(Superficial) Christianity in Anime

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).

Art by 茶柱
Art by 茶柱

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.

angel anime halo wings
Artist unknown

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.

15 thoughts on “(Superficial) Christianity in Anime

  1. As a very strong christian woman, I’m often disgusted at how Christianity is either widely misinterpreted in anime, or comes of as horribly hypocritical. The best anime I’ve ever seen to accurately portray Christianity is Trigun.

    1. Yes, it is definitely frustrating. Trigun definitely has some great themes, though, and there are a number of anime out there that do take the time to explore Christianity a bit more properly.

    2. I think disgusted is a pretty harsh term in this context. Keep in mind they are very ignorant about even the basics of Christianity. I also wouldn’t say they are misinterpreting Christianity because they do not even attempt to interpret it. They merely take fairly vague ideas and use that as a basis to write what they wanted to write anyway. Rarely do they use these ideas with the intent of adding “Christian” elements but rather adding “interesting” elements. To them, Christianity is just one of many “cool” Western ideas that they can borrow from to make their work more interesting. While I can understand being insulted from a Christian point of view, in the end, fiction is just a conglomerate of ideas to form a story the author wants to tell, and those ideas are rarely going to be accurate representations of their origins.

    1. Sadly it was far from the worst panel I attended at that particular convention… There was a Persona 4 panel where the panelists literally told us they had not prepared anything so they were doing cartoon (cartoon, not anime) impressions based on requests.

  2. An actual understanding of Christianity in anime only happens once in a blue moon. My mind goes to Tokyo Godfather’s opening as one of the few examples. The most recent misinterpretation I saw was in Red Data Girl where a guy read lines from Genesis like he was performing a spell -_-. Although, I have to think to some Western media’s portrayal of Eastern religions and I can’t say it’s much better.

    1. Absolutely. I really like the opening of Tokyo Godfathers for that exact reason!

      Scripture is often quoted in anime in more of a magical sense than anything. Fate/Zero comes to mind immediately, although there are many others (the Magical Index series frustrates me to death because of that).

      I think you are right, though, and some slack should probably be given considering our poor western portrayals of not only eastern religion, but eastern culture.

    1. Well my repost of the article I wrote after this one months ago will be going up in a month or so, and it may very well answer that question for you 😛

      Granted, I must note that I wrote both of these articles quite a while ago and probably would write them drastically differently now if I were to start from scratch again.

  3. >Scripture is often quoted in anime in more of a magical sense than anything.

    I should distinguish between magical use of Scripture in fiction and magical use of Scripture in real life. There are people who think that Scriptural magic, like every other kind of magic, is powerless, and thus they have no qualms about putting Scriptural magic into fictional stories. And then there are people who believe that Scripture should be used in real-life talismans, charms, etc., and that it is effective, even though science cannot measure it.

    I find it hard to argue against people who believe in magical use of Scripture. I can try to point them to a more ethical, philosophical, or mystical use of Scripture, but I have a hard time justifying my counsel of a less-magical approach on rational grounds.

    Even the various Christian congregations that take the trouble to study Scripture seldom can agree on its interpretation.

    Within any given congregation, it is easy for the local authority to say, “Don’t use Scripture magically because I say so,” but in disputes beyond congregational boundaries, it’s not possible to argue thus.

    I dedicated years to studying Hebrew and Greek, and it mostly convinced me that the so-called authorities know less Greek and Hebrew than I do. I don’t recommend deep scholarly study of dead languages. If I had the choice to do over again, I wouldn’t have done it.

  4. Hunter x Hunter 2011 somewhere in the episode 40s the character Chrollo mentions Judas betraying Jesus for 30 silver

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