I looked at anime that discuss what it means to be human and today I’m in a similar mood so am really just wanting to look at some of these philosophies that characters are carrying around out there in the anime universe.

And of course, I am going to start with Yuko from xxxHolic. She is definitely the queen of making statements that can be taken multiple ways and each sentence is either flippant or loaded but sometimes it is difficult to tell which is which. And she loves to remove context from her statements which makes them fairly applicable in almost any situation and very difficult to prove wrong when they are said as portents of future events.

But what do her quotes amount to?

She frowns upon those who would sacrifice themselves for others and as a direct result more or less condemns the horde of shounen protagonists to be seen as kind of childish and self-absorbed (also makes you wonder if some of those rescued people would bear a few scars if that meant being saved).

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She challenges people to confront their assumptions and to also realise that most people don’t. She accepts that she will be called a liar and that it is simply the way things are. It doesn’t affect her actions in the least.

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The last Yuko quote I’m looking at forces us to realise how inconsequential our actions really are in the grander scheme of things. That said, she doesn’t belittle us for making choices, only for fearing the consequences of actually making a choice.

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There’s nothing earth shattering in Yuko’s view of the world. While it is a little left of centre at times, these are all ideas we’ve heard before. However, when they come thick and fast, episode after episode, and with the plot of xxxHolic revolving around Watanuki slowly learning to see the world from Yuko’s point of view (in between all the other ideas that are thrown in for good measure) you walk away from the story feeling that maybe you learned something or at least you’ve considered an idea you hadn’t before.

However, by Yuko’s own wisdom, accepting her view of the world without question would be just as foolish as never questioning your own perception of reality.

Moving on to Psycho Pass. There are a lot of questions raised by this show about morality and sanity and violence and justice but the character that really makes you think is the central villain, Makishima.

Of course, I might just like Makishima because he still likes paper books.

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Not that E Books are all that bad (great for travel and such) but there’s something really amazing about the tangible feel and smell of an actual paper book.

While Makishima might be twisted and warped, he echoes Yuko’s sentiment about making your own choices and how there is value in determining your own fate. Ultimately, Makishima’s entire crime spree is in direct defiance of a system that removes free will and choice from the equation. If he’d chosen a different method (or had been a character in another anime) he’d probably have been the hero, the leader of the rebellion, and the one who would liberate humanity. That said, he’s still a cold blooded psycho.

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His dual nature makes him interesting. On the one hand he claims a love of ideas and art and freedom, and on the other he manipulates and orchestrates disaster. That said, he does expound upon the power of stories.

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Which of course brings up the interesting discussion about censorship. We can see it in relation to the anime itself as artists and works need Sybil approval but we can also see this in our own world where we put viewer warnings and advisory’s on things and lock certain ideas away. The questions of how much censoring is too much and the harm lack of censorship might do come forward and of course that is a rabbit hole that is filled with a never ending tirade of personal opinions and opposing theories.

Lastly, I just want to touch on Kamina from Gurren Lagann. Perhaps one of the most over the top characters of all time, he seemingly lives his life in the belief that positive affirmations will make things so.

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Kamina is all about being bold and daring and not letting self-doubt get you down, which given Simon’s timid nature (the protagonist of the story) is a needed attitude to kick the story into motion. That said you sometimes have to wonder how big Kamina’s ego is or conversely how much of what he says is just plain bravado.

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So on that slightly more upbeat note I’m going to end my post. I’d love it if you would share some of your favourite (or some of the more interesting) anime character philosophies out there.

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24 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature: Philosophy in Anime

  1. Nice post, the subject of philosophy in anime is an interesting one indeed. It’s also thought provoking to take into consideration what the writer’s viewpoints may be, and how much they translate their beliefs in their characters. Some of the most intriguing anime are the ones which have complex plots and characters, often times some very dark stuff. Take Flowers of Evil for example. The use of rotoscoped animating techniques emphasizes the very philosophical story line as well. It’s definitely stories like these that have great depth in character combined with surreal artwork that make for an interesting watch. Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paper books will always exist. As you said, there’s something about that tangible feel. People will always gravitate to it.

    Censorship is a topic that we really could go on about for a while. I’ve got views and opinions, but I’ll leave them elsewhere.

