War is the natural state of Man.
That was observed by Thomas Hobbes, and he was referring to how the absence of government leaves every man in the world fighting a war against every other man in the world. Conflict obviously did not cease with the formation of governments, but it certainly allowed local groups of people to coexist as good neighbors, if only because the government ostensibly offered a measure of protection against human predators, under the threat of justice on behalf of their human prey.
Any way you look at it, violent conflict is inherently part of human nature, and we have a very long, bloody, tragic history with it. Myths, legends, fairy tales, plays, poems, songs, books, movies, comics, games… all of these are riddled with the truth made evident in history: we are a violent race born of a violent world.
Perhaps that is why almost everything we think of eventually gets turned towards the purpose of violent survival, ie, war and combat. Most of our weapons began as something else, mostly as farmers’ tools. Indeed, in dire circumstance, quite nearly anything can be used as an improvised weapon. Even in our wildest fantasies, where anything becomes possible, we tend to create systems of magic that are built towards the purpose of combat.
I actually skimmed over the vast library of anime which I have watched, or have left on a pile to hopefully watch later, and I found myself surprised by how almost every single instance of magic I found was geared specifically towards fighting. The ninjutsu of Naruto, the magic of Fairy Tail, the soul-swords of Bleach, even the protagonist’s clairvoyance in EscaFlowne was almost always bent towards violence, and the list just goes on and on and on, including magic, mecha, mad science, superpowers, and more.
I recalled a moment from one such anime where the protagonist says, quite simply, that the magic which everyone in the world reveres was only useful to kill people with. That certainly seems to be the case, doesn’t it? Beginning, middle, and end, we seem to be fascinated with magic that can be used for war.
But though the overwhelming of majority of magic in anime, and other media, seems to be dominated by violence, there are some exceptions. There are just a few magic systems I have found in anime which, I would say, are not centered on combat. True, they can sometimes be useful in any given desperate situation, including when violence is at hand, but that’s not all they can be useful for, and may not be what they are truly meant for and used for in their worlds.
For some reason, I just find that inspiring to a surprising degree, and so I wish to honor them.
In no particular order, I present a few non-combative magic systems from anime, which are either 1) not oriented towards violence, 2) utilized in some pronounced, distinctive way besides combat, or 3) far too easy to adapt to situations besides open warfare. Or some combination of such.
And I would love it if you, my wonderful audience, could add to this list! 😉
Starting off with the one that I imagine would be most hotly contested, given how this is an action anime, and almost every alchemist we see ends up using their alchemy in combat. However, the story makes it clear that war is not what alchemy is about. It’s about manipulating and working within the flow of the world, where the world and oneself are irrevocably connected. In practice, it’s understanding the chemical makeup of a material, deconstructing it, and reconstructing it into something new. That lends itself to every manner of endeavor, many of them peaceful.
We see bioalchemy used for medicinal purposes, to mend injuries, purge poisons from the body, and heal damaged tissue.
We see agricultural alchemy used in the nourishing of plants, making them grow exponentially and thrive.
We see artistic and constructive alchemy – such as has been passed down the Armstrong line for generations! – used partially in combat, but also to build and renovate entire buildings.
Some of the earliest examples of alchemy we see is used to repair a broken radio and rebuild a destroyed inn.
Alchemy is a magic system based on science itself, and science is used, first and foremost, to create new things and to build society itself. Yes, it is easily turned to destruction, but that is not all that science is, and it’s not all that alchemy is either.
By the Grace of the Gods
This is absolutely my favorite example of people using magic for anything other than warfare. Indeed, magic is used in battle for only one or two episodes. The rest of the time, it’s used for all sorts of everyday purposes. It was quite refreshing and even inspiring to see such magics as taming, alchemy (not the same as FMA), elemental crafting, and spatial magic all used to improve things in everyday life. Some of the more notable examples include the following:
When the characters find their road blocked by a landslide, they realize they need to clear it as quickly as possible, lest bandits come upon them. The protagonist hastens this process considerably with magic to properly shape the earth that blocks the road, and then uses his slime familiars to quickly lay down that same shaped earth to fashion a new, stronger road. All of this, within minutes.
One of the first jobs which the protagonist contracts is to clean up a literal dump that has spilled into a neighboring house. He has his slimes eat all the garbage, and then, much like with the road, he crafts the necessary materials out of what’s available and rebuilds the broken wall. And then, after that, he tackles a much greater task in cleaning out some bathhouses that were completely neglected and need to be cleaned in order to be safe to use again. It turns out to be more dangerous than expected, the air saturated with vapors that have become poisonous, but the slimes eat up all the refuse, cleaning up the entire place, and then the protagonist combines water and lightning spells to sterilize each building in turn.
The protagonist makes enough money to start a laundry business using his slimes. He buys a piece of property, uses his slimes to demolish the ruined house that was there, then crafts a concrete foundation, crafts more materials to use, has his slimes adhere all the stones together – he’s getting very good at construction by this point, I imagine – and so on. Then, for his business, he has his slimes eat all the dirt and grime off people’s dirty clothes, which emerge clean and dry. Another slime, built of heavier material, elongates into a roller to smooth the clothes out. It’s done fairly quickly and simply, all while the customers wait in comfort, given refreshment by yet more slimes carrying trays of drinks.
