Cultural References in Manga
This page is part of a project to index cultural themes and references in manga. The project will start by looking for myths and Buddhist or Shinto references. Many manga contain some type of references to various cultures, from European to East Asian.
The history of different cultures are often represented in their works. Many manga tell the story of a famous person from history or mythology or even make references to important events in history. For example, Adolf by Osamu Tezuka compares the lives of three different Adolfs during World War II, including Adolf Hitler. Another one, Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki, illustrates the life of a fictional assassin or hitokiri from the Meiji era; however, the main character is based off the story of Gensai Kawakami, a real life hitokiri. Sometimes manga will use references to the lives of famous religious figures. Osamu Tezuka retells the history of Buddha in his series Buddha. These characters and examples of many more can be found in the book 500 Manga Heroes & Villans.
Religion and Culture
Buddha by Osamu Tezuka
Original Run: 1972-1983
- The Northern Gateway of the Great Stupa of Sanchi Gate on page 11. It depicts numerous scenes from Buddha's last life and his previous incarnations
- The Gift of Jetavana is seen on page 12. It is a bas-relief that is found on the railing of the Bharhut Stupa in Madhya Pradesh, India. On it is shown the history of Buddha's life. This one is about the purchase of the Jetavana garden and how it was given to Buddha as a gift from Anathapindaka.
- Airavata, the elephant-god that carries the Hindu god Indra and is often symbolic for wealth can be seen on page 16. In front of the Erawan Museum in Samut Prakan, Thailand, there is a statue that looks similar to the one on page 16. 
- In the opening of the manga, there is a reference to the Jataka Tale No. 316, The Rabbit in the Moon. There was some differences between the actual story and the one in the manga. The original Jataka has a monkey,a jackal, and an otter instead of a bear, a fox, and a rabbit. It is actually closer to the Japanese folklore story of "The Rabbit in the Moon". In Hindu mythology, the bear and the monkey are often interchangeable as they belong to the same "subhuman" group of vanara and in the Jataka, the bear or the monkey may be used depending on which version it is.
- Even though "Naradatta" is not referenced in most Buddhist literature, he becomes a childhood friend of Siddhartha is the nephew and pupil of Asita in The Way of Siddhartha. In Sanskrit, Naradatta mean pupil and is not a proper name. Naradatta is a fictional character but he is based off a general pupil of Asita who foretold the birth of Siddhartha, and that Siddhartha will either be a great king or a great religious leader.
- A common theme seen in Buddhist literature, is the dream Queen Maya has about Siddhartha's conception. A white elephant with six tusks walks around her three times and the elephant's tusk enters her womb from the right side. In Buddha, this is seen on page 153.
- In Chinese mythology, a white tiger represents an emperor that ruled with absolute virtue or when there were peace through the area. A white tiger is illustrated on page 179 thus signaling that King Suddhodhana is a just and fair ruler.
- The birth of Prince Siddhartha is depicted on pages 264 and 265. He is shown on a bed of lotus flowers and surrounded by various animals. Lotus flowers are a common theme in Buddhism as that it is often refers to the "progress of the soul". It is a very important symbol in Buddhism.
- A story that is present in both the manga and Siddhartha's childhood is when Siddhartha went hunting with some friends and they killed a rabbit (Buddha) or a swan (The Way of Siddhartha). In both versions, he is deeply upset by the fact the fact that the young boys took a life that did not belong to them. In Buddha, a classmate of Siddhartha dies along with the rabbit.
- On pages 244-248 , One of Siddhartha's teachers, later revealed to be Brahma, leads him to a ruin with four gates and at each gate is one of the four sights: an old man, a sick, woman, ,a corpse, and an ascetic. Tales normally state that King Suddhodhana tries to prevent Siddhartha from seeing such sights when he would travel through the town.
- Siddhartha names his son Rahula, meaning "obstacle" in Buddha. According to other tales, the name Rahula refers to the eclipse of the sun.
