Gokuism: The anime religion

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Gokuism: The anime religion

A new religion called ‘Gokuism’ seems to be emerging, based on the popular Dragon Ball (Z) anime series. Members of this community see the protagonist ‘Goku’ as a moral example for their daily lives.

Gokuism seems to be a newly emerging religion that is based on the moral example of the protagonist in the Dragon Ball series: Son Goku. It is not an officially recognised religion, but rather a shared creation of fans on the internet.[1]

What is Dragon Ball about?
Dragon Ball (and later Dragon Ball Z, Kai, and Super) is one of the most popular Japanese anime TV series ever made, and has been broadcast in 81 countries around the world.[2] The story centers around the figure of Son Goku; a member of the so-called ‘Saiyan’ race of extraterrestrial warriors, who was sent to Earth as a child to conquer or destroy the planet. However, due to a head injury, he forgot about his origins, and instead became a heroic defender of Earth against evil villains.[3] Goku has become a very influential cultural figure since he was adopted as one of the mascots for the 2020 Olympics in Japan, creating much public attention. The committee argued that Goku is a good representation of the Olympic spirit of constant self-improvement.[4]

Goku’s roots in Chinese mythology and Buddhist history
According to the story, Goku was born with a monkey’s tail, which reflects a mythological connection that is not accidental. ‘Son Goku’ is the Japanese name for the Monkey King (Sun Wukong) from the classic 16th century Chinese novel called ‘Journey to the West’, which Dragon Ball was loosely based on. The novel itself is in turn based on the pilgrimage of the 7th- century Buddhist monk Xuanzang to India, in search of sacred manuscripts.[5] The Monkey King in the story is a trickster god and playful superhero who protects Xuanzang on his journey back to China.[6] [7] Many regard the novel as the most popular literary work in all of East Asia.[8]

Other characters in the series, such as King Enma, are also clearly based on East Asian religious and mythological figures.[9] Even Goku’s quest to find the Dragon Balls can be seen as a kind of pilgrimage to find holy relics that bestow magical powers, which he ends up using for selfless purposes.[10] His quest eventually ends when he attains a combination of Buddhist enlightenment and Daoist immortality, revealing the deep religious ideals that underlie the story.[11]

Goku as a mythological hero
The origin story of Son Goku also has striking similarities to other stories about saviours and heroes, such as the myth of Superman. Both heroes were born on an alien planet, and their parents sent them to Earth as babies before their native planets were destroyed. They were both adopted by humans, but eventually discovered their true origins.[12] To speak in mythological terms, both heroes came from ‘heaven’ (outer space), were endowed with ‘divine’ powers (superpowers), and sacrificed themselves for the good of humanity, while battling the forces of evil.

Goku as a saviour figure
Therefore, as others have noticed, Goku is also similar to the figure of Jesus Christ. Both Goku and Jesus willingly die for the salvation of humanity, ascend to heaven, and are resurrected.[13] Both are an ‘only son’ who was sent from ‘heaven’ in order to save mankind and defeat evil. Goku’s enemies, like those of Jesus, are often called ‘demons’, or even ‘the Devil’. Both Goku and Jesus perform miracles and heal people. Moreover, both Goku and Jesus are tempted with great worldly power, but refuse it in order to serve others.[14] As scholars of mythology like Joseph Campbell and Jordan Peterson have argued, hero mythology around the world has a common structure, and often culminates in a religious saviour figure, who is seen as the ultimate hero, and therefore as the ultimate moral example.[15] [16]

Goku as a moral example
The fans of Gokuism seem to rely on Goku as a moral example or role model for their daily lives, such as by asking the question: what would Goku do?[17] They derive a lot of inspiration from Goku’s perseverance in the face of adversity, and his relentless self-improvement. For example, his rigorous training in martial arts has inspired many to go to the gym and start exercising. He has also inspired them to follow their dreams, no matter how hard the journey might be.[18] Besides, Goku represents certain character traits or virtues that people would like to develop, such as humility, mercy (even for his enemies), and altruism.[19]

Is Gokuism a ‘fake’ religion?
Some readers might take issue with the idea that Gokuism would be a legitimate religious movement, because it is based on a ‘fake’ or invented story. But, of course, some atheists would say the same thing about many official religions around the world. We might say that Gokuism shows us how human beings can create meaningful stories that inspire them to be better, and that these stories do not have to be factually true to have their intended effects.

Timo Pieters

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[1] Gokuism – The Church of Goku. Gokuism – Home

[2] Dragon Ball (TV series)

[3] Goku | Dragon Ball Wiki | Fandom

[4] Goku is Cultural Ambassador for 2020 Olympics

[5] Journey to the West | Author, Summary, Characters, & Facts

[6] Monkeying Around with the Nobel Prize: Wu Chen’en’s “Journey to the West”

[7] Sun Wukong, the Monkey King – Mythopedia

[8] Dragon Ball.

[9] Enma | Dragon Universe Wiki | Fandom. King Enma is the lord of the afterlife, and judges whether a person’s soul should go to Heaven or Hell.

[10] 9 Divine Aspects of Dragon Ball Z

[11] How ‘Dragon Ball’ Inspired a Religious Movement

[12] Goku | Dragon Ball Wiki | Fandom

[13] 9 Divine Aspects of Dragon Ball Z

[14] Gokuism – The Church of Goku

[15] CS Lewis, Joseph Campbell, and Myth

[16] Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, p. 153.

[17] How ‘Dragon Ball’ Inspired a Religious Movement 

[18] Ibid.

[19] Evangelical Gokuism: Dragon Ball Z