Additionally, the protagonist uses his various skills to to create rain coats and gear for wet environments, to refine and condense traces of iron from the dirt of an abandoned mine, heal injuries old and new with alchemical medicine and magical healing slimes, molds stone into artistic figurines, and more. They even use their magic to play. Just… play. It makes practicing with their magic more enjoyable, but what more innocent expression of magic could there be than for children just using it to play, to have fun in peace without anyone getting hurt?
I admit, I am kind of reaching a bit with this one. Magic does seem to be mostly oriented towards war and conquest here. But I could not help but think of this after one primary example of its use on a national scale.
The characters travel around much of the world on their respective journeys, and they see all sorts of nations and tribes at work. There is one that is ruled by magicians who built a school in order to teach each rising generation their craft. These students learn everything their teachers have to teach them, and they apply what they learn to help their nation advance. The result, given the passage of enough time, is a nation where magic has been used to build up a fairly advanced infrastructure.
We’re talking transportation, with people flying on brooms and carpets everywhere.
We’re talking about a magical equivalent to modern-day plumbing, with currents flowing through the air to every building and every farmer’s field.
We’re talking a serious boost to food production as well, with magic used to hasten the cultivation of crops, to feed a great many people.
So, while magic is primarily used in conflict, and every magician is taught how to use it in battle, it has also obviously been used to build up an entire civilization from scratch. There is a significant cost to it, but it can be done.
No Game, No Life
There’s plenty of magic in the world this anime takes place in, and originally it was all very much used for absolute, cataclysmic warfare. However, with the fall of all the old gods except one, a new and unique system of magic was enforced upon the world. The surviving god was the god of games, and he abhorred the violence that he had witnessed. He created a new system of resolving conflicts. Now, instead of open warfare and apocalyptic mysticism, people would challenge each other in games governed by an iron-clad set of rules, the Ten Pledges.
The system of the Pledges is thus intended to supplant the violence of war with peace. It takes what used to be contests of strength and replaces them with contests entirely of wit and will. And while the many peoples of the world do use it to further their own ends at a cost to the loser, the god who instituted them did so for the very specific purpose of uniting all of them as one.
It makes all the sense in the world, given the division and destruction he saw, for him to want to end such discord forever. He made a game of it, but had to bring in the protagonists from beyond his world because no one else understood what he was doing. The Pledges are basically his challenge to the entire world, an invitation to play his game, intended to bring all of them together as a singular opponent to himself, to determine the fate and future of their world and everyone in it.
The Pledges are a magic system created to end war through the unification of diverse peoples.
I just find that to be an amazing concept!
The Ancient Magus’ Bride
I must admit here that I have not seen much of this anime, so I could be entirely wrong to include its magic in this particular list. However, from what I’ve seen and heard of it, there isn’t really much in the way of violence. Even if I am mistaken about that, I still believe this should be on this list, because, from what I saw, the magic in this anime was less about violence and more an expression of the soul who wields it.
I remember the first time they showed us magic, right after the magus bought his bride. With a gesture, he broke the collar off of her neck, and with a tap of his cane he whisked her to his home. It manifested as plant life – nettles, or something like that – sprouting into life in a circle around them, writhing and climbing upwards to enclose them. And, poof! They appeared on his doorstep.
I also recall when the bride in question finally comes into her own magic. She needs to travel a distance at speed, and when her power is unleashed, she takes the form of a great, fiery bird, like a phoenix. She soared up into the skies, burning bright like a star, before winging her way swiftly across the heavens to descend upon her magus in beautiful, burning glory.
Of course, I’m not unaware that magic in this world is also used to curse people, and thus also needs to be used to help them. There are very real dangers presented both by the practitioners of dark magic and by all manner of mystical creatures, and so magic must be used to defend and heal people. That said, this magic system strikes me as being much like that of FMA, useful in emergencies to protect or attack, but not at all restricted to such.
Speaking of non-violent magical shows! This anime would absolutely take first prize in that contest, I am sure! Not a bit of violence to be found anywhere!
Mind you, the magic isn’t nearly as constantly used in this anime as in others, but that’s beside the point. The point being that the magic of Flying Witch could quite simply be described as a bit additional wonder sprinkled into the normal world.
Floating around on a broom just for the heck of it. Mandrakes used as all-purpose medicine. Harbingers that simply come to say hello to the new witch in town, and gives flowers to the little girl he accidentally scares. Calling crows just for practice (ok, that was used to do recon in past ages). Teleporting to visit a family member easily while also journeying around the world. Accidentally turning someone into a demihuman with one witchy concoction, and then trying to reverse that with another witchy concoction. Conversing freely with familiars on a casual stroll around town. A prank spell where one cries or laughs at anything and everything for an hour or so. A charming, bespelled cafe with a ghost working as a waitress, temporarily made visible in all her cuteness by a charm. Bringers of night and foxes that are perfectly nice and friendly. A potion that inadvertently turns the world black and white for a little while. Fortune telling to help people navigate their troubles. Animated origami cranes to call people from their rooms to the living room. A mystical newspaper delivery man with news from the other world. A flying whale with ruins on its back, and a concoction used to see through its illusory disguise as a cloud. And fish that swim in the ground.
(yes, I just went through the whole anime quickly and wrote down every magical thing)
A lot of wonder, and not a bit of violence. I might, as a guy, be rather interested in action and violence, but I can still appreciate a more wholesome and peaceful take on magic.
How about you? What examples can you think of of magic in anime, books, or anything else that isn’t entirely geared towards war? Sound off in the comments below, please! 😀