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Annalyn’s Corner: Spirited Away, Anime Heritage, and Christian Heritage

A DVD copy of Spirited Away has sat in my room for over a month, still shrink-wrapped. I’ve wanted to watch it for years—or, should I say, re-watch it. I first saw it when I was twelve, before I knew what anime was. I hated it. It was dark and bizarre, and I didn’t know what to make of it. Three and a half years later, I stumbled across Naruto and was sucked into anime fandom. I stuck mostly to TV series, but I kept hearing about Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. After a few more years, I heard that Spirited Away won awards, and I often heard people call it their favorite Miyazaki film. Clearly, this movie—just a strange memory by now—was part of a greater legacy, one that, as an anime fan, I wanted to better understand.

SpiritedAwayI’m getting ready to put on the movie as I write this. But if I really want to know more about anime’s rich history, there are other, older titles I need to stop procrastinating on, including Ghost in the ShellAkira, and at least a few more episodes each of Dragonball and Astro Boy (not to mention some of the anime Medieval Otaku writes about in his articles). I’d also benefit from reading old manga, especially that by the iconic Osamu Tesuka. Ideally, I’d spend time with even older Japanese art and literature. Why? So I can spout knowledge about “classics”? No. By learning about anime’s history, I can learn more about what’s inspired today’s creators, and better understand their references. And as a lifelong story lover, I love learning the heritage of any story-telling medium. It makes the current literature that much richer.

When I first think about anime history, my mind goes back about a hundred years, to animation’s earliest days. But as I indicated above, the history stretches further into the past, through days of woodcut printing and old fables. Anime classics are only the latest Japanese aspects of a worldwide storytelling heritage. If we forget that, we do ourselves and our predecessors a disfavor.

Why dwell on this now, in this post? Different kinds of heritage have been on my mind lately. Part of it comes from volunteering at a thrift store where people carelessly toss aside 100-year-old books and 200-year-old Bibles. A larger part of it comes from conversations about Catholicism and Church history, and from reading 1 Kings—part of Israel’s history and my Christian heritage. As I do, I realize how shortsighted we often are. Sometimes, American Protestants like to talk about “our Christian heritage.” Such conversations recall our Founding Fathers—who we wishfully repaint as faithful Christians—and occasionally go as far back as the Mayflower. And these conversations are usually, in my experience, fear-induced reactions to current events, such as the legalization of gay marriage, fear for our religious rights, abortion, etc. This can lead to political activism, even beneficial activism, but I think it’s healthier to step back and take a much broader view. By looking at a history between us and God that stretches back several thousand years, we can gain a lot: a bigger picture that emphasizes God’s role, rather than our own. Read the rest of this entry

Review: The Wind Rises

the wind rises 1The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Running time: 126 minutes

Though perhaps falling short of being a classic, Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, perhaps his swan song, is a return to form for the old master as he weaves a complex tale of childhood dreams, engineering marvels, solemn loves, and killing machines.

A bespectacled boy wakes in his ordinary house and climbs onto the roof, to which is attached something most unordinary – a plane.  He climbs in and sails into the clouds as the townsfolk celebrate his flight, before organic, living bombs destroy his aircraft and he falls through the sky and back into himself, waking from the dream.

The opening scenes of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, The Wind Rises, reflect the structure of the film.  In most ways, it is his most realistic movie for Studio Ghibli, the company he co-founded.  A fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the lead designer of Japanese World War II fighter aircraft, the movie is reminiscent of the more grounded films from his Studio Ghibli contemporaries.  But Miyazaki beautifully weaves his noted fantastical elements into the film through dream sequences and other events that transpire in Horikoshi’s head.  Especially early in the film, the director did something to me he has never done in his previous films – he appealed to the boy in me, the one who dreamed big and wanted to be the hero.

But though the fantasy portions are a highlight of the film, bringing to mind soaring sequences from Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso, perhaps even more enthralling is the animation in the more earthy parts of The Wind Rises– shadows on a face, writing on a piece of paper, grass and parasols blowing in the wind, and in what is surprisingly the most breathtaking and heart-pounding scene of the movie, Horikoshi and his love interest, Naoko, passing paper airplanes to one another.  Though not the rich visual feast Ponyo was, The Wind Rises is nonetheless stunning in its subtlety.

But it’s also these quieter elements that sometimes drag on for far too long.  The movie clocks in at two hours, and half that time has the protagonist wandering – in Germany, in Japan – and not doing a whole lot, at least not in terms of anything dynamic.  I guess engineering can only be so interesting when animated.  The film does pick up after this soporific middle portion, however, as a lovely romance story unfolds, one which I didn’t expect to see in a Miyazaki film.  That was a pleasant surprise.

