Jesus Would Probably Like Nichijou (and Yotsubato… and Azumanga Daioh…)

In the greater world, though I would say particularly within the anime community, Christians often gain a bad rap for being “prudes” (those who are unable to take the occasional sexual joke or two, though this definition often also colloquially extends to profanity and other topics deemed “unsuitable for a Christian audience”). Much of this mindset is born of the Christian idea that media consumed should not only not deter one’s faith, but should bolster it. So what kind of effect does this have on Christian viewing habits?

On the conservative end of the spectrum, there are many Christians who ban large quantities of books, movies, music, and television shows because they deem them of bad or demonic influence. In this same line of thinking, some Christian thinkers have even, historically, banned the reading of non-biblical fiction altogether for clouding the mind. It is from this camp that many hear of the disparagement of Pokemon as encouraging the control of monsters and macro-evolution, or of the banning of Harry Potter for its emphasis on witchcraft.

There goes my hand again...
There goes my hand again…

On the other end of the spectrum, there are many Christians who don’t feel that any moderation is necessary. Blood and gore, gratuitous sexual content, crass humor (*cough* Game of Thrones *cough*), anything goes. Everything either has some redeemable value, as it exists in the world God made and called good.

If you are familiar with my writing, you probably already know my personal answer to this dilemma: the proverbial “different strokes for different folks.” Within the scheme of Christianity, and Vic Mignogna also touched on this concept, each person has a subtly different line at which point consuming certain media begins to negatively affect his or her thoughts and actions (see I Corinthians). Thus, while my parents may have happily read the Harry Potter books as a child, while I may steer clear of the Game of Thrones HBO series, I can’t necessarily say that the habits to which I adhere would work for everyone.

But what does this have to do with Nichijou, Yotsubato, and Azumanga Daioh?

Let’s return, for a moment, to the idea that Christians operate under the idea that their consumption habits must not just be permissible, but strengthening. Obviously, here at Beneath the Tangles, we marry our faith and our hobbies by finding those themes that serve to demonstrate God’s subtle (or overt) presence (or lack thereof) in various otaku media. This is easy with shows that have overt religious themes, be they Christian, Buddhist, Shinto, or otherwise, or shows that attempt their best at communicating philosophy or establishing moral values. But what about simple comedy?

Azumanga Daioh Sakaki Cat

To revisit the spectrum illustration above, Christians often fall into one of these two camps regarding (most, but not all) comedy: “it’s not redeemable and thus should be ignored,” or “deep consideration is irrelevant as it’s just there to make us laugh.” But are either of these statements truly accurate? Sure, many (myself included) find Adult Swim’s comedy programming to be simply too crass to be enjoyable in good conscience. However, the joy that laughter brings surely seems to be something worse pursuing… Isn’t their anything deeper?

As far back as 1964 author Elton Trueblood had this to say:

The widespread failure to recognize and to appreciate the humor of Christ is one of the most amazing aspects of the era named for Him. Anyone who reads the Synpotic Gospels [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] with a relative freedom from presuppositions might be expected to see that Christ laughed, and that He expected others to laugh, but our capacity to miss this aspect of His life is phenomenal. We are so sure that He was always deadly serious that we often twist His words in order to try and make them conform to our preconceived mold. A misguided piety has made us fear that acceptance of His obvious wit and humor would somehow be mildly blasphemous or sacrilegious. Religion, we think, is serious business, and serious business is incompatible with banter.

In The Wisdom of Pixar: An Animated Look at Virtue, Robert Velarde points out numerous verses in which Jesus demonstrates obvious wit:

Blind guides! You strain out a gnat yet swallow a camel! (Matthew 23:24, NET)

Again I say, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:24, NET)

Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? (Luke 6:41, NET)

See, religion, or at least Christianity, is not devoid of comedy. Rather, Jesus demonstrates that comedy and wit can be used to excellent ends! For this reason I am often brought to the anime/manga series, Nichijou, Yotsubato, and Azumanga Daioh.

