Reincarnation is something that permeates eastern culture. Instead of acting in the hopes of a better afterlife, they believe their actions will affect their future lives, and that their life is the culmination of the actions of their past lives. To them life is a cycle that repeats itself throughout all of time.
So, what if you had a closer connection to your past lives and were able to experience what they had?
Well, you’d have Spirit Circle.
Spirit Circle is a manga written by Satoshi Mizukami that was published from 2012 to 2016, and tells the story of Fuuta Okeya, a 14 year old boy who is attacked by the newest transfer student who claims that they have been bitter enemies for centuries through numerous reincarnations.
I know, it sounds pretty generic for a manga, but this opening betrays what the real meat of the story is.
See, Spirit Circle is an intricate weaving of reincarnation, fate, individuality, morality, and the cyclical nature of the universe. It is a deep character study into the minds of children who suddenly have countless lifetimes of experience under their belt, and what kind of psychological toll that can have on a person.
Before I go any further, I really suggest reading it if it sounds at all interesting to you, because I will be spoiling many things that take place throughout the story. Its only 45 chapters spread throughout 6 volumes, so it’s definitely not the longest series out there.
See, while Okeya may be our protagonist, the actual meat of the story takes place in his many past lives, which he chooses to relive in an attempt to understand his classmate’s anger. He does this with the help of a ghost that follows him around as well as the titular Spirit Circle. Each time he chooses to relive a past life, his circle gains another marking, until by the end when it contains the same number as his classmate’s, who has already relived all of her lives.
Over the course of the story, he lives through each of his past live, with each one having their own unique story and personality. Its not just the same guy each time, each of them might as well be a different person aside from the few things like their looks or a certain scar.
He visits many locations and time periods, from an ancient Aztec society to a knight in Europe to even a scientist watching over a futuristic graveyard. With each reliving, he essentially gains the persona of that individual within his psyche. At first it changes his own personality to match theirs, but as time goes on they instead become like a voice in his head, like he has different consciences for each lifetime.
Despite the modern day pair having knowledge of their past lives, the ones of the past did not. They lives their live in the way that they saw best, without the intervention of other lives.
One of the best things the story does is the order in which the lives are relived. At first it appears like it is a chronological order with him reliving the eldest life first, but as each new one comes around, it is obvious that it is not linear. Despite them being numbered on the circle, it doesn’t match up correctly, as his life as a European knight is numbered before his life as an ancient Egyptian architect.
Not only the order, but several of the lives seem to contradict logic. There is another life that takes place at the same time period that they are in the modern day, as well as one that takes place in what seems to be the far future.
This shows us the true circle of this work: not just the lives of these two, but the entire world itself. If you try and create a timeline, it just loops back in on itself. Every life they go through is both the past and the future.
The furthest life in the future takes place right before the oldest life in the past. The actions those two took were directly influenced by the other, despite them feeling like absolute opposites.
Another theme that permeates Spirit Circle is that of general morality. When reliving their past lives, the two only see things from the point of view of their reincarnations. They both believe that the actions they took were right and just. It is only after they share their experiences that they can learn the whole of the situation and understand the faults each of them made.
For example, in the time of the Aztecs, our protagonist gives his life in an attempt to save his wife from being ritualistically sacrificed to the gods. He believed that the sacrifices were wrong, and his actions brought about the end of the priesthood that did the sacrifices.
For the girl, she was a priest who knew the true reason of the sacrifices. They existed to prevent war and strife from breaking out amongst the people, as the ceremony of the sacrifice existed as a way to bring people together. His death during the sacrifice led to the uprising of the people, who killed the priests but began also began making sacrifices in his name as a new god.
As you can see, both people thought they were right in the situation. One believed in controlling the populace through the deaths and preventing outright war, while the other hated the needless bloodshed and believed in the goodness of his people. In the end, I think it is hard to say which one was in the right, and that’s what I love.
Each situation leads to its own philosophical dilemma. Should a man be punished his whole life for the actions of his youth? Should people be forced to live as a vegetable despite the natural end of their life? Is it wrong to attempt to help people if it leads to harm? The whole series bring up many questions about right and wrong as well as examining lives with different hardships, such as failing to meet ones own expectations or fighting a war in the name of peace.
This manga takes a deep dive into some of the hardest questions humanity has tried to answer. It isn’t afraid to show us the bias of emotions and experiences, and instead creates a work that teaches empathy. It helps the reader better understand that everyone thinks they are doing the right thing, and that it is impossible to know every part of a situation without literally being in someone else’s shoes.
Another topic that is brought up late in the series is that of fate. For the girl, she believes it to be fate that the two of them fight. For the boy, or at least his final persona, he believes that everything will happen exactly the same way despite any influence in the matter. This fate stands as a wall in the way of the goal of the boy and the girl, one that pits them at odds for all of time, despite the several lives that they actually got along.
This notion of fate is then shattered in an instant through the birth of twins at the end of the series. It shows that what the persona believes to be fate is merely misguided assumptions and expectations. With their birth, the circle is broken. The two children must no longer fight in every life, and the world itself will no longer be trapped in the same loop.
Spirit Circle exists to be its own antithesis. It builds its world and explains its nature, only to tear it down in the span of a single page. All the ideas we have and the assumptions we have made about the world are immediately shattered, and what we are left with is a future that is unknown. No more cycles, not more fighting through reincarnations, only the future that these souls will have in this life and the next.
While breaking this cycle, it also lets us know that not all cycles are broken. Everyone will still be born again countless times and live thousands of lives, but they are no longer fated to the lives pre-set by those of the past. At the end of the series, every single character we’ve met throughout the series is alive at the same time, in proximity of each other. Instead of worrying about cycles, we are left with the futures of these individuals as they carve their own path forward.
I cannot recommend this work enough. It is short and to the point without feeling like it left out important details. It helps you better look at not only your own thoughts and actions, but to better understand those of others.