WARNING: The following contains minor spoilers for Shaman King (2021), now streaming on Netflix.
Shaman King has returned with a new 2021 reboot that, despite not changing much thematically or plot-wise, resonates harder due to the increased relevance of its environmental message. Anime that caution against turning the planet into our own personal dumping ground have become increasingly prevalent as the machine of industry soils our land, blackens our skies and contaminates our oceans.
While Shaman King is not as overt as anime like Princess Mononoke when it comes to environmentalism, it does shun modern conventions of society, with many characters either turning to natural ways of living or maintaining a deep respect for nature's order. The Shamans argue that the world belongs more to spirits than humans, a belief with roots in Shinto culture and philosophies.
The Environmental Messages of Shaman King
The various Shamans in Shaman King maintain a deep regard for nature that goes deeper than merely respecting humanity's history. They respect the natural order of events, and not just the cycles of life and death. When we meet protagonist Yoh Asakura, he completely defies the traditions of modern society, mostly hanging out with spirits and having a difficult time relating to people who don't have some degree of connection to the other side.
Many Shamans also incorporate natural powers into their abilities. While Yoh has Amidamaru, a legendary swordsman whose grave is defiled by punks, other characters like Horohoro incorporate ice powers. Anna is even capable of manipulating the natural world and the realm of nature to send spirits to heaven or hell. Later on, viewers are introduced to Shamans who manipulate the very spirits of nature themselves.
Of course, Shaman King also features characters who do not respect nature. As a result they are typically seen as adversaries and evil, but others have stranger perspectives. The X-Laws, for example, are Shamans who can summon Angels yet turn out to be the spirits of manmade mechanics. While they later prove to be heroes, they are initially seen as enemies. The X-Laws aside, spirits are tied more to the natural world than the mechanical one, resulting in some interesting messages about the way humanity is connected to the world.
Humanity's Dismissal of the Natural World
Many of the humans outside the Shaman community are disrespectful to nature. We build over it, desecrate graves, and generally seem to care less about the world we're living in. Shaman King's anime and manga argue that the Earth is capable of incredible power and worthy of respect and love. And as we see with Tao Ren's personal story arc, forcibly manipulating the spirit world is ultimately a bad thing.
All of this ties into Shaman King's general message: respect nature. When humans become closer to the spiritual world, they themselves become Shamans capable of incredible power. "Wooden Sword" Ryu is a case in point. He starts the series desecrating graves but soon -- after several experiences where the spiritual world gives him a series of nonconsensual haircuts -- learns to respect nature and embrace being a Shaman himself.
Even the X-Laws, who draw their archangels from cars or trucks, maintain this philosophy. People don't typically associate cars with spirits or souls, rather seeing them as disposable, but Shaman King argues that even these mechanical creations are alive and worthy of respect as sentient life forms.
This overarching message is all the more relevant today, in a world where we increasingly dispose of materials we don't immediately need, move on to the next product to consume and neglect the Earth's needs. Perhaps we as a society would do well to return to the traditions of nature, respecting the history and the world as Shaman King does.