Pick Six: Viewing Anime Through a Christian Lens

From dangerous Shinto film to beautiful redemptive work

While searching on the web, I found a very interesting question and response (edit: now available here).  The question was, “So how well does anime sit in the conservative Christian culture and is it important to conservative Christian anime and mange lovers that the two be reconciled?”   The response was basically that the Christian culture is wide and vast, as is the response of Christians toward anime.

I would encourage Christians and non-Christians alike to read the article.  For Christians, it may help us understand better where we fall in the spectrum and why other believers believe the way they do.  For non-Christians, I think it will help you understand that some of us carry the burden of what others believe, though we don’t share those beliefs.

For those unwilling to read the lengthy response, here are some of the vital points:

  • Christian responses to anime parallel responses to video games and other forms of popular culture.
  • Responses can be broken down in six broad categories, which are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive.
  • Separatists are on the extreme end.  If you’re thinking Harry Potter haters, they may fit into this category.  They are generally vehemently anti-anime.
  • Moralistic responses are not quite as strong.  Leaning toward parents who are concerned about their childrens’ viewing habits, moralists worry about violence, sex, and religious connotation in anime.
  • Discernment responses focus on the theological and philosophical ideas presented in popular culture.  This is an intellectual, largely critical, and growing view.
  • Creative responses focus on the message presented in media, not categorizing any media as either good or bad.  P. Scott Price, in his reply, used the example of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as creative media giving a message that fits in the Christian worldview.  Price also notes that those with this view will often shun works that aren’t explicitly Christian.
  • Redemptive responses are the next step from creative ones, looking for redemptive themes within art forms.  The critique of this view is that a movie, for instance, could contain elements that are thorougly un-Christian, but may be accepted because of redemptive qualities.
  • Embracing responses may be the category where most anime-viewing Christians fall into.  These viewers enjoy anime for it’s own sake, and while they may be concerned with content, it doesn’t necessarily affect their viewing habits.
  • The writer concludes with the idea that anime has just come onto the “screens” of many Christians; after all, it’s only starting moving away from being a fringe part of American culture.  Balancing viewpoints will emerge.

26 thoughts on “Pick Six: Viewing Anime Through a Christian Lens

  1. Have a friend that had a very strong christian moral family, his father didn’t really seem to care but his mum often question why was he watching Chinese cartoons. I even got a wall scroll out of it as his mum oppose the idea of him hanging it, but he asked for it back and is now hanging in his room so I am assuming his mum has chilled.

    1. I’m glad to hear that maybe your friend isn’t having as much of an issue with his mom. There’s always been a generation gap between parents and kids. In our generation, anime is certainly something that most parents don’t understand.

  2. I’m a Christian anime viewer. I also read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy books. I realise that the worlds created in works of fiction are just that: fictional. I don’t expect them to mirror Christian theology, to have redemptive themes, or to be free of profanity or risque themes.

    At the same time, I try to be discerning in the anime content I consume, just like I do with websites and American TV. While I can sit down and enjoy a show like NHK ni Youkouso! or OreImo, I’ll do my best to steer clear of shows like Panty Stocking and Garter Belt or Yosuga no Sora.

    For me, there’s a qualitative line to be drawn between shows like Yosuga no Sora or Kiss X Sis and shows like Koi Kaze. The former two cater lewdly to our own depravity; the latter is a well-crafted and authentic-feeling tale of inner conflict. They’re all topically about incest, but one of them is one of my 10s (along with Clannad After Story, btw).

    1. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. I’m probably a little more conservative in my viewing habits, though. As Paul says, paraphrasing, you can eat anything, but not everything’s good for you. With me, there are certain things I won’t watch (generally) just cause I don’t want to consume. But how one show effects me doesn’t mean it’ll affect any other person the same way.

      As for redemptive themes…I don’t generally select shows looking for theses, but I feel a sense of fulfillment and of greater enjoyment if I can find parallels to Christian spirituality – hence, my blog. 😛

      Thanks for the great comments and awesome insight!

      1. I understand where you’re coming from. Even a mature Christian can be … misdirected. We operate in freedom, but the hubris born of ignorance can still be dangerous. At the end of the day, what you choose to expose yourself to is an individual matter: guided by your conscience, the Spirit, or sinful desire. Unfortunately, sinful desire is always out to get you, and your conscience is distinctly malleable.

        I actually got into anime watching as a way of spending time with my pre-teen daughter. She was maybe 8 years old when we started watching anime (I think her first was Kurau: Phantom Memory, and it still is special to her). Many of the shows that I’ve watched have been to vet them for her consumption, and I find I enjoy most shoujo titles. There’s actually a fairly strong overlap between seinen shows and shoujo in the moe/slice of life segment. Titles like Hanamaru Kindergarden, Kimi ni Todoke, and Azumanga Daioh hit the right buttons for both of us. Plus there are shows with wider appeal like Lucky Star, School Rumble, and Toradora! that are good for pretty much anybody.

