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 recently had a discussion with an old friend over Facebook. He’s a person I dearly care about and who I once discipled, but who has since left the faith largely because of his debelief in the miracles in (and writings of) the Bible.
Are we in a more skeptical day and age than ever before? I think probably we are. But the faithful Christian must not forget that God is God and not everything can be explained.
Our own Medieval Otaku, on his self-named blog, dives into the miraculous a bit as he compares the character Amami from Re-Kan to a prayerful Catholic. He dives into the topic of saints and angels and how we might connect to them through prayer. Amami, like a Christian, is open to the unseen when others may be skeptical or downright hostile. As Medieval Otaku states, “Anything touching upon the supernatural, whether souls, ghosts, miracles, the saints, the sacraments, or even God, is usually treated with distrust or contempt.”
I’m reminded of a lunch I had a week or two ago with a friend. We discussed how one should approach Genesis, and in the midst of all our talk, I had to reiterate this: while it’s important to approach the Bible with intellectual honesty and to examine it carefully, we’ve also all been convicted by the unseen God, filled with the Holy Spirit, and are being transformed as we commune with God. In our rush to dismiss mysticism that might intrude on our faith, we can’t forget that God is God, and things impossible with man are possible with Him. We cannot limit God because we’re limited – doing so ultimately negates the grace of God and our faith entirely:
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.
– 1 Corinthians 15:12-14
Read Medieval Otaku’s wax more eloquently on the topic (and in a different direction than I have) at his site:
Naoi’s painful childhood as show in Angel Beats! reminds of poor fathering by Isaac in the Bible, and our model for perfection through the story of the Prodigal Son. [Old Line Elephant]
In the same episode, Naoi declares himself God, reminding us of how we, too, develop idols in our controlling, imperfect manner. 
In the next episode, we find Otonashi’s life had revolved around a different kind of “idol worship” – that in which we worked for temporary things of this world. 
The way Utena loves Anthy in Revolutionary Girl Utena reminds us God’s concern for “the other,” with the other also representing all of us. [Taylor Ramage’s Blog]
The blurred lines between humanity and the inhuman in Attack on Titan and XenoBlade Chronicles points toward the way we often dehumanize others, and what the cost of doing so is. [Geekdom House]
Finally, I would be negligent to not mention that one of our dear friends, Tommy, has opened a Patreon account. If you enjoy his critical analysis (particularly of Toonami series), please pledge to support him! [Anime Bowl]
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.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
– John 15:13 (KJV)
I recently heard a wonderful sermon on the value of friendship by Tim Keller. He spoke of how when it comes down to it, friendship is about a person choosing to be intimate with you. Christ called us friends, and took that love to the ultimate end point – death in place of us.
In the final episode of Charlotte, Yuu acts as that friend for all the children with the Charlotte disease, taking their illnesses upon himself and saving their lives. And yet, despite his noble act, Yuu isn’t the best of Christ figures – but maybe that’s because he’s not only an image of Christ, but also an image of us.
Yuu as Christ
As I mentioned before, Charlotte treats the mutations as a disease. Because of its origin, there’s no X-Men/Marvel style debate here – it’s something that needs to be cured. And as Christ took our sins upon himself at greatest personal cost, Yuu plunders the users’ and carriers’ abilities, knowing that it may destroy him.
Episode 13, though, gives us I think a unique insight into Christ, one that scripture only sparingly shows us – that of what Christ must have felt when he died in our place. No, he didn’t forget himself (or us), nor do I think he had to remind himself of why this was happening to him. But the physical and emotional toll upon Yuu might make us think about what Christ went through.
I’ve heard it said that Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t much of one at all, him being God. On the contrary, though, I say it was far more so because of who he is. Perfect and pure, like the purest lamb, he was butchered (physical pain) and taken for the first time ever out of his perfect loving relationship with the Father, the only perfect relationship and the only one ever justified (emotional pain). Christ’s agony was demonstrated by his cries on the cross, and the distress upon him pictured by Yuu’s weariness and loss of himself when taking in everyone’s diseases.
But unlike Yuu, Christ never forgot. Christ cried that “it is finished” when he was about to die, fully knowing that the tortured he endured was for reason and done as he had planned. Sin nailed Christ to the cross – but Christ always, fully and consciously, allowed it to happen.
I just watched episode sixteen of Ore Monogatari, and I was hit yet again by Takeo’s love for Yamato. It is passionate, spontaneous, and faithful.
Everything she does makes his heart exclaim, “I love you!”
She blows on her food longer than anyone else. “I love you!”
She presents food she made and says tada! “I love you!”
The repetition is a little comic, but it’s also touching. They’ve been in a relationship for months now, and Takeo’s passion for Yamato only grows stronger. It’s only natural for him to sprint to see her, to remain loyal, to spontaneously (albeit only mentally) shout his love.
