The origins of rock-paper-scissors in anime

The world of Japanese anime and manga around the world is bigger and better than ever, and seasoned anime fans will no doubt discover many weird trends, gags, and tropes while consuming this medium, from loud nosebleeds from evil characters to talking animals. and much more. And then there’s the classic rock-paper-scissors game.

Western anime fans are used to the paper scissors being a simple and fun game for kids, usually played to decide something quickly and fairly. However, this game is much older than anime fans might think, originating in Japanese brothels and mainland China. Only later did this game find its way into the anime.

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The origins of rock-paper-scissors


chinese women playing rock-paper-scissors

The game now known as rock-paper-scissors/janken is over 2,000 years old and originated in ancient China, although it didn’t have either of those names at the time. Although the game has existed in various forms since its origins in China, the basic concept has remained the same from then until now. It involves two players who must make one of three different moves, each move beating one and losing to the other. This game then spread from China to other parts of the world such as India and Japan, where its name and the concept behind the hand gestures changed depending on local culture and interests. It then arrived in Japan, where the three gestures were changed and named snail, frog, and snake mushi ken.

In the 1600s, the Japanese developed the modern version of the original Chinese game, renaming the three moves rock, paper, and scissors; the version that continues in real life and anime so far. The game continued to be played almost exclusively in Asian regions for a few more centuries until it finally made its way to the West in the early 20th century, partly due to Japan’s increasing contact with foreign powers such as the United States, the United States, and the European nations. Rock-paper-scissors, in particular, came to the United States in the 1930s, where they gained popularity as a child’s game and a means of making quick, unbiased decisions. At the same time in France it was called the “Japanese game”. Even later, this game entered the world of anime and manga where it thrives today.

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Rock Paper Scissors or Janken in manga and anime


Rohan vs. Ken Janken

Many anime and manga scenes depict the game of Janken or rock-paper-scissors, often in a slice-of-life anime where two characters have to make a quick decision and have neither the time nor the interest to argue. You can play this game to decide, for example, who should do a certain task or who should go first in a game. However, some anime titles, especially shonen action stories, take it even more seriously.

A notable example is the long series Hunter X Hunter, where protagonist Gon Freecss famously plays Janken with his best friend and rival Killua Zoldyck – a classic example of how children use this fun, fair game to make a decision. Most notably, Gon learned to incorporate janken into his Nen fighting style, and he won more than one match by throwing rocks, paper, or scissors at his opponent. True to the original game, Gon sometimes uses mental tricks and meta-knowledge to get rid of his opponent and minimize the randomness factor in these fights. Real janken is played in the head, not with the hands.

JoJo’s bizarre adventure has an entire character dedicated to Janken – the troublemaker Oyanagi Ken, who runs a stand called Boy II Man. Ken’s game-based stand can steal people’s souls piece by piece if the opponent loses to him in a best-of-five Janken match. Ken challenged manga genius Kishibe Rohan to this game and initially Rohan performed well until Ken came up with a clever strategy to trick Rohan and put him on the defensive, capturing two-thirds of Rohan’s soul. Only at the last moment did Rohan turn the tables and win the fifth Janken match to reclaim his soul. This game has never had such high stakes.

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