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
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.
So your name’s Chihiro? What a pretty name…and it belongs to me now.
– Yubaba (Spirited Away)
In the west, we’ve largely destroyed the art of naming children. Parents scramble to discover a name that’s unique (but maybe not too unique), memorable, beautiful, and timeless, but in searching for an aesthetically pleasing name, most will forget something perhaps far more important – the meaning of their child’s name. In other parts of the world, including Japan, these meanings are more expressed and significant, adding a layer of beauty to naming that’s lacking here. Maybe this’s why in anime we often see a focus on characters’ names – not just what on they mean, but also in plot lines revolving around such.
In Spirited Away, Chihiro, our heroine, signs away her name; from henceforth, she’s known in the bathhouse as Sen. As soon as she becomes “Sen,” Chihiro comes under a spell that threatens to make her forget everything she’s known; the connection to her name is vital in helping her remember. Yubaba knows this, which is why she takes the name from her (and earlier, from Haku).
The Japanese know well the power in names. In an effort to assimilate Koreans under it’s banner, the Japanese government enforced a variety of decrees, one of which was soshi-kaimei, pressuring Koreans to take Japanese names. This policy deeply affected Koreans*:
For generations, a destitute Korean father above the slave caste had at least been able to bestow his name on his child. Now even that was taken away. Many Koreans submitted their new names for registration wearing black armbands and went afterwards to pray at their ancestral tombs. Parents begged their bewildered children to forgive them, and a new generation of nationalists discovered themselves in the crucible of their parents’ misery.
Modern anime continues to emphasize how integral names are to our identities. I once described the significance of names in a series we think very highly of here on Beneath the Tangles, Haibane Renmei:
The haibane are given them as they are born into their new world. These names reflect their dreams – it is a significant part of their identities. The main characters have the names of Rakka (falling) and Reki (pebble). As time passes, the mysterious beings known as the haibane renmei can present the haibane with new names, reflecting their growth or failure to grow past obstacles that seem fated to them.
The highly emotional conclusion of the series revolves around the Rakka’s and Reki’s name, which each prove to be both telling and life-changing.
In Noragami, which has returned for another season this fall, Shinto gods and goddesses are armed through regalia, spirits who are given names by the gods who oversee them. The regalias’ names tie them to their masters and give them an identity. On the other hand, “nora” are those that have multiple names and are looked down upon by the spirit community – they devalue the importance of names, which thus devalues the importance of relationship.
Something More: Concrete Revolutio’s Moral Relativism, Evangelion’s Atheistic Approach, and SAO’s Virtually Christian Worldview
This past week, Sam, who recently started an aniblog after moving over from doing the same sort of blogging on Google+, wrote a series of articles about how the “family” in Gakkou Gurashi resembles the family of Christ. It reminded me of something that’s oft been on my mind these days – how believers are to take Christ on as a model for how we approach life:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’
– Matthew 16:24
We also imitate Christ’s relationships. As Christ is to the church, so should I be toward my wife; as Christ cares for his disciples, so should I look out for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ; as God lovingly parents us, I should shower grace and love upon my children.
A newcomer to scripture, or many of those just unfamiliar with the text, expect to see a book full of rules and may question why the Bible doesn’t tell us how to approach certain situations in life, even those that are most common or critical. But as the Spirit leads, and as we spend more time in the word, we see how complex and dynamic scripture is, and how it does hold the keys to how we live life, no matter the situation, oftentimes expressed through how we see life modeled by the heroes of scripture, and most of all through Christ.
Sam’s article points out some of the ways in which we should act – sacrificially (Kurumi), faithfully (Rii), and joyfully (Yuki). All of these things, of course, come along we develop our relationships with Christ once we turn to him in faith and surrender.
Sam’s article are concise, excellent reads – I would suggest you take a look at his blog as a whole, and especially at this series of articles! Start with the first in the series:
And now, onto the multitude of excellent articles from across the blogosphere the last several weeks!
The opening song to Concrete Revolutio speaks to moral relativism and nihilism, approaches that are very much at odds with a Christian worldview. [Medieval Otaku]
Inuyashiki presents the idea that the “soul” is what makes us human, not the physical, which may present a problem to those who don’t believe in a God. [Ricochet]
The idea of the “hero’s journey” is found in many stories, including anime, and often contain a supernatural element (including those that can allude to the Bible), with InuYasha and Hunter x Hunter serving as examples. [Lady Teresa Christina]
The kindness that Anna finds in Marnie in When Marnie Was There is that which lonely and hurting Christians need from fellow believers, and that which they can find in God. 
Neon Genesis Evangelion is often ridiculed for lacking in true substance, but does it really set up a confrontation between scientific and religious mindsets? [The Artifice]
Episode 2 of Young Black Jack demonstrates a Christian idea of sacrifice in an un-Christian circumstance. [Christian Anime Review]
Princess Kudelia wants to experience what it’s like to be among the orphans in G-Tekketsu, analogous to Christ as man. 
