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Reincarnation-Identifying Trait

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Handling Reincarnations can be tricky, so writers often need a shorthand to identify and confirm that two characters in a work share the same soul without resorting to outright giving them the same appearances. This characteristic can be physical/visual (such as reincarnations sharing a Birthmark of Destiny or other Distinguishing Mark, eyes, hair, or voices) or otherwise (such as liking the same song or sharing a niche hobby with their past lives). In the case of the latter, this trope is usually independent from but can be a sign of Past-Life Memories. The characters may or may not be aware of the tell, but the audience usually is. When the characters are aware, said indication can be used to test whether or not one character is a reincarnation of another.

There have been claims of this being the case in real life. Dr. Ian Stevenson, who researched many claims of past lives, wrote about a number of examples. Most were birthmarks that in some way matched wounds people said they had in past lives (mostly fatal ones). Whether or not this is the case of course remains debated (and is beyond the scope of this wiki), as the birthmark claims usually couldn't be confirmed by independent research later (most cases were children, and Stevenson said they "shifted", as happens when you grow).

Morphic Resonance is a similar principle applied to shapeshifting. Said characteristic may be a Shared Unusual Trait or, if physical, a Mark of the Supernatural. See also Reincarnation Romance and Reincarnation Friendship, where people's reincarnations become close.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ayakashi Triangle offers an odd metaphorical example. Garaku describes someone he knew from the distant past as "surrounded by flowers, birds, the wind, and the moon—all the beauties of nature". That's exactly the meaning of "Kachofugetsu", the name of Suzuís group of friends. It's one reason Garaku realized Suzuís ayakashi half was passed down from the women he knew back then.
  • One of the endings of Fantastic Children is this way. Having been reincarnated on earth another time, Tina meets a man that looks rather like Soran. She confirms this when she sees her name on his arm in Greecian, the language of their home planet during their previous lives. He responds with a smile.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid, Einhart's heterochromia and silvery-green hair are an indicator of her having inherited the Genetic Memories and will of her ancestor Claus Ingvalt. This is treated as the closest In-Universe equivalent to reincarnation (actual reincarnation is impossible within the rules of The 'Verse).
  • In No Game No Life, the Big Damn Movie features Riku and Shuvi, the predecessors of Sora and Shiro. On top of having huge physical resemblance and same voices, albeit with some minor differences like hair color and species difference, they notably share their successors immense talent at games. In fact, it's implied that Tet sought out Sora and Shiro because he suspected they were the reincarnations of these two legendary gamers.
  • Nurse Angel Ririka SOS does this with Hair Color Spoiler. Ririka is blonde despite everyone in her family having dark hair; this winds up being an indication that she's the reincarnation of the original Nurse Angel.
  • Fakir of Princess Tutu is the reincarnation of a fairytale knight sworn to protect his prince. To confirm this, he has a birthmark that resembles the wound that killed the knight.
  • Spirit Circle:
    • One of Fuuta's earliest past lives, Vann, received a cursed brand on his cheek from a witch (herself one of Kouko's past incarnations). This carries over into Fuuta's later incarnations as a birthmark, growing only slightly fainter each time. When the present versions of Fuuta and Kouko finally bury the hatchet, Fuuta's mark fades completely.
    • Kouko herself gets this in reverse - when she received a forehead scar identical to that of her past life Koko, it became a trigger that unlocked her Past-Life Memories as Koko. This scar likewise fades at the end of the story.
    • On a larger level, all reincarnations of Fuuta and associated retain their physical features. Flambe, for example, can be seen as Fuuta's baby brother since he's identified by his thin eyebrows.
  • Yona of the Dawn: One of the many hints that Yona is the reincarnation of the Red Dragon Hiryuu is her unusual, flaming-red hair, which Hiryuu had in life after being incarnated as a human.
  • The Ancient Egypt arc of Yu-Gi-Oh! features reincarnations who have more or less the same facial features and millennium artifacts as their modern-day Japanese counterparts — except for Kisara, a mysterious young woman with white hair and blue eyes. Between this appearance and Priest Seto's attachment to her, it becomes obvious that her "reincarnation" is the Blue-Eyes White Dragon.

