(Real) 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.

Several days ago I wrote a piece that I titled “(Superficial) Christianity in Anime“, but I realized after reading over it again that I seemed to come off with a rather negative view of Christian themes in anime. Now while I do believe the majority of depictions of Christianity in anime to be overall inaccurate, and even offensive (although when taken as a work of fiction and/or fantasy, I believe it to be less so), I felt that it was worth pointing of the positives that can be found in the medium. Now the title I’ve given to this post may prove to be somewhat misleading, as depictions of “Christianity” as it is often defined are not my focus, but rather depictions of spirituality (and even theology in a broader sense).

I would like to begin with some of the more obvious and move into the more subtle as we move along this (brief) post.

Rakka and RekiIf you read the aforementioned piece, then you are probably familiar with my positive take on the anime series, Haibane Renmei. Haibane Renmei is an amazing example of an anime that contains a number of Christian themes throughout it if one takes the time to analyze it. Disregarding the cherubic appearance of the haibane and instead focusing on the content of the story and dialogue, not only is a Christian faced with dealing with modern issues in Christian culture (something I find to be of less overall significance, but they are present nonetheless) such as the accepting church, but also the core doctrine of Christianity itself. “The circle of sin”, as The Communicator would say. The Haibane are trapped in their sinful states because they have done something wrong. When they accept this wrong (read: “sin”), they are inherently sinful, but when they declare themselves sinless, they are doing nothing but perpetuating the circle by sinning further. The only escape for this is to be forgiven by an external force.


For Rakka, this external force was represented by the crow at the bottom of the well (seemingly the one she wronged in her past life who chased after her into death with the intention of forgiveness), and for Reki, this person was Rakka (who saved her from her own will, as represented by the “train” that likely killed her in her past life).


Although this representation comes in the form of being forgiven by a fellow human, the analogy can still be made to the sinful human condition as per Judeo-Christian doctrine and the forgiveness of God through the sacrifice of Christ as per Christian doctrine.

I have yet to find an anime that spells out the Christian message as intricately as Haibane Renmei, but I continue to find bits and pieces of it through much of what I watch. One instance of this is the anime series, Spice and Wolf. This series gets a lot of flack from Christians (or the “religious”) for its negative portrayal of the Catholic church, but I honestly cannot sympathize with this view. For starters, despite the fact that I believe the Catholic church had a basis in biblical theology (I admire the Catholic church in many theological aspects over the Protestant church, though I am a Protestant) in medieval Europe (the setting of Spice and Wolf), and that the Church did an enormous amount of good in the way of helping the poor and contributing to the arts and sciences, the Catholic Church was also corrupt in many, many ways. One thing I greatly appreciate about Spice and Wolf is how it does show the corruption of the Church, but does not tie it to the existence of God. Through the series, the conversation of the existence of some sort of god comes up between Horo and Kraft, but it is not connected with their belief in the present Catholicism. I love how they depict this, as something that quite a lot of anime gets wrong (I believe) is that religious practice is tied one-to-one with the beliefs it represents. It would be like saying that if the concept of Buddhist meditation is wrong, then there is no such thing as reincarnation (the first does not cause the existence of the second).

Although not anime, another instance of otaku culture in which a similar view comes up is in the visual novel, Narcissu: Side 2nd. In this story, several characters are represented as following the Catholic faith in different capacities. One character grew up following the Catholic customs and perhaps believing the essence of what they represented, but eventually grew apart from her belief in God and (mostly) abandoned that in which she grew. Another character, on the other hand, is shown to continue in her practice of the faith, but her actual understanding of what her practice represented spiritually was never fully disclosed. Now in Narcissu: Side 2nd, the writer placed a note saying that he did not believe in Christianity nor God, but felt that such beliefs were an important aspect of healthy human living. With this view point in mind, I appreciated the way he wrote the story to question, but not belittle, the Christian religion while still maintaining the possibility of spirituality.

I could go on and on with these instances of Christian-comparable spiritual faith, and the same could be done with any religious belief, but the point that I would like to get across here is that, despite the numerous negative depictions of Christianity in the anime realm, there is a great deal of good to be had from the biblical lens (if you can be bothered to look).