Yuu continues to press forward, despite terrible circumstances, in the last episode of Charlotte – Christians, too, have reason (better reason!) to do the same. 
Speaking of Charlotte, perhaps another reason Yuu was able to do what he did was because of that universal need for redemption. [Unsheathed]
The virtual world of Sword Art Online, and how the characters react to it, perhaps mirror how Christians and non-Christians approach life. 
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. Special thanks to Don of Zoopraxiscope Too for notifying me about the Inuyashiki post!
As expected, Charlotte is rushing toward a surely emotional end. This 13-episode series has no time for long arcs and episode-long resolutions, so in quick order we see Yuu’s recovery (physically and emotionally) and Misa’s finale. But in the midst, we also have a plot point far more significant – that of Yuu’s decision to save everyone.
It’s no surprise that the proposal comes from Tomori, even if she only half-seriously suggests it. And while the suggestion of how to save given to a Christ figure from one I’ll later describe as more representative of humanity doesn’t fit the Jesus allusion, much of the proceeding portion of the episode does, especially when it clicks with us what Yuu plans to do, what it means, and what the ultimate conclusion will be.
What Yuu is Doing
As the strongest mutant, Yuu is perhaps the strongest person on earth, the “best human.” In scripture, Christ is the second Adam, a demonstration of perfect humanity (and perfect godliness). Indeed, while Christ is perfect in every way, Yuu is representative of different people in different parts of the story – the needful, condemned human in the first part of Charlotte and now the powerful savior in the second.
And in that way, it shows Yuu to be the fulfillment of humanity. For Christians, the Bible demonstrates as much – the Old Testament showing our sin and prophesying of the Christ who is to come, and the New telling of Christ’s saving grace. In this show, Yuu is that testament – showing the depths of humanity in his early selfishness, his need for a savior to save him from his sins, and now, like the New Testament, as the Christ who will take on the sins of the world to redeem it.
Which brings up point two:
Sometimes when we make the decision to do the right thing, to make the noble sacrifice, to be gracious, it doesn’t always feel like it was right, especially when everything turns out rotten and worse than if we did nothing at all.
Yuu and Shun must feel as much after their plan, which in their minds was foolproof (just leap back in time!), led to Yuu’s serious injuries and Kumagami’s death. Nothing turned out as they hoped – an important ally and friend is dead, a vital ability paralyzed, Nao possibly also be injured, and though the Syndicate doesn’t know it, at least one more enemy unaccounted for.
This isn’t what’s supposed to happen when we sacrifice ourselves to help others.
Of course, episode 11 of Charlotte demonstrates the truth that, despite our noblest intentions, things don’t always turn out. When that happens in our own lives, we might feel utterly defeated.
While Charlotte hasn’t broken any new ground or done anything to make us feel it might become a classic like associated previous series and visual novels, it has been entertaining. Recent episodes have especially been good, including the last couple which have been surprisingly intense. In episode ten, we get to see Shun’s sacrifice through his time travels, as well as Yuu’s plundering of that power to go back and save Ayumi.
Rob of Christian Anime Review points out the sacrifices that Shuu made. He had to endure pain and hardship as well as the eventual loss of his eyesight. Rob also points out something interesting, that though the sacrifices are powerful, they can’t live up to that done by Christ. I wondered why this is true? Why are Shun’s sacrifices – fictional as they are – less powerful than Christ’s?
I think that, besides the truth of the gospel message and the fact that God himself did it, the impact of it boils down to whom the sacrifice was for. Yuu going back to for Ayumi is fulfilling for the viewers, but not because of anything moving on Yuu’s part – it’s because Ayumi has been drawn as a very loveable character. We want to see her return. Shuu’s efforts are a little more praiseworthy because, as Rob points out, he’s doing what he’s doing not just for his family, but for so many others as well.
Christ goes further than that – his sacrifice was for all mankind. And moreso, while Shuu certainly knows many of the people he’s saving, Christ knows us more intimately than any person ever could, more than we often know ourselves. He knows our pains, struggles, imperfections – the way we hurt others and the vileness hidden in our hearts.
And still he chose to die for us. That’s the power of the gospel – the perfect one dying for imperfect us.
