The Hero’s Journey archetype has influenced our culture more then we realize. This isn’t just seen in our culture, but every single culture, people group, tribe in the world. And in my opinion, most of the otaku community. Humanity is connected to each and every individual God created because of our deep love of story telling and myth making. The deepest cries of our hearts all sound the same. These cries are the constant search for truth and they are heard through story telling of marvelous heroes and journeys far and wide into the world.
Ancient stories such as the Odyssey, King Arthur, and Jonah and the whale all have a common formula. Modern stories like Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars, Naruto, Bleach, Noragami, One Piece, Fairy Tail, and so many others reuse that formula for a new audience. The first part of that formula is
- Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Supernatural Aid
- The Crossing of the First Threshold
- The Belly of the Whale
Anime tells of this formula most prevalently in the shonen genera. The big three, Naruto, Bleach, One Piece all follow the same hero formula, and many of the same lessons are learned. (Most of these lessons are about friendship) Anime tells this formula in a way different from all other media and myth because it’s modernization. You might not even see how recycled some of the shonen themes are because they’re executed so well. People make a lot of money ripping of myth of ancient times. It’s even in the bible:
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
The most notable work that illustrates the deep connection myth and stories have to each other would be “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell. (I proudly own a first edition of this book, my 18th birthday present.) This book was what inspired George Lucas to create Star Wars. “In the three decades since I discovered The Hero with a Thousand Faces, it has continued to fascinate and inspire me. Joseph Campbell peers through centuries and shows us that we are all connected by a basic need to hear stories and understand ourselves. As a book, it is wonderful to read; as illumination into the human condition, it is a revelation.” — George Lucas
“The Hero With a Thousand Faces” not only tells of how ancient works inspired other ancient works, it is still to this day and age inspiring story tellers to dig back into the ancient quest for truth such as it did for George Lucas.” Joseph Campbell was a world-renowned mythologist who helped modern society understand the true power that storytelling has in our culture and within our personal lives. He studied and identified the universal themes and archetypes that are present in mythical storytelling across history and across the world. His seminal work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, outlined what Campbell called the Hero’s Journey, a motif of adventure and personal transformation that is used in nearly every culture’s mythical framework. George Lucas was an avid admirer of Campbell’s writings, and used them as a direct reference in his creation of Star Wars. The two didn’t meet face to face until after Lucas had already finished his original trilogy of films…” – Lucas Seastrom
George Lucas even got to meet his hero Joseph Campbell once to discuss this archetype.
“Some of Star Wars’ detractors call the series schlocky, blunt, predictable, and implausible even by fantasy’s standards. A defender might respond that they’re looking at it all wrong: to appreciate Star Wars, you need to watch it as an epic myth. George Lucas himself, who has more or less mounted this argument in response to charges of unsubtlety, rarely seems far from dropping the phrase “the power of myth.” That, surely not coincidentally, is also the title of a 1988 Bill Moyers television series on mythologist Joseph Campbell and his ideas about myth through time and across human cultures. Moyers and Campbell actually conducted their first five episodes’ worth of conversations at Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch. Just as Lucas did his reading of Campbell, Campbell did his reading of Star Wars…” – Colin Marshall
You can find connection of old myth to modern stories very easily. If you just take a look at the formula of the hero’s journey archetype, you can see the similarities in story structure.
The first part of the formula is the “Call to Adventure.” Naruto and King Arthur both go through a “Call to Adventure” in order to start their journeys. Naruto is called by the nine tailed fox to use his chakra to become more powerful. King Arthur rides his horse into the woods and sees a hart. Arthur rides his horse for so long it dies, and his servant has to go fetch him a new horse. After seeing his horse dead, the king follows the hart to a fountain where he saw a great beast, and thus begins his adventure. Naruto and King Arthur both get called to adventure by an outside force that pulls them into the adventure. The call is always unexpected and unknown. It can be as simple as a deer running through the woods or a demon fox trapped in your body. Adventure can begin with a “blunder”. Appearing to be just chance, the hero is “pulled into relationship with forces that are not rightly understood.” According to Freud, blunders do not happen by chance. Blunders are the opening to destiny. The important thing about the Call is that it has a mysterious supernatural tone that excited the reader and encourages them to dig deeper into the story.
The Call can be given by a mentor, like Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, or Kakashi Sensei. The mentor is usually old and mysterious who has tempting knowledge of the old and new that entices the hero to follow him on the adventure. Kakashi Sensei is one of the most mysterious characters who is a mentor figure in Naruto.
