Seeing the Good: “Shaman King” and Human Dignity

by | Aug 27, 2021 | Pop Culture, TV

What is your dream?  What would be the thing that you would strive for no matter what?  We can answer that question in a myriad of ways, and the answer may vary from year to year.  But, I think that deep down we all have something we want more than anything else.  The question is how hard are we willing to work to make that dream a reality?

The newly released anime series Shaman King comes at that question a little differently.  In its world, there is a group of people called shamans who have the ability to interact with the spirits of the dead.  Shamans can temporarily fuse with the spirits to take on their skills for themselves, and more advanced ones can also channel the spirits into objects related to them (like a samurai spirit into a katana).  Every 500 years, there is a tournament to determine who is the titular Shaman King.  And the winner of the worldwide tournament gains the power to make their wish come true as they live out the rest of their life.

The series follows a teenage shaman named Yoh as he prepares to enter the Shaman Fight.  1  In the beginning of the series, the character is carefree and lazy. His dream is only to live an easy life, but initially he’s not even motivated to train to win the tournament. It takes the prompting of his fiancee Anna to hone his body and his techniques in order to stand a chance in the tournament itself.

Yoh’s dream is very selfish.  He wants to win the tournament because it will let him do whatever he wants.  And Yoh’s desires are very simple: to listen to his favorite music and to relax.  His desires, however, grow and change as he meets more participants.  As the series goes on, Yoh even begins to take on the dreams of others too.

Part of what makes Yoh such an interesting character to me is that he sincerely believes that only good people can see ghosts. Therefore, none of the shamans in the tournament is a bad person.  Even so, only one person can become the Shaman King; only one person gets to make their dreams come true.  But Yoh is moved by the people he battles against and promises to make their dreams his if he becomes Shaman King.

His empathy is his most endearing quality.  Yoh does not give up on other people, nor does he mock their dreams.  He is able to create allies out of his former enemies, and he shows people that they’re not alone.  He does this through a surprisingly strong emotional maturity, something that is not often the case for anime protagonists.  Everybody we encounter in the series, in his mind, deserves a second chance, because they can see ghosts and must be a good person, if only deep down.

And in our own lives, do we honor that same stance?  Do we see the other people in our world as good and capable of redemption?  Do we hold fast to our own hurts or grudges and think others cannot or will not change?   If you’re like me, you probably have days where you see the good in others, and days where you’re convinced someone is irredeemable. 

Having grown up Catholic, I cannot help but think of the old teaching that each person has inherent, inviolable dignity.  When I taught freshman theology, I made it a point to focus on the first creation story in Genesis, which says that we as people are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27).  No matter what we do, we are still worthy of love and dignity because we reflect God in our very selves.  And all too often, I can forget that about others and myself.

So, do we let hurt and pain dictate the way we interact with the world (as so many other characters in the series do)? 2  Or, do we choose to follow Yoh’s example and trust in the inherent goodness of others and try to help them?  And even though it is not easy, that is the challenge to which our faith calls us. 


  1. The first season only takes us through the preliminaries of the tournament.
  2. In particular, look at how Ren treats others in his first appearances.