This is the tenth in a series of Aniblogger Testimony posts, where select writers will discuss their personal faith. Today’s post is by Mike Huang of Anime Diet. The previous posts in this series were written by Lauren Orisini, R86, Nikko, Arianna, Ed Sizemore, Canne, an anonymous blogger, Annalyn, and Zeroe4.
Hi, my name is Mike Huang, and I’m a Christian. A seminary graduate, in fact. I love writing, reading, theology, long walks on the beach, and anime. That little hobby at the end somehow led to starting a little site with Ray that got a little out of control, and we’ve been here for four years now and have more than a little number of visitors. I’m not currently in ministry but I hope to be one day. I sometimes wonder what those church or hospital chaplaincy search committees would think if they ever find my byline everywhere on Anime Diet. And hear my voice on those old podcasts and convention videos, the one that might have started preaching to them from the Word of God talking about guys marrying 2D characters and how much I enjoyed, against my better judgment, a little STABBITY STABBITY STAB from School Days.
But I am not ashamed, of the Gospel or of my hobby. I love God, and I love my work. The way things have turned out, I think I can say, with the full theological authority conferred upon me as a holder of a “Master of Divinity” degree: God sure has a sense of humor.
Many people probably wonder how I can hold these two things, Christian faith and anime, together with any integrity. And I have to admit: it’s not always easy. Then again, nothing is easy when you’re dealing with stories, no matter where they come from or who tells them: my faith teaches that we’re fallen, after all. And stories form the way we look at the world, and the ones we identify with closest become part of our very identities. We have to know whose story is guiding our lives.
How funny, then, that the anime that got me into anime was Neon Genesis Evangelion, a show whose title announces the start of a new gospel in the very language of the New Testament. (And whose director, Hideaki Anno, would go on to found a studio called Khara, “joy” in that very same language, Greek.) Not that the dark tale of Shinji and the Angels was good news, exactly. Rather, it was a reflection and a retelling of what had been going on inside me for a while. We need those kinds of stories too, because those things are part of what being human means in a broken world; that the Christian symbolism was used in a haphazard way seemed less important than the psychological depths that Evangelion plumbed. It was a way of ordering and naming certain experiences and feelings I had. It’s what good, cathartic art is supposed to do.
It was a marked contrast to what often passes (this is the American context here) for “contemporary Christian” anything—art, music, movies. To tell the truth, I’ve never liked any of it. So much of it seemed false, not true, in its cheerful denial of the darker side of life and the feeling of being stuck, outcast, or helpless, where even prayer seems useless. It took a while to discover that those expressions of faith weren’t the only ones around: I discovered Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, Augustine, Luther, St John of the Cross, the great stream of thought and reflection that we call “Christian tradition.” It helped save my faith in a time of doubt and internal turmoil.
Those things were vital. I wouldn’t dare put Evangelion, the anime, in the same category. But I firmly believe that God can speak through anything, anywhere, no matter who tells the story or what it’s about. The early church did not abandon the teaching of Greek philosophy or even the stories of Greek and Roman mythology: in fact, both Christians and Muslims preserved in large part the achievements of a pagan culture that they would, theologically speaking, regard as corrupt and even damned. No, there may not literally be a Poseidon or a Zeus, but that did not mean that the stories did not contain a different kind of truth in them, enough that Dante would make Virgil his guide and put Aristotle and Plato not in Hell, exactly, but in the eternal afternoon of Limbo where they could peacefully discuss and debate to their hearts’ content.
Anime, in that regard, is no different than any other kind of art. And notice I did not even qualify that with “non-Christian,” because even so-called “Christian art” can be false, as I believed a lot of it was in its shallowness and incomplete understanding of life. A Christian must always be discerning in all things. There is much that is not very true in some anime, too—there is definitely something awry in the way a lot of anime treats women, for instance—and I even sometimes wonder whether sites like this one, or even moreso my own attempts at the same, are stretching things just a bit.
And yet: those moments in Honey and Clover where I say, “that’s exactly what that feels like.” Those light-dappled train stations and landscapes in the Makoto Shinkai movies, the pitch and harmony of a swelling soundtrack by Yuki Kajiura when Mami fights a battle in Madoka. The sadness of seeing the demise of a beloved character in Kaiba or the delirious visual jumble in the parade scenes of Paprika. These are all good things, good because they reflect reality and beauty that ultimately do have a Source, good because even St Paul says—without qualifier, hedge, or mumble under the breath “only if it’s ‘Christian’”—
whatever is true,
whatever is noble,
whatever is right,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable—
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
This was how I once closed every episode of my “Art and Soul” column, and it’s how I’ll close this piece. “Beauty will save the world,” the Idiot in Doestoevsky’s novel once said. This idiot believes that Beauty has a name and that even the shards and sparks, including the Japanese animated ones, that come from him are lovely to look at and worthy to behold.
You can read much more from Mike at Anime Diet and hear from him in his Art and Soul audio column. Next week will feature our final installment in this series, unless any other bloggers would like to participate (if so, shoot me an email at beneath.the.tangles AT gmail.com).
7 thoughts on “Aniblogger Testimony: Christian, Anime, Blogger”
Thanks for the opportunity to write this! I look forward to interacting with everyone here.
Hmm. I would agree that there is much that is not very True (in terms of values or realism) when anime veers into the realm of fanservice, but even fanservice is accurate in that it addresses something in the real world: the adolescent fantasies a large number of viewers probably have.
Of course, the ultimate end of anime is not necessarily to help the viewer achieve some sort of enlightenment about lust or other fixations. But perhaps the very oddness of a story that panders can underline it, if a viewer is prepared to think of it that way. And perhaps, as you say, there’s something to a story that reflects the less pure areas of the heart and doesn’t pretend they aren’t there.
I like approaching anime in the way you’re describing. A thoughtful look into the themes and other elements can be helpful in harvesting something worthwhile even from anime that might be pure escapism, or pure junk.
It’s interesting that you point out that even the pandering stories can highlight, perhaps by its shadow, things that might be worth thinking about. I guess I thought the same out of an exploitive soap opera like School Days, which can be read as a cautionary morality play from a certain perspective. Thing is though that a lot of that is what the viewer brings to the table more than what the artists might have intended. You kind have to be predisposed to self-reflection and discernment to get to the point where that becomes something you’d do.
We absolutely need stories that “reflect the less pure areas of the heart and don’t pretend they aren’t there.” The Bible’s full of it, for one. In this way there is an odd consonance between the iyashikei genre and a lot of the cheesier Christian art, though at its best the former achieves a certain kind of contemplative calm which the moralizing sort of Christian pop art has never been able to convey. (Man, I love hatin’ on that…though ask me and I’ll tell you which ones I think are exceptions :))
That was a really good read. I love the part about God’s sense of humor, I can totally relate to that.
Mike’s an amazing writer. I’ve just barely started diving into his stuff, and I’m blown away.
Thanks for your kind words, both of you. 🙂 Glad you enjoy the work.