What is is that most of us live for? It certainly varies from person to person, but if we dig down and analyze our habits, thoughts, and actions, a few items might arise – family, job, faith, money, comfort, and entertainment. For otaku, entertainment may be at or near the top of the list. We don’t just enjoy anime – we revel in it.
For Christians, this can be especially problematic. A conservative approach to anime would deem the entire form as something evil and immoral. Rob of Christian Anime Review recently tweeted me the video below, in which a pastor discusses various nerdy entertainment, including anime, and how these forms influence us. I don’t disagree with all he has to say.
Of course, the viewpoint of the writers on this blog is that there are a lot of fundamental truths that we can mine out of anime – ideas that capture the most significant tenets of Christian faith and impress them in such a way that might move us, encourage us to explore, and even transform us. And on simpler level, we approach anime simply as fans watching an art form, while hopefully using sound judgment as to what we should avoid.
Still, it’s not that simple. Anime is a medium developed in a very non-Christian country, inherently presenting challenges to Christian viewers. Among them are how the characters are drawn and depicted. For me, the one of the two most uncomfortable questions you could ask me (because they perhaps point out my hypocrisy!) is “Are you okay with how anime depicts minors?”*
I would hazard to say that most anime fans would agree with me when I say it’s despicable and harmful to present very young characters in sexual situations (though anime loves to get around this by presenting age-old characters in kids’ bodies**). But what of teenagers and pre-adolescents? They’re underage, too, after all, and they are frequently depicted in fanservice-y ways, sometimes for comic relief, but often for the viewer’s pleasure in less virtuous ways.
This week, Japan finally succumbed to pressure and outlawed possession of child pornography. No kudos to the country for taking so long in doing so, though perhaps this will help change the culture a bit in a positive direction. But of note is that anime, manga, and light novels can still operate as they are. I’m sure many an anime fan breathed a sigh of relief at this exception.
But what should Christians think? And not just of this development, but how we respond to the depiction of underage individuals in anime? Do we believe in the whole 2D is 2D and 3D is 3D, and the earlier cannot harm the latter? Certainly that’s among the questions that have been asked and will continue to be.
As it stands right now, anime is currently in its transition phase from the winter 2014 season to the spring 2014 season, and this in-between phase makes it difficult to analyze much of what is currently happening aside from overall series or season reviews. However, just recently I decided to pick up yet another current anime, bringing my winter 2014 anime count up to 16. And that series is Wake Up, Girls!.
While Wake Up, Girls! has been an entertaining watch, I found myself extremely happy to have waited until just the past few weeks to pick it up. If you’ve been following Beneath the Tangles or my personal blog in the recent past, you are probably aware that in early to mid-March I spent about ten days in Japan on a ministry team. Much of our time there was spent in the Sendai area, the area hardest hit by the 3/11 tsunami, and coincidentally where Wake Up, Girls! takes place.
As I just mentioned, Wake Up, Girls!, at least as far as I was as of the time of writing, has been a quite enjoyable watch. However, as with anything, having a personal connection makes it that much more fun… even nostalgic. Seeing familiar sights in Sendai has been an intriguing experience that I have had yet to feel in the context of anime, which is significant in and of itself. More than simply that, though, the personal connection goes even further and more specific, and that is all thanks to episode three and the character, Minami.
In order to provide a bit of context for what I am about to explain, the Miyagi prefecture, of which Sendai is the capital, was the area of Japan hardest hit by the 3/11 tsunami. Even though it has been more than three years now since the triple disaster, the damage done is still visible and affecting thousands of Japanese. In particular, the Japanese government set up numerous temporary housing units in order to provide living quarters for, especially, the elderly Japanese (especially women) whose homes were destroyed, leaving them displaced. With nowhere to live and no consistent source of income, many of these people have resigned to a lonely existence in a cramped living space with nothing to live for day to day. Having seen this in person, the situation is heartbreaking.
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.
If 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.
Episode 11: “Various Ways to Spend Christmas Eve”
In the spirit of Christmas, I decided to retry an anime that I dropped over a year ago, Lucky Star. Last time I tried to watch the series, I made it to only episode 4. For this project, I watched episode 11 which takes place on Christmas Eve. The biggest things to stand out in the episode were related to the Japanese understanding of Christianity and Christmas.