    Comic Books 
  • The various past lives of Hawkman/Carter Hall have a hawk motif. Many of them share the current incarnation's power of flight, but even when they don't, the hawk imagery is present. (They include existing DC characters Nighthawk, a masked cowboy with a stylised hawk on his chest, and the Silent Knight, an anonymous knight who not only had a hawk on his shield but operated with a trained falcon named Slasher.) Some of them also have names that sound like "Carter Hall"; this was initially just his first incarnation of Pharoah Khufu Maat Kha-Tar (along with Shiera's first incarnation as Queen Chay-Ara), but Hawkman (2018) revealed Carter had many incarnations on other planets which he'd been previously unaware of, including the Thangarian Katar Hol (the other Hawkman, previously thought to be a coincidence), the Kryptonian Catar-Ol, and the Rannian Katarthul. His actual first incarnation was named Ktar, and Shierra's was Shrra.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In the The Seven Deadly Sins fic 3,000 Years, the 108th reincarnation of Elizabeth has the same feather birthmark on her shoulder as the first one did, which symbolizes that she will be the last. Her Eternal Love, who doesn't know that last part, is scared by the possible meanings of it.
  • Infinity Train: Voyage of Wisteria: Warbler is a quiet music-note that doesn't look like she could be a reincarnation of a passenger (as it's established that if a passenger should die on the Train before completing their quest, their soul is to reincarnate). It's not until the Comm-Switch Car that there is a trait. If she gets a voice, it sounds similar to Grace Monroe, the former leader of the Apex.
  • Sleeper in the Cave has Indoril Nerevar — one of the Dunmer's greatest Saints — suffering from a complete failure to correctly learn and harness Mysticism. It's later called Ledd's syndrome and classified as a learning disability, and it allows the Tribunal to find the Nerevarine when the new reincarnation finds their way to Morrowind.

    Films — Animation 
  • Astronaut Grimaldi's daughter from Heavy Metal witnesses the demise of the last Taarakian warrior as she vanquishes the Big Bad. Escaping her home just before it's blown to smithereens, Grimaldi's daughter discovers a featherless bird has come to her side. Her hair turns white in the moonlight, and she develops a ring-and-sword birthmark on her neck, which indicates that she has become the newest Taarakian warrior. Closing exposition by the narrator verifies this spirit transfer.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bear from A Dog's Purpose tries to invoke this. He remembers all his lives and finds himself back with one of his previous owners, Ethan. Bear tries to show Ethan that he's his childhood dog Bailey by doing the same tail trick Bailey did, but it takes a while for Ethan to understand it's anything but a coincidence.
  • The Laurel and Hardy film The Flying Deuces has a surprise Downer Ending with Ollie dying in a plane crash and Stan being disconsolate. After this, however, Stan meets a talking horse who wears Ollie's hat, and the two friends are reunited, after a fashion.
  • In I Origins, reincarnations can be identified by unique results on new iris-scanning technology. The main character realizes that his ex-girlfriend was reincarnated into a little girl in India because they shared the same eyes.
  • Om Shanti Om: OK's wrist bears a birthmark that looks like Om's tattoo. Since his face isn't shown until afterwards, this is the first indication to the audience that he is Om reincarnated. Later, Pappu realizes that OK is Om's reincarnation after hearing his awards speech, which Om had spoken thirty years prior.
  • Reincarnation (2005): Yuka's neck birthmark marks her as the reincarnation of a maid who was hung on the night of the massacre.
  • The documentary Unmistaken Child features the non-physical version: a Tibetan monk seeks to find his master's reincarnation, and does this by testing children who respond in certain emotional ways to his master's possessions.

