Death is highly prevalent in certain anime. This is no surprise because many objects or ailments that plague us as humans are portrayed as significant aspects in anime. Death is one of these and can be seen in many different forms. As humans, we seek to answer the great questions in life, including why we exist and what happens after death. While the answers to these questions remain elusive, there are forms and religions that give the answers to the questions that we, as humans, seek. Such is the appearance of the Shinigami in Japanese mythology. This creature is more than the God of Death but a character that represents so much more. The most popular appearance of this God in anime is Ryuk from Death Note who gives a look into the eerie personification that is the Shinigami.
There are many kami or “gods” that exist in the most relevant religion in Japan known as Shinto. These gods can be found and represented in everything, including nature, emotions or concepts. The Shinigami, or the God of Death, can be likened to the Grim Reaper who is attributed to be the inspiration of the Shinigami as it was not incredibly relevant in the Shinto religion before Japan was westernized. The Shinigami reap the souls of those who pass on but are not looked on in a negative light. Shinto followers believe that death is merely a part of the cycle of life and as such is unavoidable and as natural as birth and, therefore, it is not feared. The Shinigami are not depicted in ancient texts and does not have a consistent form, this may be why in anime that it varies so largely.
Shinigami in Modern Japanese Culture
As time has progressed, the Shinigami has become accepted as one of the Shinto kami. Since Japanese people are very focused on tradition, the existence of the Shinigami is still revered and has been popularized by anime such as Death Note. This has allowed the Shinigami to become one of the most popular kami, not only in Japan but also around the world. With the names of other kami still largely unknown to the western world, the existence of the Shinigami is kept alive and well because of its portrayal in television and modern media.
When an otaku thinks of a Shinigami, the image of Ryuk will immediately appear in their brain. This is because the Shinigami has no consistent form so the most popularized image and depiction of it will appear. The Shinigami may be relatively new in it owing its birth to the tales of the Grim Reaper which were not spread in Japan until the 18-19th centuries. Since its inception, it has become widely accepted into modern culture as well as the religion of Shinto. It is important to not only appreciate these gods as anime viewers as a source of entertainment, but also to remember how they came to be relevant in their own respective religions. We hope that you have enjoyed this article on the history of the Shinigami. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them for us to read below.