Category Archives: Christianity
My wife and I are both watching Noragami right now: she’s watching season one and I’m keeping up with season two. We’re roughly around the same point of each season, around episode eight, as I glance at what my wife is viewing (basically Yukine being super spoiled and almost destroying Yato), I’m getting a good look at certain parallels and especially at Yukine’s transformation. In doing so, I’m realizing it parallels my own, and that of all who say they belong to God.
1. We’re all sinners
Yukine was soo annoying in season one. Didn’t we all just want to smack him on the head? In fact, even the ever-patient Hiyori, the kind voice of reason, mentions how Yukine has drifted so far off. He’s the unexpected and unwitting villain in the first arc. By being stubborn and spoiled and hedonistic, he nearly does his master in.
If I’m being completely honest, though, I’m not a whole lot different from Yukine. I think a lot of people like to make the comparison between earthly parents rearing unruly children to God caring for us, and that image works quite well. We’re so unruly, so prideful (like Yukine, who does what he does thinking that he knows best), so sinful. We’re in need of a Savior, for we cannot save ourselves – not the way we are in our condition. Nope, we’re not good without God – we can only be good with him.
2. We need God
One complaint I have about Noragami is that Yato as a character doesn’t completely work for me. He isn’t quite believable – how can he be both a god (infallible, as he claims) and such a goofball? Unlike with Kenshin, a similar silly-to-strong character, we see soooo much of Yato’s ridiculous side that the changes to godlike state just don’t work for me. And even further than his strength and fighting ability, which I’m okay with, is his serious and compassionate sides, particularly with his patience with Yukine.
But our God – His character rings true to me, both through scripture and through personal experience. His patience with me is explained in scripture and bears out in my life. And his perfection and love allows me to be saved from my misery. While I have issues with Yato, his sacrifice for Yukine still reminds me of Christ’s for me, of God who loved us so much that even in my misery, even in my Yukine-ness, he would be willing to go to the utmost end to save a wretch like me.
3. We respond with love
Season two’s Yukine is very different than season one’s. I was quite taken aback, actually, rewatching parts of the first season and seeing how awful Yukine was to Yato. This season, he still bickers with his master, but serves him faithfully. Yukine serves him so faithfully, in fact, that he becomes a blessed regalia, having put his life down for his master, and then later starts to grow into a role as exemplar, seeking to support Yato. Almost despite himself, he’s come to love his master.
For us, when we’ve experienced the grace of God, the only proper response is to love him in return. And that’s what the Christian faith is about. “Relationship” with God means responding to him as our great love. And love to the greatest extent means laying down our lives – both in service to God and, if need be, physically as well. And we, too, will be blessed if we do as Yukine does, submitting everything for our master.
4. But we’re still not perfect
Of course, Yukine’s relationship with Yato will never be perfect. In fact, some comedy happens when Yato thinks of selling Yukine, and Yukine thinks of “moving up” in the god world. Yukine’s allegiance isn’t perfect, and he still may blight his master in the future.
For us, we’ll never find perfection in this life either. But we’ll continue to grow in our faith if we remember our first love and do what’s needed to let the Holy Spirit reign in us as we undergo transformation, running away from the temptations of the flesh and toward the things of the spirit, seeking God’s will.
When we make the decision to do all that, to live Christlike lives, we’ll find supreme value in our life. We’ll live it out to the utmost extent. And we’ll be like this growing Yukine – an examplar and blessed regalia, though in our case, we carry titles more valuable – sons and daughters of God and his royal ambassadors.
cover art by Ｎora | reprinted w/permission
There’s always been a lot of transition at my church. We were once comprised of about 80% college students, and though there are more older folks (like me!) attending now, it’s still largely a “college church.” Because of this characteristic, year in and year out, I see students leave, finishing their four or five years, and moving on to the next part of their lives. It’s difficult to let them go and it’s draining, a bit, when you’re limited in how much you can build a relationship with someone before they’re gone.
But even more difficult is when I see (usually through Facebook) that some of these treasured friends have turned away from their faith and moved to a dark place, away from God’s truth and love.
There are so very many reasons why followers of Christ will cease to practice their faith (and in some cases, turn entirely away from it), but prime among them is one that a lot of us don’t like to admit or think of – and that’s the work of the devil and his followers.
In Noragami, we’re set in a world of humans and gods, of spirits and demons. There are lots of interesting parallels to make between a show with Shinto twists and the Christian religion, but really, only one particular element very clearly reminds me of my faith. Nora – and perhaps her “father,” are so very reminiscent of Christian demons. They blind, tempt, and entrap, and have the ability to tear down even the very strong.
Tomorrow, I’m giving a presentation on “The Theology of Death Note” in one of my classes. I was reluctant to choose Death Note, because a lot of people have already written about its connections to Christianity (including Casey here at BtT, just a couple weeks ago). I wanted to write about something new… but I also wanted to wrestle with some themes from Death Note, and I knew my classmates could benefit from wrestling with them, too. So here I am, fresh from re-watching the show. Hopefully I’ll be able to stir a few new thoughts.