  • Cloud Atlas: It is heavily implied that five of the six protagonists of the Nested Story are all the same soul (in the sixth story, the birthmark is on the deuteragonist instead), and are identified by their comet-shaped birthmark.
  • In the Deverry novels, reincarnated characters are often identified by their Animal Motifs (two main characters were the last scions of the Falcon clan, and have falcon badges or adornments in their later incarnations) or by having a similar sounding name (Rhodry's incarnations have names that start with either M or R and usually contain a middle D). Neither of these is entirely guaranteed, though.
  • Endo and Kobayashi Live! The Latest on Tsundere Villainess Lieselotte: Successive reincarnations of Adam and Eve have somewhat similar looks, something Kuon, who harbors a Mad Love towards Eve, knows very well. In fact, his interest in the Kobayashi siblings is due to their visual similarity to Eve, and thus perfect to work as a Soul Jar for the spirit of Fiene, the current incarnation of Eve.
  • In Great Alta Saga, the reincarnations of Jenna all have Mystical White Hair from birth.
  • In the Night World series, every time Hannah Snow is reincarnated (save for her original incarnation) she is born with a birthmark on one side of her face, that cannot be removed; even when she got laser surgery in her current incarnation it came back.
  • The Malazan Book of the Fallen: After at first not believing that the boy he is presented with is truly the reborn Sormo E'nath, cadre mage Kulp takes a good look at him and changes his opinion based on the boy's aura. For one, it's the aura of an ancient man. Additionally, Kulp smells on Sormo a ritual that only a truly old and powerful warlock could have undergone in his final years as preparation for his own death.
  • My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!:
  • So I'm a Spider, So What?:
    • Every reincarnator has a mysterious glitch-like skill called "N%I=W". Anyone with a sufficiently-advanced Appraisal skill or Appraisal Stone can see it on the reincarnator's skill list. The skill itself cannot be appraised, making it impossible to determine it's purpose unless one is already aware that this skill is only held by the reincarnated characters, in which case it serves to identify them as one.
    • Since all the reincarnators come from Japan, speaking or writing in Japanese is almost always a sign of a reincarnator. This is how Shun and Katia recognized each other as kids. In most cases, characters have to introduce themselves before their past profile is connected to the current one, but in at least one notable case, one reincarnator was identified solely through their recognizable speech patterns.
    • Later in the story, the protagonist obtains a skill called "Wisdom", which reveals even more information than Appraisal. Among many other things, if used to examine a reincarnated character, it will display the names of both their current and past lives, a characteristic unique to the reincarnated characters.
  • Warrior Cats: Hollyleaf and Leafpool recognize Cinderheart's way of flicking her paw as identical to Cinderpelt, of whom Cinderheart is a reincarnation.
  • In The Years of Rice and Salt, the continuously reincarnating characters are identified by their shared initials, such as Kyu and Kokila.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Implied in 7 Days (1998), as a villain with a birthmark under his eye dies and the episode ends with a shot of a newborn baby with the same birthmark.
  • Babylon 5: When a triluminary glows in the presence of Jeffrey Sinclair it is taken as a sign that he is the reincarnation of the Minbari hero and prophet Valen. Sinclair and Valen later turn out to be the same person in a Stable Time Loop.

    Video Games 
  • Cereal Soup: A Loading Screen tip describes one of the gods, Omni-Alpha, with having the ability to reincarnate with all the scars from his past lives.
  • In Dreamfall Chapters, the first confirmation that Saga is a reincarnation of April Ryan is when she starts drawing pictures showing the latter's journeys, just as the latter herself did as a child.
  • Mentioned as a possibility in Honkai Impact 3rd. Otto created an Artificial Human by mixing the genes of a long-deceased legendary Valkyrie, Kallen Kaslana, with that of a powerful Honkai Beast. He noticed that one of the bodies seemingly had Kallen's personality (instinctively protective of people). Otto wonders if she is Kallen's reincarnation, which doubts because the concept of "reincarnation" is unexplainable by known science. Nevertheless, he adopted said clone as his "granddaughter", called her Theresa, and raised her as a Valkyrie.
  • The Legend of Zelda: In several games (including the Oracle duology and Twilight Princess), Link bears the mark of the Triforce on the back of his hand, marking him as the Goddess's chosen hero.
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse: Nanashi shares a similar trait with Akira of Shin Megami Tensei IV — they both have scars on their right cheeks, indicating that Nanashi is the reincarnation of Akira.
  • At the end of SoulBlazer, the main girl has a goat named Turbo, who she names after a dog who was a Heroic Sacrifice because he "looked like Turbo". After the main characters leave, the goat follows; pausing to do a gesture that was attributed to the original Turbo; indicating he is a reincarnation.
  • In Tales of Symphonia, although it's not delved into too deeply, every person can apparently be identified through their own specific mana signature. This is a plot point because part of the Big Bad's plan involves engineering the birth of someone who's mana signature is as close a perfect match as they can get to his own sister, Martel, which they succeeded at before the start of the game when the heroine, Colette, was born. At one point, Colette meets with a Unicorn whose blindness forces them to perceive others through their mana signatures, and mistakenly believes it is meeting with Martel instead because their mana signatures are a near-perfect match.note  This finally comes full circle when the villain succeeds in forcing Martel's spirit into Colette's receptible body, effectively reincarnating Martel, if only temporarily.

