Feeling No Pain
While it is not the most common trope in anime, there are more than a few characters who have the unique ability to not feel any pain. This can be because the character has been hurt so much that they no longer react to pain, trained to work through the pain, taking medication to not feel pain, or literally can’t feel pain due to some sort of physiological defect. In today’s post I’ll be focusing on the last one, those characters that have never felt any pain due to their own physiology. Here is just a short list of some of the characters in anime who have the ability to not feel any pain. FYI- I will only be including the human characters that aren’t using supernatural powers.
Magi- Labyrinth of Magic- The slave Goltas might have the ability to not feel pain as his master Jamil takes great delight in stabbing him and proclaiming how great he is that he doesn’t feel pain. It’s left unclear as to whether Goltas has resigned himself to this or if he never could feel pain.
Karas– I haven’t seen this one, but from what I could gather it seems like the main character’s ability to not feel pain is due to a genetic condition, so I am including him on the list.
Cynthia the Mission– Yumiko lacks the ability to feel pain and learns the hard way why this is not a good thing.
Blade of the Immortal- Shira is an interesting case as it is said his lack of pain is caused by brain damage.
Yami No Aegis- As with our previous example Zero cannot feel pain due to brain damage from being shot in the head.
Is it a good thing?
Now you might be thinking not being able to feel pain in a good thing. No more cursing in the middle of the night when you stub your toe on something, no more annoying paper cuts, say goodbye to accidently touching something hot while cooking, amazing right? …… WRONG! Pain is an essential part of our senses as it tells us when our bodies are damaged, and not having this sense would mean that you could push yourself to the point of hurting yourself. This is a risk with cortisone and other types of injected medications used by athletes at times. (Which is used as a plot point in sports movies from time to time.) Many anime also point out this fact, having characters take advantage of an enemy’s not being able to feel pain and have them push their opponents to the point that their bodies break down, allowing the heroes to win.
A rather famous example of this was Robert Wadlow, who was the tallest human ever recorded at 8ft 11.1 inches. As a result of his height he developed a nerve condition that prevented him from feeling pain in his feet. A faulty brace caused a blister on his ankle which he didn’t feel. This blister then became infected, and needed surgery to resolve. At this point he developed an autoimmune disorder that led to his death at the age of 22. All of this just because he couldn’t feel a blister on his ankle.
What is pain?
Before you can consider why a person might not feel pain, let’s take a moment to talk about what pain is, and how the body detects it. First off, pain is the sensation we feel when the body is being damaged or pushed to the limit in some way. Pain is detected by receptors in the skin and body like the other senses, and the information is then relayed to the brain, where the information is processed. (Pain receptors are a type of Nociceptor, a group of receptors that also detect touch, heat, and cold.)
When the receptor is activated it sends a signal to the spinal cord which can cause you to pull back (reflex), and the signal is sent to the brain where it is processed and you feel pain. Thus, for an individual to feel pain, the following events need to occur in the correct order:
1- something causes pain
2- pain is detected by receptors
3- a signal is sent towards the spinal cord
4- the signal is then sent up the spinal cord to the brain
5- the signal is processed by the brain
Why do people not feel pain?
There are a couple of reasons as to why a person might not feel pain. The first is any breakdown in the steps I described previously. If an individual’s nerves are cut, they will not feel any pain or anything else from what those nerves are connected to. This is why individuals with spinal cord injuries do not feel anything below the point where they were injured.
However, this situation doesn’t quite match up with any anime character that I have seen that does not feel pain.
Another possibility is that an individual’s ability to process the pain signal sent to the brain is disrupted in some way. Simply put, I am talking about brain damage. While I have not heard of any cases of brain damage causing a person to lose the ability to feel pain, it is a side effect of a lobotomy, or cingulotomy. So, it is possible that Shiro (Blade of the Immortal) and Zero (Yami No Aegis) lost the ability to feel pain as a result of their injuries. That being said, individuals who do not feel pain as a result of brain injuries are a bit different than some of the other types of people who do not feel pain. What happens as a result of brain damage is not a lack of feeling pain but rather pain asymbolia, (pain dissociation). Pain asymbolia occurs when the individual still actually feels the pain, but they lack the emotional response to it. To individuals suffering from pain asymbolia, they will feel it when injured, but to them being stabbed with a knife feels no different than poked in the arm.
Genetic conditions that cause a lack of pain sensation
Up to this point I have only mentioned injuries that could cause a person to not feel pain, but there are cases of individuals who are born with an inability to feel pain. This incredibly rare group of genetic conditions are known as Congenital Insensitivity to Pain. There are a number of conditions in this category and all are extremely rare, and extremely debilitating. Most individuals with this condition do not make it much past the age of 20 due to not knowing when their bodies have been injured. The most common injuries are being burned, dental, or eye problems. There is also a higher risk of suicide as some individuals will push their bodies so hard that they end up in wheel chairs by their late teens as a result of accumulated damage, which places them in a lot of mental stress. There are currently no real treatments for Congenital Insensitivity to Pain. Instead a lot of effort is put on prevention and education, teaching people to know when to stop, and to get regular medical checkups to treat any injuries that have gone unnoticed.
Congenital Insensitivity to Pain is the most likely reason as to why the protagonist of Karas, and Yumiko from Cynthia the Mission does not feel pain. In fact in Karas it is said that the reason that the protagonist has an insensitivity to pain is because he is the product of incest. Now there are a variety of narrative reasons as to why the writer would say this, but from a scientific standpoint it makes sense. Congenital Insensitivity to Pain is an autosomal recessive condition which is one of the reasons it is so rare. However, in cases where the parents of a child are related to each other there is a higher chance of an autosomal recessive condition being passed onto the child as both parents would be a carrier for the condition. FYI– a carrier is someone who has the gene for the condition in question but not the condition itself and if two carriers have a child there is a 25% of the child having an autosomal recessive condition.
Yes, it is possible for a person to be unable to feel pain, but it is by no means a good thing.
In some individuals who do not feel pain, the lack of pain sensation carries over to emotional pain. This can cause them to be more blunt and potentially insulting than they intend as they have never felt emotional pain and do not know they could be causing it.