Karma is a very prolific theme in Eastern culture, from the Buddhist/Hindu belief in the cycle of reincarnation being tied to the karma you build in your current life, to the beliefs of many paganistic religions that believe karma to be tied directly to what hardships and boons you will receive in your life. So in accordance, it’s not surprising to see many themes of karma from different cultures and beliefs being represented in the anime form.
Though many would fail to pick them up at first glance, being able to realize the thematic depth of an Anime’s story just adds to the experience on a spiritual level that allows you to form a deeper connection with the series in question (it is a fascinating phenomenon, to be honest). But enough going off course, let’s start the discussion on today’s topic.
1. Action to Reaction
Many Anime often delve into the idea that every action has an immediate reaction to some aspect of your life, and characters must face the results of their choices at some point. Classic examples of this are: –
- The fate of Father at the end of Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood, where he is forced to face his own foolishness and is then reduced to nothingness, as punishment for the crimes he committed in the life that he was awarded.
- The fate of Danzō Shimura. who sacrificed an entire clan and was ready to cause nationwide genocide just for the sake of his ambitions. He was swiftly dealt with in his moment of cowardice and just as easily forgotten by the world that he almost led to destruction.
- The fate of Light Yagami, at the end of Death Note, where he is forced to reflect on his own mortality and yet still fails to realize the crimes that he has committed and dies a lonesome death similar to his victims.
2. Selflessness and Reincarnation
Good Karma and acts of selflessness are the keys to a comfortable next life and gaining the favor of the gods. Many Anime have popularized this theme of karma and made them an active part of their story, few examples are: –
- Many Isekai protagonists gain the chance to reincarnate into another world and live a different life, usually after committing a self-sacrificing act like saving a person from an accident. the best example of this is Rudeus Greyrat from the popular series Mushoku Tensei
- All the characters in Demon Slayer who fell during the era of demons were favored by the Gods and thus were given the opportunity to live the peaceful and happy life they desired by being reincarnated into the modern era, 100 years after the fall of Kibutsuji Muzan at the hand of the Demon Slayer corps.
3. Karmic Cycles
There is a common belief that the attitudes of the newer generation are tied to the karma an individual of the older generation leaves on their children as they pass on. This theme has been coined as the term “Karmic Cycle“, which many people would be aware of in different forms such as the “Cycle of Violence“, the “Cycle of Hatred” and so forth. Some of the most iconic Animes to adopt this theme for their premise are: –
- The story of Attack on Titan is crucially tied to the Cycle of Violence, and how it can persist throughout time regardless of what an individual may do to avoid it, no matter the era it will always find an avatar of chaos to represent it. The story gives us a cynical look at the nature of humans and the grim reality of violence and hatred that we are prone to living in.
- The characters of Naruto are tied to the Cycle of Hatred, that persists between nations, individuals, and the souls of us humans. The lives of those characters, make us realize the nauseating hatred we as individuals store inside of ourselves against anyone that may have wronged us. This representation of hatred allows us to empathize with the actions that certain characters take in the series regardless of the severity.
The Concept and the themes of karma are fascinating because they serve as the philosophical justification for the concept of morality. For all the wrongs done in the name of religion, many won’t argue that religious concepts and norms are deeply rooted in the success of our society.
This situation of chaotic neutrality the religion imposes creates a really fascinating moral dilemma that serves as an excellent baseline for the stories of some of the greatest animes of all time.