Spoilers for Kuroko’s Basketball, Hinomaru Zumou, and Kingdom

Perhaps the most succinct word on “Animal Instincts” comes to us from the manga of Kuroko’s Basketball.
“Everyone is born with it and they lose it when they grow up. But there are those who haven’t lost it, although maybe they didn’t become that way because they wanted to. They’re the guys who make it in a world where the fittest survive, like the one I just through Taiga into. In other words you can’t be gifted animal instinct. It’s a strength you gain from training.”

And thematically speaking, that sums it up relatively well. My name is CherryboyWriter, and welcome to Shonen Trope talk. Where we talk common tropes that appear in Shonen manga and expand on them to give a broad overview of how Shonen manga authors use them. You voted for it on twitter and the first episode will be Animal Instincts and following after will be Genius due to the tie vote.
Let’s jump right in.

What are Animal Instincts?

Animal Instincts in action before a battle from the manga Hinomaru Zumo

Animal Instincts is a combat trope based around prediction. It is not just prediction, as all people are capable of reading situations at varying levels of speeds and making an appropriate judgement call. Rather, Animal Instincts is a skill that allows the user to subconsciously react and bypass the sequential reasoning thought process and react accordingly based on a gut instinct. When it comes to human ways of processing information it happens in one of two ways.

The first is that the person consciously observes cues in his/her environment. Piecing together facts until they understand the situation they are in and deciding what to do from there. Decisions made this way are logical, well-informed, but slow. As established, in Shonen, Animal Instincts is a combat trope and while fighting with logic and information often lead to victory; lack of speed to execute can be the deciding factor in victory or defeat.

To that end the human senses are always picking up clues in the environment and subconsciously evaluating them. Our eyes are always taking in details we don’t notice. Ears are picking up everything within our environment. Our nose also is taking stock of scents in the air. To consciously take all our environment in at once down to the most minute detail would be mentally exhausting. Hence the brain processes information without our knowing. If it picks on particularly dangerous clues we may start getting a “bad feeling” or even act reflexly to avoid danger.

Multiply this ability by the power of Shonen and you have the core of Animal Instincts!

Compare and Contrast this idea with the real life phenomenon of heuristics to see more real world influences.

However, the more interesting aspects of animal instincts lie in how the trope is utilized normatively in a characterization and tactile strategic sense.

How are Animal Instincts used?

Kagami Taiga vs Kotarō Hayama A battled of two animals

The appeal of combat tropes is lies in how they help or hinder the characters while revealing aspects of their personality via actions. And ya know… just generally being hype as hell. So what narrative trends have formed around Animal Instincts within Shonen and how has the aesthetic explored the strategic ramifications of it? Let’s take a look.

On the characterization front animal instincts is inexpertly linked to one common trait, simplicity. This idea of simplicity be invoked in several ways. Most obviously being naturalism. Living in the wild and being constantly exposed to nature puts that “animal” part of animal instincts at the forefront. When a character has a more nature oriented background animal instincts is likely to be paired other (usually dog) traditionally animal traits like a hyper sharp nose, picking up on environmental clues, and boosted senses. Case in point Gon Freecs of Hunter x Hunter has all of these to a degree. In addition his character is also referred to in universe as being simplistic, unrefined, and just generally a pure sweet boy. (Usually) Assuming any Dungeons and Dragon nerds are currently watching this you can also compare this to the Barbarian skill “Danger Sense” for something more familiar.

Having a character obtain Animal Instincts this way works doubly well as it coincides with what we know about human instincts and intuition in a realistic sense. As mentioned several paragraphs ago, speed decides victory or defeat more often than not. In the world of nature this boils down to a “Life or Death/Survival of the Fittest” issue. When danger can come a blink of an eye it’s a perfect breeding ground for training such a skill.
As I’m pretty sure that in Toriko this is just simple a default trait for all characters. Pretty obvious so I just wanna mention it in passing.

Another idea way of evoke the simplicity prerequisite that doesn’t involve throwing a character into the Forest of Death is innocence. Which is the more represented way of doing it at present. For the sake of making this one more clear I’d like to expand our definition of innocence beyond the traditional understanding. The definition I’d like to add for the purposes of this is “Having your experiences defined solely by a singular drive, experience, or an idea.”

The Various Animal Instinct Users of Kuroko With Their Respective Animal Comparisons

This kind of innocence comes into play more often as it’s a lot more workable narrative wise. Take for example characters with Animal Instincts in Kuroko’s Basketball. Kagami Taiga, Aomine Daiki, Shinji Koganei, Kotarō Hayama. Present in each case is at a rather simplistic core personality and a passion of basketball being central to their character. Kuroko takes it a second step further to compare them all to animals as well. A tiger for Taiga, a cheetah for Hayama, black panther for Aomine and a kitty for Koganei cause he’s a pussy. It may be a bit bias of me to use Kuroko since the open quotation comes from Kuroko’s Basketball so let’s look at another series that codified Animal Instincts into an archetype, Kingdom!