Less pleasant was the elephant in the room – the fact that the main character, celebrated in the movie, was responsible for designing airplanes which helped Japan in their wartime activities.  Miyazaki, a known pacifist, hammers home his themes that we must go on and follow our heart and that the common people of Japan, many of whom didn’t agree with the country’s actions, did their best without being responsible for the war effort.  Unfortunately, Miyazaki tries too hard with his dialogue, beautiful as it is, emphasizing points which are more morally difficult to grasp than he tries to make them.

What is Horikoshi’s complicity in the killing of so many in the war?  More importantly, what was the average Japanese person’s complicity in the war?  The answer to both is “far more” than Miyazaki implies, though he deserves a modicum of respect for bringing up such difficult issues in his home country.

Ultimately, while the movie suffers because of the slow plotting and the moral unease of the tale, it shines to an extent that hasn’t been seen in a Miyazaki film since Spirited Away.  As if to say that he has more to animate than Shinto spirits and magical stories, Miyazaki proves that he can tell most any story with graceful and sometimes astounding artistic strokes.  If not a masterpiece, The Wind Rises comes close, and if it is his last film, Miyazaki has left us with a marvel to remember.

Rating: A-

Take Four – February 2014

New Legend of the Galactic Heroes Anime – Kaze

Licht und Schatten

Art by むしゃ草 (Pixiv ID 10218312)

Considered by many to be one of, if not the best anime of all time, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is getting a new anime. It is emphasized that this is not a remake but a new adaptation, meaning we can expect things to be different this time around. However, anything different from the masterpiece of the original is probably going to be a mistake. I don’t expect this to be an improvement, let alone even on par with the original; however, having watched the series twice and with the intent to re-watch more in the future, I’ll give it a try to make a fair judgement. If nothing else, maybe this will spark some interest in the original series that although old, is no doubt the pinnacle of truly epic anime.

Mekakucity Actors Anime Gets More Voice Actor Announcements – Japesland

Kagerou Project

Art – Pixiv ID 39645829

Although the Mekakucity Actors anime is not terribly new in terms of its announcement, it has continued to gain attention as continuous updates, particularly in the area of voice actors/actresses (seiyu). The anime releases this spring season, and it is of particular excitement seeing as it is the next step in the Kagerou Project that began with two Vocaloid albums by (my favorite) Vocaloid producer, Shizen no Teki-P (Jin). Since then, several light novels and manga have also been created as part of the series, culminating in Shaft’s anime follow-up.

Peter Travers Gives The Wind Rises 3.5 Stars – TWWK

Kaze Tachinu

Art by ちろる (Pixiv ID 37410096)

The critical reception for The Wind Rises has been excellent so far.  Though it doesn’t rate as well on Rotten Tomatoes as Spirited Away or Ponyo (really?!) did, it matches Howl’s Moving Castle and has received excellent reviews from some of the country’s most respected critics.  Peter Travers writes, “It’s a big story, and in this landmark film Miyazaki is up to every demand. Sit back and behold.”  Of course, I didn’t need to hear all this buzz to get excited about the film, as I’m a pretty die-hard Miyazaki fan.  I’ll be in the theaters tonight watching!

ELISA makes North America Debut at Sakura-Con – Kaze

japanese singer


The singer ELISA will be attending Seattle’s Sakura-Con on April 18-20, her first performance in North America. ELISA made her singing debut with ef’s opening song Eurphoric Field in 2007. She quickly gained popularity with it and was invited to perform at the following Anisama Live, the largest anime concert in Japan. Since then, she has performed theme songs for anime such as Hayate, TWGOK, Railgun, and Valvrave, although she did take a hiatus at one point. I have actually followed ELISA since her debut, so while I’m not a huge fan, I am pretty excited about this. She does try to interact with her fans, and her English, while not great, is definitely above average for Japan. I recommend anyone in the area to take the chance to meet and hear her and show her some support.

Hayao Miyazaki’s Common Grace

Legendary animator, Hayao Miyazaki, has long been teased for his habit of retiring and then returning to work shortly thereafter.  But last September, when he again announced his retirement, the buzz felt a little different.  The then 72-year-old admitted that his hands, the critical tools of an animator, could no longer function like they once did.  Further, his most recent film, the historically-tinged The Wind Rises, seemed like a fitting epilogue to the filmmaker’s illustrious career.

Miyazaki’s films, mostly produced through his Studio Ghibli animation company, have garnered extensive honors, including the Academy Award for Best Animated Film (for 2002’s Spirited Away).  The Wind Rises is currently up for that same award this year (and opens widely in the U.S. tomorrow).  But while his movies have generated massive box office returns in Miyazaki’s home country (The Wind Rises was Japan’s top grossing film in 2013), Studio Ghibli films have made only modest inroads in the U.S. market.

