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Cultural References in Manga

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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.

East Asian

Religion and Culture

Buddha by Osamu Tezuka

Original Run: 1972-1983

The Northern Gateway of the Great Stupa of Sanchi as seen in Buddha
Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3
Sharaku Hosuke playing the role of Assaji

Volume 4

Volume 5

Volume 6

Volume 7

The Venuvana Monastery that King Bimbisara gave to Buddha in Rajgir, India

Volume 8

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.

Edo Period

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.

Historical Figures

Adolf by Osamu Tezuka

Original Run: 1983 – 1985

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