Philosophy in Anime
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions. Philosophers ask questions about knowledge, reason, values and human existence. I may surprise many, but anime often tackle these complex questions as well. Philosophy is one of the many influences commonly found in anime. By including philosophical themes anime series can have more complex stories and characters. This is likely one of the many reasons that the most impactful and revered anime series tend to have some form of philosophy. Mob Psycho 100 is an anime series from the creator ONE, this series focuses on the philosophy that no one is special. Ghost in the Shell, a series created by Mamoru Oshii, focuses on post-humanism philosophy. Finally, I’ll discuss how Adam Smith philosophy applies to One Piece, one of the most acclaimed anime series of all time.
You’re not that special
The anime series, Mob Psycho 100 focuses on Shigeo Kageyama aka Mob, a little boy who’s average in every way except that he has psychic powers. The series presents the argument that having psychic powers doesn’t make one “special.”These psychic individuals are called espers. The espers in the series have one special trait that is no better or worse than being able to sing or dance. Many of the espers in Mob Psycho 100 are entitled and believe that the world should belong to them. Mob often points out that because espers are overly dependent on their powers they lack substance. In episode 5, titled Ochimusha – Psychic Powers and Me, Mob encounters Teru, a psychic that used his powers to dominate his classmates and gain popularity. This resulted in him developing a superiority complex, believing that he was the “main protagonist of the world.”
He challenges Mob to a fight using their psychic powers. During the conflict Mob tells Teru that he knows why he hates him so much. If Teru had no powers he would be “empty.” Mob believes that there are things you can’t have because of psychic powers and you have to work for them, like muscles. He joins the body improvement club, hoping that through hard work, not his powers he can gain fitness. Arataka Reigen, Mob’s mentor and boss is the one that instilled these morals in him. Reigen considers everyone equal regardless of abilities.
He feels that anyone that believes that they’re “superior” because they are espers are “detached from the real world.” He explains his theory during the last episode of season 1. Reigen takes on the Scars, a group of powerful espers. Protected by Mob’s powers, he easily defeats them. He compares them to a “child with knives” and mocks them. He explains that despite having psychic powers the members of Scar are “commoners,” just like him. Using his rhetoric, Reigen shows them that despite having powers they’re not that special at all.
What does it mean to be human
In Anime and Philosophy: Wide Eyed Wonder, Angus McBlane argues that Ghost in the Shell questions “what does it mean to be human.” Humanism is the “philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings.” Post-humanism aims to present “humans” as not being the only characteristic of humanity. McBlane believes that cyborgs are “boundary figures” that represent the transition from “humanism to post-humanism,” in cyberpunk literature and film. Ghost in the Shell explores these themes. McBlane suggests that the Ghost in the Shell film tangles with tensions found between humanism and post-humanism. In the film, Major Motoko Kusanagi is the main protagonist.
She is a cyborg working for a policing organization, Section Nine. Through Motoko, the film explores “one of the central themes of post-human thought: embodiment.” Motoko is a “full replacement cyborg,” meaning that her body is completely robotic, her brain is the only organic part of her. The question becomes how do we view her “body.” How does Motoko “identify” with her robotic body. According to McBlane, “cyborgs are a central part of post-human thought.” Characters have to work through a “dualism” that’s attached to the ideas of humanist thought. Cyborg represents the boundary between “human and post-human.”
In Ghost in the Shell there are various levels to being a cyborg. Some have minimal cybernetic upgrades, to full body replacements. These levels are determined by how much organic matter remains. Throughout the film, Motoko struggles with “two main forms of embodiment,” the first is the “division between a body and mind.” The mind is linked to what is called the “ghost.” The concept of the “ghost” is never fully explained, but it becomes the “marker of her identity.” When she fuses with the Puppet Master, the second form is introduced. Motoko’s mind becomes one with the Puppet Master, shifting her consciousness and further complicating her humanity. She struggles with her sense of self. Ghost in the Shell presents a new philosophical question regarding what makes a “being.”
What role does competition play
Also from Anime and Philosophy: Wide Eyed Wonder, Andrew Terjesen argues that shōnen anime embodies the philosophy of Adam Smith. His theory is useful in asking “what role we think competition should play in shaping who we are.” Terjesen believes that Adam Smith’s economic philosophy is applicable to Zoro and Mihawk from One Piece. Smith believed that “competition is so important, because without it people tend to be sloppy and lazy.” In One Piece, Zoro is traveling the seas in search of Mihawk. He seeks to become the world’s “best swordsman.” Each fight becomes a step towards that goal. When they meet, Mihawk defeats Zoro easily. However he doesn’t kill him but challenges him to get stronger. Throughout the series Zoro uses battles with other swordsmen, increasing his skills after each encounter.
One of the basic principles of Smith’s theories is related to “specialization.” By focusing on one task, people are able to “come up with better ways to do that task.” So, Zoro becomes a better swordsman by constantly cutting with his sword. Smith’s philosophy is more advanced than just having competition for the sake of getting better. His argument was for “why we should allow competition and specialization to flourish, even if we have the power to eliminate it.” Terjesen explains that Mihawk allows Zoro to live despite the possibility that Zoro will potentially become strong enough to kill him. Mihawk welcomes the possible challenge Zoro will present, instead of ending that potential.
The number of anime that feature philosophical themes and theories are too many to count. I would argue that no anime is without a philosophy that governs the world and how the characters exist within it. Philosophy is often used to explain why the world is the way it is. This is also true in anime. By establishing a philosophy, we can develop a greater understanding of the characters motives. Learn why they make the choices they make. Philosophy in anime adds complexity to the series, making the worlds more believable and characters more realistic.
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