Why have his movies, acclaimed by filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and John Lasseter, and serving as inspiration for Disney animators, failed to gain traction in the U.S.?  The answer may lie in the unfamiliar cultural references in Miyazaki’s films.  Japanese animation (aka anime) embraces that country’s religious practices, and as such, many of Miyazaki’s films feature a heavy dose of Shinto spirituality.

But even in a movie like Princess Mononoke, set in a world populated by anthropomorphic animal gods, familiar themes emerge.  Taking place in the ancient past, Princess Mononoke features the young prince Ashitaka, who is searching for a cure to a curse placed upon him by a dying god.  His travels lead him to an iron-smelting town established by the enigmatic Lady Eboshi, whose wood-burning venture has angered the many Shinto gods of the forest, including vengeful boars, spooky primates, and the regal wolves who are family to the titular princess.  Abandoned as a baby and reared in the forest, the princess (also known as San) has made it her mission to assassinate Eboshi.  Soon, a war breaks out between humans and gods.

Ashitaka finds himself in the midst of this conflict as he seeks out the Forest Spirit, a deer-like creature who may be able to heal him.  Ashitaka is honest, patient, and kind, but the forest and its denizens reject him at every turn.  San and the wolves openly revile Ashitaka, while the Forest Spirit itself only heals a bullet wound the prince acquired, instead of also curing his terminal sickness.

San and her wolf brothers (Source: Pixiv, ID 874607904)

San and her wolf brothers (Source: Pixiv, ID 874607904)

Though he hides it well, Ashitaka is full of anger at the catastrophic turn in his life.  He has struggled with his curse, both physically and emotionally, and has even maimed and killed others while on his quest (the movie is not for the faint of heart).  The Forest Spirit, on the other hand, places life as its utmost concern.  Ashitaka is the Forest Spirit’s enemy.

The young prince’s situation mirrors that of all mankind – those who once did and those who still live in sinful rebellion as enemies of God (Romans 5:10).  Just as converts agree to lay down their lives to God when coming to faith, Ashitaka decides to set aside his own personal mission, seeking instead a way to bring peace to both sides of the struggle between gods and men.  In the process of doing so, he is himself miraculously cured.  Ashitaka has found peace with the spirits of the forest and may now live, just as our struggle with God concludes when we surrender before the cross, finding that by Christ’s wounds, we are healed.

Read the rest of this entry

A Year Ago on Beneath the Tangles


Art by 梅田いるか

A year ago…we celebrated passion week with a series on everyone’s favorite cross-gun-wielding priest, Nicholas D. Wolfwood, examining his role versus Vash’s, diving into a terrific fanfic exploring his faith, and pondering about Yasuhiro Nightow’s personal faith.

A year ago…guest writers graciously continued to contribute to the Aniblogger Testimony project, including a blogger whose personal belief involves ghost worship, Buddhism, and science

…a manga reviewer who is an Orthodox Christian

…a Christian who has suffered through many personal struggles

…and an atheist.

Chihiro and Haku

Art by hitsu

A year agoPuella Magi Madoka Magica came to its conclusion, and we linked to the plethora of posts mentioning the spiritual elements of the finale and to 2DT’s in particular.  I also wrote about Christian connections in the show, specifically in episode 7 and the final one.

A year ago…I interviewed a graduate student in Harvard who has written extensively on spirituality in Miyazaki films

…and also a pastor whose anime review site has become an imminent one on the Internet.

A year ago…a frequent contributor (now co-blogger) posted one of his best writings, a piece on Saint Seiya

…and I posted one of our most popular ones, on AnoHana.

AnoHana Menma

Art by のぞみ

“A Year Ago” is a regular series on Beneath the Tangles which links to posts from the site written around this date last year.

Spirituality in the Anime Blogosphere: Shinto Perspectives in Spirited Away

Can you believe that it’s been 10 years since Spirited Away was released in the U.S.?  I remember going to see it in the theaters – I was the sole dissenter, deciding to view the film on my own rather than join my friends to watch The Ring.  It was certainly one of the best movie experiences I’ve ever hard.

Chihiro and Haku

Winner of "best drawing EVER" (Art by 月穂)

Much has been made about the Shinto references in the film, by a wide range of individuals, including scholars, reviewers and of course, bloggers.  Here on this blog, I interviewed Jolyon Thomas, PhD candidate at Princeton, who wrote an article about religion in Miyazaki films, including in Spirited Away.

Here are other articles discussing religion as presented in this film:


1. Shinto Perspectives in Miyazaki’s Anime Film “Spirited Away”
by James W. Boyd and Tetsuya Nishimura
The Journal of Religion and Film

This feature, plus the portrayal of various other folk beliefs and Shrine Shinto perspectives, suggests that Miyazaki is affirming some basic Japanese cultural values which can be a source of confidence and renewal for contemporary viewers.

