Friday, November 7, 2008

Religion in Ranma ½

Whether or not you are a religious person, religion has affected you in some way. For example, if you live in a Christian country it is very likely that you have developed some Christian morals and/or habits. If nothing else you likely know of some religious holidays for example, Christmas and Easter.

Religion and myth appears in fiction often; most of the time it is not really noticed. The Ranma ½ manga has a lot of religious symbols and references that most people don't really notice unless someone points them out. In fact if you know Ranma ½ mostly through fan fiction, Ranma (the character) does not seem like a religious person at all.

While Ranma's religion is unknown, I find it most likely that his religion is a mix of Shinto and Buddhism given what is seen in the manga. Ranma can be seen praying in a few story arcs. Most visible example is his praying during the Koi-rod story line, though he can be seen praying on a few other occasions as well (praying at his family grave comes to mind). Ranma believes in both the Kami and in there being an after life. Though unlike most people his belief is not based solely on faith. He has seen the power of the Kami (Shinto wards have actual effects) and met the Kami (the Oni is a type of Kami and so was the divine horse - of the 8 million or so Kami animal types are the most common). He has met spirits and ghosts, seen the shores of Sanzu (the Buddhist river of the dead), and seen a ghost enter into heaven.

Some of the other religious imagery seen in the manga:
-Kasumi wears a crucifix.
-Nabiki wears a crucifix during the initial date in the ten yen date arc.
-The Tendo dojo has a Kamidana (small Shinto shrine that is hung on a wall).
-The Tendo's have a Butsudan (a Buddhist shrine for in the house).
-The person that waters her front yard, getting Ranma wet, is practicing a form of misogi - a Shinto purification ritual.
-Kodachi goes to a Catholic School.
-One of the competing plays during the Romeo and Juliet story arc was doing a play involving Jesus Christ.
-Shinto and Buddhist priests are seen several times in the manga, as well as Taoist Monks.
-Ranma goes to both Shinto and Buddhist Shrines.
-Religious holidays are shown in the manga for example, Christmas and New Years (New Years is a religious holiday because the 108 bell ring during the ghost cat storyline is a Buddhist celebration with each bell rings represent 108 elements of bonno, defilements, or Kilesa in Sanskrit, which is said people have in their mind).
-Volume 37 and 38 both show aspects of Shinto and Christian weddings (Akane is dressed in Shinto wedding garb and Christian style wedding dress respectively).
-The battle versus Herb takes place at and destroys Mount Horai which is a mythical mountain similar in nature to Mount Olympus of Greek Mythology.
-Akane in a dream sequence chases Happosai with a cross.
-Sanzu the Buddhist river to the afterlife shows up a few times (Noodles of strength arc, Herb arc, etc.)
-Rouge cursed form is a goddess/demoness in Buddhism, Shinto, Hindu.
-Tea Ceremony has origins involving Zen Buddhism and Confucianism.
-Martial arts has many ties with religion including: Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism and/or Shinto.
-Ikebana (Flower arranging) has roots in Shinto and Buddhism.
-et cetera

Two religion inspired things that deserve singling out:

The Orachi arc is a retelling of the Susano (high ranking Shinto wind god) battle versus the Orachi. The Ranma characters play the part of the god, the broom being used as a stand in for Kusanagi (legendary sword), and the cross dressing is used as the trick.

The second thing that deserves singling out is Saffron. Mainly whether he is a god or not. Going by a monotheistic religion such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam; no Saffron is not a god. Going by polytheistic religions such as Shinto, Voodoo, and ancient religions (Greek, Roman, etc.); then yes Saffron could count as a god. So really it is entirely up to the readers interpretation and can be taken either way, though by Shinto, the predominate religion of Japan, he would be considered a Kami. Saffron's comments are about ascension and rebirth which is what happens when a being transcends from mortality to either demi or full blown godhood and his pagoda has symbols of divinity on it. Though Saffron more resembles the western phoenix than he does the Japanese type.


Drekal said...

There was a brief, amusing bit in the Christmas OVA related to religion.

Soun and Genma were complaining about how they never celebrated Christmas in their youth, but quickly changed their tones when they realised they were getting a Christmas dinner. "Hooray for Christmas" or something to that effect.

Lawra said...

Of course Ranma could also be very nonreligious as well. After being exposed to so many magical and mythical items and people he might just not care anymore or takes a more pragmatic view of the world.

After all he doesn't purposely go out of the way to do anything religious except for praying at the end of the koi rod arc. He seems fine with destroying the Saotome grave stone without much thought. Just didn't want to be cursed because of it.

antimatterenergy said...

It is possible that Ranma is nonreligious, though I find it highly unlikely. The most obvious reason I think that is because it doesn't require belief since he knows for a fact that Kami and an afterlife exists.