- An early reference to the demon Mara could be shown though Yashodara. On page 298, Siddhartha tells a "devil" to stop tempting him to leave the roof of the building and join Yashodara.
- Five ascetics are brought to make Siddhartha move from the roof. The ascetics are representations of the five ascetics that Siddhartha meets later in the Forest of Uruvela, according to the Pali canon, on in his journey to reach enlightenment .
- There are some discrepancies between the manga and the actual story of Buddha. In the manga, Siddhartha appears to be about 17 or 18 years old when he leaves, where according to Buddhist stories, he is approximately 29 years old when he departs. Siddhartha's age is undefined when he sets for journey to discover enlightenment. It is said that Tezuka used Siddhartha's ambiguous age to make the character more relatable to the younger demographic. When he leaves, he departs with a servant named Channa which can be observed in both the Pali canon and Buddha.
- in Volume 3, some important characters from the Pali canon are introduced. The character Assaji is introduced on page 19 and Devadatta is seen on page 48. Both of them are based off important historical figures that played a role in Buddha's life, even though their history has been tweaked a bit to better fit the plot of the manga.
- The beginning of volume 3 illustrates the beginning of his six years worth of ordeals which Siddhartha underwent before he became enlighten and realized the uselessness of the ordeals.
- The Way of Siddhartha suggests, contrary to the manga, that Devadatta actually grew up with Siddhartha and was a childhood friend of his. According to the Buddha, Devadatta was the son of Bandaka and a noblewoman and was born a shortly after Siddhartha left the palace to discover enlightenment. Devadatta grew up in a wealthy family, but always in Siddhartha's shadow. According the manga, Devadatta was kicked out of Kapilavastu because of his aggression and parentage.
- While Devadatta was living with Naradatta in the forest, Naradatta introduces Devadatta to idea of natural selection or "the weak perish, the strong survive". This is an early concept of evolutionary thought. It can be considered an opposing philosophy to the philosophy of Buddhism. Buddhism deals with being considerate to other beings, where natural selection is the idea of every creature fending for itself.
- Another important character in the Pali canon, is Visakha. She was one of the first disciples of Buddha and even built a magnificent temple in honor to the Brahim and later for Buddha. In the manga, Visakha removed the Brahim from her city because of a plaque; however, she was intrigued by Siddhartha because of his nobility and still desiring to become an ascetic. She is shown obsessed with potions and retaining her age and beauty, which is a contradiction to the Pali canon description of her. In the canon, she is often shown as a prime example of a religious woman and followed Buddha from a young age.
- King Bimbisara is also introduced, who becomes one of Buddha's followers and is another important character throughout Buddhist literature. In the manga, he plays a similar role to the story as he does in the canon.
- Buddha's teachers Sage Alara (Alara Kalama), and Sage Uddaka (Uddaka Ramaputta references for him can be found in The Origin of Buddhist Meditation) are illustrated on pg. 15-19 and pg. 20-25. Both of their mediation methods, the "sphere of nothing" and the "sphere of non-perception", can be seen in Buddhism because of the two sages influence on Siddhartha.
- The treatment of Migaila's illness is similar to the parable of the sick monk. People did not want to help him because he had done things that were considered unforgivable. This can be seen in the way that the towns people treat Tatta, Migaila, and Siddhartha because of their status or actions. The parable can be found here.
- Assaji is considered an important character in the canon and does not die in the manner deciphered in the manga. He is considered one of Buddha's first disciples.His death is comparable to Jataka Tale No. 25, "The Story of the Tigress". He sacrifices himself to the fox cubs,instead of tiger cubs, in order to prevent them from starving to death. A simplified version can be found here or in the book The Hungry Tigress and Other Traditional Asian Tales.