Complete article

Read the rest of this entry

Princess Mononoke: Ashitaka and the Fruit of Peace

平和. 평화. שלום.

Heiwa. Pyonghwa. Shalom.

Peace is a beautiful word, but an agonizing one as well. It’s something we desire, something we feel should be, but like Mayuri Shiina reaching up toward the sky, it’s impossibly out of reach. World peace is a dream. Inner peace may be, too, but that doesn’t stop many of the world religions from making this a (or the) focus of their faiths.

However, peace doesn’t instantly come to mind when thinking of some religions. Islam carries the weight of a violent connotation associated with its religion. I’m reading a book (when I say reading, I mean I’ve read about a chapter a year for the last 7 years) about how Islam is really a peaceful religion; the fact that such books even have to be written tells us something about how nonbelievers feel. The same can be said of Christianity, which has been forever stained with violent events like the Crusades and the Inquisition.

Nonetheless, the actions of people in the name of religion often tell us more about them and their society than about their faith. And in that vein, I’m here to say that in a significant way, Christianity is all about peace – within ourselves, with other people, and most of all (and all trickling downward from), peace with God.

When I think about peace in terms of anime, one character rises in my mind above all – Ashitaka, the noble prince from Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Princess Mononoke. In his journey, Ashitaka makes peace in each of the three ways mentioned above.  Hit the jump to read more about the third fruit in our “Fruits of the Spirit” series: peace.


Ashitaka's calm exterior hid inner pains (Art by レンキ@ついった)

Read the rest of this entry

Yuri the Princess of Lies, an Impossible Anime Dream, and the Christianizing of Princess Mononoke

Draggle continues to draw connections to Gnosticism in Mawaru Penguindrum, but this time also quotes Milton and discusses the “Princess of Lies” connection with the “Prince of Lies.”  Vucubcaquix investigates the parallel between Yuri and Satan even further, calling it the “most provocative idea in this episode.”

Zeroe4 reflects on the impossibility of his dream to create anime, before emphasizing his faith and his willingness to fight for it.

Daniel Mumby graciously offers apologies for those offended by his earlier analysis of Christian themes in several Miyazaki films.

Spirituality in Miyazaki’s Films: An Interview with Jolyon Thomas

My writing on anime and Christianity is largely reflective and personal.  However, there are a number of individuals in academia who have written extensively on anime and religion.  One such scholar is Jolyon Baraka Thomas, who graciously agreed to an interview with me.  I discovered his writings through an excellent article he wrote about Hayao Miyazaki and religion.  Below is a short bio from his site.

Jolyon Baraka Thomas is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion at Princeton University. His research focuses on Japanese religions in the modern period, with particular interest in religion and media and the relationships between religion, law, and the state. Thomas has published articles and book chapters on religious aspects of the culture surrounding manga and anime, and his first book on the subject is forthcoming. His developing doctoral dissertation examines the implementation of the concept of religious freedom in Japan during the first half of the twentieth century.

JBT: First off, thanks very much for your interest in my work. I hope that you and your readers/contributors find my answers helpful. I included some links in my answers; please note that I put the family names of Japanese people other than Miyazaki in small caps just to be clear about the name order. Read the rest of this entry

My Favorite Things

Love ’em or hate ’em, Christmas songs are inescapable during the holiday season.  But in the midst of typical musical fare, there are gems that don’t get played all too often in December.  For instance, a favorite of mine is “My Favorite Things,” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music, and made famous by Julie Andrews.  I thought I’d take this beloved song and break it down, ~Anime Dance Style (<— non-sensical subtitle):

Azu-nyan playing a wicked guitar riff;
Naru carelessly giving out Christmas gifts;
Angels complete with halos and gray wings;
These are a few of my favorite things.

angel anime halo wings

Konno’s falling number as she does time leaps;
Nausicaa flying over valleys and peaks;
Toradora! volume two tied with strings;
These are a few of my favorite things.

Makoto Kanno

When the kids cry,
When the bills come,
When my wife is mad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don’t feel so bad.

5 cm per second

Androids and humans, no discrimination;
Solemn meetings at a wintry train station;
Takizawa becomes Japan’s first king;
These are a few of my favorite things.

Takizawa and dog

Pixiv Artist: 4713223

Girl in the snow with winged backpack and “ugu”;
A club kendo-fighting with blades of bamboo;
The first Bleach OP and the rush that it brings;
These are a few of my favorite things.

Ayu Tsukimiya snow

Pixiv Artist: 11253328

When the kids cry,
When the bills come,
When my wife is mad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don’t feel so bad.


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