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Anime’s Common Grace

Note: This article was originally intended for publication elsewhere.  Read The Life and Death of an Anime Article on an Evangelical Website for the whole story.  This post contains spoilers for Haibane Renmei, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Trigun, and Death Note.

InceptionBlack SwanThe Matrix. These Hollywood hits have a common thread—each was heavily influenced by Japanese animation, aka anime.

Anime has settled in as a permanent part of American entertainment. Besides serving as inspiration for filmmakers, some anime movies—particularly those by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli (Ponyo, My Neighbor Totoro, The Secret World of Arrietty, and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away)—have found a Western audience. Still, it would a stretch to say that Americans have embraced anime. It remains an oddity—a medium filled with large-eyed characters and unfamiliar cultural references.

As with many adults, when I first watched anime as a child, I didn’t know about its Japanese origins. Dubbed versions of Speed Racer and Voltron stood side-by-side with Disney, Looney Tunes, and Hanna-Barbera cartoons as favorites. Years later, in college, I rediscovered anime and became gripped by the medium’s mature themes, fanciful artwork, and yes, the foreignness of it all. Younger Americans, meanwhile, have grown up with anime, from kiddie fare like Pokemon to action series like Naruto.

Many viewers are drawn toward anime’s storylines, which are far different from those in typical American animation. Despite a growing trend to the contrary, American toons are still typically aimed at children. In Japan, animation is produced for both children and adults. Anime films are routinely among Japan’s highest grossing and most adored movies, while most anime TV programming airs during primetime or late at night. Because it is often made for older audiences, the animation, storylines, and dialogue are typically more mature than in western counterparts, often including heavy doses of violence and fanservice (a term usually used to describe the animation of scantily dressed characters). In America, there’s a certain shock value to seeing something like the hyperviolent anime sequence in Quentin Tarentino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1, because it remains an exception.

Anime also frequently portrays Shinto and Buddhist practices, reflecting the habits of the majority of Japan, where only 1-2 percent identify as Christian. Not unlike American media, it’s more typical to find a vampire-hunting priest or an irreligious Catholic schoolgirl in a show than a Christian character simply living out his or her faith.

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(Real) Christianity in Anime

Japes, our Anime Today columnist, has written a number of articles about the intersection of Christianity and anime for his other blog, Japesland.  He is editing and resposting a number of these entries, including the one below, to Beneath the Tangles.

Several days ago I wrote a piece that I titled “(Superficial) Christianity in Anime“, but I realized after reading over it again that I seemed to come off with a rather negative view of Christian themes in anime. Now while I do believe the majority of depictions of Christianity in anime to be overall inaccurate, and even offensive (although when taken as a work of fiction and/or fantasy, I believe it to be less so), I felt that it was worth pointing of the positives that can be found in the medium. Now the title I’ve given to this post may prove to be somewhat misleading, as depictions of “Christianity” as it is often defined are not my focus, but rather depictions of spirituality (and even theology in a broader sense).

I would like to begin with some of the more obvious and move into the more subtle as we move along this (brief) post.

Rakka and RekiIf you read the aforementioned piece, then you are probably familiar with my positive take on the anime series, Haibane Renmei. Haibane Renmei is an amazing example of an anime that contains a number of Christian themes throughout it if one takes the time to analyze it. Disregarding the cherubic appearance of the haibane and instead focusing on the content of the story and dialogue, not only is a Christian faced with dealing with modern issues in Christian culture (something I find to be of less overall significance, but they are present nonetheless) such as the accepting church, but also the core doctrine of Christianity itself. “The circle of sin”, as The Communicator would say. The Haibane are trapped in their sinful states because they have done something wrong. When they accept this wrong (read: “sin”), they are inherently sinful, but when they declare themselves sinless, they are doing nothing but perpetuating the circle by sinning further. The only escape for this is to be forgiven by an external force.

SPOILERS

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My Favorite (Anime) Things, 2013

The timing of Christmas is such that it’s a nice time to reflect upon the past years.  Applying that reflection toward anime, I’ve reworked the words to a holiday favorite, “My Favorite Things,” the last few years.  And here’s another version for 2013 (Note: there are Attack on Titan anime and Naruto manga spoilers in the lyrics):

Goro does better up on Poppy Hill;
Mizusawa with more karuta thrills;
Even if Chihaya’s arm’s in a sling;
These are a few of my favorite things.

Chihaya, Wataya, and Taichi

Art by GiantRobo (Pixiv ID 1223059)

Less creepy Kowaru in 3.0;
Genshiken’s back! Let’s get on with the show;
Mirai and Mitsuki and all the rest sing;
These are a few of my favorite things.

Kowaru Nagisa

Art by 边造-仕事募集-(´;ω;`) (Pixiv ID 39718348)

When Marco dies
And so does Petra,
And I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don’t feel so bad.