Duke Hyou of Kingdom

In the manga Kingdom there exist two established types of Generals that lead armies. The Strategic Generals who use… well… strategies to win. And the odd Instinctual type who rely less on “textbook” formations and execution and instead use intuition to fight wars. The main difference in Kingdom’s showcase of the two types lies in most notably in how they go about their tactics.

Strategic Generals will oft have well laid out battle plans in mind before the ever stepping out of the Commander’s tent. Troop formations are purposeful and every move is meant to have a decisive reason behind it. On the other side of the coin, Instinctual generals are less likely to employ such tactics. Troops maybe be sent out in a more haphazard manner and achieve victory or defeat as the general “feels” out the opponent to determine their “smell”. If that sounds kind of insane that’s because in theory and practice it is.

While it’s not to say Instinctual can’t have a base or even advanced understanding of tactics, it’s worth noting that in Kingdom there exists fives times more Strategists than are Instinctual. Four times as many if you factor in the protagonist Shin just obtained his Instinctual talent recently in the manga. In practice the Instinctual generals intuition has to take time to get a good read on the opponent by experiencing their tactics first hand. Once they’ve honed in the “smell” however a strategic general is faced a very high risk of losing the battle if not an entire shutout. The unconventional and predictive attacks of an instinctual general can stop a strategic generals every move faster than they can come up with a countermeasure to the last.

Karyo Ten being completely outplayed by a Instinctual General

The “off the cuff” nature of their skills and rarity creates a potent double whammy. In fact the rarity of Instinctual Generals in Kingdom supports Kuroko’s Basketball’s diagnosis of Animal Instincts. “Everyone is born with it and they lose it when they grow up.” overlaps well with the relative lack in numbers. Additionally “They’re the guys who make it in a world where the fittest survive,” pops up in the back stories of Shin and Duke Hyou. Shin being a child who has always known hardship for the majority of life and Duke Hyou’s life being steeped in war for as long as he can remember. Both are defined by a very singular experience.

To top off Duke Hyou and another General of Instinct, Keshia, are also compared to animals. A lion and spider respectively.

An amusing display of Ochako using Women’s Intuition to tell Deku and Bakugo gonna rumble

Another, more amusing, way of unlocking a form of Animal Instincts can be awakened by simply being a woman. In this case however Shonen calls it “Women’s Intuition” and while it works in relatively the same manner it applies almost exclusively to social interactions. You might think I’m being facetious here but I’m dead serious. Women in Shonen Jump just innately have this power. Unironically, I love it. 10/10, Don’t change a thing.

Momoi from Kuroko’s Basketball uses women’s intuition almost in a comedic sense. She claims it’s that when predicting the growth of other players skills with her analysis ability. Although for all I know it could have actually been a combination of both. Either way very cheeky. Fits her personality. You might also say Kuwabara’s sister in Yu Yu Hakusho has this in the form of her spirit awareness. Taken to its extreme we have Machi’s hunches from Hunter x Hunter. Which are apparently so accurate none of the Spiders even bother to refute them and just opt to take that Machi is probably right at face value.
I’ve also been told by our resident Fate expert Calliope that Saber has an A ranking in instincts. So uh, that’s a thing.

Well you know what they say about humans and confirmation bias, I’m no exception

Up till now I’ve exclusively talked about “Animal Instincts” in a thematic and positive usage light. To conclude I want to show off how this trope interacts with some other skills and it’s more negative aspects.

For as hype and useful Animal Instincts can be it’s important to note that it comes with a disclaimer of unreliability. First off it’s not a given that Animal Instincts will pull through in time as this is a trope that scales directly with the user’s experience in what they’re doing. It may also activate too late or even not at all if the opponent is good at covering their tracks. While a potent talent it’s far from something that can be counted on. A character relying too much on this will be met with disaster. Which is why Karyo Ten is lead strategist of the Hi Shin Unit and Shin isn’t allowed to command the troops often.

Hypothetically speaking what if an Animal Instincts user is match up against someone with planning capabilities that far outstrip their senses? A Chessmaster or someone with the ability of future sight could predict and throw off an Animal Instincts user with baiting and feints. This strategy is exceptionally potent when you consider most Animal Instincts users are usually quick-tempered, and lacking in self-awareness. Makes for a good ‘gotcha’ twist for the hero.

Akashi frozen from foreseeing the range Kagami’s Animal Instincts

However, and I mean this has RARELY been seen, Animal Instincts at peak has a method to overwhelm future sight. A future sight ability based in on prediction and not some magic that actually let’s the user to see the future can see their opponents every next move. Logically the idea would be look at the least dangerous move, access the probability of its success, then move to counter that. But during the Kagami vs Akashi battle Kagami’s Animal Instincts portrayed every next move as a potentially too dangerous to counter. Which invokes the human instinct of ‘freeze’. And just to be pedantic, no it is the “Fight or Flight” response. It is scientifically called the “Fight-Freeze-Flight” response. Please remember this so I get driven less crazy in the future. Many thanks.

