Thursday, April 26, 2018

兄貴, Aniki - Meaning in Japanese

In Japanese, aniki is a way to refer to someone's "older brother," just like oniisan お兄さん, but it's often used in other ways, like to refer to someone whom the speaker consider to be his big bro, or to one's senior in a gang.


The word aniki written with kanji is aniki 兄貴. It's written with ani, which too means "older brother," and ki 貴, which has a meaning of esteem, also found in the word kisama 貴様, which used to be a word of esteem. Written without kanji:

Big Bro

The term aniki literally means "older brother," just like the words oniisan お兄さん, ani 兄, aniue 兄上. In some cases, aniki may imply respect toward their brother.

Maybe because of this, aniki is often used not toward one's biological brother but toward an older guy whom the speaker respects. Sometimes someone whom he thinks of as an "older brother." Maybe someone whom he has adopted as an older brother or sworn brother. And normally this respect is warranted.

This is because it's a trope in anime that the aniki character is often a "big bro" character who teaches his "lil bro" what is a man, if not a miserable pile of secrets, not with words, but with action. He picks fights to protect his "family," burns with passion and courage, talks about heart and dreams and stuff, and so on. Often Leeroy-Jenking at problems.


For reference, the explanation of what is an aniki, coming from the greatest aniki of all time, Kamina カミナ, from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann 天元突破グレンラガン:

Kamina janee, aniki tte yobe 兄貴じゃねぇ、アニキって呼べ, quote from the anime Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann 天元突破グレンラガン

Text transcript:
  • A, Kamina あ、カミナ
    Ah, Kamina
  • Kamina janee カミナじゃねぇ
    Not "Kamina,"
    "aniki" tte yobe 「アニキ」って呼べ
    call [me] "aniki."
  • ore, kyoudai inai kara... 俺、兄弟いないから…
    I don't have siblings so...
  • souiu koto janee そういうことじゃねぇ
    Not like that.
    tamashii no burazaa, 魂のブラザー、
    Brothers of soul, (bold: katakanization)
    souru no kyoudai ソウルの兄弟
    Brothers of soul,
    tte koto janee ka ってことじゃねぇか
    isn't it what it's about?


In Japanese, the word for "man" is otoko 男, but, in the Japanese manga and anime fandom, this word is sometimes written with a different kanji instead, the kanji for "molester," chikan, I mean, the kanji for... "China," as in: "Chinese characters," kanji 字, in which case, this different spelling, otoko 漢, would imply we're talking about a "man among men," otoko no naka no otoko 男の中の男, which is what the aniki trope is usually about.

Otoko 漢【オトコ】 as seen in the manga School Rumble.

Gang Senpai

Sometimes, gang members refer to their male seniors as aniki. This follows a pattern of gang relationship terms being based on family member terms. Since aniki means "older brother," it can then refer to one's male senpai 先輩 in the gang too.

Specifically, there's a tradition of exchanging alcohol cups in Japanese gangs (like in One Piece) where one must do that in order to become "sworn-brothers." Like any other kind of brothers, there's an older brother and a younger brother. In which case the newcomer is the younger brother and usually the group's leader at the time exchanges cups with him, consequently becoming his aniki.

Of course this isn't the case in all gangs. But the general idea is that the leader of the group, who accepted him into the group, becomes the newcomer's aniki. Furthermore, the newcomer's aniki has an aniki too, since he was accepted into the gang by someone. So a single gang may have multiple aniki's.

Naki no aniki no aniki wa Yamori no aniki tte sankai itte mite, Try saying three times "Naki's aniki's aniki's is Yamori's aniki." Quote from the manga Tokyo Ghoul:re

Usually the terms aniki-bun 兄貴分 refers to one's aniki's, oyabun 親分, from "parent," oya 親, refers to the big-boss at the top of the gang, and kobun 子分, from ko, "child," refers to the followers, underlings of the oya.

Gang-less Aniki

Not all anime are full of gangs and yakuza and stuff, and yet these terms are frequently used nonetheless.

Sometimes it's used by "delinquents," yankii ヤンキー, furyou 不良, sometimes it can imply the character speaking is... gang-y. Or that he thinks his after-school club members are actually like his gang members. Or sometimes it's just a random teenager or worker who says it, as this kind of usage has long spread to outside its gang-y origins.

Yukimura Kusunoki calling Kodaka Hasegawa aniki in the manga Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai 僕は友達が少ない (Haganai)

Shatei 舎弟

The word shatei 舎弟, meaning "younger brother," just like otouto, may be used to refer to one's underlings in this gang-family lingo ecosystem. In other words, aniki is to shatei what oniisan is to otouto.

The word shatei 舎弟 used in the manga Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai 僕は友達が少ない (Haganai)

Anego 姉御

The term anego 姉御, "older sister," is a rarer term, but it's sometimes used alongside aniki. In the context of gang-esque anime character relationships, an anego would refer to the wife, woman, girlfriend, girl, etc. of an aniki or oyabun. Or in some cases a female oyabun.

Yozora no anego ni shatei nano dakara shoukuji to yankii manga wo katte kuru nowa joushiki dato osowarimashita, by anego Yozora because [I] am an underling buying meals and delinquent manga is common sense [I] was taught. Quote from the manga Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai 僕は友達が少ない (Haganai)


Note that another word that also means "older sister," aneki 姉貴, which would be the female counterpart of aniki as far as real brothers are concerned, and sometimes is used to speak with respect and familiarity to an older girl just like aniki, but aneki doesn't really have anything to do with gangs the way anego does.

Comparatively Older Dude

In some cases, the word aniki can imply someone is older than someone else.
  • kimi wa boku yori aniki 君は僕より兄貴
    You're more of an aniki than me.
    You're aniki-er than me.
    You're more of an older brother than I am.

Burly-Looking Dude

The term aniki may also be used to casually refer to someone who looks manly, strong, burly-looking. This usage has nothing to do with gangs or anything. In fact in anime it's used more by older men describing younger men than vice-versa.

For example, the owner of a takoyaki stand can casually say "hey aniki, want some tacos takoyaki?" toward some random dude who looks like a gold member of the local gym, but is actually just a random character in JoJo..(or a middle school student in Mob Psycho 100).

In this usage, it seems the term may also sometimes refer to women.
Family Words

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