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.
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?
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.
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.
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.