The Philosophical High Road in Manga: Examples

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:

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:

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:

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.

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!"

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."

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:

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:

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.)

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?"

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.

Copyright 2000 by Eri Izawa

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