Check out Rob’s article to read more on his thoughts:
Visit these links to read more insights about anime/manga and religion/spirituality:
Kill la Kill gives us some insight into Christian eschatology, especially the idea that the kingdom of God is both here and yet to come. [Taylor Ramage’s Blog]
Himouto! Umaru-chan presents a very familiar, and very secular, version of what Christmas is apparently all about. [Old Line Elephant]
Religion will be a key element at the center of the new Ace Attorney 6 game. [Anime News Network]
The Muslim Manga Project seeks to engage both practitioners of the faith and those who simply want to learn more about Islam. [MuslimMatters]
Have you heard of ISIS-chan, the melon-loving anime character who was created to digitally combat ISIS (while respecting Islamic religion)? [DW]
The summoning of Shiva in Final Fantasy games begs the question of whether the inaccuracy in which the Hindu deity is presented is problematic. [Lady Geek Girl and Friends]
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.
I don’t watch many comedies anymore – whether on TV, at the movies, of through anime streaming. But I can never resist Working!!!, which is such a joyful show. It just does so many things right, including giving the audience that feeling that we, too, want to work at Wagnaria. And besides the assuredly low pay, why wouldn’t we? It seems like so much fun!
There’s a camaraderie among all the employees built on genuine love and caring for one another. Those who’ve worked in the food service industry know that it’s critical to have genuine friendships in the kitchen if you want a good working environment – it makes a stressful job easier to handle. It also helps to have caring supervisors like Kyouko (in her own way) and Otoo. In fact, bad managers is why so many of us quit our jobs.
Have you ever had a manager that treats you like you’re less than? As if you’re not their equal, as if you’re just someone to be used for his benefit or the company’s?
And it doesn’t have to be a supervisor – co-workers can treat you the same way. Someone very close to me, who works in education, is frustrated at being treated like a second-class citizen by the teachers around her, as she isn’t credentialed like they are.
Or…are you the person who treats others this way?
Whether the cause is pride, stress, or something else, poor treatment in the workplace is a miserable thing. And it runs deep – the way we treat people denotes the way we feel about them. While there’s hierarchy in the workplace, there shouldn’t be hierarchy in humanity. We’re all on equal footing. But when one treats a co-worker or subordinate in a dismissive or condescending way, he or she is basically saying, “You’re not my equal. You’re less than me.” And when we take equality away, we’re stripping away someone’s humanity. We’re treating them like animals.
I have the worst habit of writing quickly, proofreading more quickly (or not at all), and turning in work as fast as possible. All through my youth, I raced to be the first one done in anything school-related. It’s not a good compulsion, and it shows with my blog posts sometimes, as I often forget to make points vital to my main idea.
This rings true for my last two posts about Charlotte, and so I want to take the opportunity to revisit episodes seven and eight and emphasize a couple of points I missed the first time around.
Addendum: She and HE Can Relate
When Yuu draws near the point of no return (taking drugs is considered super taboo in Japanese culture, as explained by Kaze), there’s only one person that can talk him out of it. Nao is physically able to challenge Yuu, mentally able to trick him, and, as evidenced by Yuu later remembering her words of guilt, emotionally able to connect to him as well. There’s no one else who is able to remotely reach him – not a family member, other student council members, violent thugs, or his past crush. Only Nao.
When we drown in our sins – whether in the dregs of depression or the heights of hallow hedonism – we might feel that God is remote. Without having a dynamic relationship with Him, it’s easy to imagine Him as such. Why turn to God when He’s so distant? And if He’s holy as the Bible says, how much more should we hide away? Like a harsh, upright father, God would never understand or have compassion on an unruly son.
But scripture says otherwise:
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
– Hebrews 4:15
August has been a month for discussing context here at Beneath the Tangles, and I highly recommend looking at both articles recently written on this subject: Annalyn’s article about historical/cultural context, and Kaze’s article about man’s context VS God’s context. Here, I’ll be adding my humble contribution and completing the proverbial “Context Trinity.”
Growing up in the 90s, while attending a private/Christian school, I received my first taste of franchise demonizing. The school faculty sent out word that anything Pokémon—be that lunchboxes, trading cards, action figures, or even roleplaying during recess—would henceforth be banned at the school on account of the series’ demonic influence and focus on evolution.
Fifteen years later, I’m witnessing the advent of Yo-Kai Watch, a game-turned-anime-and-manga franchise about a boy with the ability to see and tame yokai with the help of a magical Yokai Watch. The new series has already overtaken Japanese audiences (and surpassed Pokémon—its spiritual predecessor—in popularity), with an official Western release scheduled for the games and anime next year.
Recently, I saw a post on my Facebook feed that I couldn’t scroll past. A fellow Christian acquaintance had posted about Yo-Kai Watch, warning other Christians that it was demonic and that children should stay away from it. They referenced an article written by Gamesradar+, which stated, “There’s a real playfulness to each of the [yokai’s] designs, most of which are based on Japanese folklore demons, otherwise known as yokai.”
That terrible word “demon” is like a red flag to Christians. I can understand why reading this single article about the series might raise serious concerns in someone’s mind, but this particular Christian was mistaken in that they assumed the word “demon” was cross-cultural—that Eastern and Western demons were compatible entities.