17 thoughts on “(Real) Christianity in Anime

  1. I’m curious on what standard you base your ideas of (real) Christianity? Is it the bible to which anime often emulates the horrific things god does from that as well? Is it your particular church to which anyone of a different sub-demographics might claim is not (real) Christianity? Is it your own subjective relationship with god to which you could make up anything you please, or is it that you connect anything ‘you’ think of as positive as the standard of what you deem (real) Christianity?

    I hope this doesn’t sound presumptuous, I really am curious of which one it is, and if it’s not any of the above, please, do tell.

    1. I’m not entirely sure I understand the question, but I’ll do my best.

      Of course, as with any human being, I have a flawed and biased view of the world. I’m going to believe some things to be correct that might not be correct and vice versa. I have even said in the past that I could entirely be wrong (though I still, in this biased light, believe that my Christian faith is correct based on as much unbiased evidence as I am able to find). So with that said, as with absolutely any writer you find anywhere, realize that you must take their perspective with a grain of salt.

      If that’s not what you’re asking, and you meant more of where I was coming from as far as identifying “real” Christianity as opposed to “superficial” Christianity, that is rather simple. In my previous article, I highlighted Christianity as it is used in anime as a mythological base. In this article, I highlighted Christian (or biblical) themes that are applicable to real Christian living that are found in anime. I’m not trying to say what is “correct” in Christianity, because that is a difficult question to answer and one not suited for this article’s purpose. I am simply trying to differentiate between Christianity viewed as a tradition and Christianity viewed as a livable faith.

      Does that answer any of what you were asking? If not, I’d be happy to talk more!

      1. Um before I try to clarify my question I should warn you that the link to the other article is down, so I can’t read it. I was asking what is the base/source/place you got these ideas from for what you think is (real) Christianity? (more clarification needed?)

        I gave a few examples being scripture (+the horrible acts of god in it), people from your church (which other subgroups would claim isn’t (real) Christianity), personal experience (which is by definition subjective) or just associating it with another term (the one I used being everything positive as it seems they’re the examples you used)? Or do you pick-and-mix?

        I then ended by asking you had another way of receiving this information which doesn’t have any of those (bracketed) downsides.

          1. I apologize, I’m still a bit confused by the question (what exactly did you mean by “(bracketed) downsides”?), but I’ll answer to the best of my ability.

            Again, this is in contrast to the previous article (the link is now fixed, I’m not sure why it was broken in the first place), which I explained in my previous comment.

            I guess, if I understand what you’re asking, this particular article is based primarily in Scripture, though I’m not exactly sure what you are referring to as “horrible acts of god” (I know what biblical passages you would reference, but I’m not sure how they relate to the article). I can explain my basis for each of the three examples if you wish.

            Haibane Renmei: New Testament principles that explain the depravity of man as well as the need for an external savior via grace.

            Spice & Wolf: Conversations that treat faith separate from religious tradition. Namely, that God does or does not exist apart from man’s religious practices. Characters in the series acknowledge or deny God, but it is made clear that His existence is not dependent upon a politically corrupt religious entity.

            Narcissu Side 2nd: The story explores characters that are deciding for themselves what they believe, which is a process all strong Christians must go through at some point.

            I must point out that NONE of these shows are written by Christian writers or with Christian intent, and Christian faith is never really overtly displayed, but the seeds of reality are planted in each. What makes these examples so much more “Christian” in stark contrast to the examples in my previous articles is that, even if they deny God entirely, they do so thoughtfully and not simply as some sort of mythos.

            Again, I’m happy to talk more if you have any more questions!

            1. I’m happy to talk more, but I think it may be relevant to discuss the intent of this article and its sister article, (Superficial) Christianity in Anime. These articles simply contrast the use of Christian mythos for fiction and actual exploration of Christian concepts, the intent is not to compare what makes Christianity “real” to one person but “superficial” to another.

              Hope that helps.

        1. I think I should jump in here and reemphasize a point that Japes has already made, and that by “real Christianity” he is pointing to the idea of living out one’s faith, rather than simply practicing religion. While some branches/denominations/sects would emphasize this idea more than others, I don’t think anyone can deny that this is a central part of the Christian faith – one that Christ himself highlights a number of times.

  2. *Sigh* Okay one more try. You’re saying only using Christian names, symbols or certain aesthetic aspects of the church to be (superficial) examples of Christianity in anime, right? But that the practices or themes such as sin and faith are (real) examples of Christianity in anime, right? (I hope that’s what you meant anyway.)