- Sujata is seen in the Jataka Tales as well. The original story had her as a young married woman that offered milk-rice to Buddha shortly before he reached enlightenment. She offered the milk-rice to him because she thought he was the guardian spirit of the tree. When Siddhartha received the rice, he divided it into 49 portions as a way to say that he had 49 days to reach enlightenment. This also correlates with Assaji predictions in the manga that Sujata and Siddhartha would be together the day before he achieved enlightenment under a Bodhi Tree. In the manga, this statement refers to when Siddhartha enter Sujata to save her from death. The story can be found in The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia.
- The story of the Prince Crystal and the massacre of the Shakyan tribe is another common tale that is illustrated in the manga. The Shayan tribe deceived the King of Kosala by giving him a wife with noble lineage when in reality, she was a maidservant. A better description of the whole story is presented later on in the manga.
- In the manga, Siddhartha obtains enlightenment under a Bodhi tree and was renamed Buddha by Brahma. From multiple sources, Siddhartha achieved enlightenment once he realized that everything in life is connected and that suffering is caused by the people's desires for earthly items.
- The beginning of the manga sets up the image of Devadatta being ambitious and greedy. In the canon. not much is said about Devadatta before he joins Buddha, other than he is related to Siddhartha and is a prince. But this behavior will eventually lead to his downfall.
- Ajatasattu means "one who is an enemy of his own clan from even before his birth" and a foreshadow to his future and correlates to the prediction that Assaji made.
- The tale of the killer elephant, Nalagiri, is also seen in Jataka No. 533. In the actual jataka, Devadatta releases the elephant to kill Buddha; however, in the manga, the elephant attacks Prince Ajatasattu instead. The reason for the elephant's vicious behavior in the manga and jataka are also different. In the manga, the elephant is dangerous because of its child being killed by a hunter, thus it is acting out its rage on any human it encounters. In the jataka, Devadatta gave it a large quantity of alcohol and releases it in Buddha's path. By changing this fact, it sets up the rest of the story by placing Devadatta in the prince's good graces.
- In the Pali canon, Devadtta impresses the prince by appearing to him as snake and showing other his supernatural abilities. This can be compared to the manga. Instead of showing the prince supernatural abilities, Devadatta shows the young prince various card tricks and other things that also impresses him.
- The demon Mara makes his first appearance in this volume. In traditional Buddhist tales, Mara is a demon meant to tempt Buddha/Siddhartha from enlightenment and to coerce him towards earthly desires. Mara is only briefly mentioned in Buddha; however, in other tales, he plays a more prominent role. One version has Mara attempting to influence Siddhartha to remain at the palace with his family and then, Mara's daughters try to tempt Siddhartha to leave from underneath the Bodhi tree and to stop his pursuit on enlightenment. The version in the manga shows Mara trying to convince Buddha to kill himself because Mara was unable to prevent Buddha from becoming enlightened. Devadatta could be compared to Mara because they both try to tempt Buddha to do things that he does not want to.
- The Jataka Tale No. 12, "The Banyan Deer"ends up being Buddha's first sermon at Deer Park because the five ascetics refused to listen to Buddha. They refused because they thought he had forsaken the way to enlightenment and yet, he was proud enough to call himself the "Enlighten One". In Buddha, the first sermon was preached to deer instead of men. The first sermon that he actually taught to men is the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutra.
- When the Prince Crystal decides to attack Kapilavastu, he runs across Buddha in the middle of his path and retreats because of the fear he experienced from watching the animals sacrifice themselves to protect Buddha from harm. It was also customary for armies to retreat when they encountered an holy man on the path. This is a continuation of the tale of the Prince Crystal and the massacre of the Shakyan tribe.
- Devadatta's half brother, Ananda, is introduced. Ananda's beginning according to Buddha is different then what is stated in the Pali canon. In the Pali canon, he was a Sakyan prince and became a disciple when Buddha visited Kapilavastu. In the manga, Ananda became a follower after he was saved from suffocation by Buddha. More information on Ananda can be found in Buddha's Constant Companion Venerable Ananda. by Ven. Weragoda Sarada. Much is changed with Ananda's beginning, and in a manner similar to how Devadatta's story is changed. Mara is shown with a more prominent role now. She takes Ananda under her guidance and protection.
