"Do you remember the first time when you were a child that you stood up and walked on your own? If you don't remember doing it, and yet you did it, it means that you weren't conscious of it at the time. So how did you know how to do it? The answer is all humans are born already knowing how to stand up. Just as birds are born knowing how to fly, and fish are born already knowing how to swim. It's because of what we call instinct. All living creatures use instinct to obtain their natural powers when the time comes that they need them."
"Yamato-damashii" is loosely translated into "the spirit/soul of Japan", and defined as anything and everything which makes Japan (and the Japanese) unique, distinct, and great. Of course, this creates the logical question: What is "Japanese"?
At its most basic, Yamato-damashii implies pure merit; in short, being or becoming "better" through "hard work". Through Yamato-damashii, any being can achieve its maximum potential or even higher. note It also embodies an eternal cycle of "Order" (academia, peace, complacency or security) and "Chaos" (discovery, conflict, uncertainty or risk) not as two forces that conflict with each other, but instead eternally complement and refine each other. One clear example is demonstrated with characters studiously training to master a martial art, but then finding that there is a much wider range of techniques to learn.
In fiction, it shows itself as a plethora of virtues, in words that may not translate directly into English well, but here we'll organize them into three forms: talent, insight, and persistence.
Hajime No Ippo not only follows this trope, but the very title is translated as "Fighting Spirit". The story specifically calls out Japanese Spirit by name more than once.
It's flat out stated to be the most common and powerful trait of every Japanese boxer (though other nationalities are capable of it). The virtues of Talent, Resolve, and Persistence are thus personified by the characters of Takamura, Coach Kamagawa, and Ippo himself, respectively.
And thirdly, there exists a force known as Haki which actually means "ambition". Luffy is gifted with the rare Conqueror's Haki with which you can literally knock out Weak-Willed opponents with sheer spirit alone.
Naruto zig-zags between whether it wants to follow this trope or not.
The eponymous protagonist at first begins the story with only persistence (a weak belief that he's special, despite everyone looking down him) as his major trait. The entire starting arc essentially exists to teach Naruto the values that will give him Heroic Resolve. Even then, however, his lack of actual technical skill or aptitude is constantly a plot point. Then, Naruto later discovers his unique talent is being Cursed with Awesome. And later chapters reveal that he was always exceedingly talented even without the above curse, though in ways that were not readily noticeable. By the end of the series, Naruto's hard work has made him one of the single most talented shinobi in the series.
Bleach plays it absolutely straight with Ichigo as the poster boy.
Ichgo is a Born Winner gifted with ungodly high reiatsu, guided by a superb moral compass, and persistent enough to never give up and risk everything by rushing into sure-death scenarios with abandon.
The Anti Intellectualism and Simple Minded Wisdom elements abound in the series as well. One blatant example when this trope is used is during Ichigo's fight with Renji. He and Renji are evenly-matched physically, although Renji has the edge on him in experience. Then, Ichigo has a flashback to his training with Urahara, in which Urahara talks extensively about Resolve, and how you simply need to know your resolve will work. Instead of dodging and thinking "I don't want to be cut", when you dodge, you think "I will not be cut!" After Ichigo finds his Resolve, he defeats Renji with one strike.
Another example is during a training session against his Inner Hollow. The hollow berates Ichigo for trying to rely on logic to defeat his enemies and says that doesn't work.
Yet another example is when Yoruichi is training Ichigo to use Bankai (notice a pattern yet?). She tells us the quote above, which succinctly tells us what Yamato-Damashii is, in a nutshell.
Another example of Anti Intellectualism, where spirit overcomes logic, happens when Gin and Aizen are walking through the Precipice World back to Soul Society, a Cleaner (a giant spiritual bullet train that destroys anything it touches) is seconds away from hitting them. When Aizen (in the first stage of his One-Winged Angel form) steps up to challenge the thing, Gin states that the Cleaner "belongs to the world of reason" and that spirit energy is useless to defeat it. Aizen calmly walks up to the Cleaner, states that "Reason is only for those who must rely on it to survive", and destroys the Cleaner effortlessly.
However, at the same time, Toriyama also codified Ki. According to him, ki is determined by courage and vigor and "being in one's true mind", which is flat out the basis of this trope. In addition, he also introduced Power Levels, which were essentially a sort of scientific measurement of a person's overall ki and battle capabilities. Toriyama stated he specifically introduced Power Levels to show how pointless and unreliable they were. In other words, guts and courage ultimately overruled academic limits.
Sayaka has strong convictions and is willing to sacrifice her life for them but she lacks talent.
