“Shikigami! Summon!” Spiritual Gifts Personified in Onmyou Taisenki

If you’re like me, sometimes you watch an anime that doesn’t seem all that great, but for some reason captures your imagination anyway. Perhaps you realize why only later. For me, Onmyou Taisenki (“The Great Battle of Yin and Yang”) was such a show.

The premise of the anime is nothing that hadn’t been explored before in shows such as Digimon. Humans called 闘神士 toujinshi form contracts with animal-like guardian spirits known as 式神 shikigami. The toujinshi uses a colorful gun-like “drive” to cooperate with the shikigami, in order to fight either demons or other toujinshi-shikigami pairs. Further, the shikigami (and, by extension, their toujinshi) belong to either the 天流 tenryuu (“Heaven Style”) or the 地流 chiryuu (“Earth Style”), with other affinities toward certain seasons and elements. In this manner a great dualistic battle plays out, with strong Taoist overtones.

Multiple koujin or “summon” sequences for the price of one:  the toujinshi Tachibana Riku calls out Byakko-no Kogenta, with other characters’ shikigami also appearing

As a Christian, I believe we are not in an endless struggle between equal but opposite dualistic powers, but in a great cosmic war that will come to an end someday. One side in the war follows the creator of all things, himself uncreated, and the other side is aligned with the enemy, who was created to be good, but rebelled and was banished with his followers. We believe that, ever since the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the rebels have already in principle been defeated, but the war isn’t over yet. Living as we do on planet Earth, as C.S. Lewis puts it, we are in enemy-occupied territory.

We Christians are supposed to play a role in this war, but before anything else, we must admit that this is an area where Christians have historically gone terribly wrong, both individually and as groups. Christians have hurt and killed people, and sometimes even thought that they were carrying out God’s will for them in so doing. There is no excuse for this, since the very Bible Christians appeal to as their rule for conduct couldn’t be clearer on the matter. In Ephesians 6:12, the apostle Paul writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Whether we like it or not, war rages around us, and we Christians are involved – but we must never forget that other humans are not the enemy.

God has not left us Christians unarmed in this conflict, however. God gives his people special abilities or “gifts” to use in his service, which have always taken on a variety of forms. In the New Testament, we find at least two commonly-referenced lists of spiritual gifts (Romans 12:6-8 and I Corinthians 12:7-11), though we need not suppose that these lists are anything like exhaustive. And we can go even further. The verse in Ephesians 6 quoted earlier is part of a larger passage exhorting all Christians to “put on the full armor of God.” Again, the figurative language used here can be easily misunderstood, and perhaps even overinterpreted. But the point is clear enough that there are gifts and powers God grants to his people, some intended for use by all, and some for individual use.

Just as the toujinshi of Onmyou Taisenki were granted the privilege of forming contracts with their shikigami, we Christians have been granted all kinds of gifts that God intends us to use for his glory, that do not originate from within ourselves, that we did not earn by being special or strong or good. They are not cartoony or outrageous-looking, in fact they are not visible at all; and they certainly aren’t sentient like Byakko-no Kogenta or Seiryuu-no Kibachiyo. And we by no means wave around colorful “drives” as we call upon these spiritual gifts to “descend.” But just as the toujinshi depend on their shikigami to play their respective roles in the “great battle of Yin and Yang,” so we Christians depend on the gifts God has granted us in order to be effective in service to him.

Does this mean that we Christians are always effective in the use of our respective spiritual gifts? Hardly. Even Onmyou Taisenki would teach us this, when Riku has forgotten about his contract with Kogenta for certain reasons, and yet somehow cannot forget completely. Riku can’t get it out of his head that something is wrong, something is missing, so he sets out to find he knows not what. It is a powerful moment when Riku and Kogenta are reunited, a moment when I believe it is especially clear that Kogenta personifies not the giver of spiritual gifts, but the gift itself, here reclaimed by its recipient after he remembered what he should never have forgotten.

