Tokyo Revengers follows a young man named Takemichi Hanagaki as he travels back in time to save his girlfriend from getting killed by a gang called Toman. The series starts off with what looks to be a simple love story only to expand with Takemichi determined to save everyone he loves, including his newfound friends in Toman. The manga, written by Ken Wakui, was awarded the Best Shonen Series at the 44th Kodansha Manga Awards and is one of this season's highly-anticipated anime.
But now we have to talk about the elephant in the room: the swastika, which is the symbol of Toman. For Western audiences, seeing the swastika is a huge trigger as it was the symbol of Nazism, hatred, and terror. But for other cultures like those in India or East Asia, it represents prosperity and good luck.
Understanding the Manji Symbol
The Nazis' version of the swastika varies slightly from the manji symbol: the manji symbol is counter-clockwise with the center as a plus sign while the other version is clockwise and tilted at an angle known as a "hooked cross." If you were to look at a map in Japan a few years ago, this symbol would have been on it several times as it marks off where the temples are. However, Japan recently changed it to make it more "foreigner-friendly" in anticipation of the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. And it's understandable why the government opted to change it: without the cultural knowledge and context, it would have directed a lot of unwarranted hate and fear against Japanese people.
It's important that we discuss the manji symbol as it was originally intended: an auspicious symbol of peace and prosperity. In Buddhism, it represents the footprints of the Buddha. It stands for good things and good luck, hence why it's a common symbol to be found around places of worship.
However, the image of the swastika will be forever linked to Nazism. Unfortunately, because of how historically and culturally rooted the swastika is in Nazism in the past and present, it'll be hard to explain to viewers why the manji symbol isn't the same thing and it'll be even harder for people to listen. That's why Japan chose to change the symbols on their maps rather than offer historical context on what the manji symbol means. And similarly, Tokyo Revengers chose not to use the symbol in the anime trailer and stills, instead of using a bullet in place of it.
In both instances, the anime and the country are avoiding the topic and trying to explain an extremely complicated and controversial symbol. Is there any hope of the manji symbol reclaiming its original meaning? T.K. Nakagaki, a Japanese Buddhist priest who wrote The Buddhist Swastika and Hitler's Cross says starting a conversation about the symbol "is already a victory" and that having both sides talk about the symbol and their understanding of it is opening a path to reconciliation and reclamation.
The Manji Symbol in Tokyo Revengers
Being short for Tokyo Manji Gang, Toman uses the manji symbol constantly: on their uniforms, on their bikes, and the fact that their meetings are held at a shrine. Again, it's extremely easy to connect the manji symbol and Toman with violence and hatred, given the that's how delinquents are often depicted in media and the complicated history of the symbol itself. While Toman has its own dark history and a fair share of violence, it's important to note that the origins of Toman's creation were grounded in friendship and loyalty.
Although Manjiro "Mikey" Sano is the leader, it's Keisuke Baji, the captain of the First Division, who first suggested that they create their own gang to protect Kazutora Hanemiya, who is also one of the six founders of Toman. What Baji ultimately wanted was a gang that would have each other's backs and would do anything to help each other if one of them gets hurt, and this, later on, becomes Mikey's dream of "a new age of delinquents."
Mikey's desire to create this new age -- and how Toman transformed into a criminal syndicate 12 years later -- is remarkably similar to how the original meaning of the manji symbol has been changed. Both of their original meanings have been manipulated beyond recognition and now represent hatred and fear. What Nakagaki said parallels the structure of Tokyo Revengers: Takemichi going back and forth in time is creating that space for him to understand the members of Toman and how things changed so drastically in those 12 years.