In 2002, Haibane Renmei, an acclaimed anime with heavily spiritual themes, premiered in Japan. While many pointed out Christian themes in the series, one individual went even further and wrote a book discussing Christian faith in light of Haibane Renmei. Daniel Cronquist, writer of Set Apart, is a civil engineer who traveled extensively throughout Japan. I was delighted that he agreed to do an interview about his book:
Can you tell us a bit about your book, “Set Apart”?
Set Apart is a book about the Christian faith and explores that through the medium of Japanese animation. In particular, we examine ABe Yoshitoshi’s series Haibane Renmei. Though ABe said the series was not intended to reflect any one particular religion, it expresses those concepts central to the Christian faith quite well.
The book is for both anime aficionados and those new to the genre. Having previously watched the series is not a prerequisite. It is ordered chronologically so you can watch the series as you read without spoilers.
What inspired you to write it?
To be honest, I really felt the Lord’s calling for me to write Set Apart. Looking back now, I can see that the Lord used Haibane Renmei to change my life. Writing this book required me to spend countless hours in scripture researching and exploring the themes that I saw in the series. God also gave me a heart for the Japanese people in the process. It was because of this that I have traveled extensively throughout Japan.
What is it that you want readers to take away from the book?
When I see the main characters from the series, I see a family. We have an opportunity to witness them in a variety of circumstances, both good and bad. Through it all they genuinely care for one another and exhibit a selfless, unconditional love. That love is what a family is all about and is what Christ said the Church should be also.
If Christians are nothing more than a collection of people with common beliefs, we are no different from a political party or volunteer organization. The Church is supposed to be defined by the unconditional love we have for one another, which encourages good, rebukes evil, and never fails. In this regard I believe we have much to learn from the haibane of Old Home.
What particular connection between Haibane Renmei and Christianity stood out most?
Everything in the series builds to the last episode. I can’t answer the question without setting the scene, however, so if you don’t want me to spoil the ending – stop reading.
The climax of the series occurs when Reki, standing alone on the train tracks, cannot escape without someone else’s help. Rakka tries to go to her, but is unable unless Reki asks for help. The instant that Reki asks to be saved, the power of her former self vanishes. At a spiritual level, Reki changed in that moment. She went from a proud person who was afraid to ask for help, to a new, broken person who could be saved. The broken name plaque bore witness that her true name had changed.
I see Reki’s transformation as one that Christians also experience. When we ask to be saved, we are changed at a spiritual level. In a sense, our true name also changes.
Each chapter ends with study questions – what was the purpose of including these?
The material for this book started as a set of Bible studies. We watched the series a few episodes at a time and then discussed what we thought. It was such a success that I ended up keeping the questions so others could do the same.
While “Set Apart” has obvious value for Christian anime fans, is there also value for non-Christians in reading the book?
It has been my experience that most people who choose against Christianity do so because they’ve met a Christian. All too often we do a terrible job of conveying the love that Christ wants us to share with the world. To those on the other side, they see only hypocrisy and condemnation. It is my sincere hope that this book offers a different perspective of Christianity. In the process they also get a fresh look at great anime.
Is there a character from the show that particularly resonated with you? Or do you have a favorite?
Hands down, Reki is my favorite. When I first watched the series, I saw a lot of myself in her. Just like Reki, I had unresolved sin in my life that I had to deal with to move forward.
Do you have advice for aspiring writers out there?
Write what you’re passionate about and have fun.
Set Apart is available for purchase through Amazon. Beneath the Tangles will feature a review of the book this Friday.