Evolution in Anime
I’ve been on a bit of a biology kick this week as today’s lesson will be about evolution in anime and by evolution, I mean the scientific theory and not a discussion about changing art styles. Now I know that Darwin’s theory of evolution, the cornerstone of modern biology, is a controversial topic to some, but I will be dealing with the science and how it is portrayed in anime. First off I have to mention two theories of evolution: Darwinian, and Lamarkian in order to lay some groundwork for the lesson.
Jean Baptiste Lamark, (August 1, 1744 to December 18, 1829) was many things during his life and most importantly a biologist who stressed the idea that organisms changed over time and these changes followed a set of rules. He did the majority of his research in France, where he developed his theory of evolution. The three-main take-aways from Lamarkian evolution, or the inheritance of acquired characteristics are as follows:
1- Organisms have an inborn urge to become perfect.
2- The organisms change by using various body parts more or less
3- These changes can be passed onto their offspring
If you’re a bit confused, that’s ok, and the following example should help clear things up a bit. The ancestral giraffe is eating grass, but at some point the grass runs out, so it stretches its neck and legs a bit to reach the leaves on a few small trees. This stretching is then passed onto its offspring. This process of stretching to reach the leaves on taller and taller trees continues until we arrive at the modern giraffe as shown in the picture below.
If you’re still a little confused, this second example should help a bit. Imagine two Olympic level sprinters having a child. Based on Lamarkian evolution, the child would automatically be a high-level sprinter regardless of what kind of life the child leads. I can already hear you saying, duh, of course that makes no sense, and you would of course be right. However, remember this:
As it turns out, Lamark, who everyone thought was wrong for over 150 years, wasn’t entirely wrong with the development of epigenetics. I’ll dive more into this later with Dragon Ball Z/ Super, but our environment can cause some changes to DNA that can be inherited; however, that is a lesson for another day.
Charles Darwin (February 12, 1809 to April 19, 1882) along with Alfred Russel Wallace (January 8, 1823 to November 7, 1913) promulgated the theory of evolution, the cornerstone of modern biology. During his circumnavigation of the globe on the HMS Beagle (1831 – 1836), Darwin came to the conclusion that organisms changed over time by examining how living species and fossilized specimens had shared characteristics. Current biological theory stated that these fossilized bones were the bones of species that had yet to be discovered, or organisms that went extinct during the flood. However, Darwin concluded that these fossils were the predecessor species to the live organisms he was observing. He was also able to observe that species that lived in different continents had similar characteristics if they lived in similar environments, and that species living in very different environments would have different characteristics even if they lived close together.
The wide array of diversity and similarity fascinated and captivated Darwin, which led to the creation of the seminal theory of evolution by the means of natural selection. Darwin’s theory of evolution states: The process in which inherited characteristics within a population change over generations is such that new species sometimes arise. This idea of inherited characteristics is a key difference between Darwin, and Lamark, and why Darwin’s theory seems to be correct. Despite having worked out the basics of inheritance several decades earlier, Gregor Mendel’s work would not be discovered until the early 20th century, nor would the structure and function of DNA be known until almost 100 years after Darwins work. The driving force behind the changes Darwin said organisms undergo is coined Natural selection, also known as survival of the fittest.
This is the process by which individuals that are better adapted to their environment survive and reproduce more successfully than less well adapted individuals do;it is a theory to explain the mechanism of evolution. This can be broken down into 4 basics parts:
1- The organism has more offspring than will survive
2- The offspring are all related, but each one is a little different
3- Survive to adulthood
The organisms that do survive and reproduce have beneficial traits that allowed them to survive and reproduce. These beneficial traits are then based down to their offspring and the cycle continues. If the environment changes, the traits that are beneficial would change and lead to new species. I could go on, but I think you are clamoring for the anime and I aim to please.
Oh, come on, you really didn’t think I would discuss evolution in anime and not talk about Pokemon. Evolution in Pokemon is when you have your cute little animal battle, battle, and battle some more to the point where it gains massive amounts of experience. All of this experience allows the animal to shift into a more powerful form. Animals changing form isn’t all that new, as there have been organisms undergoing major changes during their life cycles for a long time, longer than humans have been on the planet.
Evolution causes organisms to change over time, and metamorphosis causes organisms to change, so what is the difference? As previously stated, evolution is a species changing over time as organisms that are better adapted to the environment survive and reproduce. So, Ash’s lovable little or not so little Pokemon would have to reproduce and continue to reproduce, and over a long period of time the Pokemon would slowly change as it adapted, so a Charmander changing into the Charizard would take many generations, at which time Ash would be long gone. Pokemon hints at this with the bringing fossilized Pokemon back to life, showing that there were ancestral species.
Metamorphosis, on the other hand, is a stage in an organism’s development, similar to puberty, but on steroids in some cases, given the drastic changes that can occur. In this case, every member of the species would have to undergo metamorphosis, so sorry Ash, your bug zapper is going change sooner or later.
Clearly evolution and metamorphosis are two completely different things so why is it that Pokemon uses evolution to describe what is clearly metamorphosis? The answer to that is surprisingly simple, metamorphosis literally translates to hentai (thank you google translate). Given that Pokemon is a kid’s game, it makes sense that the developers wouldn’t use the Japanese word for porn.
I know that today’s post didn’t spend too much time on the anime, but it was necessary to give everyone some background on evolution in order to set up later posts. I’ll be looking at super saiyan kids in Dragon Ball Z/Super, Coordinators being a new species in Gundam Seed, evolution of new types in Mobile Suit Gundam, and Naruto to name a few. Thanks for reading and if you have any comments or questions please leave them in the comments section below.