Christianity is a weird, exotic religion in Japan, one which has a pretty marriage ceremony and has something to do with a slow torturous murder of someone on a cross… and that’s about all most Japanese people know about Christianity. So, it sticks out like a sore thumb when the Japanese characters use references to Christianity, even in passing. And, it pisses me off when people just replace “god” with “kami” as though they mean the same thing… but that’s a rant for another day.
I think it is worth it though, to look at the religious themes that are in the Detective Conan universe. I think that a lot of Westerners, not having in Japanese cultural heritage, may not pick up on these subtleties. The reason that I know a bit about this is that I took a class on Japanese religion and philosophy (mostly a literature class, goodness, the Buddhist monks were prolific!) and a class on ancient Japanese literature, which included the Nihonshoki and Kojiki, so I’m not working off of pop-culture notions of what Shintouism and Buddhism are.
It’s been noticed before by many that the Magic Kaitou series is in a world with magic, and Detective Conan is in a world of science-fiction. But, the supernatural does exist in the Detective Conan universe, and it is powerful, and it is very, very Shintou.
Both Ran and Kazuha are shamanesses of sorts… or witches? Psychics? There isn’t really a direct translation into English, and the term “miko” conjures up completely different images, thanks to pop-culture. Either way, they both have supernatural powers. Kazuha made an omamori (a protective talisman) so powerful it stopped a murder attempt on Conan. She has a reputation for making powerful omamori, and she makes them for other people. Ran is psychic intuitive, meaning that when she guesses, she guesses correctly. She also has supernatural luck, winning at lotteries easily. Both Ran and Kazuha are extremely superstitious.
Conan/Shinichi is a Skeptic and an Atheist. Being an Atheist is likely tied into him not believing in the supernatural, which is a result of him being a Skeptic. Shinichi is an extremely outspoken Skeptic as well, living his life by it. He’s not very tactful about it either, often mocking Ran for believing in Youkai or ghosts. The Skeptism movement is based on using evidenced based reasoning to figure out what to believe. No evidence for something, no belief in it. Shinichi has had very little experience with genuine supernatural things, so he doesn’t believe in them. His ability to sense when someone is looking at him with malicious intent he likely explains to himself as his subconscious noticing something and warning him about it.
Heiji is also a Skeptic, but he does have some supernatural beliefs. It relates to his prophetic dreams. He has direct experience with it, and seeing Kazuha’s power, he’s proved to himself that his dreams are real, and that Kazuha’s omamori have some sort of effect on the world. He hasn’t however, started believing anything and everything supernatural, and joins in with Shinichi in mocking the girls when they freak out over a possible ghost or vampire. He’s debunked many faked supernatural events as well.
Interestingly, anyone who tries to profit off of something supernatural, either blaming a murder on it or making money off of it, in the Detective Conan universe, is a fraud who is exposed in the episode. The supernatural here doesn’t come to those who want it, it does whatever the hell it pleases, neither being good or evil, like nature itself.
I keep saying “supernatural”, but in Shintouism, there is no such thing. Kami are part of nature, not outside, or above it. Shintouism also doesn’t have very much to say about any afterlife, other than death being ritualistically impure and something that invites bad luck, which is why Buddhism and Shintouism can coexist so easily. Buddhism is concerned with the afterlife, and it supposedly grants ordinary people purification superpowers – as though living your life in a particular way and holding a specific set of philosophies can make you able to purify away the bad luck gathered by impure things like blood and death. It’s very common in Japan for people to live according to Shintouism – gathering blessings they’ve bribed from various kami at shrines and using the divining services of a psychics to help make big decisions, but to use Buddhist death ceremonies and mantras for funerals or other unlucky events. In fact, it’s hard to see anymore where Shintouism ends and Buddhism begins in Japan. Yin-yang philosophy (called “Onmyou” in Japanese) also has blended itself comfortably into Japan’s unique religious blend, making Duality a common theme in Japanese literature.
Then, we look at Shinichi. He’s soaked in blood and death, as part of his daily life. Shinichi is ritualistically impure, so he’s plagued with bad luck. Even with Ran besides him, horrible things happen around him, sometimes to him, constantly. He even brings his impurity into places that should be able to purify it; people die in shines and temples when he’s there. In that universe, it’s no wonder that the evil organization was drawn to him and ended up trying to kill him. Heiji is similarly plagued with bad fortune, but he has Kazuha’s omamori to offset it, so he hasn’t ended up hounded for years by an international crime syndicate. When Heiji and Shinichi are together though – there will be more than one murder. Though, that might just be the fact that Heiji is a popular side character they like to milk the appearances of…
One idea that’s been borrowed from Buddhism and is omnipresent in the Detective Conan universe is Karma. Bad things happen to people who deserve them. It has a story-telling convenience too – you don’t feel so bad about the horrible deaths of characters that you don’t like. It can be a fun little game – spot the asshole, and bet that character will be dead by the end of the episode. But - the moral themes of the show often directly contradict the Buddhist focus on the afterlife. Many times, either Conan or whatever detective solves the case lamented that people weren't focusing on loving and living their brief time in this life, which is a very important value in Shintou.
There is one other very strong influence on this series, something that was a lot stronger in the 90's, when it first started being published. The evil organization that Shinichi is fighting is likely some kind of Transhumanist cult. The search for immortality, the interest in digital security, hacking, and computer simulations add up to Transhumanism. Then, their members are members for life, secrecy is more important than money making, and the raising of children to be useful for them sounds very cult-like. It also puts Gin's obsession with betrayal into context, doesn't it?
There you have it: a very basic look into the religious/ideological themes of the Detective Conan universe.Back to the Rant Index