Kyoko, Sayaka's antithesis, is very talented but has lost her faith.
Homura is persistence-incarnate, relieving the same tragic month over and over until she achieves her goal
Madoka is extremely talented but she needs to find her one wish that is worth fighting for and the persistence to fulfill it through eternity
Deconstructed in Mirai Nikki. In a There Can Be Only One plot involving Scry vs. Scry, the protagonist is not talented (at least, no moreso than the other characters), does not have resolve, and can barely be considered to have anything resolving willpower. But his good heart is what causes the female lead, Yuno, to develop a Mad Love for him, and Yuno certainly everything this trope dictates. She's exceptionally talented, insightful, and determined. But the zigs and zags keep coming throughout the story—Yuno is only The Ace because of her Abusive Parents, and is actually an empty broken person inside who needs Yuki to validate herself. And later on, when Yuki's parents are murdered, he finally gets the resolve he needed...but it starts to slowly erode his willpower and push him into madness to the point that he would rather die than kill Yuno. In the end, Yuno betrays him because of this and it's revealed that she's actually the Big Bad, having manipulated everything to this conclusion. Since Yuki won't kill her and become God, then it wouldn't make sense for them to commit a lovers' suicide; she can travel back in time and be with his past self all over again (as she did last time after SHE became God). In the end, Yuki and Yuno become horribly broken people, and it's only through the intervention of others that the story even manages to avoid an outright Downer Ending.
Koyuu: The main character, most of his supporting cast, and the majority of antagonists in the series all have some gift or trait that makes them stand out as fighters. Kenshin, by far, shows himself to be the most talented of all in skill, and starts off the series having attained the title of "the strongest". This is subsequently deconstructed as the series shows the toll that his style of swordsmanship takes on his body, in spite of his talent.
Chie: Ideals are thrown back and forth between various characters, each of whom has their own ideas about life. In the very first chapter, Kenshin states that Kaoru's father's ideology of "the sword that protects life" is a utopian, impractical ideal, but one that he would rather believe in instead of the true nature of kenjutsu as a killing art. Other characters have their own ideologies, (e.g. Saitou's "Aku. Soku. Zan.", or "Swift Death to Evil"), and the entire focus of the Kyoto Arc pits Kenshin's principles of the strong protecting the weak versus Shishio's "The weak are food for the strong". Soujirou even asks if winning the fight proves that the victor's ideals are right (a concept which Kenshin rejects). At the end of the arc, it's even stated that time (or "the age") was the one that decided the winner. And subverted in the epilogue to the arc, where Japan's real-world rise to militarism prior to World War II is described, suggesting that Kenshin's fight may have been in vain.
Kakan: Starting from the second half of the manga, Kenshin's pivotal fights are decided by two things: the Succession Technique, and the inability to die thanks to sheer force of will. Sanosuke has his own Training Arc, and Yahiko spends most of the manga pushing his limits in order to become stronger. The Succession Technique is even explicitly stated to be affected by the user's will to live and resolve.
Japanese Nationalism: Played with.
Subverted on the surface. Kenshin doesn't fight for Japan, but for his own ideals and to protect the weak, having learnt the cost of getting politically involved during his career in the Bakumatsu. Shishio, the villain of the Kyoto Arc, seeks the rise of Japan as a great power and intends to shape it in his own ideals.
However, subtext suggests a straighter interpretation. A large number of of Kenshin's opponents adopt non-Japanese technology (A Gatling gun, Shishio's Rengoku battleship which he purchased from Enishi, an arm-mounted Armstrong cannon), forms of dress (e.g. Soujirou's and Houji's clothing), and other mannerisms and influences (e.g. Enishi's dealings in China). Kenshin and his supporting cast are more traditional in garb and style, and occasionally described as belonging to the previous era (e.g. the phasing out of kenjutsu and swordsmanship, even Kenshin's own insistence that the hitokiri should've been left behind with the Bakumatsu), and Houji explicitly compares defeating Kenshin to taking over Japan.
Patterns: Kenshin's gauntlets in the Kyoto and Jinchuu Arcs plays this completely straight - while Kenshin's supporting cast helps deal with the Big Bad's henchmen (and may interfere in the final fight to little benefit), it's always up to Kenshin to take on the Big Bad himself with minimal external aid, and the fight always boils down to pitting his use of the Succession Technique (as mentioned, a symbol of his resolve) against his opponent's strongest move - following which the opponent is both physically and psychologically defeated.