That tangent out-of-the-way, invoking the freeze response is potentially the most interesting aspect of Animal Instincts. It touches on the psychological phenomenon of conditioning. Getting consistently out maneuvered can have a damaging effect on someone’s thought process. Moves that a person would usually go for suddenly become taboo as the opponent “would counter” or “see it coming”. Even though Animal Instincts itself can have a varying success rate it really is the thought that counts. Whether the counter move can be consistently countered is irrelevant. It’s the fear that stills one step and can leave them open to potentially even worse attacks had they not just acted.
As someone who loves watching EVO every year I could go on about how this shows its head in fighting game mechanics but instead I’ll link some a videos from Core-A-Gaming. He has a video all about conditioning as well as the “Three Types of Fighters” which involves the “heart” players which is comparable to real life Animal Instincts.

With that small addition I’ve covered all the broad stroke of the Shonen Animal Instincts trope! So now to pose the question. What do you all think of this trope? Hype? Over done? Do you have any examples that we didn’t cover?
Let us know either down in the comment section or tagging us on twitter!
Next time our paths cross we’ll be covered the other Shonen Trope that got voted for first episode. Genius! Oh boy. That’s going to be a long one…

… is how I wanted to end this off. But between the me typing that last sentence I read a few more chapters of Hinomaru Zumo. It ended up blowing my expectations out of the water but managing to evolve even further past Animal Instincts to a new and creative level. The one thing that brings me back to Shonen Jump time and time again is their innovation. The ability to push past their own mold and how that fits Jump’s grand metanarrative. This post features a large amount of evidence of Animal Instincts from Kuroko’s Basketball so perhaps it’s fate that Hinomaru Zumo, the manga to press even further beyond is also favored by Kuroko’s author. They even have a crossover chapter.

This is the sort of interaction that I love seeing between colleges in the Jump building off each other. So with the baton passed from author to author I’d like to introduce the newest trope to enter Jump’s arsenal. Killer Instinct.

What is Killer Instinct?

Given that Hinomaru is the first innovator of this there’s little to go on currently but it’s defined quite well here. In a few ways Killer Instinct works similarly to Animal Instincts. Similarities include being a passive skill and retaining the perquisite of purity. The main distinctive differences lie in that Killer Instinct comes from the pure desires for victory and it is a perception trope not prediction.

In a sense, Killer Instincts can be thought of as a more offensive version to Animal Instincts. Animal Instincts are in practice a primarily defensive ability. They require someone or something else to take the initiative and then seeks to capitalize on the confusion and time difference the predictive ability of Animal Instincts allows. Killer Instincts are quite different in this regard as it seeks to capitalize on the opponent’s inherent weakness and strike immediately. Time is still a factor but the time difference is created from Killer Instincts ability to discern weak points at an eyes glance. Without the need to feel out their opponent. You could say in a sense that if Animal Instincts is the path of the Survivor, Killer Instincts is the path of the Striver.

How can Killer Instincts be used?

As this is a new trope consider this section to be more speculative than anything. As I see it now there are two likely possibilities on which Killer Instincts settling into generally. One is residing in primarily sports driven Shonen. Two is that this trope should distinguish itself from Animal Instincts by residing more in the archetype of the King/Prince.

The reason for both is that thematically I feel Killer Instincts should reside in people “who stand at the top”.

Mikazuki Munechika, the forerunner of the trope in many regards in similar to “prince” characters like Kise Ryota of Kuroko and Oiwaka Tooru of Haikyuu. Some people call this the “Idol” archetype, I prefer Prince as it invokes a more accurate mental image. Their defining features is that their ability their genius level skills (which probably comes from tapping into the general intellect, a concept I’ll cover in the genius post) allows them to dominate in anything they do. Which doesn’t exactly lead to a superiority complex but does leave them unable to take almost anything super seriously to an extend. Whether that’s the a sport or an opponent is up to the author but it does pave the way for a “King-like Egotism”. Their character arcs will often revolve around them being mumbled and finding the drive to renew their passion.

It’s this almost paradoxical aesthetic of a King/Prince, who is meant to oversee and carry his people/team/friends to victory, being humbled and accepting his place at the top of the metaphorical food chain which I feel breeds the best usage of Killer Instincts. It combines the appeal of a King who is meant to understand all his subject and their abilities while also turning that appeal into something offensive. This way it distinguishes itself from Animal Instincts aesthetically by tapping into the idea of King of Humans rather than a King of the Wilderness. This would ensure some diversity excluding it from characters that end up getting Animal Instincts. Thus giving this fledgling trope longevity and its own niche.

These are just my ideas though. Feel free to take them and play with them to your heart’s content.