    My question was, assuming your believes came from somewhere, where did your beliefs which distinguish these aspects of Christianity shown in anime come from? Are these things you’ve written just what you’ve come up with by yourself or is there a basis from which you gained them, giving you justification in making these distinctions?

    If this question still eludes you, never mind. One more thing though, I listened to your podcast on Ashita no Anime. You said on it that you thought you had some evidence for your belief, could you tell me it?

    1. This conversation is past the purpose of this article, which Charles summarized as “to the idea of living out one’s faith, rather than simply practicing religion” in a previous comment, but I will answer your comment to the best of my ability in a brief space considering that this is both via comment and on an article that is not entirely related.

      Yes, essentially my intended distinction between superficial and real Christianity in anime was between using aesthetics as opposed to using practical themes.

      My Christian beliefs come from a mixture of the Bible, other ancient philosophers and texts, modern lectures and written material, my own evaluation of all these things, and then, obviously, my personal bias (something that every human being has that makes him or her incorrect to some capacity). I feel justified in making this distinction because I am not attempting to differentiate doctrine at all, I am only differentiating using pieces of religion for the sake of aesthetics and not practical beliefs. These same articles could have been written about any world religion differentiating a mythos inspired by a religion from what is actually taught in the religion itself.

      As far as the podcast goes, it’s been a while and my beliefs have been further honed (as they always are and always should be) since then, so I frankly don’t even remember what I said. As far as “evidence” goes, that goes far beyond what can be said in a simple comment on an unrelated article. To give a few brief examples that can be researched, if you feel like doing so, Dr. Gary Habermas gives a compelling case for the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ, and ancient philosophers and contemporary philosophers have much material out there that discuss theism or deism (Descartes has quite a lot of interesting material).

      It seems to me that you are somewhat bothered by my beliefs, and if that is the case then I apologize. If it helps to clarify at all, as a Christian I believe that the vast majority of scientific discoveries and advances are not mutually exclusive with Christianity (I make no attempt to refute theories like evolution as I do not see it as incompatible with Christianity). If you would like to talk more I would be happy to, but please contact me via one of the methods listed on the “About” page so as to keep this thread from going any further off track from the purpose of the article.

      In any case, thanks for your involvement and thanks for reading!

    2. I’ll just chime in to give an analogy because it seems you are missing the entire point of the article(s). It’s not a matter of what is accurate or not, it is more a question of the result of the addition of said material. Take sci-fi in anime, for example. Sometimes anime will add “superficial” sci-fi just because it adds some flare. Guy meets random time-travelling/not-human girl? Still a generic harem. In contrast, “real” sci-fi like Gunbuster, Yukikaze, Yamato, etc. use it in such a way that it actually is a major plot element and gets explored at a much deeper level (i.e. not superficial). The only point of the article is this, not a matter of whether the science (or religion) is correct or not.

      1. Honestly, I don’t think is a blogger problem. The article is very clear, especially in conjunction with it’s companion piece, which it is obviously connected to. There are always some readers who won’t understand a piece, get caught up in certain elements without focusing on the more significant pieces, or simply just read what they want to read.

  3. I am sooo tempted to spend a couple of hours writing a comment about Narcissu: Side 2nd, but I just don’t have the time. I will only say that of the three examples discussed here, I thought Narcissu dug the deepest into the nature of faith, and how hard it is to hold onto, particularly when enduring what Himeko had to go through, and in a culture that approaches terminal illness in a way Christians might find shocking (I know I did). I realize Mr. Kataoka was just trying to tell a good story, but I think he, perhaps unintentionally, may have told a brilliant one that would leave any Christian edified.

    1. Absolutely! Narcissu: Side 2nd is probably one of the most spiritually gratifying experiences I have ever had with a visual novel, and perhaps any entertainment medium. It takes many Christians time to realize this, but often works written by a viewpoint that disagrees with your own can even be more edifying than one written by someone in agreement!

      Thanks for reading! If it interests you, a couple of us on the team are hoping to expand Beneath the Tangles to include some limited form of Visual Novel coverage.