Jesus asks the fishermen to become his disciples.
“And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)
Similarly to this verse, Gandalf states, “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone. I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”
While Jesus and Gandalf have their differences, both men represent the human form of “The Call.” The call is still very real in our lives. In Mathew, Jesus isn’t just calling these fishermen to be his disciples, he’s calling us, the readers into salvation and community with him. Every human on earth has to face the call to either accept the free gift of salvation or to choose eternal death. The Bible is the true call, myth is just the representation of humanity’s search for “the Call.”
Another important element to the Hero’s Journey is the hero himself. The hero is usually an ordinary person who had no particular talents of abilities. The hobbits of Lord of the Rings are perfect examples. King David of the Bible is as well. Starting out as a lowly shepherd boy, King David becomes Israel’s greatest king and is known as a man after God’s own heart. In anime, the hero is usually a high school kid. Even Naruto starts out low. He’s the town orphan who doesn’t care about anyone or anything, until someone calling him into adventure by telling him he is loved. Thanks Iruka.
The Bible has many connections to mythology from other empires. Some say that the Bible ripped off the Mesopotamian poem, the Gilgamesh Epic. The fact that they are so similar means the one of the two stories came from the other. The Bible is the source of much of modern myth such as in cinema and books, but ancient myth also has a direct correlation to bible stories. In the Chart below from the Institute for Creation Research, the similarities and differences between the Gilgamesh and Bible flood are outlined.
Extent of flood
The Bible Flood
|Cause||Man’s wickedness||Man’s sins|
|Intended for whom?||All mankind||One city & all mankind|
|Sender||Yahweh||Assembly of “gods”|
|Name of hero||Noah||Utnapishtim|
|Means of announcement||Direct from God||In a dream|
|Ordered to build boat?||Yes||Yes|
|Did hero complain?||Yes||Yes|
|Height of boat||Several stories (3)||Several stories (6)|
|Windows||At least one||At least one|
|Shape of boat||Rectangular||Square|
|Human passengers||Family members only||Family & few others|
|Other passengers||All species of animals||All species of animals|
|Means of flood||Ground water & heavy rain||Heavy rain|
|Duration of flood||Long (40 days & nights plus)||Short (6 days & nights)|
|Test to find land||Release of birds||Release of birds|
|Types of birds||Raven & three doves||Dove, swallow, raven|
|Ark landing spot||Mountain — Mt. Ararat||Mountain — Mt. Nisir|
|Sacrificed after flood?||Yes, by Noah||Yes, by Utnapishtim|
|Blessed after flood?||Yes||Yes|
Why do we see these patters throughout myth, cinema, anime and even the Bible? Which story is true if they all appear to be the same? As Christians, we can have confidence that God is the creator of everything, even myth. John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” The word is the bible. The bible is the origin of all the world’s myth. Therefore, the bible and all myth of this world point back to God. Myth is just a rip off of the very real God since God is the word. That’s why it is so fascinating to find such strong relationships between myths around the world. Everyone is looking for the truth, if only they knew it was “the word.” “It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those other constant human fantasies that tend to tie it back. In fact, it may well be that the very high incidence of neuroticism among ourselves follows from the decline among us of such effective spiritual aid.” – Joseph Campbell
Anime reveals truth more then any media because if it’s deep cries of sorrow and joy. I have never watched anything more emotional then anime. Many of those who are attracted to anime are so because it represents the very deep way they feel on the inside. I think about Rurouni Kenshin and his quest for redemption. He illustrated the human desire to stand morally correct. He realizes that his past as an assassin was originally carried out with good intentions, to save people, but he soon realized that he was living in a façade. He dedicates the rest of his life to serving others and trying to become right with whatever god he believes in. Like Kenshin, we all mess up. We instinctively want to work in order to make ourselves perfect. That is what the hero’s quest is, a representation of our longing to find truth about ourselves and morality. That’s why we love myth, specifically retellings of myth in anime, because it helps us travel our own journey in search of truth.
Truth is right in front of our eyes. The heart’s longing for adventure which can only be satisfied by accepting Jesus into our lives can be seen in Harry Potter, a controversial book in the Christian community. The Call to adventure is a very real chose that our souls were created to make. There is a real battle in this world. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) So what are we to do about this? We are to answer the call, which can be found in the Bible. Afterwards, the Bible gives us the tools we need to fight this battle “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13)
Are you going to answer the call?