Tokyo Revengers follows a young man named Takemichi Hanagaki as he travels back in time to save his girlfriend from being 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 named the Best Shonen Series at the 44th Kodansha Manga Awards.
But it's time to talk about the elephant in the room: the manji, or 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; for other cultures, like those in India or East Asia, it represents prosperity and good luck.
Understanding Tokyo Revengers' 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" just before the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. It's understandable why the government opted to change it: without the cultural knowledge and context, it could have garnered 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. The symbol has also been discovered to have deep European origins as it has been used by the ancient Greeks and Anglo-Saxons.
For most Western viewers, the swastika will be forever linked to Nazism. Unfortunately, because of how historically and culturally rooted the symbol is in Nazism in the past and present, it may be difficult for viewers to overcome the connection. 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 using a bullet in its stead.
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.
How the Manji Symbol Was Altered in the Anime
Tokyo Revengers wrapped up a successful first season with an exciting plot, memorable characters, and an unexpected cliffhanger that shook fans to their core. Although the anime garnered a lot of popularity, it wasn't without its issues, namely with how it chose to deal with the manji symbol.
It had been significantly edited rather than offering a warning at the beginning of each episode clarifying what the manji symbol is and how it has no link to Nazism. Given that Mikey's gang's name is the Tokyo Manji gang, the censorship had a huge impact on the series' watchability. The Tokyo Manji gang flag has been blacked out at the opening, and the sunlight behind Draken and Mikey has been heightened to the point of blinding people in an attempt to obscure the manji sign. The play makes extensive use of blinding lights wherever possible.
Perhaps realizing the heavy censorship was creating a less-than-desirable experience for fans, Tokyo Revengers later took a different approach. The show omitted the symbol from the gangs' uniforms or blurred it out slightly. There are still some still shots that are shown rather than moving shots, but it isn't as noticeable as before. It's a definite improvement from before but without an explanation as to why there's a random blank spot in the middle of the gang's name, it creates a gap in the viewers' minds. The conversation that Nakagaki proposed can never happen if there's no attempt to start it.
It should be highlighted that this censorship only applies to audiences in the Western world. According to Crunchyroll France's response to fans, the streaming site was provided the censored version and was explicitly forbidden from performing any modifications or retouches. Episodes shown in Japan have not been subjected to the same level of censoring.
The Manji Symbol Parallels the Changes in Tokyo Revengers
The manji symbol is frequently used by Toman, also known as the Tokyo Manji Gang. It can be seen on their bikes, clothing, and the fact that their meetings are held in a shrine. Again, it's incredibly easy to link the manji symbol and Toman with violence and hatred given how frequently criminals are portrayed in media and the symbol's complicated history. It is important to keep in mind that Toman was founded on friendship and loyalty, despite the fact that Toman has a violent past and has seen its fair share of bloodshed.
The First Division's captain, Keisuke Baji, first proposed that they create their own gang in order to protect Kazutora Hanemiya, who is also one of Toman's six founders, even though Manjiro "Mikey" Sano is the group's commander. In the end, Baji wanted a gang that would support one another and do whatever it took to aid one another if they were hurt; this later became Mikey's goal 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.