In fact I would say that Ranma is more religious than the average Japanese person, but by western standards, he would not be considered a very religious person. Shinto and Buddhism differ greatly from Christian/Islam/Judaism. They, for example, do not go to church/temple/mosque weekly.

The tenants of Japanese religion differs from western religion in many ways. Most obvious is that in Shinto they do not believe in one God, they believe in spirits of nature and many gods (Shinto has over 8 million Kami). Shintoism has no holy books or founder. Shinto's largest and most important tenant is cleanliness. That is why the majority of Shinto's rituals involve purification of one self via water. Whether or not it is for religious reasons, Ranma does consider being clean to be of extreme importance (more important to clean self than to notify people he has returned -example after Herb battle first place went was to bathe, gets upset when clothing is damaged or dirtied, and pathologically cleans a mess when he see's one - example Miss Hinako's room, though there are other instances in the manga of him cleaning).

Most Japanese consider themselves Buddhist, Shintoist or both. The average Japanese person is not religious in the way that the west see's religion. Religion does play a big role in the everyday life of most Japanese people today since Shinto and Buddhist teachings are deeply entangled into Japanese culture, to the point that it is difficult for outsiders to disentangle "real" Japanese religion from everyday superstition and rituals. The average Japanese person typically follows the religious rituals at ceremonies like birth, weddings and funerals, may visit a shrine or temple on New Year, participates at local festivals (matsuri), and makes the occasional visit to graves and offering to their ancestor/kami. That doesn't mean they aren't religious though, it is just that the practices and ways differ.

Religion does play a larger, more obvious, part in Ranma's life than the average Japanese person, since he actually has to deal with the Kami. Ranma does pray at other times in the manga besides the koi-rod arc, another instance that comes to mind is at the Tendo's grave. He did and does go to both Shinto and Buddhist festivals and shrines. He also was a volunteer Miko (shrine maiden), during one story arc.

The reason he was fine with hitting the grave was because he was told that it is a rite of passage that all young men in his family must do. Which makes it both a family tradition and a religious tradition since it is a means of honoring his ancestors (Japanese are very big on ancestor worship).

Eastern martial arts, i.e. those in Japan and China, are extremely tied in with religion. The fact that Ranma is a martial artist increases the likelihood he is a religious person (if nothing else he would have been exposed to religion a lot).

Lawra said...

Those are all good reasons to say that he's religious. But it's all conjecture.

On one hand you give examples of religious influence on daily life or practices but if they are just part of daily life are they really religious? Or if put another way done because of religious reasons?

I mean Ranma didn't work as a miko to perform any ceremony but to protect the ema's which were being destroyed.

I'm just saying that most of the times where there is something overtly religious he's usually tagging along with someone else or has an ulterior motive. So at what point of daily life do you make the cut off or distinction?

antimatterenergy said...

The original point of this post was not to prove or disprove if Ranma was religious or not. It was to point out some of the religious influence and symbolism in the manga (there is a lot more). While I did point out that from most fan fiction Ranma does not appear religious at all, I only stated what I think his religion likely (as in what it most probably) is and that he is somewhat religious (the mere fact he prays at all points out that he has a religious belief of some type).

In my later comment, I pointed out my personal point of view on Ranma's religion and further clarified as to why. Still leaving the possibility that he is not overly religious but is at least some what religious.

You say it is all conjecture (using the definition educated guessing based on known evidence), I will admit a lot of it is but not all, the fact that he prays at all proves he has some type of religious belief.

Well it is true that much of it is conjecture; the vast majority of all knowledge is conjecture. It is all dependent on how much evidence can be brought to prove it or disprove it, more evidence for it less likelihood to be false.

You comment that: if they are just part of daily life are they really religious.

That is an interesting question; that I can not answer and would guess that no one really can. First because a large number of truly religious people want their religion to be so much a part of their daily life as to be indistinguishable from it, and second unless you are (or have access to inner thoughts of) the actual person you have no way of knowing their reasons.

As for being a miko, many miko never perform in a religious ceremony. The main job of a miko is to assist the priest, Ranma did that. Some miko, just do things like clean the shrine, organizing paperwork, and staffing shrine shops.

antimatterenergy said...

I thought I had commented on the comment "pragmatic view of the world" but after reviewing what I had written I noticed that I had not (I did but indirectly). I want to point out that the philosophy of pragmatism is not antithetical to religion. In this particular case, i.e. the effects of it can be seen (power of kami shown, after life known to exist, etc...) a pragmatic person would be an even more religious person. The reason for this is because the aspects of religion are viewable and are of practical concern, it's a matter of fact not of belief.

Drekal said...

Makes me think of Discworld, that.

Wizards don't believe in Gods. They know for a fact that they exist.