      1. Sure! I’d love to see more articles about visual novels, a medium I’m rarely exposed to but have come to appreciate.

  4. Before naming a thing, you should have considered the consequences. Tagging Haibane Renmei as a Christian anime does not serve any good purpose, exept raising a lot of questions. Isn’t it too much a price for your wishfull thinking? The earlier comments show that you have no expertise in any Christian branch or sect to realy know what you’re talking about – excuse me for being blunt, but you headlined this as REAL Christianity in anime. And what do you know about “real” Christianity? Some new-age superficial kind of take on this quite complex subject historicaly-real Christianity had become over the ages. There is at least two things to consider on reality of this subject: one is the knowledge of how Christianity had changed in it’s beliefs and practice, what is actualy attributed to Christianity, so you can judge is it “real” in this regard; and secondly, but more important – what exactly IS Christianity, as opposed to what the Church teaches, because the Church was not introduced by Christ, despite of what they say about Paul being it’s “foundation stone” – Paul had never met Christ, but he had encountered *something* or “someone” else on his trip to Damaskus, which had commanded Paul to establish a Church in the name of Christ – here is where the real Christians would question the methods of that “someone” – who appeared to Paul very violently, with much special-effects, hurting and blinding him, and keeping him blinded and frightened, untill he aggreed to be in compliance with that force. Satan could act that way, but Christ had never done such things to anyone, be it his friends or enemies. So you can see why the question on what is real in Christianity is so subjective, when any sect could claim it’s version is real and true believers would say that churches are entirely false, etc. and adding anime to this tangle doesn’t help.

    I persoanaly am sure that there is not a shred of Christianity in HR, whatever Christianity you take. HR is 100% confessionless (as “religious confessions”) take on religion. The sort of religion practiced in HR is hinted by Renmei having a Communicator and his actions towards haibane and haibane lives in general – he is acting as a Truth-sayer (show me a priest or politician that tells you the truth), only guiding habane when they can’t help themselves, but what he says is not always what you think he had ment, like with Rakka and the bird – that Rakka had broken of her circle of sin, it’s not because a bird had freed her (i.e. without the bird she couldn’t get free) but the bird had gave her a piece of information, so to say, she was lacking, and that helped her to change her beliefs. That she had done it deep in the well and not in her dream, it’s only because of HER, and if the bird was required for Rakka’s “salvation”, she would have been “saved” in her dream, as it’s there she contacted the bird directly. Think on that. Similary, Reki only escaped because she had made a decision to be saved by Rakka. It could have been Nemu or Hikari, or whatever, or Reki herself, but she had decided(!) she would be saved by Rakka, when she tended her coccoon.

    If you watch HR without bias, it’s not Christian, Muslim, Jewish or whatever, but it’s a story about something those confessions try and fail to capture. And that’s why I am very dissapointed when I see another “it’s Christian!” superficion. That cheapens HR for those viewers, they will just miss on it’s value, which is a rare gem of going out of bounds while staying very relatable.

    1. Wow, thanks for your insightful comment! It’s not often that we receive something as lengthy and filled with historical and theological references as this!

      After reading what you’ve written a few times over, I can’t help but think that you are composing your conclusions based on at least as many assumptions and presuppositions as I am. There are a few details from your comment that I’d like to clear up about Church history:

      1) “Real” Christianity is based on Christ, not tradition. In the defense of the more liturgical Churches, however, tradition can lead us to Christ (see: JoshW’s recent Zelda post), but that is besides the point here.
      2) Paul was not the “foundation stone,” of the Church, as that was Peter. However, Paul was critical to transitioning Christianity from disjointed groups of believers, primarily Jews, with little to tie them together, into a proper and larger community extending to non-Jews.
      3) I think you’ve misrepresented Paul’s conversion experience, and I’d encourage you to check out Thomas Cahill’s Desire of the Seven Hills, who does not write from an evangelistic perspective.
      4) I disagree with your conclusion regarding the bird and the circle of sin, but I don’t think there’s any use arguing about it here.

      The sentiment I will agree with is this: “If you watch HR without bias, it’s not Christian, Muslim, Jewish or whatever.” Yoshitoshi ABe, the original author, capital B intentional, has been quoted saying that it was written to be an ambiguously “religious” story. The caveat here is that despite its intended ambiguity, unlike many other works written for the same purpose, it does, indeed, picture the fundamentals that differentiate faith in Christ from the tenets that dominate other religious thought. If you are not thinking along those lines, you may never see it, but it’s one of those “can’t unsee” moments once you do, and I think that crosses all religious boundaries.

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