This week, JP (Japesland) and Casey (CutsceneAddict) start a three-part series focused on our podcast’s co-host’s favorite anime. This time around, we chat about Casey’s all-time favorite anime (spoilers: it’s in the header image for the episode). However, while you are likely very familiar with her favorite, you’re likely much less familiar with some of the reasoning behind her pick. Tune in for some unique discussion on religious allusions in secular media and an intriguing discussion on intention!
Be sure to check out some of Casey’s works about the intersection of Death Note and religion, specifically Christianity:
- L’s methods of discipleship and how they reflect Christ’s
- L Lawliet as a Christ figure
- L’s grace towards his particular end embodying Christ’s meekness
- Parallels between Light and Lucifer, as well as how Death Note has him “remember” the Christian God at the end of the series
As always, every episode of The TangleCast will be covering a different topic, from anime reviews, to discussions on spirituality, to listener mail, and everything in between. Please join the conversation by commenting below or submitting a question at our contact page!
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- 12 Days of Christmas Anime, Day 1: Cardcaptor Sakura - 12.14.2018
- 12 Days of Otaku Christmas, Day 12: Merry Christmas from Hatsune Miku - 12.25.2016
- Secret Santa 2016: Tsuritama - 12.24.2016
6 thoughts on “TangleCast 20: Our Favorite Anime – Casey”
Very provocative podcast. I also remember watching Death Note when it just first aired, in 2006. After that, I read the manga and saw the more despairing view of the world at the end, in a flashback *spoiler alert* in which Ryuk tells Light that one who uses the Death Note cannot go to Heaven or Hell, and then Light deduces that there is no Heaven or Hell, only Death! I do understand those parallels made in the podcast, but still at bottom the manga felt to me quite pessimistic, more so than the anime. It is a dog-eat-dog world, less so in the anime!
So glad you brought up the manga! The differing endings was something I wanted to address in this podcast but, alas, “tempus fugit.”
Death Note is absolutely humanistic in its mindset–that ultimately man is his own “god” and that he must strive to survive (rather than “live”) in a world where death is the ultimate, and only, end. The manga closes with Near monolouging to Light about God’s non-existence and how the state of the world more-or-less speaks of an absent or otherwise apathetic Creator. Light dies hopelessly–not so much because there is no afterlife, but because he realizes that, regardless of his ambitions and aspirations, death will put him on the same level as the murderers he killed. Poetic justice? Yes. Spiritual truth? …Try again.
Ultimately, the author of Death Note was quoted to say that the “religious views” presented in his manga were reflective of his own. That makes me wonder, then, why the anime adaptation veered so far from the original work in the latter half, beginning with L’s death. A reflection of the author’s changing perspective? Perhaps. As I read his latest manga work, Platinum End, I’m looking for clues as to his current stance on faith.
But back to the topic at hand. I believe the Death Note anime, while still ending on a tragic note, suggests a sort of hope for salvation (or at least an extension of salvation that is not accepted) in its final moments (read my article on “Light’s Favorite Word” over at Geekdom House if you haven’t already, since I’ll be referencing it a bit here: http://geekdomhouse.com/lights-favourite-word/).
Rather than end Light wide-eyed in death in a pool of his own blood, the anime allows Light to escape. More importantly, it allows Light to reflect. And what does he reflect on? His past. As he runs for his life, we see Light pass an apparition of his much younger self, reading from the foreign textbook shown at the beginning of the anime, specifically a passage about “God.” While the God is not specified as the Christian God, the passage reads similarly to 2 Chronicles 7:14, and with the anime’s multiple, exclusive allusions to Christianity, it isn’t much of a stretch to assume that it is the Christian God being referenced here.
I find it interesting that Light’s mind goes here. Clearly, he sees this as the point where the path split before him and he chose the proverbial broad road to destruction. It’s possible that, in his last moments, his mind goes to God because he regrets (and perhaps bitterly can’t find justification) for his own failures to become said God to the world, but I like to think that perhaps he’s second-guessing himself now that he’s cornered, bleeding, and scared out of his mind.
In the anime, Light dies on a stairwell while the spirit of L hovers over him. Some fans debate whether the apparition is real or a figment of Light’s distraught imagination; if this were taking place in the manga, I would argue it was the latter (since death is stated to be an ultimate end without an afterlife), but as it happens exclusively in the anime (where many other allusions to Christianity and L as a Christ figure are prominent), I believe it is intended to be a literal spirit.
You might notice that the anime leaves out the bit about heaven and hell being non-existent and death being the ultimate end. I think that’s intentional, too, since the anime presents something very different at its conclusion: salvation. This is a bit of a personal perspective–and, honestly, I don’t have much in the way of conclusive evidence to support it–but I believe Light is given a sort of spiritual second chance in his final moments. However, his decision in that moment is left vague, for the viewer’s interpretation.
In the anime, L’s friendship with Light and his desire to see Light “saved” from his murderous ways (L has a way of recruiting criminals and scratching out their crimes; remember Aiber and Wedy?) seems much more apparent and honest (not done in a non-genuine way to get under Light’s skin, as the author claims L does in the manga). L’s death scene is, in fact, completely changed in the anime to better align with the differing ending which the anime presents. Please see my article on L as a Christ figure for specific allusions to Christ’s death (one neat detail I forgot to mention is that the camera pans over a cross-shaped ceiling beam during the scene where L dries Light’s feet). There’s a sense of forgiveness and sacrifice in L’s anime death that makes it seem noble and intentional, if not regretful. I get the sense, watching it, that he regrets the fact that Light will kill him–for Light’s sake entirely. There’s a bitter sorrow in his voice and expressions during the scenes leading up to his final moments.