Petra Ral

Art by AYI (Pixiv ID 39685413)

Koko and Yana and Banri and Linda;
Sasuke becoming a new nice boy ninja;
manga and artbooks all tied up with strings;
These are a few of my favorite things.

Art by Gnarf1975 (Pixiv ID 38917069)

Art by Gnarf1975 (Pixiv ID 38917069)

Watching, with my wife, Clannad After Story;
Kuroneko is jealous of Ayase;
Small group on anime girls with wings;
These are a few of my favorite things.

Nagisa and Ushio

Art by 茨乃 (Pixiv ID 3429365)

When Marco dies
And so does Petra,
And I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don’t feel so bad.

Earning Our Wings: The Haibane Renmei Small Group Concludes

It’s all complete!

For those that didn’t know, this summer I tried something completely different for our blog.  If you’ve noticed, I haven’t been as diligent in updating Beneath the Tangles, depending on our wonderful staff here an on a number of superb guest bloggers.  Part of that reason is that I shifted my focus during these months to doing an online small group that used Haibane Renmei as our study material.  This past Saturday, our group came to an end, as we finished by discussing episodes 10-13.

We used Google Hangout to do our studies, and once I figured out how to effectively used it (we had a couple of sessions where my audio was terrible), it worked fairly well.  Here’s a short clip from our final week:


Note: You can find almost our entire session posted on our Youtube

I was grateful for our wonderful members for this study.  A lot of people came and went as their schedule allowed, and I’m very grateful that you all could join when available!  We also had a core group of visitors – including all those that attended our last week – that committed to joining almost every session and contributing a lot of great comments and through discussion.  Thank you so much for making our small group, I think, a success!

Here are some of the things I learned from doing an online small group – I think these might be helpful to you if you’re thinking of perhaps doing one of your own in the future:

  • Preparation is key, before the small group and before the meetings.  I did a lot of prep in anticipation for this, and I think that helped tremendously.  I also didn’t spend as much time as I would like each week, and I think we could have had even better discussion if I put more time in.
  • Because I’m on a lot of different platforms, I was able to get a diverse group together, and I think that was a major plus.  This last session, for instance, featured people I knew from aniblogs (including one other from Beneath the Tangles), the Christian Anime Alliance forum, and Tumblr.  We also had one person I met on Facebook drop in.  No Twitter folk joined, though perhaps that’ll be remedied if we another such study.
  • It would be helpful if I knew more about the technology, and more about technology in general, as I came into the group.  I had as many audio problems as any – a real problem when I’m the group’s facilitator.  I mostly resolved these as we went along, but I would have liked the technology to run more smoothly.
  • The chatbox feature worked very well for our group.  It really helped us have a running commentary going that added a new dimension and a different tone to the discussion, while giving shyer folk and those with poorer connections the ability to have their voices heard.   We also explored it a bit, though there’s a lot that could be done using the chat feature that I didn’t really get into.

All in all, though, I’m happy about how the group went!  I’m not sure if I’ll do this again, but I may, with Kino’s Journey being bandied around as possibly future study material.  And if you’re interested in doing some sort of online study, a small group or otherwise, I’m here to help you out in anyway – just tweet me or comment below!

 

Something More: Doubting Homura, Ghostic Haibane, and Ef: A Tale of Theologies

Japes gets into the nitty gritty of the characters’ personal theologies in Ef – A Tale of Melodies in a thorough and thought-provoking post. [Japesland]

Nick Calibey correlates Rakka’s sprouting of wings in the first episode of the series to teachings of the Gnostic movement. [A Rather Silly Blog]

Emily compares Homura’s storyline in Puella Magi Madoka Magica to Doubting Thomas. [For Me, in Full Bloom]

Annalyn compares the Christian God to Striker, the self-declares one, of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet. [Annalyn's Thoughts]

D.M. Dutcher finds the Erica Fontaine of Sakura Wars to embody a positive and fairly accurate portrayal of a Christian. [Cacao, put down the shovel!]

Tommy ends his review of Anime Expo with an interesting note related to his Christian beliefs. [Anime Bowl]

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As part of the Something More series of posts, each week 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 if you’d like it included. 

Haibane Renmei Study: Week 3 Discussion Notes

For week three of our Haibane Renmei small group study, we delved into episodes four and five of the series.  In episode four, Rakka joins Kana at her job in the clock tower, while in episode four she spends time with Nemu in the library.  The latter episode, especially, contained some of the more obvious connections to Christianity in the series.

Here are some of the highlights of our discussion:

  1. The creation story in Nemu’s book shared similarities to the Christian one, particularly in the first few lines.
  2. The God in “The Beginning of the World” shares some similarities to the Christian God, particularly in terms of mercy and power; on the other hand, dissimilarities included laziness and ability to make mistakes
  3. We discussed Kana’s conclusion that the crows need to become less dependent on humans, while we, too, must become less dependent on our own comfort zones.
  4. The group reflected on which senior haibane each of us most closely associated with.
  5. We discussed how, because of the structure created by the haibane renmei and the townsfolk, the haibane must lived by faith, and how Old Home compared to some real life institutions in this aspect (ex. monasteries and dormitories).

