Anime and Religion Survey: Spirituality in Anime

Anime is almost never a proselytizing tool.  So, it’s no surprise that religion usually doesn’t take the forefront in anime series.  Even when religion plays a major role, it’s typically bended and used for aesthetic or plot reasons (ex. Evangelion) by the series animators.  Still, it’s ever-present in anime, as religion is deeply imbedded in the country’s culture. 

Today, we’ll look at four questions from the survey which address religion in anime.

Questions:

  • Do you like seeing western religious symbolism in anime?
  • Which of these series involving religious symbolism do you like most?
  • Has watching anime made you admire Japanese religious/belief systems more than you did in the past?
  • Is your primary knowledge of Japanese religious/belief from anime and manga?

As I mentioned above, religion is present in anime, even if just in small part.  The kami are mentioned in passing, prayers are said haphazardly before meals, and shrines are visited for New Year’s celebrations.  These inclusions give us a small glimpse into the Shinto and Buddhist backgrounds of Japanese culture.  In fact, 36% of anibloggers agree that most of their knowledge of religion in Japan is from anime.  Just over half of respondents state that anime has actually led them to admire Japanese religion more.  With knowledge often comes admiration.

Toaru Majutsu no Index Nakano Sora
Artist: Pixiv Member #16001602

A fun question I asked was which anime heavily involving religion do respondents like the most.  Of course, I was unable to include all series and movies that fit in this category, and particularly regret missing a couple major ones which specifically address Christian themes or history (Samurai Champloo and Haibane Renmei).  The choices were as follows:

  • Chrono Crusade
  • Earth Girl Arjuna
  • Hellsing
  • Maria Watches Over Us
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion
  • One Pound Gosepl
  • Otome Yukai Zakuro
  • Serial Experiments Lain
  • Spirited Away
  • Toaru Majutsu no Index
  • Trinity Blood

All of the shows received responses except for Earth Girl Arjuna, which is actually the one show on the list I haven’t seen but am very eager to watch.  The leaders were no surprise – pioneering mecha show, Neon Genesis Evangelion (27%), and Oscar-winning Miyazaki classic, Spirited Away (%25), combined for over half of the votes.  Lain, Maria Watches Over Us, and Hellsing each had around 10% of the vote.

The results are even more interesting when broken down by respondents’ religion:

These results might indicate that those with a religion (or who are unsure of one) enjoy the Christian symbolism in Evangelion more than atheists.  Or maybe not, since these were the two most popular choices anyway. 

Evangelion may just be one of kind; it’s a popular choice even though only 20% of survey takers answered “yes” when asked if they liked to see western religion in anime.  However, almost 2/3 wouldn’t mind it when included sometimes.  Only 15% did not like seeing western religion in anime at all. 

What do these results tell us?  Well, I don’t know if they say a whole lot.  But they do seem to indicate two ideas that I find important.  If the material is done well and in an entertaining fashion, anime involving religion will be enjoyed by those who don’t share that faith. 

And maybe more importantly, the more we know about a faith, the more we can avoid misinformation that clouds our feelings about that religion.  As many anibloggers admire Japanese religion after learning more about it, perhaps anibloggers without backgrounds in Islam, Christianity, or a variety of other religions can drop the half-truths they think they know about these faiths.  Open dialogue about religion is a good thing, and if a particularly faith is true, this dialogue can help reconcile one searching for truth with an answer.

Tomorrow we’ll get into more meat, discussing the final results of the survey – how do anibloggers feel about Christianity?

34 thoughts on “Anime and Religion Survey: Spirituality in Anime

  1. I don’t really mind it too much. I’ve heard good things about Bacanno, for example. Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, for all it’s crudeness, is also chock full of Western references as well.

    And you’re right when you say Eva IS one of a kind. For some reason unfathomable to most people, Eva seems to have a cult following for being “deep” and “meaningful” because it’s viewers were probably going through a whole lot of personal problems and, unfortunately, could relate to the characters. Which is quite sad, since the show, personally, was no more than a creative way to throw a temper tantrum. (Especially when you see the events leading up to the creation of Eva. Anno does NOT deserve all that critical acclaim and praise, or even help. He needs a 30mm shell to his head.)

