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What Does “Baka” Mean in Anime?

Asuka Langley in Neon Genesis Evangelion

Back when my blossoming anime fandom inspired me to dig back into learning Japanese, I started half-jokingly thinking about each series’ quintessential vocabulary words. Thanks to One Piece, for example, I engrained words like “kaizoku” (pirate), “fune” (ship), and “niku” (meat). Attack on Titan has “kyojin” (giant / titan), “kabe” (wall), and “EREN!!” But there are some vocabulary words which are so widely used in anime, they transcend a particular series. One of these words is undoubtedly “baka.”

Baka is a beautiful and flexible word. It’s incredibly versatile. As both an adjective and a noun, it can refer to people or the general vibe of things. If you wanted to boil baka down to its basics, anything that’s baka is completely foolish, annoying, or ridiculous. If you’re calling a person baka, you’re insulting their intelligence. If you’re calling a situation or a thing baka, you’re saying it’s ridiculous or foolish. Baka can also be used to mean that something is absurd or trivial. Like I said—beautiful and flexible.

That being said, baka is one of many words that is widely used in anime, but not in real-life Japanese. If you went up to someone and called them baka, that would be shockingly rude (and I do literally mean “shockingly”—the reaction would be like “whoa!”). You could probably get away with calling something baka under your breath—”There’s no vending machine in this park? Baka da yo!“—but I’ve never felt the inclination to throw it around. It’s a word dripping with scorn. I’d save it for times and people that truly anger you.

While baka is widely used in anime, the undisputed master of the word is probably Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s Asuka Langley Soryu. (Even though my knee-jerk association with baka in the series belongs to Misato referring to her ex, Kaji: “Ano baaaaaka.“) One YouTube hero compiled every time Asuka said “baka” in the show or all four movies. They discovered she says it 85 times. And almost entirely to Shinji, poor guy.

Another “baka classic” for me is a song Luffy sings in the Skypeia arc of the One Piece anime. Luffy’s voice actress, Mayumi Tanaka, is a comedic wizard. As Luffy walks along, he sings in a minyo (Japanese folk music) inspired style about the residents of various islands.

So, next time you watch anime, keep an eye out for a frustrated character who screams “Baka!” at the top of their lungs or mutters it scornfully under their breath. You’ll inevitably run into it.

(featured image: Gainax)

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Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.