Isn’t that what passionate love for the Lord is like? Read the rest of this entry
I watched the first five episodes of Ore Monogatari!! (My Love Story!!) this weekend. The premise intrigued me: this shoujo anime is shown primarily from a male point of view, and he’s not the typical bishounen love interest. Instead, Takeo is the bishie’s big, clumsy best friend. I was immediately intrigued by this break from the mold, but that alone wouldn’t be enough to hold my interest. I’m too easily bored.
So what did hold my attention? Friendship and sacrificial love. Takeo, especially, is willing to sacrifice himself for his friends, his crush, strangers, and even enemies.
First, there’s the friendship between Takeo and Suna. Suna looks and acts like the typical bishounen male lead (I might have squealed a little when he first crossed the screen… it’s a habit I developed somewhere between The Wallflower and Kaichou wa Maid-sama). He’s cool, collected, has a great laugh, and knows how to deal with a spastic main character. But instead of dealing with a spastic heroine, he watches over Takeo.
Ever since they were kids, Takeo would have crushes on girls who eventually confessed their love to Suna… and were turned down. The same girls talked cruelly behind Takeo’s back, and Suna wouldn’t have any of that. Meanwhile, Takeo got used to being looked over in favor of his more charming friend. So when the girl he saves and falls in love with shows even the tiniest sign of caring about Suna, Takeo gives up on having a relationship with her. And he decides to help her and Suna get together.
I can understand Takeo’s thought process, to a degree. When someone you’re close to is more charming than you are, it’s safest to assume they’ll always get the best of everything: the crush, the cutest puppy… everything. That way, you don’t get your hopes crushed. At that point, you have two options: become resentful, or support your charming friend. Takeo chooses the second option.
Takeo is humble and selfless, but imperfectly so. Read the rest of this entry
I just re-watched the last couple episodes of The World God Only Knows, aka Kami nomi zo Shiru Sekai, most easily called KamiNomi (season 1). This time, I noticed the fulfillment Keima seems to find in his obsessive approach to dating sims, and the pride he takes in it. I think many otaku, including me, have felt similarly about our habits… sometimes to our detriment.
Quick Summary: This anime centers around Katsuragi Keima, a gamer who specializes in dating sims—in fact, he’s so good at these, he’s called the “Capturing God,” and otaku look up to him. Even the “demons” have heard of Keima’s expertise. One such demon, Elsie, misunderstands his reputation. She recruits him for a very important task: capturing Lost Souls. This task, much to Keima’s dismay, requires him to woo and rescue girls in real life, which takes a lot of time away from his gaming.
A Note on Religion: When I first heard of KamiNomi, I was suspicious. “The World God Only Knows“? Isn’t that a little… blasphemous? But God, as in the God, isn’t really talked about, and His power isn’t so much questioned as ignored, as in most anime. And the demons? We’re not talking about Satan’s crew, I assure you, though a couple elements of Christian tradition are incorporated. There’s some Buddhist imagery, too, when after-images of Keima’s arms make him look like a certain bodhisattva. In sequel seasons, Greek and Roman mythology is incorporated. This collection of religion and myth is not meant to be taken seriously—it’s a comedy.
Okay, housekeeping over. Let’s dive into the part of the post that makes me squirm:
Keima avoids interacting with the real world as much as possible. He proudly devotes every waking minute to dating sims—he’ll even play them while he’s running in gym class. Most people consider his lifestyle unhealthy, but he claims it’s fulfilling.
Keima’s obsession with his games is most fully shown in the last episode, when he finally gets a decent-length break from capturing Lost Souls. It’s not like he was completely cut off from gaming during the last eleven episodes, but he didn’t get enough. Apparently, like many long-time addicts, he needs higher doses of his drug for full effect.
It’s natural to spend a lot of time doing something you love. Others don’t always understand it. As a result, many of us are used to waving off their concerned comments about our anime-watching, gaming, etc. Read the rest of this entry
At the start of Terra, a teenage Kotarou and his family have recently moved to Kazamatsuri. His parents work at Martel, a part of Gaia. His neighbor’s family has a very young girl by the name of Kotori (!?). His parents attended Gaia’s meetings, but Kotarou spent his time hunting UMAs, which were actually familiars. However, one day, he encounters a much stronger familiar. Just as it attacks him, he is saved by Esaka and his knights. Kotarou falls unconscious but looks for Esaka and the two become friendly. Meanwhile, Kotarou is asked to take care of a young girl named Akane (!?). Akane seems to be affiliated with Gaia while Kotori notes that she wants nothing to do with Gaia and its meetings. As Kotarou’s teenage life unfolds, he ends up running away from home and joins Esaka and Guardian. He is put in a trainee team consisting of himself, Imamiya, Touka, and Nagai. However, this is a team of “unskilled” people, the ones who ranked lowest on the initial exam. Nagai eventually quits, but Kotarou gets stronger.