  • In Housepets! the fox kits Craig and Draig have the same eye colors as ex-demigods Pete and Spirit Dragon, currently sentenced to spend a lifetime as mortals.
  • Some reincarnates in Leif & Thorn can be identified by the heartswords they can draw, which are identical to those of their past lives'.

    Western Animation 
  • In the American Dad! episode "A Star is Reborn", an aging Hollywood actress believes Stan to be the reincarnation of her dead actor husband (who was known for his signature falls) after seeing him trip and avoid a fall from the marbles that she scattered in memory of him. She further believes it after being reminded of the way her husband eats hotdogs after seeing Stan eat one, among other mannerisms. Francine (who may or may not be the reincarnation of a starlet herself) comes to believe that it's the truth.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Avatar is the perpetually-reincarnated embodiment of light and peace capable of bending all elements. When an Avatar dies, the Elemental Nation next in the cycle has to locate the current one.
    • The first show explains the Air Nomad method. The tribe has their infant children pick four toys out of many. Every historical Air Nomad Avatar chooses the same four toys, known as the Avatar relics, so the infant who chooses said toys during the test is identified as the current reincarnation.
      Aang: I just chose them because they seemed fun.
      Monk: You chose them because they were familiar.
    • The tie-in novel, The Rise of Kyoshi deconstructs this trope when it describes the Earth Kingdom method. Since it's the largest and most populous nation, they use geomancy to keep cutting the search area in half until they're on the young Avatar's doorstep. This method actually didn't work for Kyoshi as her parents were bandits who didn't stay in one place long enough to be found. The previous Avatar Kuruk's friends Kelsang and Jianzhu searched for years and years to find the Avatar to no avail. They ended up thinking it was a guy named Yun because they found him hustling adults at pai-sho using Kuruk's outside the box strategy. Kyoshi is basically Yun's nanny and it's not until she starts singing a song that Kuruk wrote and only showed Kelsang that they realize they picked the wrong kid. Kelsang muses that in their desperation to find Kuruk's reincarnation they had lowered their standards so much, because sometimes resemblance to someone you once knew really is just pure chance.
    • The Legend of Korra: In the first episode, the White Lotus arrive at the four-or-so-year-old Korra's parents' home ready to test her for being the Avatar... and then she busts through a wall already bending three elements, leaving no doubt that she's the Avatar. Note that other Avatars don't begin training until their teens and require mental preparation before beginning. This causes problems later on.
  • King of the Hill: "Won't You Pimai Neighbor" had monks believe that Bobby was the reincarnation of a lama after he accidentally passed a test that wasn't even meant for him. The test was to choose the one item the lama had owned out of several items laid out on a rug, and Bobby randomly picked up a cane to do a funny dance routine with, which was the correct item. At the end of the episode, he's given the same test again with different items to rule out the possibility of it being a fluke. Bobby, after learning earlier that being a lama requires a Vow of Celibacy and he would therefore have to break up with Connie should he pass, asks the head monk to confirm that he can choose anything he sees on the rug. After getting his confirmation, he chooses Connie, whose reflection he can see in a mirror, deliberately failing the test. As the two lovebirds walk away hand in hand, one of the monks reveals that the correct item was, in fact, the mirror itself.
    Monk: But that was Sanglug's mirror!
    Head Monk: I know, but he didn't pick it.
    Monk: But he used it!
    Head Monk: Hmm... tough call. But it's mine, and I made it.

    Real Life 
  • Ian Stevenson investigated potential past life memories in small children. Some of them even had a visible trait, such as birthmark or birth defect corresponding with wounds (usually lethal) the previous person suffered. In the strongest cases, these wounds were confirmed by autopsy reports.


Video Example(s):


Avatar Relics

The elders explain to Aang that the toys he selected as a child were the same toys owned by his past lives.

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Main / ReincarnationIdentifyingTrait

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