- Kusinagara is the city in which Ananda and his mother hide from the Kosalan army and it is an important location in Buddhism because it is the site of Buddha's death and cremation.
- In many stories, Ananda is closely associated with women. Lata lets the reader see that Ananda has a patience and kindness toward women that many men during this time did not have.
- The tale of Angilimala is another common story in Buddhism. It is about how even a person that has committed horrible crimes can find redemption. In the actual story, Ahimsa/Angilimala is ordered to collect 1000 fingers by his mentor because his jealous classmates convince the brahmin that Ahimsa is having an affair with the brahmin's wife. Ahimsa means "to do no harm".
- In the manga, it is the wife that convinces the brahmin that Ahimsa tried to have an affair with her and he is hypnotized to collect one hundred fingers, not 1000. In the original story of Angilimala, he becomes a monk after Buddha converts him and in volume 6, it is unknown rather this will also occur in the manga.
- Other characters that show up are the Kassapa brothers. The first one focused on was Uruvela Kassapa. In the manga, Buddha wants to sleep in the sacred dome to save Ananda from Mara and Uruvela. Both in the manga and stories about Uruvela, does not want Buddha to stay in the dome because of a fearsome serpent demon is in it. Also, Buddha defeats Mara, saves Ananda, and by doing so he demonstrates his ability to both Uruvela and Ananda. They convert after witnessing it.
- The two brothers of Uruvela, Nadi and Gaya, are seen next. They are converted in a similar manner as Uruvela was. First, they shun Buddha because they think he must have brainwashed their brother in order to convert him from their fire cult. In reality, they realize that Uruvela converted because of the words and powers that Buddha possessed. It is during this time that Buddha teaches one of his famous sutras, the Fire Sermon.
- King Bimbisara offers Kalandaka Bamboo grove to Buddha which becomes the Venuvana monastery, one of the main monasteries that Buddha taught from.
- Prince Ajatasattu is often depicted as being greedy and power hungry in the canon; however, in the manga, Prince Ajatasattu cares deeply for father and only wants his father to live without fear. This mindset isn't seen in the prince until after King Bimbisara put the girl the prince cares for to death. At one point, the prince was even willing to give up his position to become a slave with Yudelka. Devadatta uses the prince's grief to form a plan to get back at Buddha and the king.
- The meeting between Ananda and Sariputta actually occurred between Assaji and Sariputta. In the manga, Assaji is watching over Ananda and protecting him from harm. Sariputta see this in Ananda's complexion and eyes and asks Ananda to tell him what his teacher preaches. According to the Pali canon, Sariputta stops Assaji because of the serene expression he wears. When Moggallana meets with Sariputta after his travels, Moggallana notices right away that Sariputta has discovered some great truth and this occurs both in the manga and the canon.
- Moggallana's and Sariputta's first teacher is Sanjaya who taught a form of agnosticism and to have disbelief in everything.
- It is in this volume that Ananda becomes Buddha's personal attendant like Moggallana predicted that Ananda would become. Buddha decides after Lata sacrifices herself for Buddha. According to the stories about Ananda, he has always had a soft spot for women in the monastery. This typical image of Ananda is greater enforced by his behavior with Lata and how if they were not nun and monk, they would be together as husband and wife.
- The final straw that destroys the relationship between Devadatta and Buddha is shown to be when Devadatta asks Buddha to retire and name him as the successor. However, Buddha states he cannot stand the sight of Devadatta and this event eventually leads to Devadatta betraying Buddha. Even Moggallana states this after Devadatta leaves the monastery.
