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.
- 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.
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
- 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?