    In fact, Anno himself admitted that the Christian (and Jewish, and Wiccan) symbology was no more than window dressing for what he really wanted to do: Tell the world that we, as a whole, are idiots for ignoring his genius.

    As for religions in general, living in a country where religious harmony is enforced by the rule of law has opened my eyes (though forced) to the different religions in general. I’ve done a bit of reading on most religions and talked to people for the rest. Religions in general teach more or less the same things (depending on which side of the story you listen to) when it comes to living your life. I have to admit, I have little to negative admiration about religions in general, even my own. (And I’m supposed to identify with mainstream Christianity!)

    Buddhism, in general, teaches people to be kind to everything, eat less meat, do your best to not offend anyone, and that’s a nice thing. However, I know that in general, that is completely and utterly bollocks. Throwing away the meat question, most people do NOT want to be nice to other people in general. People WANT to gossip, complain, ridicule, make fun of, and be NOT NICE to everyone they deem unworthy of their attention. It happens every day, and on the Internet, it happens all the time. (Romans 3:23, ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It gets even worse in the preceeding verses. Romans 3:9-20, short version: everyone WANTS to do evil in the sight of the Lord). Shinto has been used to justify going to war in WW2. Insane right-wingers in Japan want to bring Japan back to what they deem Japan’s glory days (in which they ate two nukes for it). Christian anti-abortionists are willing to murder doctors who perform abortions. Extremist Islam. Westboro Baptist Church. Those FUCKING (pardon my language) Republicans.

    The problem then, isn’t religion. As much as I don’t see much good in the structure, the structure itself is pretty solid and can be fixed. The problem then is people.

    Open dialogue is one thing, but who wants to talk to other people concerning this issue? Unless it is MANDATED by law to do so, forget it. It’s way easier to just send in mercenaries to murder people.

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    1. Thanks for adding so much to the conversation. I certainly agree with your point about people being the problem (kind of like the whole “guns don’t kill people – people kill people” argument). The Bible is clear that we need to follow a different way and that we’ll struggle to avoid these sins, which we seem to wallow in. It’s a natural inclination to hurt others and do selfish things that bring us joy.

      But, despite your suggestion, I still want to dialogue about religion. Misunderstandings abound on all sides, and ignorance reigns as well. Open dialogue, then, can be helpful in solving some of these issues.

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      1. I can’t blame you for being optimist, but personally, unless open dialogue is forced upon the population (hopefully with serious military hardware and implied death threats), it’s extremely hard to get one going. And even then, you can lead a horse to water, but the horse isn’t gonna drink, and forcing water down it’s throat is justified as animal cruelty.

        As for the desire to hurt others and selfish joy, keep in mind that for the Christian, it is more than an inclination. It IS our nature to do so. A man who accepts Christ is NOT rid of this nature until the Second Coming of Christ. Until then, we have to crucify this nature every single day.

        God’s nature is UNNATURAL to our nature, which is corrupt and wallows in sin. We do not want God’s nature simply because we love wallowing in the filth.

        Never ever try to think of sin as an inclination or something lesser. It is not just real, it is an ever-present danger to the Christian who desires to follow Jesus.

        Of course, feel free to replace “sin” for “Satan”. It’s more or less the same thing. And I do apologize if I seem combative or forceful. It is something I do not play around with.

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        1. Of course, you’re right. Sin in part of a Christian’s nature and we must crucify our “selves” every day. God is good, and only He is good; we’re are marred by sin, though covered by God’s grace.

          No apologies needed – sin is serious business. Christians, myself included, often take it too lightly.

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  2. More interesting results…I don’t really have much else to add other than I think that even if someone is religious, and a certain anime presents a distorted view of that religion, the person can still enjoy the anime if they have an open mind. Maybe whether a religious person can enjoy anime or not depends on how open minded they are to interpretations of their religion and willingness to see anime as simply a work of fiction meant to entertain and tell someone else’s point of view.

