The red thread of fate is something that is almost synonymous with romance anime and manga, used often to connect the two fated lovers, destined to be together regardless of fate, time or place. Also known as the red string of fate or marriage, it came from Chinese mythology and even has a goddess in charge of it. The ways the string is tied differs from place to place as well, for example, in the original Chinese myth it’s tied around both parties’ ankles, instead of the most popular “tied around the little fingers” method that is portrayed most often as well.
There are a number of different colored threads that connect two people and come with their own meanings as well. A well known one is the yellow thread, which is believed to connect friends. While I could not find much about others, another known one is the blue string which is believed to connect either family members or someone you have a student-mentor relationship with. Nevertheless, without a doubt, the most popular one is the red one, akin to fascination with the Western concept of soulmates.
The implications that this thread carries are almost primarily romantic, leaning onto the romantic connection portrayed in the original myth, thus portraying particular feelings that might not be stated outright otherwise. No matter what your stance is in the whole Hibike Euphonium ship war, the importance of Reina to Kumiko and vice versa is undeniable. Even in the ending the two are portrayed connected by the red string of fate. This creates an interesting split between what is considered cannon in both the novel and the show/movie, with proper development, and what the show itself is in a way teasing the audience with, despite never committing to it.
Unlike how the name suggests, many things can substitute the thread itself. In the before mentioned “Your name” movie, the thread is Mitsuha’s ribbon and Taki’s bracelet. In a similar manner, it can be said that in Madoka magica, Madoka’s ribbons given to Homura, symbolize the same thing.
Another interesting example is using just the color of something and referring to it as a string of fate. This can be seen in Naruto, where a character finds her true love thanks to her bright red hair which she used to hate for its color and the attention it attracted. Mirroring this, later on in the series, a red scarf can be interpreted as a link between two characters, bringing them closer to one another.
The thread can also be used for other purposes than purely romantic in the anime. It can range from comedy (in Haiyore Nyaruko-san, the titular Nyaruko-san claims that she and the main character are connected by a red tentacle) to deception (Space Patrol Luluco, how a person pretending to be the main character’s love interest deceives her with the thread itself). An even darker version of this can be found in Jigoku shoujo, where the titular hell girl makes contracts with her clients by them untying a red string from a doll, and later takes them to hell along with their chosen targets. Not much can be said about severing the red thread of fate as it is unclear, but it can allude to feelings disappearing for one party or both or heartbreak and an eternity of sadness.
While it may seem that this concept is just a passing trend for endings and pretty art, not going for more than a name drop like they did in Inuyasha, some anime go out of their way and make a whole episode about it (xxxHollic) and as a premise in such manga as Koi cupid by Mia Ikumi and Akai Ito no Shikkou Yuuyo by Yoshio Akira.
As much as the concept of soulmates is getting more popular and more attention, the string trying two fated lovers together has branched out into other pieces of media:
- In the 2015 cartoon Star vs. the forces of evil, the red thread is literally the moon also referred to as the blood moon or the “moon of lovers”, linking two characters together almost in a curse sort of way, even when they don’t want to be together or have other people they are interested in.
- The vocaloid music video “Just be friends”, sung by Megurine Luka, portraying the move on from a failed “red string” relationship and the sadness of it.
- A version of it can be found even in Pokemon, as a red ball of string as an item, causing particular status effects.