We also discussed a number of other topics and shared about our weeks.  If you’re interested in possibly joining us sometime during this summer, leave a comment below, entering your email when prompted.

Haibane Renmei Study Discussion Summary, Week 2

As our small group continues it’s study through examination of Haibane Renmei, I’ll continue to post discussion updates here on Beneath the Tangles.  We had a full house again this week as delved into episodes two and three of the series.  Unfortunately, some audio problems made discussion difficult, but the participants still had many interesting things to note.  Here are some highlights:

  • We shared whether we would act differently if our faith was more visible, similar to how the haibane are obviously known as such because of their wings and halos
  • We brought up several possibilities of why it’s significant that the haibane don’t remember their pasts
  • We reflected on whether we would find contentment in a place like Glie.
  • We discussed how the townspeople see the haibane, whether with respect and love or as something apart (or perhaps even as “good luck charms”)
  • We wondered about the place of mentorship in the modern world and whether anime fans might find this old-fashioned idea more acceptable because of the idea of the sempai.  We also shared our personal mentorship programs and relationships.

As usual, we also shared how our weeks went and gave our prayer requests.  We’ll continue to meet each week during the summer, with a few exceptions.  If you’re interested in joining, please leave some sort of contact information below and I’ll get back to you with further details.  We hope to see you sometime!

Haibane Renmei Study Discussion Summary, Week 1

This past Saturday, ten of gathered from across the anime fandom came together to discuss episode one of Haibane Renmei online through Google Hangouts.  The diverse group brought a lot of great discussion to the table about Christian and other religious themes from the episodes!  Here are some of the highlights:

  • We did introductions as I shared a little bit about myself and the study and each of us shared a little about ourselves as well.
  • We gave our initial thoughts about the series.  Many had not seen it before and the general consensus seemed to be that the first episode was good.
  • I mentioned the idea that breaking free from the cocoon could represent being born-again for Christians, referencing John 3:1-4
  • Discussing Rakka’s dream, some of us mentioned personal dreams of some significance.
  • We described how angels are typically represented in media, how the Bible shows them, and even how they’re shown in Evangelion!
  • The group talked about the haibane’s acceptance of Rakka and shared about our own experiences with church and other places of worship, including the importance of hospitality.
  • Finally, we emphasized Reki’s servanthood in helping Rakka with her wings.  There was comparison to Jesus washing feet.
  • We ended the evening with sharing time and prayer requests.

As you’ll notice, the meeting has both a teaching and sharing component.  We hope to grow to understand more about God and grow spiritually through discussing this noted anime.  We also hope to bond and learn more about each other and support one another through sharing.

We’ll continue to meet each week during the summer, with a few exceptions.  If you’re interested in joining, please leave some sort of contact information below and I’ll get back to you with further details.  We hope to see you sometime!

Something More: AKB0048 Missionaries, Amazing Anime Grace, and Space Brother Dreamin’

Medieval Otaku explores Dusk Maiden of Amnesia and how pride gets in the way from us embracing God’s love. [Medieval Otaku]

Did you know that the musicians of AKB0048 can be representative of Christian missionaries?  Seriously and truly.  [A Series of Miracles]

Annalyn shares her personal experiences with depression and the importance of faith and friendship as she examines Nabari no Ou. [Annalyn's Thoughts]

Annalyn continues to talk candidly, comparing the big dreams of Space Brothers to her own search for what God wants of her. [Annalyn's Thoughts]

Continuing her thoughts, Annalyn extensively compares herself to Mutta of Space Brothers, asking the question of what God wants her to do with her life. [Annalyn's Thoughts]

Frank explores the role that grace plays in Sora no Woto. [A Series of Miracles]

Is there more to be found than just superficial Christian imagery in anime?  Japes believes so. [Japesland]

Japes then looks at Haibane Renmei, Spice and Wolf, and Narcissu: 2nd Side as he examines deeper Christian themes in anime (and visual novels). [Japesland]

Charles Dunbar interviews Nina Matsumodo, a mangaka whose work, Yokaiden, explores yokai folkore. [Study of Anime]

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As part of the Something More series of posts, each week 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 if you’d like it included. 

Haibane Renmei Small Group Syllabus

This Saturday, June 22nd, I’ll be conducting our first session in our online, Haibane Renmei small group.  For those unaware, everyone is invited to take part in these sessions, in which we’ll be discussing Christian themes in Haibane Renmei and hopefully building relationships through sharing.  All you need is a Google+ account, webcam, microphone, and an open mind!  Please comment below, leaving your email address when prompted, and I’ll send you additional information (no commitment necessary).

The syllabus for the study is below (you can also download it).  Note that we’ll be having a two week break during the session.

I’m looking forward to seeing many of you on Saturday!

HB Study - Syllabus-1