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    1. We’re all at different levels regarding this, and regarding different topics in our lives. For instance, most of us probably wouldn’t sit through a 13-episode series that insults our mommas. And so, we each have a line (which might constantly be shifting) regarding our faith, if we have one. I don’t think there’s necessary a correct place to draw this line (though some plot lines may be clearly over-the-top for one’s faith) – we each must decide where it is for ourselves.

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  3. I’m suprised to aru majutsu no index wasn’t even in the top 5 of the percent. Though I dont know if this blog can be seen by Japanese becuz they can back me up here In the fact in the novels and show religion involves Buddhism. Christianity. Thelesma(think that’s the correct one). Jewish. Norse. Atheist. Etc. Or maybe this is an anime only pole.

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    1. You know, I was surprised, too. I though it might rank just below Evangelion, because of it’s popularity.

      And thanks for the insight – I’ve only seen ONE episode of the show, so I barely scratched the surface of religion in the series.

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      1. It’s a good show and since season 2 Finally got to the arc where the index story starts off shit got good so u can marathon it. Skip railgun though. Anyway about the religion of this show instead of Christianity as the main religion(though it is a main part of the story) it seems that it has taken a turn to revolving around thelesma which is a religion made by aleister crowley who wrote it in the Bool of law that he was taught some things by a supernatural being called aiwass and was taught the three aeons or ages. Isis osiris and horus. It’s easier to look up the book of law summary on wikipedia

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        1. Sounds real interesting…I might return to the show. I’ve caught tidbits here and there by anime bloggers, who seem to agree that it’s getting interesting. At the very least, it seems like the nuns are doing…very un-nunlike things.

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  4. Open dialogue– I think you hit it on the head there. I once had the wonderful opportunity to visit a Catholic Fellowship, and the sharing experience was amazing. A previous commenter also brought up the idea that this type of open dialogue should be enforced by law, or in school in the education system. This may be the right way to go, although ironically, Catholic high schools and Christian universities already have courses on religion, albeit Christianity focused although they do include some information about other religion. My only concern would be, of course, how one can make both side comfortable and safe enough to truly discuss their faith.

    For future thoughts — If you don’t mind, I would like to add Simoun to the list of religious animes. I will have to leave it to the experts to explain why, but it is safe enough to state that God, faith, and the role of priestess/worshipers or God is central to the story, beside the other themes such as class structure, war, peace, and sacrifice.

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    1. Adding on to your point about discussion about religion in school – not only would there be concern about creating a “safe environment,” I would be worried that debate would rule the day. Debate is appropriate for some classes about religion, but not for one that’s really about sharing and learning, and too often even discourses about religion that start civilly devolve into something else.

      You know, I’d forgotten about Simoun. I had wanted to watch it at one time, but I admit, I stay away from both yuri and yaoi manga and anime. I should probably watch it sometime, particularly if it contains so many significant themes. Thanks for mentioning it.

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      1. I second the motion for you to watch Simoun. It’s beautiful.

        Regarding the survey, do you still an online copy of the questionnaire? I wanted to read it but it seems it’s not viewable anymore.

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      2. As for Simoun, I would recommend that you overlook the Yuri aspect and think of them as genderless persons.

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    2. Thinking more about it, I’m not sure what certain religion influences Simoun. But still I feel for the internal conflict of Nevril et al regarding their wish to offer prayers instead of fighting battles.

      While we’re on the subject of future thoughts of religious symbolism in anime, I’d like to add some more to the mix.

      Witch Hunter Robin – It’s quite a shallow connection, but it does touch on the historical burning of witches.

      Scrapped Princess – It’s more of a fantasy anime with sci-fi elements though.

      Kamichu! – This one I haven’t even finished because it’s a little boring. But the main character is supposed to be a god.

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      1. Thanks for the suggestions! I’m actually watching Witch Hunter Robin right now and am enjoying it. It’s very X-Files-y. But I’m waiting to see if the religious content comes more to the foreground.

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      2. True. For me, Simoun was a religious anime because I focused on the religious element in it. I looked for the struggle between God’s work and man’s toil for man’s ambition, and I found it here. I label Simoun as a religious anime because after watching a selected few episodes, I felt that this anime is about Christianity!