        I also like to introduce her to appropriate shows that wouldn’t normally be on her radar, like Asatte no Houkou or Dennou Coil (or Kurau, though we watched that together the first time through). Sometimes watching a show with her without having vetted it first can backfire (er, Mitsudomoe). Other times we watch something together and what hit me as awesome storytelling was simply too much for her to handle (eg the stadium scene in Code Geass).

        Nowadays she tends to focus on romance titles. There’s such a dearth of that content on American TV. Her standards for “romance” are much lower than my own, though. She knows to stay away from certain tags (ecchi, nudity, shoujo- and shounen-ai, excessive fanservice, not for kids, etc). And while I keep her away from shoujo-ai, I find that I’ve really enjoyed the ones that I’ve watched (Candy Boy, Maria-sama ga Miteru, Sasameki Koto) so long as they don’t descend into yuri. Most of my initial misapprehensions about shoujo-ai were largely unfounded. At the same time, it’s not something I want to expose my daughter to. While MariMite is more about friendship and thinking your senpai is awesome, and Candy Boy is about a close fondness between twins (and both of these fall clearly on the “appropriate” side of the line), Sasameki Koto (and the similar Aoi Hana) feature homosexual protagonists: girls that are looking for girlfriends. And while that’s a character trait that I can handle, it’s not something I want my daughter vicariously identifying with.

        I realise I went kind of off track here =)

        1. Thanks for the great comments! You’ve given me a lot of food for thought. My kids are still very young, so I haven’t shown them any anime, and haven’t even thought about what anime I would show them and at what age. Actually, scratch that – we’ve already watched a bit of Miyazaki, though at their young ages they prefer Thomas the Train and Bob the Builder. 😛

          Note on a couple of anime you mentioned – Azumanga Daioh is a wonderful show, I think, to show kids across a wide spectrum of ages. It’s really great that such a cute, funny, clean show exists. There are others like it, but it stands out as being high-quality.

          As for the stadium scene in Code Geass, I’ve actually blogged about that. That was very distasteful to me, much less thinking of how it might affect my children.

          Thanks again for the comments!

  3. Wow, this is an amazingly helpful blog — especially for me, a Christian teacher living in Japan who knows nothing about anime culture. Thanks, and keep it up! I’ll definitely be back!

    1. Great! I hope you’ll continue to find it helpful! I enjoyed reading your posts as well, and I’ll keep up with your blog. 🙂

  4. I was looking forward to reading this article but the link doesn’t seem to be working anymore. Oh well.

    I wish that the Christians that I knew were as open minded (and thoughtful) about anime as you and some of the people here seem to be.

    1. Bah, and that website hasn’t been updated in a long time, so I wonder if the post is gone forever. Rats. I wish I woulda preserved it.

      Well thanks, Joe. I try to be. At the very least, I think I and some of the guest bloggers and commenters here are open to people and open to the culture.

  5. I find myself among that list; I find myself in between of them, and would probably consider myself a mixture of them.

    I am a Harry Potter hater, because I feel that any promotion of witchcraft is evil; I feel that, since there is no good magic, and all sorcery is condemned by God, then any false view is wrong and should be avoided by God’s children.

    I don’t consider myself a big anime fan, then, because of my relationship with the Lord. Although I’ve known about anime before I got saved, and really only saw Dragonball Z and Digimon, I began to be interested in anime again because of a desire to learn more about Japan, and Japanese culture.

    I still love Digimon, by the way.

    There are some good anime that, I think, can be acceptable to Christian young adults and older adults, if they’re still interested. Moshidora is a great anime without any “fan service”, and, depending on which fan-sub you read, absolutely no filthy communication. Another anime is called “Tari Tari”, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

    Apart from those, I’ve also seen Anohana, which I do not recommend, but it I completely understand why everyone loved it. I’ve just finished watching Attack On Titan, which had no fan service but alot of cursing.

    Okay, I just wanted to ramble. Sorry. Thanks.

  6. I can’t tell all you how helpful your comments have been…my daughter is 12 years old and what I would call, “obsessed” with anime and manga. As a Christian, I have been very apprehensive and really needing a christian perspective on the situation, especially after reading one of her books, Full Metal Alchemist, and after hearing “Attack on Titan”. I am not happy with the language or the violence, nor her desire to dress up in cosplay. I am looking to find manga that doesn’t have the language and violence, and is suitable for her.

    1. I can definitely empathize with you. I have two children and since I’m an anime fan, I’m supposing that maybe one or both will follow after me. I don’t look forward to the worries I’ll be having over the media they consume!

      There are some very clean manga out there, and anime, too, though they can be hard to find. We give a few recommendations through the “Christians and Anime” link above, though with the exceptions of Usagi Drop and Nichijou, they all come with warning about violence and other content.

      Fullmetal Alchemist and Attack on Titan are two series that very heavy in violence and dark matter, and depending on the translation/version you watch, they can also be heavy in foul language. Each also contains a lot of wonderful themes as well, if one is looking at these series critically with a Christian lens. You can certainly choose whether you think these are appropriate for your daughter. You may also consider watching a few episodes of each with her. Also of note – I’ll be reviewing the first DVD release in the coming weeks.