Ash Ketchum of Pokémon fits each of these tropes above. At first, it seems "Talent" is his exception, but Ash is stated several times to have an unusual ability to create deep bonds with Pokémon due to his extremely good heart and persistence. For example, Pikachu started out hating him, but quickly grew to love Ash when Ash faced a flock of Spearow to protect him,and Charizard warmed up to him after he burned his hands taking care of it while injured.
There's even an instance in the first season of the series where Ash is facing an opponent who's turned Pokémon battles into a "science", relying upon data and statistics to win. His attitude upsets his family, and offends Ash, who states that fighting spirit and instinct are the only true things that determine the outcome of a Pokémon battle.
However, demons have their own expression of it. Laharl and Etna are steadfastly against any form of complacency or taking an easy path to success. They gladly pick a fight a fight with opponents even if the fight seems hopeless, value any Worthy Opponents for their strength, and will recruit (read:"vassalize") any strong persons they defeat.
Also demonstrated in the last battle the party has against Mid-Boss, who is uncharacteristically serious during this battle and specifically fights them to "test their resolve". After losing, he gracefully bows out, but not before reminding them of everything they learned on their journey.
Each of the three main characters of Attack on Titan exhibit strong examples of all three virtues, although with their own failings in some ways. Their Evil Counterparts, the three Titan Shifter spies, also represent these but are ultimately dark examples that falter along the way.
Eren is flat out stated in the story to be more Persistent than anyone. Unfortunately, his ego writes checks that his body can't cash. He's an example of a character who has strong willpower but not the raw talent or insight to go with it, and as a result, he repeatedly suffers injury, failure and setback, which makes even his strong willpower constantly falter. True to the Japanese Spirit archetype, he has a number of hidden "talents/powers" which only work if he holds on to his persistence even in the face of death. His Evil Counterpart, Reiner, is similarly stated to be a soldier with incredible willpower. He teaches Eren the importance of using his strength of will for a greater purpose.....and is ultimately defeated by Eren when his own resolve wavers.
Mikasa is described as one of the most Talented soldiers of all time. But she's somewhat lacking in the resolve and persistence departments. While, yes, she will do anything to save Eren from danger, this is due more to him being a Living Emotional Crutch and not because she has any particular goals of her own. If nothing else, she's the epitome of what women traditionally used Japanese Spirit for (helping the man they most treasured above all else). Evil Counterpart Bertolt is also noted to be an exceptionally talented individual, with great potential to master anything he's taught. However, his lack of confidence greatly hinders his ability to live up to his potential and he spends much of his time crippled by insecurity.
Armin's Insight is pretty much the ray of hope that our protagonist holds onto. He's physically weak, but he's called one of the most brilliant soldiers, and his strong idealism to see the outside world still motivates his friends. Evil Counterpart Annie also possesses incredible insight, providing insight to others on human nature as well as the potential of those "Special" people that hold on to their ideals. It is when she falters, hesitating to kill Armin and later allowing him to emotionally manipulate her, that leads to her downfall.
Saint Seiya often uses this. In the Saint Seiya universe, the Cosmo is the Background Magic Field that Saints manipulate. Some people are born naturally Cosmo aware ("Koyuu"). In order to use the Cosmo, you must use what can basically be summed up as a combination of "Chie" and "Kakan".
In the original series' early arcs, Seiya, would often make pretty clever strategies to defeat enemies. However, Seiya's determination to win (Kakan) is practically a plot point and Seiya`s fighting spirit (Chie) is the sole reason why the Sagittarius Cloth keeps protecting him.
In Omega, the first half of the series involves the heroes running away from villains that are just too strong. On the other hand, it was through Kouga`s resolve to protect Saori that the Pegasus Cloth recognized him as a worthy bearer, and it was through his determination to not give up during his fight with Spear that allowed him to use the Pegasus Ryu Sei Ken at will. There is also the fact that Kouga has the extremely rare Light Cosmo [[Spoiler: and later Darkness Cosmo]]. "Koyuu" is also exhibited in the character of Dragon Ryuho who is the son of Shiryu from the original series, and is regarded as a genius.
Episode G is probably the Saga that best exemplifies this; a big deal is made out of the fact that Aioria is the brother of the most powerful Gold Saint of his time, Aioria often talks at length about his resolve to never let the Titans win, and many of his enemies often comment on his stubbornness. It can best be summed up by a quote from the man himself.
Aioria: "No matter how many times I fall... I will always get up with my two legs."