        Then of course, Mamina. Some would argue she would be a Christ-analogue.

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        1. *continues to be intrigued*

          I think that it adds excitement to a series when we watch them while thinking of how the themes and other elements in a series relate and compare to some other topic. I’m watching almost everything in a Christian lens these days, and that additional layer makes some of these series (the ones that have deep and strong elements to them which match Christian ideas) even more interesting.

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          1. I am glad I am not the only one to do so! If you are interested in some more spiritual anime, I would recommend Someday’s Dreamers: Summer Skies. All I can say is that the last three episodes blew my mind. It is beautiful, in a spiritual sense (although not in a religious sense). The anime shows instead of tells, and without speaking, the audience understand the emotions of the character. Of course, the issue of [spoiler]Grieve, legacy after death, and coping with loss[/spoiler] are fascinating topics.

            Another thing about Simoun — Rarely in anime do I ever see God represented like He was in Simoun. In anime, we usually find God either shown explicitly in anime (and probably as an evil character/overlord) or God that people worships but probably does not exist. In Simoun, though, God is not shown in person. At the same time, through the miracles and the stories, one can feel God being there. There is no doubt God exists, but it is shown in a realistic manner.

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            1. I’m glad you’ve mentioned all these things about Simoun – it is now the very next anime on my “to watch” list. 🙂

              Thanks for the other recommendation, also. I’ll definitely look into it.

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        2. In Simoun the religious positions portrayed are, I think, quite far from any specific real-world analogues. (Contrast that with the two kinds of religious belief in Flag.) And the show carefully avoids ever indicating whether or not the characters’ beliefs are wrong, though it does suggest they’re not entirely correct. It also avoids filling in much detail about actual dogma, scripture &c — we see how people worship, but not a lot more.

          Consquently I’ve seen quite varied reactions, from Will’s here, all the way to one reviewer who felt the story was an attack (in his view, a justified one) on religion’s impractical and violent nature.

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          1. Wow. Seems like there’s just really a lot to the spirituality and religion in this series. It certainly sounds like it makes wonderful fodder for discussion. Thanks for the insights!

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  5. You can include Big O.

    Whiel the shows execution, I feel, was mismanaged, and it was rished, the Themes of Identiy, Memory, and what makes us who we are tied pretty obviosuly to the nature of Relgiion. ( And I personally dnt’ bu y the idea htat a god is needed for arelgiion. Dawkins is just as Religious.)

    Plus, the whole “Cast In The Name Of God, Ye Not Guilty” boot up for the Bigs was explicit in telling their pur[pose…

    Roger Smith prays over the dead,a dn Dorothy speaks of the Soul.

    Just saying.

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    1. Thanks for mentioning that series. I’ve always wanted to return to it – I’ve seen chunks here and there (though none of the second season) and I really enjoyed it. I’ve never watched with the thought of spiritual themes in mind, however.

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  6. So a big Robor thst boots up to “CAST IN THE NAME OF GOD, YE NOT GUILTY” never inspired some questioning?

    Sorry, coudln’t resist the obvious joke.

    I do think that Anime is more open and honest with the Themes of religion than Western media has become. But then again I also think Anime in general is mroe willign to do real Science Fiction, which in America or even Europe has declined, art least on Screen, a lot.

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    1. You could be right. At the very least, anime is more open to using religious motifs openly in its work, though usually there’s little deeper INTENDED meaning, with symbols, terminology, and other items being used as just another story device.

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  7. meh i think i would just like to see a little more christianity in it, but then again i could just be watching in the wrong department, like angle beats or clannad, clannad after story or sword art online, and yet those are some of my favorites, usually i think the purpose for the characters feeling that way is to add intensity which it does but it would be nice to see some characters who had faith in god and weren’t so pessimist about things

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    1. Actually, the series you mention are among those, I think, that show the most Christian thought. Of course, that’s all in personal analysis and almost never intentional. You’re right in that there are very characters who have faith in God, as we know it as Christians. This probably isn’t surprising, considering how few Christians there are in Japan, when we see something not too dissimilar in America, a “Christian nation.”

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