Eventually, the battle of Guardian and Gaia is about to start. Although the team is ordered on stand-by, Imamiya rushes in, followed by Touka and Kotarou. On the way, he encounters Akane who is cowering in the trees. Although he saves her and attempts to help her escape, he runs into another girl…Kagari, the Key, being born into the world. It is here that Kotarou is given a very important choice: try to attack her or run away. If the reader chooses to attack her, he will nearly be killed, end up in a coma, awaken to find the beginning of the common route, and another inevitable route to humanity’s destruction. In other words, from the very beginning, this part of Terra had already happened before the common route began, which explains a number of questions the readers may have had. However, in Terra route, there is another option Kotarou can take: run away and let Kagari escape. Read the rest of this entry
Ten or so episodes of Ashita no Joe convince one that many Christian themes run through it. One even locates a Christ figure in Rikiishi and a Marian character in Yoko Shiraki. Therefore, Joe Yabuki (especially when one considers the slang “average Joe”) might be looked on as an everyman–a representative of graceless humanity needing a Savior. In this article, I do not wish to belabor Rikiishi’s parallels to Christ: his standing head and shoulders above ordinary mortals, his generally meek and polite personality, how his weight loss reminds one of Christ fasting in the desert, Yoko as a woman who fulfills the role of the Lady of Sorrows for Rikiishi, etc. Instead, I wish to ponder the curious choice of Ikki Kajiwara to make the Christ figure as the story’s antagonist. In what ways might Christ, the friend of sinners, also be viewed antagonistically by his followers?
If memory serves me right, the Pearl-Poet gives Christ the title “Conqueror of Christians” in his poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Does that not take my dear readers aback? What does he mean by the title “Conqueror of Christians”? Aren’t we His by virtue of our supernatural regeneration in baptism? What does it mean that Christ conquers His followers? The simple fact of the matter is that we are very unlike Christ. Where Christ possesses infinite virtue, we can often boast infinite vice. We would repeat the same sins infinitely unless God’s grace brings them to an end. All Christians in a state of grace have all the virtues in some degree, but not sufficiently as to prevent us making a hell out of heaven should we be transported the eternal fatherland this very moment. The realm of the vices in the arena in which our antagonism to Christ resides, and Christ must conquer us in this arena. Read the rest of this entry
I’ve been meaning to watch Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi (Okami-san and her Seven Companions) for a while. This twelve-episode anime draws heavily on fairy and folk tales, and my love for these classic stories never dies. I finally watched it this past week. It was… decent, once the narrator’s voice stopped annoying me. The title character, Ookami Ryoko, is part of Otagi Bank, a school club that does favors for “clients,” with the expectation that said clients will return the favors when called upon. The characters go on adventures of varying difficulty (the delinquent school in town provides danger), and it’s generally a fun club anime that unapologetically mixes tropes, stereotypes, and well-known tales.
Otagi Bank members help their schoolmates out for a cost, but they have their fair share of trials themselves. The fourth episode, “Ōkami-san and Otsū-senpai’s Favor Repayments,” confronts the idea of favors among friends. One of the secondary characters, Tsurugaya Otsuu, is obsessed with returning favors. When Ryoushi, the main male character, saves her from from getting hit by a stray baseball, she insists on becoming his maid… and I don’t mean just doing a bit of housecleaning, either. After all, Ryoushi saved her. She goes above and beyond, even sleeping in his little one-room apartment so that she will be available to tend to every perceived need. Ryoushi is so uncomfortable with this arrangement, he can’t sleep. Yet she is too worried about returning the favor to realize that he really just wants her to let him sleep in peace.
Otsuu has a tragic back story to go with her obsession: when she was younger, an older brother figure died saving her from being hit by a car. She can never repay him for his sacrifice. Instead, she is determined to repay all other perceived debts in her life. Otsuu overworks herself trying to repay Ryoushi. He goes to the Otagi Bank’s president with the problem. The group of friends comes up with a plan: do so many favors for Otsuu, even she can see that it’s impossible to repay them. The first step of the plan? Dress up as maids and wait on her hand and foot for an entire day. Of course, at the end of the day, she says that she’ll try to repay each of them for what they’ve done. They tell her that it’s impossible, and even if she did manage to repay the favor, they’d do even more for her, so the cycle would never end. They explain that since they are friends, helping each other out is only natural. Otagi Bank might be founded on a system of favor and debt, but the group’s members themselves need no such thing. There are no favors between friends.
This plot idea isn’t new. Many anime, movies, and TV shows include characters who are too proud or insecure to get help from others, or who feel they must repay every nice thing that’s done for them. (Arakawa Under the Bridge comes to mind, though I’ve only seen an episode or two of that.) They don’t know how to accept kindness with no strings attached. After years of watching these characters learn about friendship and kindness, I’ve finally realized how much I have to learn myself. Among my family, I don’t hesitate to ask for anything. But I’m more awkward with friends and classmates: If I accept an offer of food, but never give food in return or offer further friendship, is that rude? If they write me a note on my birthday, or just because they want to encourage me, doesn’t that mean I have to do the same? If I write a kind note or do something else for them, will they see it as more than passing kindness? I really can’t offer much companionship as a friend right now! Will I make them feel obligated? I don’t expect anything back, not even deeper friendship, I just want to do this one thing.
It’s kind of ridiculous. Read the rest of this entry