Tokyo Revengers: Manji Gang Symbol (Meaning & Controversy)
The manji symbol is not only in the title of the Tokyo Revengers (東京卍リベンジャーズ Tōkyō Ribenjāzu) itself but is also in the name and is the emblem of the Tokyo Manji Gang. Why is the manji symbol so controversial and potentially problematic?
The manji symbol (卍) is used as a representation of divinity and spirituality, which is found in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, among other Indian faiths. Unsurprisingly, due to the Nazis’ misappropriation and corruption of the manji swastika, many people still view it as a representation of racism and hatred.
This was the long story made short since the meanings and implications of the manji symbol go way further and have generated controversy, which led to censorship. The rest of this article will further elaborate on the above-given answer, as well as it will show and explain the use of the manji symbol in Japan, in religion, as well as in Tokyo Revengers and other anime/manga series through time.
What does the manji symbol represent in Tokyo Revengers?
In Tokyo Revengers, the Tokyo Manji Gang, or Toman for short, uses the manji symbol on a number of items, including their uniforms, bikes, and flags. The symbol, originally derived from ancient Sanskrit, conveys the meanings of happiness and prosperity and predates any connections to Nazi propaganda or ideology. It has been used for centuries by Hindus and Buddhists. Japanese Buddhism uses both the left- and right-facing manji symbols, whereas the left-facing horizontal manji is used in maps to mark the locations of Buddhist temples.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the recent rise in popularity of the manji and its meaning has a direct connection to the manga Tokyo Revengers, which has seen stupendous success in the Japanese entertainment industry, adapted into an anime series and one live-action movie, with two more films upcoming in 2023. It was announced that the first part of the next movie would be released on April 21, 2023, adapting the Bloody Halloween Arc -Fate-, and the second part, on June 30, 2023, adapting the Bloody Halloween Arc -Decisive Battle-.
The story of Tokyo Revengers starts when Takemichi Hanagaki, who had thought his life could not get any worse, learned on television that Hinata Tachibana, his one and only love and girlfriend, had been murdered by the overbearing Tokyo Manji Gang, a group of brutal criminals who have been upsetting the peace in the society for quite some time now. While pondering what had gone wrong with his life, Takemichi accidentally travels back in time and finds himself 12 years ago, when he was still dating Hinata. After realizing he has a chance to save her, he decides to join the Tokyo Manji Gang and advance through the ranks in order to alter history and spare her from her tragic fate.
The gang was led by Mikey, a teenager with considerable influence who brought together dozens of members to terrorize the city of Tokyo. Mikey played with words in order to name his organization. Since his own name is Sano Manjiro, he called the group “Manji” and used the homonymous Buddhist swastika as their symbol. The significance of the manji in Tokyo Revengers can be extended and directly connected to Takemichi’s plans to bring about peace and prevent Toman from turning into a criminal organization because, when traveling in time, he ends up connecting and bonding with Toman’s members and wishes to save them too, not only his love, Hinata.
It makes sense that it would be an auspicious symbol of prosperity and peace. Still, given the criminal activities of the gang in question and the global repercussions of misappropriating this religious symbol, it is reasonable to imagine how such use could spark controversy and repulsion. Since Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party embraced and inverted the Buddhist swastika, turning it into a new symbol to represent its horrendously absurd ideology of racial superiority and white supremacy, it remains difficult not to be reminded of that when we see a swastika of any kind.
Why is the manji symbol so problematic?
The problem with the manji symbol is not exclusive to Tokyo Revengers, though. Japan changed many of the country’s maps, often using the manji to depict stated Buddhist temples, in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Some of the other cases in which the manji was used in a manga series and that were changed in the anime adaptations include One Piece, where, in the manga series, Ace’s back tattoo is originally a manji, with a pirate skull in the middle, which was changed into a skull and crossbones in the anime series.
However, the controversy started way before that. Yoshihiro Togashi’s Yu Yu Hakusho, published by Shōnen Jump in the 1990s, featured the character Kazemaru. His clothes resemble those of Buddhist monks. He kept his hair shaved and flaunted the manji symbol on his forehead. While this was not a problem when the manga and the anime series were restricted to Japan and some other Asian countries, things became more complicated once they reached other corners of the world. This was the first time the use of manji in an anime series sparked discussion on the subject in the West.
With the globalization of anime as a medium, a trend started to avoid using the manji symbol in manga and anime series altogether. In complete opposition to this trend, Kodansha approved Tokyo Revengers’ use of the symbol in all conceivable contexts. In addition to the manji being seen in the uniforms of the Tokyo Manji Gang, the Buddhist swastika appears in the title’s logotype, as it can be seen in the middle of a crack brought on by a punch.
Why would the Japanese insist on using such a controversial symbol?
Both manga and anime series have been conveying and showing cultural resistance to the project of Westernizing Japan. Furthermore, in an effort to reassert the local culture for Japanese youth, legends, symbols, folktales, and motifs that are typically Japanese are frequently used in these productions. Some academics have even delved further into the murky waters of using the manji symbol and references to WWII in Tokyo Revengers. To name just one, it was noticed that the most sympathetic characters in Tokyo Revengers have blond-dyed hair. Actually, dyeing one’s hair is a trait shared by criminals and gangsters in Japanese folklore that may be found in various tales.
How did Tokyo Revengers deal with this?
The Japanese-language manga series of Tokyo Revengers, as well as the entirety of the initial anime series, feature the manji symbol, but it has been taken out of the English-language version of the anime, whether covered, blurred, or completely erased.
Controversies aside, it is sure to affirm that Tokyo Revengers achieved great success all over the world, and such a huge success brings about an even huger responsibility. Therefore, changes were made to the anime series (and to the live-action adaptations), choosing to erase and blur the symbol from the anime, and removing it altogether from the movies, since explaining its original meaning after the appropriation by the Nazis was found not to be the best option.