Japes, our Anime Today columnist, has written a number of articles about the intersection of Christianity and anime for his other blog, Japesland. He is editing and resposting a number of these entries, including the one below, to Beneath the Tangles.
As an avid otaku, I found myself attending a handful of anime conventions over the duration of the past few years. These conventions provided an interesting experience, to be sure (an experience likely worth blogging about at another time), however one particular convention always stands out. At this one convention, I happened to notice in the itinerary a panel entitled “Christianity in Anime”. Being a Christian and a theological studies enthusiast (as well as, of course, an anime nut), I felt compelled to attend. However, this panel was not quite what I expected.
After listening to what the panelists had to say for nearly thirty minutes, I realized that those gentlemen had no interest in divulging Christian themes found in anime, but merely listing different series that utilized the Christian mythos. I found myself extremely disappointed in what I was hearing, for it was all things that I had heard or noticed before. “Notice the crosses used in Evangelion.” “Notice the nuns in Chrono Crusade.” “Notice how they talk about God in Ah! My Goddess.” Well, obviously! Who isn’t going to notice such obvious allusions to Christianity (although Ah! My Goddess takes much of its inspiration from other European religions in addition to Christianity)? (In their defense, they were not claiming to be doing any more than that, I just had different expectations for the presentation).
This presentation embodies something that frustrates me greatly in the Christian otaku community. Pointing out obvious and extremely superficial elements from religion used in media does absolutely nothing in the greater scheme of the religion itself.
Now, I would be the first to admit that I love the use of religious mythos in storytelling (particularly anime). Be it Greek, Shinto, or Christian mythos, they all provide a solid backbone for a fictional story. I can’t count the number of times I have noticed references, whether outright or subtle, to what has come out of Christianity, ranging from the use of angels, rites, and rituals in A Certain Magical Index to mentioning the saved 144,000 in the final episode of Heaven’s Memo Pad. Just as I find the use of magic in a story to be intriguing, I find these religious allusions to be just so.
However, there is a difference between the use of Christian mythos and the use of Christian themes.
Christian mythos must be written specifically into a story, generally for use in a fantasy setting (again, Chrono Crusade and A Certain Magical Index are examples of this). Christian themes are not necessarily written on purpose, but merely connections to biblical principles. Hearing a reference means nothing spiritually, but making a connection between anime and one’s religion can have a profound impact in way of life or thinking.
Take Haibane Renmei for instance. This is a series that utilizes a bit of the Christian mythos (just look at the cherubic designs of the Haibane, or the creation story discovered in the ancient book found in the library), but those aspects are (arguably) the least of what makes the series applicable to the Christian life. If you spend more time looking at the lifestyle of the Haibane, conversations that take place, Washi’s (The Communicator) explanation of the circle of sin, and the resulting picture of salvation that takes place, so many more connections can be drawn to the essence of the Christian message.
So what exactly is my point here? My point is that there’s no denying that religious mythos (Christian included) provides great material for great pieces of fiction, but that is all they are. No matter what religion you hold to, the more impacting connections that you will make are deeper. Whether you are studying the Bible through Haibane Renmei or even arguing that Madoka presents a superior to savior figure to Jesus Christ, the message of spirituality in anime exists, but it is not skin deep.