Whether in the U.S. or in Japan, crows are abundant in all areas of modern-day society. Although they are mostly associated with cities, they populate every region where humans live including rural, suburban, and urban societies. Albeit their main role as dumpster-diving scavengers, their symbolic nature in Japan elevates them to a status of divinity and places them in many anime series as essential plot devices or background characters. Some of the most notable anime series to utilize these creatures are Naruto Shippuden, Demon Slayer, and Sailor Moon.
To provide further context, crows are so numerous in Japan that they actively influence daily life. In Tokyo alone, it is estimated that there are nearly 40,000 to 50,000 crows. According to the New York Times, crows in the city ran rampant citing 1,400 cases where they cut fiber optic cables causing blackouts throughout the affected regions. Likewise, the article mentions that in extreme cases of hunger, crows were known to disfigure children’s faces to steal their candy. While the U.S. is estimated to have at least 31 million crows with thousands of them nesting in big cities like New York City, the species of the crows living in Japan tend to be larger and much more aggressive.
What Do Crows Represent?
In many cultures, crows symbolize death. Some reasons behind this association are as shocking as they are fascinating. First, crows are carriers of diseases which is fitting for their nickname as the harbingers of death. Second, crows are known to feast on the corpses of dead animals and humans. Third, crows hold funerals when a member of their murder dies. Fourth, crows’ feathers are a black color which is commonly associated with death and destruction. Fifth, crows are known to hang around cemeteries. Lastly, ancient societies like China, Egypt, and the Americas as well as ancient religions like Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, all link crows to death, deception, or uncleanliness.
In Japan, where Shintoism is the primary philosophy, crows symbolize overtly positive traits (e.g. victory, guidance, wisdom, and good luck). The Tale of Yatagarasu – The Three-Legged Crow, a famous folklore tale, can be attributed with this amiable depiction of crows distinctive from other cultures, religions, and philosophies. To briefly explain the folklore tale, the three-legged crow is thought to have been sent from the heavens in order to guide Emperor Jimmu to safety. Even now, this story lives on and solidifies crows in their roles as holy guides and divine messengers.
How Do Crows Communicate?
There are two primary ways that crows deliver messages to humans: in a visual form and in a verbal form. The visual form is the amount of crows in any given area. For example, if there is only one crow in sight, then it means that it’s delivering the final message of the deceased; whereas, if there are four crows in sight, then it is a sign of wealth and prosperity. The verbal form is the number of caws that can be heard in succession. For example, if a crow caws three times, it symbolizes a blessing of good health; whereas, if there is only one caw, it symbolizes bad luck.
Example 1: Naruto Shippuden
The Naruto franchise uses crows in multiple occasions, specifically in scenes featuring the Uchiha brothers, Itachi Uchiha and Sasuke Uchiha. Itachi Uchiha is the character most closely associated with crows, as his Crow Clone Technique utilizes them as mediums to create duplicates of himself. Additionally, whenever he uses his genjutsu on his enemies, there is always a murder of crows surrounding him. This is an apt use of the crows, as they are known to symbolize trickery and deception which aligns with the purpose of creating clones.
Prior to his death, Itachi even implanted a crow in Naruto’s body in case anything ever happened to him. In episode 339, Kabuto used his reanimation genjutsu that revived Itachi along with a lot of other previously deceased Leaf Village ninjas. The crow served as a plot device in this episode allowing Itachi to break free from the genjutsu and gain autonomy for his reanimated body. Ultimately, this crow helped Itachi and Naruto defeat Kabuto. Symbolically, crows are also linked with reincarnation which is understandable as this episode focused on reanimating corpses.
Example 2: Demon Slayer
In Demon Slayer, crows are front and center to the plot. Kasugai Crows, the name given to them by the Demon Slayer Corps, are assigned to send and receive messages between headquarters and individual members of the organization. Their depiction in this anime series is the closest conceptually to what crows represent.
Instead of merely passing back and forth handwritten notes from demon slayer to demon slayer, the crows have the ability to verbally communicate with their assigned members. Although they are often used to deliver coordinates or assignments, they also fulfill another very important role. As seen in Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, all the Kasugai Crows return to their assigned members and relay the death of Flame Hashira Kyojuro Rengoku. As aforementioned, the sending of one crow to the members symbolizes the deceased’s final message.
Example 3: Haikyuu!!
In Haikyuu!!, crows serve as the main symbol of the entire anime series. Whether it be the crow-like wings Shoyo Hinata grows during his matches or the name of the school, Karasuno High, the show pulls no punches when comparing the Karasuno High volleyball team to a murder of crows. At the start of the show, the team is shown to be baby crows, a far cry from their predecessors, namely the Little Giant. By the end of the fourth season, however, the team goes from flightless baby birds to flying adult challengers ready to take down even a mighty white eagle like Shiratorizawa Academy’s Wakatoshi Ushijima. As crows represent victory, the show uses them as symbols of growth and winning.
Some other prominent scenes from the series include the depiction of The Dumpster Battle between Karasuno High’s crows and Nekoma High’s cats as well as the final match between Shiratorizawa Academy and Karasuno High. During the bout between the two schools, there are six crows portrayed flying through the air and attacking the eagle in an aerial battle, eventually defeating the great bird with teamwork and persistence. Although six crows can be interpreted as a sign of bad luck, the main association is that the six crows represent the six members of Karasuno High.
Example 4: Sailor Moon
In Sailor Moon Eternal, Phobos and Deimos are depicted as twin crows living at Himakawa Shrine and serving Rei Hino, who is the reincarnation of Princess Mars. Throughout the movie, they are revealed to be faithful servants of the original Princess Mars during the days of the Silver Millenium and act as familiars for the current Sailor Mars. Like in Naruto Shippuden, Phobos and Deimos also are examples of the connection between reincarnation and crows.
Example 5: Aoashi
In Aoashi, the crow is used as a physical representation of Aoi Ashito’s bird’s-eye-view ability, Eagle Eye. Out of all the birds that could be chosen to fulfill this role, the crow was selected due to its symbolism of victory. According to JapanTruly, the crow is deemed with such respect that the symbol of the Japanese Football Federation is the three-legged crow, Yatagarasu. Even more interesting is the existence of a Yatagarasu statue holding a soccer ball with its third leg. That is why in the anime series the crow appears during times when Aoi Ashito is close to scoring a point.
MORE:Haikyuu!! How Hinata Can Fly High
Source(s): JapanTruly, Bird Watching, The New York Times, BestBirdGuide, Avitrol, A Geek in Japan, & Wildlife Damage Management.