- Buddha meets Visakha again. She has completely lost her mind to the potions she was taking to preserve her youth, but eventually she comes back to her senses and realize the consequences of her mistakes. By the end of volume 7, she has become a disciple of Buddha like she was in the Pali canon.
- Ahimsa eventually becomes a disciple of Buddha right before his death and is reborn as a new person free of suffering which correlates to canon.
- Prince Crystal is illustrated attacking the Shakya because of how they had treated him while he was a student at the Kapilavastu's schools. In the Pali canon, the Prince Crystal is consumed with greedy and hatred that it ends up being the death of him. However, in the manga, Buddha convinces the Prince Crystal that he will gain nothing but suffering if he continued to occupy Kapilavastu. According to canon, this could be counted as one of the four times that Buddha persuades Prince Crystal away.
- Devadatta causes the group of monks to split after Buddha travels to different locations to teach the Dharma to others. He is able to split the group because Prince Ajatasattu orders a decree that the monks there must follow Devadatta. The prince becomes the king after Devadatta stops giving King Bimbisara a poison that the king is now addicted to. Canon states that Prince Ajatasattu tried to kill his father but failed and once the king discovers what Prince Ajatasattu had plan to do, the king decided to step down and give the throne to Ajatasattu. In the manga, the throne is forcibly taken from King Bimbisara and he is thrown into prison.
- Once Devadatta had obtained 300 monks, they traveled to Elephant's Head Mountain which is the same location that Buddha gave his sermon on fire to the Kassapa brothers' followers.
- Sariputta utilizes a rare optical phenomenon, Buddha's Halo or also known as a Glory, to trick the departed monks to come back to Venuvana.
- Sudatta was a rich merchant that sold everything he had so he cover a fraction of the Jetavana monastery with gold. In both the canon and the manga, Sudatta comes across a dangerous spirit until Buddha indirectly sames him. After witnessing the glow and power of Buddha, he desires to build Buddha a magnificent temple. The full story can be found in The Gospel of Buddha: According to Old records.
- King Virudhaka/Crystal attacks and destroys the Shakya after they attack Kosalan soldiers. Tales about the massacre of the Shakya states that Virudhaka attacked them out of angry and only after be turn away by Buddha three previous times. The manga paints Virduhaka as a kinder character than how he is typically represented in Buddhist texts. The relationship between Buddha, Virudhaka, and King Prasenajit is presented very differently then what is typical seen of it. Prasenajit's death is the same in both the manga and the Lotus Sutra.
- Devadattta tries many times to kill Buddha. None of his attempts in the manga or Pali canon succeed and in the end, it is one of his four attempts that result in his death. The Ekottaragama Sutra states that Devadatta's death was caused by the poison on fingernails that were meant to be used to murder Buddha. Some events happened out of order though. According to the sutra, King Ajatasattu renounces Devadatta after the third attempt on Buddha's life, yet, in the manga it is only after Devadatta's death and at the request of King Bimbisara that Buddha goes to Ajatasattu.
- King Bimbisara is starved to death by his son and the only nutrition that he has access to, is when his wife covers herself in honey and brings it to him. This follows canon. As does the treatment of Ajatasattu by Buddha; however, it is shown in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra and not the Pali canon.
- Both Sariputta and Moggallana die before Buddha does and in the manga, their deaths are as vague as it is in the sutras and the Pali canon. There is no definite source behind the cause of Sariputta's and Moggallana's death. Some sources say an illness killed them while other sources say that they were murdered during their travels. One huge difference between the manga and most Buddhist texts is that Buddha is said to have died within the same year that Sariputta and Moggallana died. The manga states that Buddha will die ten years and four months after Sariputta's and Moggallana's deaths. However, Mara does show up after Buddha's heirs death to convince Buddha that he is old and should pass into nirvana.
- An interesting aspect to the manga series, is that it began and ended with Jataka Tale No. 316 and Buddha retells the story that Asita told to Naradatta at the beginning of the series. At the end, Buddha mentions how he had seen Assaji sacrifice himself to a wolf family.