One of the characters in the series stated that she wasn’t sure if it was okay for her sister, who was a shrine maiden, to wear a wedding dress for her wedding. This whole idea comes from a difference of understanding in Judeo-Christian and Japanese Religions. In Christianity, the main part of the belief system is this concept of faith. For example, the concept of grace through faith or that Abraham’s faith is credited to him as righteousness. For people of the English language, we can even refer to religions as faiths or beliefs.
In Japanese, the religions of Shinto and Japanese Buddhism are based upon action and tradition, such as going to temple festivals, praying to kami at shrines, or even dedicating children at temples. Read the rest of this entry
One old man I talked to had been trapped for three days in the top floor of the Sendai Airport. I was glad to meet him, because I remembered seeing that airport on the news and praying for the people trapped inside.
From time to time, missionary (and avid anime fan), Yuki-Anne, gives us an update on her experiences in Japan, including remembrances about her arrival in the country and discussion about her work following last year’s earthquake.
Yuki-Anne continues to remain there, working to spread the gospel and loving the Japanese people. I encourage you to read Yuki-Anne’s short May newsletter, which relates her recent experiences, particularly in working with young people. I also encourage you to give financially, if possible, to support her continuing work with JEMS.
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.
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.
Of Kami and Buddhas is a series of semi-regular posts examining religion in Japan.
Ano Hana concluded last week in a teary episode, and though some disliked the finale, I found it fitting and emotionally realistic. The group was now finally reaching its goal of sending Menma on. They were able to bring peace to their good friend.
While I think most of us took the storyline for granted, as I finished the series I was again struck with a question that I had right from the beginning. Why did Jinta and the rest assume that Menma had an unresolved issue? The entire group assumes that much is true – there’s never an alternative given.
The answer to that is one deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and in the society’s conception of ghosts. After individuals die, they move from konoyo (“this world here”) to anoyo (“the world over yonder”). The same is believed to be true in any of the Japanese religious traditions. However, unfinished business can keep an individual in the konoyo area, where their problems must be resolved by culturally acceptable means for he or she to pass on. This is the position Menma is in, and it is quite familiar to the Japanese. Read the rest of this entry
Japan has a very small Christian population, with estimates ranging from about 2% to 0.5% of the Japanese identifying themselves as Christian. Missionaries from the U.S. and other countries, however, are working to spread the gospel in the country. Michelle Mikoski and her husband, Nate, recently returned to the U.S. after a missions trip in Japan. Michelle graciously agreed to answer some of my questions. You can also read more about her family on the Tell Japan website.
TWWK: Why Japan? What led you mission work in that particular country?
Michelle: My husband, Nate, and I met at a Bible college in upstate NY. Both of us had decided to give our entire lives into God’s hands and simply do what He asked us to do. We both felt strongly that God was leading us into vocational ministry, but we weren’t sure what it would be – pastor? Teacher? Missionary? After we married, we continued to seek Him through prayer and studying His Word and trusting that God would reveal His will for our lives.
Our prayers were answered in a way we never would have imagined. About 1 year into our marriage, I woke up one morning and immediately felt that I HAD to learn Japanese. Now, neither Nate or I had any interest in Japan before this incident, so it made no sense! I knew this had to be from the Lord. Rolling over, I said to Nate, “God just told me I have to learn Japanese!” He gave me the what-are-you-crazy?! look but simply replied, “Okay….” The feeling was so strong that I went out that morning to look for a Japanese dictionary in our local bookstore! They had one copy; I started studying that very day. I spent the next 3 years learning Japanese on my own using what methods I could: grammar books, watching anime, translating songs, reading manga, hand-copying line after line of manga text, etc. Read the rest of this entry
One the most interesting things about religion in Japan is how seemingly contradictory cultural expressions can find their way into religious institutions. In the past, I’ve mentioned the veneration of Thomas Edison in the country and the temple that is using an anime character as their mascot. Now, add another interesting combination to the mix, as Mikikazu Komatsu of Crunchyroll writes about a Pretty Cure live show being put on at Bukkoji Buddhist temple, along with other anime-related events as part of the institution’s anniversary celebration and to raise money for earthquake relief.
Check out Komatsu’s post for more information:
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