    For me, nothing quiet beats the simple and pure philosophy found in certain shonen animes. Such as Fairy Tail, where Gildarts makes his statement about what fear is, what it does, and why we need it. It is, at times, a bit too simplistic to really call it philosophy, but anything that gets you thinking about the world from a new point of view works in my book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Philosophy is odd in how people approach it. On the one hand, we have the simplistic approach, but it tends to be unwieldy because it doesn’t take into consideration nuance and variables. And on the other, something so complex that you have to read pages of fine print to deal with the various caveats.
      A live action comparison can be drawn from House MD in the seventh season. It introduces a female genius training at the hospital whose own view of medicine comes into direct conflict with that of Gregory House. On the one hand we have the “always be honest with your patient”. And on the other, “the patient is dumb and we sometimes have to do things that they don’t like to save them”.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s a good point. Philosophy, at least in my mind, has always sort of had two tiers to it. There’s the simplistic version, where there is a right and a wrong. Two different people may have two different views of what that it, but the reasoning behind the views is often straight forward and easy to understand.

        The other tier, the deeper one, gets into moral variables, conditionals, and other varied concepts that take the idea of philosophy down to its core. The shades of gray, where the simplistic philosophy breaks apart, due to conditions it can not deal with.

        Neither, in my experience, is inherently better or worse than the other, just different depending on who you are and where you are in your life. For those who never have to face those variables, the simple approach works best. For those of us who have had to face things the simple approach can’t handle, the deeper tier is where we are.

        That point where right and wrong become so similar that it can be hard to know which is which. Where doing what you must takes precedent over doing what you should.

        Ah, I’m tired. Need to make with a funny comment before people get the idea I’m deep.

        Magic zombie bears!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Characters in any medium with strong philosophies are usually engaging, even if you want to kick them in the face sometimes. Makishima may be the best part of Psycho Pass with his very relatable policy of valuing free will that’s undermined by his tendency to be a absolute psycho.

    As for my favorite character philosophy, this may be nothing special but Attack on Titan’s Levi’s ‘make the choice you’re least likely to regret’ policy is something that’s stuck with me. I do tend to agonize over options but I try to be resolute in the one I eventually choose.

    Also I’m always drawn to characters who make it a point to not be trapped by conformity.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed on that. Both our own changing mindsets and the external factors affecting the consequences of each choice make a lack of regret pretty hard in practice. But hey, we can try.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! The first anime that came to mind for me was My little monster. A little different from your 3 anime choices but the main female and male protagonists are posed with opposite problems. Shizuku because she is finally met with a problem she can’t solve, starting to fall in love and how to cope with it. And Haru for knowing who he loves but not how show it properly. Haru holds the philosophy that there is always an answer for everything, therefore making life relatively simple and Shizuku holds the philosophy that everything that does not bring her closer to her end goal is expendable. Then again, maybe I just looked too far into a romance anime… haha. Have you seen it? I’d love to hear your take on it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As Marthaurion says, Anime is the perfect medium to explore philosophy within. You can set the stage perfectly to ask hard and sometimes uncomfortable questions.

    Might I also suggest Bungo Stray Dogs? Excellent series on philosophies all personified as superpowered people?

    Added bonus of this series: the Characters all have names of famous authors and use powers named after their most famous literary works?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The naming the the characters and their powers was certainly different though when they shifted to western authors and I could see how tenuous some of those links were it definitely lost some credibility in that area. I don’t know enough about the Japanese authors to have been critical of that aspect prior to season 2.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The western ones where more so after specific characters within the books and their takes on life and the author shuffles from there.
        So F.Scott Fitzgerald: though he has his actual wife’s (Zelda) he *acts* like Jay Gatsby. John Steinbeck always clashes with him due to largely polar thought processes… I would imagine using Jay’s ideas of using money to get what he wants would be hard to represent as a power but I give the author props for how he did it. Technically it was Jay’s main way of going about life. Mean while H.P. Lovecrafts “power” isn’t one at all…he is something else. Lucy is like Anne in that she wants to live in her dreams….etc.
        Personally I kind of see it keeping pretty well.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Actually…that’s also true of the the eastern ones as well Dazai ability is his book’s name and his tendencies are references to things the character in the book did as well as the author himself.

        Sorry I forgot about that.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, and on a very interesting subject. I think the show for me that has had the most philosophy in it has been Eden of the East. It raised a lot of interesting and moral questions as well. Reading through this post, I see I am going to be encountering a lot more very soon. I have almost finished Alderamin on the Sky (probably on monday) and next up is Psycho Pass. I will be paying even more close attention to it now 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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