Okay, perhaps "silly" is a better word than "witty" at times...
Okay, perhaps “silly” is a better word than “witty” at times…

All three of these entries are remarkably clever, which has made them classics in their respective niches (I’m including Nichijou regardless of whether other people consider it a classic because it is amazing). But while some media succeed in making their audiences laugh at the cost of degrading content so as to drastically reduce target demographics (again, some people have a better tolerance for sexual or otherwise adult humor than others), anime and manga like these manage to capture the best of both worlds. Nichijou breaks every convention by turning the ordinary extraordinary, allowing ridiculous scenarios, like the notorious principal vs. deer wrestling scene. Yotsubato follows the antics of a young girl and her life with her single father, demonstrating the joys of watching children grow and interpret the world. Azumanga Daioh set the standard for the oft-imitated schoolgirl slice of life comedy, showing how classmates endure school together and develop deeper bonds.

While each of these tangentially covers deeper topics that you might be more apt to find on blogs like Beneath the Tangles, they all exhibit deep amounts of wit in the writing process (even for the zaniest of the zany in a show like Nichijou!) written for the purposes of making points and surprising the viewer or reader.

Thus, as Game Church believes, if Jesus were in human form today, He would be playing video games with people, but I must assert that I believe he would happily enjoy a good episode of Nichijou.

Of course, then again, Jesus probably had a better sense of humor than I do.

~~~~~

Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1975), p. 15.

Robert Velarde, The Wisdom of Pixar: An Animated Look at Virtue (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2010), p. 66.

6 thoughts on “Jesus Would Probably Like Nichijou (and Yotsubato… and Azumanga Daioh…)

  1. Thank you Japes for this completely awesome post on the fact that God actually has a sense of humor! 😀 I had this epic post on this on my phone earlier this morning, but I wasn’t able to save it at all.

    The short version goes…The fact that we picture God being this humorless angry patriarch or ultra-serious Jesus does a disservice both to us and especially to Him. We were created in the image of God, and yet we believe that same God isn’t funny? Heck, the examples above were bitingly sarcastic!

    If I ever turned to Christianity, I’d believe in the Heaven or reformed Earth filled with love and laughter. People act like you’re somehow being sacreligious if you treat God as your friend and make jokes with Him, but without humor you can’t really form a relationship with another person. Or at least I can’t. I don’t think the absence of jokes necessarily means greater respect or fealty towards someone. In fact I think it means less trust that the person will know your intent isn’t to denigrate or offend them. I only really laugh with people that I’d trust with my life.

    Worse is that the Devil is assumed to be quite funny, despite his inability to tolerate anyone poking fun at him. Pompous ass. -___-; In essence, God’s perceived humorlessness is one of the things that actively turns people away from him, along with a perceived intolerance of anything people don’t consider “holy.” I can’t imagine that cold rigid God would create a people like us. I imagine someone very different. Someone warmer— So warm the thing is itself frightening to the wicked.

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    1. Thanks for your insightful comment, as usual, Luminas!

      Christianity has flipped back and forth through history between over-emphasizing certain elements of Jesus (and God, by extension): sometimes more human, sometimes more divine. The danger of treating God as a “friend,” then, is to ignore that fact that He is God.

      Now with my Devil’s advocate (and I do mean Devil’s advocate; I’m not disagreeing with you!) over, I totally agree that people over “rigidize” Christianity (or Christ, at the very least!) by ignoring His very nature and simply applying their own presuppositions to texts from thousands of years ago! Like you, I have a hard time believing that the God responsible for all of creation would be devoid of a sense of humor!

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  2. Something else that I really love about Yotsubato is it’s the perfect manga series to practice reading in Japanese since Yotsuba, as a child, doesn’t use a lot of complex language and there’s full furigana. Also the slice-of-life setting means there isn’t a lot of the specialized vocabulary that tends to show up in fantasy and sci-fi manga especially. I bought almost the entire series in Japanese at the Kinokuniya bookstore in Seattle

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    1. Absolutely! I just finished reading it the other day for that very reason!

      It is also so incredibly steeped in Japanese culture, that reading it in English causes the reader to lose about half of the nuance of every joke (sometimes more!). It’s so good!

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  3. God obviously has a sense of humor. I mean, seriously – you’ve seen a picture of a platypus before. Hilarious 😛

    No, but in all seriousness, we sometimes take the Bible and the Lord with such stiffness that we miss the need for some levity in life. Solomon reminds us of that in Proverbs 17:22 when he said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Well said, Japes.

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    1. Say what people may about The Message translation, but the thing I most appreciate about it is it forces the reader to approach the Bible without all of the preconceived notions about its formality.

      Thanks, Matt!

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