Norse Mythology in Japanese Media


#1

Hi friends,

I’ve been playing Valkyrie Profile recently, and have been thinking about how prevalent Norse mythology is in Japanese media whether it be anime, manga, or games. Odin Sphere, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and the Little Norse Prince just to name a few. I guess I could just take it for granted, but where’s the fun in that?

While American culture does incorporate Norse mythology in some ways, Greek and Roman themes tend to be more common in America. This makes sense since the founding fathers were really big into Roman and Greek history, and we see that in American architecture and law. So because of that influence, we see a lot of the Greek/Roman pantheon in American media whether it be as those specific characters or archetypes as in the Illiad and the Odyssey.

Is there such a story in Japan of Norse mythology being particularly influential? We do see some instances of Greek/Roman influence in the Shin Megami Tensei games, but it seems like Norse mythos is more predominant in Japanese culture. Could this maybe be because of Germany’s influence in Japan during the early 20th century? That could make sense since we see some words of Germanic origin appear in Japanese media (eg. Wanzers in Front Mission).

I’m honestly not sure, but I’ve always been curious about this. Does anyone have any insight into this or is also curious about this phenomenon?


#2

Just firing wildly into the dark, it might just part of a broad focus and fascination on religion and mythology in general. There’s plenty of Judeo-Christian content in Japanese media too. There’s YHVH from the Shin Megami Tensei series, based on Yahweh. The Sefirot shows up pretty regularly in different games, including Sephiroth from Final Fantasy 7. Turns out there’s an entire webpage just devoted to religious allusions in Final Fantasy covering Judaism, Christianity, Shinto, and Buddhism as well as Norse, Greek, and Roman mythology. All manner of both historical and mythological heroes show up in the Fate series too (Spoilers for the Fate series in the link I suppose**). Sadly I don’t remember enough anime to name any that cover Shinto and Buddhism but I know there are plenty. I think Japanese media just focuses on religion and mythology more in general, including Norse mythology.

Edit: Oh yeah, Xenogears and Xenosaga. I forgot that series is dripping with Judeo-Christian themes and iconography.

**Edit 2: Really just spoilers in all the links.


#3

I think this basically covers it.

It also helps their stuff feel fresh and exciting to domestic audiences, they see Gnostic and Judeo-Christian and Norse stuff as alien and interesting as we do Bhuddism, Taoism, Shinto, etc

Also because they’ve some distance from it, they can prise it apart with some detached academic inquisitiveness, which is probably why its more common to see Japanese media tackle strange things like the weirdness in Evangelion that has roots in the Book of Enoch and the Kabbalah which if I’m searching my mind I can only think of being used prominently by Darren Aronofsky in Pi/Noah


#4

There are some interesting anime that’s based around Shinto, such as Kamichu! and Kamisama Hajimemashita(both of which have a strangely similar premise). I’m sure there’s tons of anime that deals with both Shinto and Buddhist concepts, even if they’re a bit more in the background than with other anime. As for games, Okami is the popular game that’s explicitly Shinto, although there’s also the Yo-Kai Watch series which is pretty big on it. In terms of more subtle influences, there’s Pokémon, Persona, and probably a lot more that’s not coming to mind immediately, like probably Onimusha?

I’m sorta also mixing together Shinto and Buddhist influences together for these purposes.


#5

At times Okami feels like an Alan Moore style remix of Japanese folklore and religious mythology


#6

I wonder if some of it has something to do with Japan and Germany’s relationship. them being allies in and around WWII a time when Germany was pushing the norse mythology extra hard I can see how that might have given norse mythology more prominence in their culture than in other non-nordic countries.