The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda codifies the three virtues as Power* Chikara, Wisdom* Chie and Courage* Yuuki. The Triforce, embodying all three, can grant wishes to "one whose heart is in balance". The series also plays with the Triforce and its relation to these virtues in the following ways;
The other two protagonists represent the other virtues for the trope, but also symbolize their flaws Princess Zelda, although wise and possessing powerful magic, usually cannot solve the conflict of the plot or find the Triforce herself. The main antagonist, Ganon, is a Born Winner who embodies only Power, which (directly or indirectly) always prevents him from gaining full control of the Triforce.
She is unbelievably determined, even at the start of the show. She's driven by a desire to find the person who killed her father, and believes that Satsuki Kiryuin is either that person or knows who is. However, at the beginning, she is no match at all for Goku Uniforms, even with the enchanted scissor she wields, and winds up retreating or needing to be saved multiple times in the beginning.
But when Ryuuko gains access to Senketsu, her superpowered sailor uniform, her true hidden powers and talents come to light. At that point, she is more than a match for Two-Star Uniforms, and she even gains new abilities/skills as she fights the Three-Star Uniforms and stronger opponents. Satsuki herself expresses admiration for her Ryuuko's spirit.
Much, much later in the show, we learn that. Ryuuko is a Born Winner, with a body that is infused with Life Fibers that allow her to handle a Kamui (essentially the equivalent of a Ten-Star Uniform), where 50% is enough to drive most people insane. However, finding this out sends her into a massive Heroic Blue Screen of Death.
This is to say nothing of Lady Satsuki herself.
She is not only willing to take risks, but believes that the power of sheer Badassery will allow her to overcome any challenge (and it does). This is despite the fact that she is not as infused with Life Fibers as Ryuuko is, because she was too old to accept them at the time of the experiment while Ryuuko was experimented on from the moment she left the womb.
She fits the archetype of the Japanese Spirit villain/Rival like a glove. She generally believes in a very cynical and harsh world view, and looks down on anyone who doesn't fit her ideals. However, it's revealed that her Long Game involves waiting for the perfect moment to betray her mother, the Woman Behind The Woman. Further, her worldview isn't completely unjustified; she needs soldiers with enough spirit and resolve to resist being controlled by Life Fibers, and doesn't have time to waste on "half-baked allies".
Japan's sudden and drastic shift from attempting to simply emulate the more advanced West to imperialism was caused by perceived bigotry from the West that prevented them from being an equal. Following this treatment, Japan grew increasingly paranoid of foreign invasion and occupation. From their perspective, World War I had just annihilated every single other empire beyond repair and thus empires like theirs were an endangered species. Traditionalists preached that the Emperor's sovereignty, unchallenged for more than 800 years, was a precious, divine gift that was now in mortal peril. This was their Darkest Hour, and it was time to Die or Fly.
Japan began annexing the rest of Asia soon after, staring with Manchuria. Being such a small nation, they had nocapability to maintain a long-term military empire, and thus their only chance was to annex Asia ASAP and absorb its resources into the greater Japanese Empire. This meant that every nation that stood in their way had to be indoctrinated with Japan's spirit, fast. That meant erasing the old cultures and "strengthening" them with Japanese culture (which, unfortunately, eventually led to war rape). But in Japan's view, it was expected of a conquered culture to absorb the spirit of their conquerors, as Japan itself had when America forced it out of seclusion.
Believing that competition was the key to growth and power, Japan's Army and Navy were locked in a funding war with each other, with Japan directly rewarding merit with money. So each branch of its military was forced to outdo the other to get money needed to continue their campaigns. With the Japanese Army having such massive successes in China and Korea, the Navy knew that the only absolutely surefire way to top them was to take dominant control of the Pacific Ocean. But that meant throwing down with America. We all know what happened after that.
To create unquestioning loyalty in its troops, Japan turned around from bestowing the nation's highest honors to returning POWs to saying that death was preferable to surrender. Soldiers were expected to Die or Fly, and to cause as much damage as possible to the enemy if it looked as though there was no hope for victory. This strategy, while devastating early on, turned out to be unsustainable in the long term, as Japan began losing expensive manpower and weaponry faster than they could replace them—but the more bleak things turned, the more doggedly the virtue was pursued. That stubborn determination was quickly becoming its military's undoing.
To the Japanese, the American war machine was an unstoppable monster that threatened the very survival of their small island.note A sentiment which would become allegorical in later Godzilla media. Furthermore, America wouldn't settle for anything less than absolute surrender, which would not only have been a massive loss of face but also an engraved invitation for the militarists to stage a coup note Which in fact did end up happening. . Thus, surrender was not only disgraceful, but suicide. The last time the Japanese had faced an enemy this powerful, two freak hurricanes appeared to stop them. They were convinced that as long as they continued to fight valiantly, the spirits of Japan would protect them. That didn't happen. Instead, the Americans brought their own "Act of God".