- Both in the manga and the Pali canon, what eventually lead up to Buddha's death is that he becomes ill after eating food given to him by a blacksmith on top of his original sickness. What he was giving was called sukara-maddava, which can be translated as "pig's delight" or "soft pork". It is not known rather it refers to meat or mushrooms; however, in the manga, mushrooms were used. Though the mushrooms were in the shape of Hyoutan-Tsugi, which is a pig-looking gourd that Tezuka often used in many of his series as comedic relief. This could be seen as a play on words.
- Buddha gives his last sermon to Subhadda, who was his last convert, even though he was extremely ill. Subhadda quickly becomes a monk after hearing Buddha's sermon.
- On page 359, there is a relief depicting Buddha's death and a similar looking sandstone relief can be found in the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum and Temple located in Singapore.
Tezuka's Star System and Characters Seen in Buddha
Tezuka is known for using a Star System for iconic characters. In Buddha, the Star System can be seen with a variety of characters. Characters with notable roles are Sharaku Hosukeas Assaji, Rock Holmes as King Bimbisara, and Duke Red in the role of Prince Siddhartha'a doctor. A debatable character present in Buddha is Yuki Michio as Devadatta. Osamu Tezuka appears as himself in various cameos along with a variety of other characters. Volume 1 features cameos from Tezuka, Professor Ochanomizu, and Duke Red who acts as doctors for Chapra when he is injured in his duel with Bandaka. In volume 4, both Big X and Saruta appear. Big X is seen fighting Yatala on page 306. Saruta is seen as the doctor of Sujuta on pg. 201 and 216. In volume 6, Ban Shunsuke appears playing his typical role as a detective on pg. 46. He plays the role of Detective Pampas. In the same volume, Saruta is introduced as another character, Uruvela Kassapa on page 169 and Ananda hallucinates that Ahimsa is Black Jack when he falls ill with an infection. At the end of the next volume, "Prince Ajatasattu", Buddha appears as Black Jack when he tells Prince Crystal that "He is a doctor" and Tezuka makes another cameo.
Studio Ghibli Films
Active: June 1985-present
Founding members of Studio Ghibli consisted of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Common themes that are often seen in their movies are Environmentalism, Flying, Coming of Age, Feminism, and Shinto/ Buddhist references. This section will mostly focus on the references to the folklore, religion, and culture of Japan that are present in many of the films. Even though most of the films take place in a European like city or environment, there are many distinctive elements to the movie that are common to Japan.
12th Century Animation
Isao Takahata published a novel depicting how Japanese animation as it is known in the modern time, all stems from the scroll paintings that were used in the 12th century. One of more well known scrolls from this time period is the Shigisan engi or Legeneds of the Temple on Mount Shigi. It has three separate scrolls, each with a different but related story on them. The first scroll is called "The Flying Granary", the second one "The Exorcism of the Engi Emperor", and the last being "The Story of the Nun". They were read from right to left and as one's eyes would travel across the scroll, the scenes would change and create a "moving" frame. This was the early basis for anime and manga as it is known today.
Most of the yokai that are seen in Studio Ghibli's films were either made up by Miyazaki and Takahata, or were created during the Edo Period. Yokai literally translates as "otherworldly" and "weird" and were often used to explain natural phenomenon and consequences, karma, of a person's actions. The largest collection of yokai illustrations are seen in Sekien Toriyama's Gazu Hyakki Yagyo or The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demonsin 1776. Pom Poko, directed by Isao Takahata, shows a night parade when the tanuki transform into various yokai, including Kiki (Kiki's Delivery Service), Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro), Porco (Porco Rosso), and Taeko (Only Yesterday). Miyazaki uses a variety of yokai in his films and they are most commonly seen in the films: Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and My Neighbor Totoro.
Adolf by Osamu Tezuka
Original Run: 1983 – 1985