There are many Christian themes and symbols throughout Death Note. But as I watch, these things seem secondary. I just keep comparing Kira, or Light, to the true God. To me, it is clear that Kira is not worthy of worship. So he gives a great opportunity to remember why God is worthy of all power, all glory, and all worship.
First, a quick summary of Death Note, in case you’re new to the anime world:
A bored teenage genius, Yagami Light, picks up a notebook that a bored shinigami (Japanese death spirit/god) dropped. He learns that he can kill anyone just by writing their name in the notebook. At first, he’s not sure what to think. But before long, he decides he could do a lot of good by killing off the evil people in the world. He sets out to create the perfect world, free of evil people. People dub him “Kira,” apparently from the English word “killer.” The world’s greatest detective, L, spearheads the investigation into Kira’s powers and identity.
Yagami Light tries to become God…
When Light first picks up the Death Note that Ryuk—a shinigami—dropped, he’s skeptical. “The human whose name is written in this notebook shall die”? That sounds about as real as those annoying chain emails. But he’s curious… so he tests it on a criminal who is holding a school hostage, and the criminal dies. Later, he tests it on another man, one who is assaulting a woman. That man dies as well.
Light struggles with the fact that he just killed two men… or at least, he struggles with it for a few minutes Read the rest of this entry
I just watched Gangsta., one of the darker anime to air in the past year. I’ve seen a few anime that center on crime syndicates and corruption, but this is one of the most horrific—up there with Black Lagoon‘s second season. The anime’s setting, Ergastulum, seems hopelessly corrupt, and the anime refuses to sugarcoat it. There isn’t even a redemptive ending—perhaps because the manga itself is still incomplete. We’re just left with a heavy sense of evil and tragedy, with no solution offered.
And yet, even among all the pain and sin, there is compassion, love, truth. Don’t get me wrong: I would not recommend Gangsta. to very many people. If my 16-year-old self asked about it, I’d tell her to stay far away. But for me, in the place I am now, the anime provides a way to process the brokenness of the world and the pieces of goodness that are still present. Because sometimes, the world can feel a lot like Ergastulum: enslaved by sin and strangled by violence. Read the rest of this entry
When it comes to Christian allusions, Death Note pulls no punches.
Whether it’s an artistic replication of The Fall of Man by Michelangelo, Light’s literal taking of the forbidden fruit, or the Gregorian choirs, crucifixes, and god-complexes, there’s a bit of Christian influence sprinkled across every chapter (and episode) of the series.
Perhaps the most conspicuous allusion, though, is L himself, whose very name harmonizes with el—the Hebrew word for God in the Old Testament. From his self-created trinity, to his seemingly omniscient and miraculous crime-solving abilities, L has the Christ-figure persona down-pat. Death Note director, Tetsuro Araki, even threw an exclusive foot-washing scene into the anime’s 25th episode, just to ensure that the imagery couldn’t be missed.
In the midst of all these iconic allusions to Christendom, though, there’s a subtle reference to Discipleship that gets lost along the way. It’s a shame, too, since it’s one of the manga’s most poignant representations of Christ’s provision.
During their mission to bring Kira to justice, L and his team of police force detectives hit a snag. Namely, that the main force is pulling all support from the secret operation in response to threats from Kira, and that any officers who wish to continue working alongside L will lose their jobs.
L allows his team to come to their individual decisions.
The catch? It’s a test of loyalty.
Lately, I’ve been watching an anime called “The World God Only Knows” (referred to as TWGOK from here on in). For anyone who hasn’t seen or heard of it, I’ll give a brief plot explanation, without any spoilers (or, without anything you won’t learn in episode one). The anime follows the story of a “professional dating simmer” (this guy plays dating sims all but 24/7), Keima, who has become known famously online as “the god of conquest” for his ability to “conquer any girl”. In hell, some “souls” have escaped, and a demon, Elsie, is sent to capture them. Thinking the “god of conquest” is her best chance, she invites him into a contract – he, thinking it is a game challenge, accepts. Only after she explains what the reality is does he understand what he’s agreed to.
Bound by a contract that must be completed (or they will die), they have to find these loose souls and capture them. The problem is, these loose souls hide in people – people with spaces in their hearts (in the show, all females). Those spaces have to be filled – by love – before the soul will be pushed out and can be caught. Naturally, as a guy who lives on dating sims, the main character has hardly spoken to a real woman (and prefers those in his games). Yet, he has no choice but to help complete the quest.
Perhaps it’s my brain’s ability to make weird connections to things, but watching this anime, I can’t help but be reminded of our call as Christians to save the lost, and also the reminder that we are not battling an earthly enemy, but a spiritual enemy.
In TWGOK, the souls that inhabit people with emptiness in their hearts are meant to be those of demons. If left long enough, these souls can gain strength and manifest in the world. Ironically, this is fairly similar to how demons work, as far as we can understand from the Bible. Naturally, demons have one purpose – to aid the Devil in drawing us away from God. It is far, far easier to attack someone who has an “emptiness” in their heart, than it is to attack someone who has no room for a demon to get their foot in the door of your life.
