Untangled: Beloved Anime with Problematic Scenes

In our Untangled column, we answer questions (edited for clarity) from the readers. Feel free to email us a question or ask us one through any our social media platforms. Today’s question comes from Connor:

When a pretty safe series has one or two aspects you don’t approve of, how do you react? Ex. I was really enjoying One Piece as some of the staff seem to, too, but a scene involving a satanic cult turned me off pretty hard, and it made me think, is one scene of an otherwise tame series enough to be objectionable to God? Have any of you felt something like this before?

Oh yes, for sure! I think the harder part is to discern whether such feelings are man-made, perhaps an overzealousness, or if it’s the Holy Spirit speaking to us. During college, for instance, I had a bad guilt trip over how “God” was represented in Neon Genesis Evangelion and Serial Experiments Lain, and gave both away to my roommate. I didn’t regret the latter because I later picked up an awesome edition of it, but I never ended up buying a better copy of Evangelion, which remains a favorite series of mine. Looking back, I felt I wasn’t mature enough at the time to own those series, nor was I doing the things I needed (in that case the actual living out a Christian life and working on loving God and others) to be “in tune” with what the Spirit would have me do.

Code Geass, for many reasons, is that kind of series for me.

So it can be tricky. But to put it simply, I think it’s good to examine what we’re consuming through two questions:

Question #1: Is the anime good?

This is a very broad question. On a surface level, I do encourage you to think about the quality of an anime: Despite the one scene (or multiple), is the “goodness” of it worth pressing on? Does it express qualities that encourage you to be more godly? For instance, in One Piece (and I’m sorry if this is a poor example—I’m not a One Piece fanatic like our girl, Holly), does the love and camaraderie of the Straw Hat Pirates continually push you to love on your own gang of weird friends, so much so that it’s worth occasionally coming across objective material? Or does the examination of mental health issues in Evangelion push you to think more deeply about anxiety and depression in your own life or among those you encounter? Does the beautiful artwork and creativity in Kill la Kill demonstrate the higher creativity of the Creator, and make it worth viewing despite all the lewd content?

And on a deeper level, though this isn’t particularly related to your question, Connor, it’s worth adjusting our mindsets to realize that any content we view is ultimately not good. Christians get this weird tunnel vision sometimes that makes us feel guilty for watching something not created by Christians, and only feel like we’re truly consuming something good if it’s an explicitly Christian book or film. But we must remember, those aren’t holy either—they’re deeply flawed. In fact, I can’t watch or read so much of that stuff, as it comes across to me as far more hypocritical and missing of the mark than media developed by those who have no faith at all! And I think understanding that we as humans are going to create imperfect art helps us be both more mindful as we watch and more gracious in what we accept.

ryuto matoi

Question #2: Is the anime good for me?

But ultimately, the question we must ask whenever some material comes on screen that really digs at us is if that specific anime is going to cause us to sin. While my mind often paints broad categories (ex. fanservice = bad), it’s rarely so in reality. Each person is unique, formed by their own circumstances, experiences, and brain make up. Thus a satanic cult in One Piece may not bother one person at all, but for another, cause them concern that haunts them for days or weeks. Even further, a rather harmless scene showing a character with just a touch of immodesty might encourage a young man to commit to sexual sin, while a more obvious piece of fanservice may not do the same for that very same person. We’re complex animals, different from one another but also different situationally within ourselves.

Because of that, the best we can do is first and foremost, be focused on our spiritual development: to be reading scripture daily, praying frequently, meeting with Christian friends (even if digitally during this time) and holding one another accountable, attending worship services, and actively serving those around us as we seek an authentic relationship with God and with others. And as we do that, we’ll wisely deal with situations like the one you’re encountering, Connor, and making good decisions on a micro-level, where you can decide whether you need to skip over such scenes in the future (or in repeat viewings), can come to terms with them, or should drop One Piece entirely, and on a macro-level where you can come to know what kinds of content trigger you, leading to good decisions about viewing anime before you even turn on the TV, whenever possible.

The ultimate idea is just to try our best, strengthened by our relationship with God, to be smart viewers and ones conscious of how what we watch, as with everything we do, affects our worship of God. So even thinking of this topic, Connor, is a wonderful thing. Whatever you choose to do, you’re taking a step in the right direction, because involving God in our anime habits is just a symbol of inviting him into the intimate parts of our lives, and that is the faith we want to have.

5 thoughts on “Untangled: Beloved Anime with Problematic Scenes

  1. Yes! Excellent. I think one of the major mistakes Christians commonly make in numerous areas, not just media consumption, is trying to create universal rules that, while perhaps influenced by the scriptures, aren’t actually stated anywhere in the Bible. We want simple generalizations like “Never ever consume media with such-and-such content,” rather than the messy reality of “It depends on these 87 different factors.” At least, I know I’ve struggled with this a great deal.

    Related to the above is the fallacy of treating problematic content as mentally / spiritually contaminating, as if, say, reading a story that contains cursing infects my mind with some sort of profanity germ. But if that’s how sin works, then the entire Bible is a problem, since it’s one long story of people committing sins — sometimes in rather lurid detail! Any remotely realistic story about humans is going to involve sin. Shall we have no stories then, not even the Bible? Well, that obviously won’t work. Shall we invent our own hierarchy of sin, where we declare some sins okay to read about / watch, but single out others to be shunned? Jesus wasn’t much of fan of “teaching as doctrine the commands of men.” The problem gets even more ridiculous when we add real life to the mix: literally every human but Jesus is a sinner, and at least occasionally they’ll sin right in front of us. Thankfully, encountering sin IRL or in the Bible doesn’t automatically contaminate us, and neither does sin in the fictional media we consume.

    Finally, regarding your point about so-called “Christian” media, I think about the fact that the apostle Paul, on more than one occasion in the scriptures, quotes approvingly from pagan writers. In Acts 17, there’s “as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring,’” and in Titus 1, there’s “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true.” There are other passages that are more ambiguous but probably also quotes, but in these two, Paul says quite plainly that he’s quoting a pagan and affirming there was truth to what to their words. This isn’t some universal endorsement of everything those writers ever said, but if Paul could find value in reading pagans, who are we to decide that only “Christian” works are acceptable?

    1. Yes Yes YES. I think so much of this comes to us as we mature and understand God better. Unfortunately, it takes a while to get there if we too quickly let others think for us.

  2. I often open a new tab for these kinds of questions, intending to craft a thoughtful response but then never getting back to it 🙃

    So here’s a quick one: recently with Easter, I’ve felt that it was important for me to recognize the cross as a sacred and special symbol. In that moment, I pictured the many cross symbols in Evangelion and felt that it was distasteful.

    NGE will always be in my top 5 important and special anime so I was shocked at myself for even questioning it to this degree. Well at the end of the day, at the very least, even if only I’m being called on it like this, I think that’s fine and I should still practice listening to Holy Spirit.

    1. Evangelion is a tough one…I mean, its storyline is aggressively against some Judeo-Christian god, one that’s as close to our God as perhaps has been conveyed in anime. I’ve written about it before, but I had similar moments regarding Evangelion in my walk. You are [not] alone. 😛

  3. The answer was far better than I could have imagined! I thank you guys and am glad to know I wasn’t the only one who thought of such questions. It’s much appreciated, and I’m glad this caused others to reply, having my experience bring discussion to a topic I’ve struggled with may have been the whole point of the struggle. I thank you again for your time and reply.

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