But all this leads to the final scene in Death Note and L standing over Light. Maybe it’s just a bit of poetic justice–a sort of “good triumphs in the end” reminder and homage to L, who many fans stopped watching the series halfway for. But I have to wonder if L doesn’t show up for a different reason. At this point, you have to remember, Light has had a rude ethical, moral, and, I would argue, spiritual awakening. He’s looked back over his life and specifically remembered the teachings in the book he read about the power of God. I wonder if L doesn’t show up as a symbol of Light’s potential redemption at the last moment. We never know for sure. Light’s dying expression is utterly tragic. It’s not angry or afraid, but utterly pained with sorrow. It’s a look of regret.
Certainly, there’s still the unpleasant reality of the Shinigami, and an amount of hopelessness comes along with the knowledge that more Death Notes may find their way into the world as long as humanity (and Shinigami) exist. And we know Shinigami to be naturally immortal (or at least possessing a lifespan that would rival Methuselah’s), so the conflict seems to have no end in sight.
Ultimately though, I like to see Death Note’s final scene as a sort of odd redemption sequence–one left vague enough to either terrify or inspire its viewers. Like I said, there’s no real proof for this particular theory, other than the obvious fact that the anime changes several crucial scenes by adding conspicuous Christian symbolism (which drastically alters L and Light’s relationship throughout the story). I like to think, perhaps, since the anime was released after the manga completed its run, that the author altered his perspective on spirituality as well. Perhaps he considered the possibility of hope. And perhaps that change in beliefs gave us the oddly-altered version of the Death Note story we all know and love in anime form.
(Now, if we throw in the Re:Light films, my whole redemption theory gets a bit wacky, but as I understand those scenes aren’t considered anime-canon and are more of an AU variant, just to make things interesting.)
I certainly found the anime more hopeful, indeed. Light wasn’t trying to desperately cling to life, like in the manga where he begged Ryuk to not kill him. And Light was slightly more sympathetic.
The last family event I did before going to college was watching Death Note with my father and one of my sisters. I made them watch it because of all the Christian themes, and I thought it would be a good anime for them as newbie anime watchers. There was a lot of pausing of the show with me explaining things, and a lot of jumping and moaning around after the show because of how awesome all the connections to the bible were. I just had a class today where we talked about Christian themes being in stories that aren’t exactly labeled as “Christian”. This anime is truly a work of art because of how skillfully it uses Christian symbolism to enhance the story. It inspires me as a writer who one day wants to make television, and as a Christian, to be more aware of God who is hiding all around us, even in our anime!
Now that’s how you head out to collage with a bang! It’s a dream of mine to share anime with the family. My sister and I watch together, but the parents have yet to be formally introduced outside of one or two Studio Ghibli films. I’m sure it would be a bit of a culture shock for them, so we’re trying to slowly introduce them via cosplay, figurines, concerts, music, sub-culture, and so on, haha. If I ever get around to watching a full-length series with them, I’d probably start with Death Note. I cosplay L, so my parents are already pretty familiar with the characters, story, and basic Christian imagery. At any rate, I think it’s fantastic that you watch anime with your family and then use the stories as discussions into bigger things, such as spirituality. Certainly, there’s a lot to pick apart there.
I think that Christians could learn a lot about powerful storytelling by observing anime. As you’ve said, many stories incorporate Christian themes without being overtly “Christian,” yet manage to (in my opinion) leave a bigger impact than a Christian counterpart might. I have been more moved, more challenged, and more empowered to embrace and dive into my faith by anime like Trigun, Death Note, and Naruto than I ever have been by, say, God’s Not Dead. Tolkein was a master of this. He knew how to tell a Christian story without ever mentioning God once, yet you can see and feel “God” on every page of his work (there’s a reason his work is so timeless). Like the book of Esther, many stories leave God out, literally speaking, yet you can see His influence and power throughout the narrative based on the themes (and you don’t even need to squint and turn your head sideways in order to pick up on them).
All that to say, I think sometimes Christians hesitate to tell a strong, challenging narrative because they’re afraid to accidentally “do something wrong,” misrepresent something sacred, or otherwise incorporate something “sinful” into their story. Anime is a very no-holds-barred medium where anything goes. That CAN lead to a very immoral place, but, just as often, I find that anime’s daring attitude to approach taboo topics and dig into what makes man, the world, and religion as ugly as it is beautiful leads to a powerful narrative that’s oftentimes life-and-perspective-changing.
What I’m saying is, I think we do need “Christian” stories that are explicitly labeled as such. But, ultimately, I think Christians would tell stronger, I daresay, more godly stories if they stopped trying so hard to preach with them and/or paint the world in such simplistic terms. Because, if the Bible itself is any example, the real world is anything but simplistic or godly, yet God is able to display His power even in the greatest of darknesses and weaknesses.
When we are focused on God, it comes out in everything that we do–even our storytelling–whether we mean to tell a Christian story or not. And those are the stories more likely to be listened to by those who don’t yet know God. Anime with prevalent Christian themes or references, such as Death Note, Trigun, Fate/Zero, Habane Renmei, and even Evangelion, can be great crossover points to begin a discussion on faith. The stories we tell have that same potential to open the door to conversation, and potentially introduce others to Someone Who will change their lives forever. Stories have a way of conveying Christ to those who might never step foot in a church otherwise, and I think Christians would be wise to note their importance.
Pursue your dream. I think it’s incredible that you want to write stories for TV production, and I have no doubt that you’ll get there with hard work and an open ear to God’s direction. I look forward to seeing your first successful production. Consider me an original fan of your work. 🙂
Thank you for listening!
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