      As for cosplay, that, too, can be wholesome and just fun if done right. I have a number of friends who are Christian cosplayers and who choose to wear modest costumes. For instance, the Attack on Titan uniforms have been a popular cosplay choice in the last year or two, and they cover the entire body. I think the bigger worry is making sure your daughter makes proper choices in a convention atmosphere filled with hormone-crazed teens.

      And as a final recommendation, you might refer to Christian Anime Alliance for a plethora of anime/manga reviews from a Christian perspective to find appropriate choices. It’s a popular destination for Christian anime fans as one of our own bloggers, Goldy, has long been a moderator there. Christian Anime Review (christiananimereview.wordpress.com) is another choice, run by a Christian blogger and focusing on currently airing series.

  7. hmmm well i’d have to say that I’m willing to watch a lot more than most people I know are. In general I don’t get a ton of great reactions when I tell people I’m into anime. It’s mostly “oh… you’re one of those people.” Though one of my brothers is accepting and a couple of friends are into it. I’ve found that anime is interesting because it portrays things in a different light than I’m necessarily used to seeing. I remember the first anime I watched, a year ago, was DN Angel with a couple of friends and as much as it pained me to disappoint them, I found that I couldn’t deal wit some of it’s occult themes. I next watched Fruits Basket, which is still in my top 5 anime. I think that was my first inkling that there was something more to anime. I saw a light in what I knew someone like my parents or some other family members would see as a series full of darkness due to it’s use of the zodiac. It’s interesting though, I always wonder how some people justify certain choices in manga/anime. For example I personally do not want anything that explicitly deals with the occult thus a pentagram is enough for me to stop watching a series (and believe me I really didn’t want to stop watching log horizon or FMA:B but its something l can’t deal with) This is an interesting article for me to read and see the spectrum of people who come from all sorts of different backgrounds.

    1. We all certainly have limits. I think that’s something biblical, knowing where we need to personally draw a line – I’m reminded of Paul’s exhortation on eating meats sacrificed to idols. It’s good that you have the conviction to stop series that bother you in such ways.

      I’ll share where I kind of am on a personal level. FMA:B actually once bothered me as well, so I’m glad you brought that up as an example. Now, it doesn’t – I kind of view series that like, to a certain extent (there are certainly limits here for me), as showing all sides of the gospel story. Sin is part of that. For instance, while it would be distasteful to see the seamier elements of the Bible put on the big screen, it’s still truth, and it helps explain the sinfulness of man (though again, we all have personal limits on what we can/what we want to consume). If there’s something in a story that I think is worthwhile – something that terrifically expresses an important eternal truth – I’m usually willing to dive in.

      I do stay away from fanservice elements and hyper-violence, though, because I know how that effects me. I know it’ll tempt me to sin. For me, the occult = not so much, but those others, I definitely must be wary of.

      1. Hmm yeah honestly it’s something that I haven’t always stood by, but I knew afterwards that it was something that I shouldn’t have done. That’s why I feel so strongly. I understand what you’re saying about FMA:B. One of the reasons I liked it was because it showed a man who had sinned, knew it, and didn’t know what to do next. Edward Elric was a man seeking redemption and fighting to do everything in his power to do right. I find it interesting that hyper violence is something you try to stay away from. What was your opinion of Attack on Titan? I also am curious have you seen Noir? I watched it and honestly it was a really good action/mystery series that didn’t have any fanservice that I can remember and the violence was actually really low for a series like that.

        1. I’m a pretty big fan of Attack on Titan (though other writers on this blog didn’t like it nearly so much). I feel there’s also a lot to explore in the series in terms of spiritual ideas. You can find the many, many posts we’ve done on the series in our Attack on Titan tag (including a couple within the past two weeks).

          I’ve seen about half of Noir, but I never finished it. It’s certainly a very stylish and cool series – I remember it well.

  8. Great post and comments! I think another point to consider is that anime is a medium, not a genre. Like any other medium, you’ll have all kinds of genres, from romance and action to porn. Of course each person needs to discern what personally suits her and be attentive to her own conscience, but the first step is to not make broad generalization. Anyway, I just wanted to add that into the discussion 😉

    1. Thanks for sharing – a very important point. Individuals with little knowledge of anime do often see it as a genre, rather than a medium, and perhaps it’s in all our best interest to let people know otherwise (“Are movies a genre? No? The same goes for anime…”).

    2. I completely agree! (I’m always kind of tick off when I look at an anime section of a store or website and it’s just the one section.) The thing is though like many other mediums eg american comic books, movies, tv shows (live action especially). They do often have several recurring themes that seem to crop up in varying degrees. Often negative ones. As examples I’d say fan service, fortune telling, and occult symbolism. That being said there always really good series out there that are the exception to the rule. these are the Usagi Drops, the Triguns and the Kanons. They show a beautiful story that isn’t marred by all of the things of the world and come surprisingly close to showing a bit of light.

      1. Oh, and I would go even further and say that those series in particular do a wonderful job of “showing the light.” Without realizing it, and without intention (though perhaps Trigun was WITH intention), grace, sacrifice, and love are demonstrated in these series to an extent that is impossible or rare in the world. We often look to anime to find things we don’t have in real life, and which ultimately function as glimpses of that which is to come.

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