When Japan finally did surrender, the people once again dedicated themselves to absorbing the "spirit" of their conquerors. Overall, the infusion of democracy, capitalism, and human rights into Japanese society (which had been attempted before, but was eventually consumed by the military engine) was seen as a boon by most. Thus, the idea of Defeat Means Friendship was given a new validity. Further, the horror of nuclear war convinced Japanese society that a military was not only unnecessary but self-destructive. They were thus encouraged to push their unique talents for competitiveness and work ethic into consumer culture. And that leads us to the present.
Gurren Lagann gives us this advice: "Go Beyond the Impossible and kick reason to the curb!" Furthermore, you have things like Spiral Power, constant Next Tier Power Ups and constant references to confidence, spirit, and resolve. It's safe to say that Gurren Lagann is this trope in its purest form.
In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, the eponymous main character combines all aspects of this trope and can be said to be an unique case. She already begins extremely powerful, being a AAA mage right off the bat, proceeding towards S rank at Striker(s) and having acquired the nickname Ace of Aces, as she is by that time one of the most powerful mages in the universe. She is also an undefeated Determinator who will not lose to anyone; career ending injuries will only take her out of the action for a year at most and things like having a hand stuck through her chest will not stop her from casting her most powerful spell. However, the Training from Hell she endured to become that powerful did come to bite her during the Time Skip. Her case is relatively unique because this trope normally applies only to males, and she is a girl who fights in a white dress and twin ponytails, while firing pink rays of doom; she even won one round in the Sai Gar 2007 tournament, where the manliest character of anime would be chosen. Her Fan Nickname of White Devil is not an understament
In Hikaru no Go, this is examined with regard to Akira Touya. When he asks his father if he has talent at go (Koyū), his father responds,
Thus, Akira doesn't necessarily show much Koyū, but his Chie and Kakan are enough to make him the strongest player of his generation.
Hakuōki examines the concept, and Shiranui even uses the phrase "yamato-damashii" when he quotes his friend Takasugi Shinsaku. It's very much viewed in the context of the End of an Age, and to some extent deconstructed: when the Boshin War breaks out, Hijikata grimly acknowledges that the day is long past when "fighting spirit" was enough to overcome the vast disadvantage in numbers, equipment, and training that they face compared to their enemies. Kondou's failure to come to the same realization leads to a crushing defeat at the battle of Koufu-Katsunuma and causes Harada and Nagakura to break ties with the group. Nevertheless, resolve and persistence in particular are virtues to which Hijikata and the Shinsengumi remain utterly devoted.
Played straight in Persona 3 & Persona 4, where the main characters tend to fit this trope quite well. The Protagonist's social links tend to characterize him/her as The Ace, and (s)he typically has stats like Academics, Understanding, Diligence, and Courage that exemplify this. And almost always, the Big Bad is defeated by the hero alone with the aid of an Eleventh Hour Superpower.
Kenichi is noted to have unparalleled persistence but his resolve for training sometimes wavers. This is because he reserves his resolve for protecting his friends and innocents. This is usually the key to his many Die or Fly moments where Kenichi defies his usual cowardice and goes all Badass on an enemy. However his own masters note that his talent is practically nil; even with six excellent if eccentric mentors, Kenichi takes quite a while to improve to the point where he can reliably protect Miu who is his own age. His youngest master, Shigure, is less than ten years older than him.
This shows up a number of times in Eyeshield 21, especially in the Fall Tournament arc. The Amino Cyborgs' clinical approach to football is no match for the teamwork and enthusiasm of the Devil Bats, leading to them getting stomped in the first round of the fall tournament. Meanwhile, Jerk Jock Agon Kongo is seemingly untouchable with Talent out the wazoo, but he ultimately loses to Sena because he doesn't have the latter's Resolve and Persistence.
Log Horizon: Japanese Spirit is subjected to a Decon-Recon Switch in this series. Atypical of most anime, the main character is not an Idiot Hero or Book Dumb, and thus the story does not bend over backward to make sheer Determination the highest virtue possible. In fact, the Training Camp arc goes out of its way to demonstrate how fighting spirit and Training from Hell alone are a recipe for disaster. At the same time, however, it's still shown that Resolve has its purpose, and that although strategy is absolutely necessary, there are times when you need to act. At one point, they even paraphrase a Samurai mantra which states that failure to act when necessary makes one no better than those already dead. Thus far, the Japanese Spirit trope is kept in delicate balance with actual pragmatism.