In episode five of Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider (Subete ga F ni Naru), the director’s wife serves tea and cookies to Sohei, Moe, and the associate director, during which time Moe subjects the woman to tough questions. Even though the widower says she’s trying to keep herself from thinking about her husband’s murder, she just doesn’t seem that broken up. He died mere hours before via a knife to the back of the neck, but eh, she’s mostly fine.
Denial, or is she feeling justice has been served?
I wonder if the director’s wife knows what’s now been revealed to the audience, that the director, Shiki’s uncle (or “uncle”), had an affair with his niece when she was underage. Maybe she also knows that her husband (possibly) had some role in the deaths of Shiki’s parents.
And in the end, perhaps the director’s wife is relieved at this comeuppance. He got was what coming to him.
Hidden from the view of the world (with the possible exception of a few intimate people who may have had knowledge of it, as I suggest above) is this affair between Seiji and Shiki. But even in secret, Seiji, who though he was being manipulated was still absolutely at fault for committing such acts outside of his marriage with an minor, paid the price. He was destroyed by his sin.
The sins we commit, and often particularly the “big” ones (which happen to be those we usually hide) can destroy us. They beget sin after sin as we hid the original one, and they prevent us from reconciling with God and thus from strengthening our relationship with him. And as we effectively sever that relationship, it’s no surprise that such sins might destroy us.
I’ve come close to such an experience myself.
Noragami Aragoto isn’t a graphically violent anime, but in episodes five and six, gruesome events are occurring (though off screen). In episode five, these horrible deaths are affecting Bishamon; in episode six, they affect us.
While one of Kugaha’s phantoms is being fought off by Yato after the god of calamity attacks the doctor, the other phantom continues to run amok among Bishamon’s regalias, devouring them and chasing a band of survivors into a holy spring, where they seek refuge.Two young female regalias are the last to arrive in the safe haven, but before getting there, they have a conversation that felt very real to the moment. The younger girl has lost all hope as the carnage continues, knowing that her friends have been torn apart and feeling that her master, her god, is about to die. She is brought back to her senses by the older regalia, who reminds the other that Bishamon gave them a name.
Their god loves them – she’s shown it through her words and deeds. And for her, they must carry on.
Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.
– John 12:27
Violent scenes are commonplace in anime – in fact, they’re much of what anime is known for among the general public. But for some reason, the scenes tonight, though cast in shadow and covered with screams rather than blood and guts, stood out to me. I think it’s because the episode hammered home the relationship between the humans and the gods of Noragami – they each were suffering seeing the other in pain and near (or in) death. Bishamon’s suffering we’ve known of since she’s gone through this before, and it reminds me a bit of how God might feel in his love and patience, “not wishing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9).
But in episode six, continuing from the scene with the two regalia, we see see the opposite more clearly – the humans’ relationship toward their god.
None of us want to suffer. In the west especially, there’s seldom any good seen in suffering, only hallow “silver linings” that we use to encourage those going through struggles. In east Asia, suffering is more tolerated and even embraced, though of course, it’s still not preferred. We see this in the media produced there, such as in Final Fantasy X, in Tidus and Yuna, as Jack Hoey points out, “rage against the indifferent heavens” upon discovering that the church is hallow and that there is no meaning to the suffering Yuna was to undergo.
In his article about suffering, Hoey also points toward Silence, Shunsaku Endo’s classic (now being made into a film by Martin Scorsese). The book tells us that, indeed, there is meaning in suffering. Silence is as troubling a book as I’ve ever read, because it makes us question what we believe by putting forth unimaginable suffering and putting us in the position of those who witness it. But Christians (the primary character in Silence is a Jesuit missionary) must know that when we turn to Christ, we, too, must carry our cross daily and share in the sufferings of the Savior, who in turned had suffered so greatly for our sake, while keeping an eye toward eternity, where suffering is no more.
Read Hoey’s entire excellent article at Christ and Pop Culture:
Here are other articles involving spirituality and Japanese media from the past couple of weeks:
The result of acedia can be viewed by the change in Kenshin following the events involving Kaoru in the Jinchu arc of Rurouni Kenshin. [Medieval Otaku]
Are there any “Christian” anime? There are certainly at least some original English language works that could be categorized as such. [Anime Revolution]
Rob compares Mikazuki’s devotion to Orga in G-Tekketsu to the way a Christian should be devoted to God. [Christian Anime Review]
And last, but most certainly not least, we here on the blog would like to congratulate Anime B&B’s Marina on her recent engagement! We wish you a wonderful wedding and many blessings in your marriage! Read about Marina’s engagement and then check out her guest turn on The Tangles podcast.
As part of the Something More series of posts, Beneath the Tangles links to writings about anime and manga that involve religion and spirituality. If you’ve written such a piece or know of one, please email TWWK to be included.
Permission for illustration grated by the artist: duex | るろうに