Onmyou TaisenkiRiku.  Kitto kitekurerutte shinjiteta ze. “I believed you’d definitely come back for me, Riku!”

In the end, I think that one lesson we can all take from Onmyou Taisenki is that we have a responsibility to use our gifts and talents well, whatever they may be. As long as we use them to benefit others, and not just ourselves, we cannot go too far wrong. Hopefully, like Riku, we can find the resolve to use our respective gifts in helping others, whatever the cost or risk. The responsibility is great, but the help available to us is greater, if only we will seek it.

This post was written by frequent guest-blogger, R86.


8 thoughts on ““Shikigami! Summon!” Spiritual Gifts Personified in Onmyou Taisenki

  1. Hm. A good reminder about the spiritual battles – it’s so easy to forget that we’re at war with more than just our sinful tendencies (though that’s a bit of a battle by itself!).

    Your post reminded me of Bible Man. It’s kind of boy oriented, so I only watched it once or twice at friends’ houses when I was quite little. I don’t know what wave of kids it started at, but “Bible Man”‘s various costume parts were called things like “sword of truth” – kind of a tangible way to teach kids less tangible ideas, I guess. Adds to the Ephesians 6 visual you referenced.

    This post also reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. Were you referencing something he said there or in another book? Come to think of it, I have a few C.S. Lewis books on my reading list…

    1. The quote I had in mind is in “Mere Christianity,” although certainly C.S. Lewis makes the same kind of argument in other works of his, if not in so many words. “Screwtape Letters” comes to mind immediately, as does “The Problem of Pain.”

      I have never heard of “Bible Man,” but I agree that anything that adds visual aids to this kind of concept can at least in principle be helpful, as long as we don’t push the analogy too far of course. Armor figures very heavily in “Saint Seiya,” which was my “first favorite anime,” and will probably be the topic of my next essay here.

      1. I never watched Bible Man, but I DO know it stars the actor who played Buddy on “Charles in Charge” (I still get called this from time to time, Charles being my name). If I remember correctly, he became a drug addict during the 80s, but came to faith and turned his life around.

        On another note, “Screwtape Letters” has been on my reading list for, oh, about a decade.

        1. “Screwtape Letters” is really good. My copy has an additional bit at the end called “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” which gets a tad political. I think I remember it touching on education, but it’s been over a year. I don’t think I’ll let myself re-read it until I read “Mere Christianity.”

  2. I won’t knock “Screwtape Letters,” but I would also urge not overlooking “The Problem of Pain.” It is as clear and concise an overview as one could hope for, of the Christian response to the age-old (and very fair) question, “If God is both good and all-powerful, then why do people suffer so much?”

    For commentary on education which also sometimes gets political, “The Abolition of Man” is also worth reading. If a bit chilling, especially for educators like me, as Lewis had a better glimpse into what was for him the future of education than he realized, most likely.

    More importantly, I think Murasaki-kun changes shape slightly when I include my MyAnimeList profile URL under “Website.” ;D

  3. Wow this is awsome !! Onmyou Taisenki is one of my favorite anime series. I know at most churches they do frown upon those who watch anime and anime itself. Its good to see some positive insight into not only anime but a really good anime at that from the view point of another christian.

    1. Onmyou Taisenki is one of those anime series that changed my life. I can’t state it more simply or bluntly than that. This post is over two years old, but rereading it and rewatching that YouTube clip made me remember that time in my life. To this day I feel a catch in my throat and a thrill up my spine when Riku cries out, Shikigami! Koujin!

      I haven’t written much for this blog in ages — partly because of some needed concentration on my job, partly for health reasons. TWWK has been exceedingly patient with me all the while. But I appreciate your note as it reminds me that maybe I need to look for more inspiration in the anime I watch. And who knows? Without taking it too far, maybe as Christians we all need to reach out more on a daily basis for the power God grants us to use the gifts he bestows on us. Maybe we need to be more like Riku after all. Who knew that a 12-year-old boy could have so much to teach us, and an animated one at that?

      Shikigami! Koujin!

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