The Curious Incident of the Christianity in the Fictional Setting

Relatively few fictional settings feature Christianity. There are a variety of reasons for this—some good and some…not. Even in the isekai stories of C. S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy), where the God of the Bible is recognized in other worlds, the inhabitants of those other worlds don’t actually practice “Christianity” as we know it.

However, I’ve encountered a fascinating exception that I want to share.

Christianity—actual, literal Christianity—exists within the world of 86–Eighty-Six. The recent anime adaptation of this light novel series was good enough to pique my curiosity about its source material. I’ve now finished all seven of the volumes currently available in English, and along the way uncovered a striking amount of evidence suggesting that Christianity is present in the setting. Of course, anime and other works contain countless references to Christianity that are best inconclusive, so we’ll need to discuss those, too.

“Now let me be clear,” the story of 86–Eighty-Six doesn’t take place in our world. The technology, psychic powers, and ethnic groups with all sorts of fantastical hair and eye colors are enough to establish that. The story and setting are unmistakably inspired by real history, but it’s not our reality.

We all know that the works of fiction on which this blog focuses (Japanese anime, light novels, manga, and video games) liberally appropriate words and symbols from Christianity without intending at all to say anything about Christianity. Neon Genesis Evangelion is one famous (or is that infamous?) example, but it’s far from unique. Anime has given us more evil popes that than the most fervid of Protestant demagogues could possibly have imagined, and yet such stories are just using the word “pope” to denote a religious leader, and rarely if ever do they intend to say anything about the actual Roman Catholic Church. In these works of fiction, we must take care not to read too much into the mere use of words or symbols associated with Christianity. This is especially true when it comes to book, series, or chapter titles, which can get really meta and not have any bearing on the reality within the fictional setting.

Another kind of inconclusive reference to Christianity comes through idioms. If a present-day English speaker wants to talk about a benevolent passerby who stops to help someone in need, there’s a good chance they will refer that individual as a “Good Samaritan.” The phrase comes from a parable of Jesus recorded in Luke 10, but it has evolved beyond its origins into a widely used idiom, one that any English speaker might use without implying anything about their religious beliefs. Similarly, the exclamation “jeez” was, historically, a euphemistic reference to Jesus, but I’d argue that it has lost that meaning and today is just a sound that signifies surprise or annoyance. Consequently, when we run across such idioms, we must ponder whether the translators intended to evoke the religious connections of such phrases, or were just using the best English expression available, which coincidentally had a religious origin.

With that said, let’s start with some of the weaker, more circumstantial pieces of evidence in 86–Eighty-Six. The story makes references to churches and priests, but those are dime a dozen in fiction. A chapter in one volume bears the title “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel,” the name of a venerable Christian hymn associated with Advent and Christmas. But as noted above, chapter titles can be super meta and don’t prove much. There is a book called the Bible within the setting, but that’s hardly unique. For example, the world in Ascendance of a Bookworm has a holy text about its pantheon called “the Bible” that bears no relation to the Christian scriptures. The idiom “to bear one’s cross” shows up, but see above about idioms. All of these are interesting, but not necessarily significant.

However, there are some surprisingly specific Old Testament allusions in 86–Eighty-Six. Someone references a story involving seven days found in “Genesis.” There exists the concept that humans are made in God’s image. There’s mention of the “mark of Cain.” People are aware of a story, found in something called “the Old Testament,” about how humans tried to build a great tower at Babylon, and God responded by causing them to speak different languages. Finally, a character says “Let us die with the Philistines,” thereby paraphrasing the Israelite judge Samson. Of course, since all these examples come from the Old Testament, technically they only imply the existence of the Hebrew scriptures, not necessarily the New Testament and Christianity.

But wait, there’s more! While many fictional settings have pseudo-Christmas events in early winter, 86-Eighty-Six goes a step further by informing us that the setting’s early winter holiday isn’t just a winter festival or solstice observance, but a “holy birthday.” Separate and apart, characters have heard of an individual called the “messiah” who lived thousands of years ago. This “messiah” reportedly said “Man shall not live by bread alone.” There’s also a story in which he encountered a demon that identified themself as “Legion.” While not explicitly stated to be the same person as the aforementioned “messiah,” someone called the “savior” died by crucifixion. And there is a “Revelation” that contains mention of seven seals, and of a dragon with seven heads.

Just one more thing: references to other fictional works. You might not think a work of fiction containing in-universe allusions to real works of fiction would indicate much about Christianity, but… A character thinks something they witness is “a scene cut straight out of Salomé,” referring to a play by Oscar Wilde. A play about the martyrdom of John the Baptist. It doesn’t make sense for such a story to exist without the New Testament. (Yes, technically, John the Baptist does show up in the writings of Josephus, but it’s a fairly cursory mention. And besides Josephus also mentions Jesus, so…) Similarly, there’s a direct quote from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Moreover, the source of the quote is cited by title. Dante’s epic poem is steeped in Christian thought; there’s no way such a work could possibly be known to anyone within the setting of 86–Eighty-Six unless Christianity also exists. Neither of these references to fictional works is technically a direct mention of Christianity, but the fictional works themselves are ones whose existence strongly implies the presence of Christianity and the New Testament.

Volume after volume, the in-universe references to Christianity keep piling up. The story isn’t casually borrowing vocabulary or symbolism inspired by Christianity. It’s not just using idioms that coincidentally originate from the Bible. These aren’t “meta” references that don’t necessarily imply anything about the setting. I find it unfathomable that details within this fictional world could “coincidentally” overlap with Christianity to this degree. Just as we have terms for groups of animals (e.g., a “flock” of birds, a “pride” of lions, etc.), I believe the correct term for a group of coincidences is a “pattern.” And the pattern here indicates that 86–Eighty-Six is a rare case of a fictional setting that contains Christianity.

86—EIGHTY-SIX (light novel) is released by Yen Press.

6 thoughts on “The Curious Incident of the Christianity in the Fictional Setting

  1. I find it fascinating to find these instances of allusion to Christianity throughout anime and manga. From a country steeped in Buddhism and Shintoism, it’s surprising and exciting to discover Christian allusions in their literature.

    1. One aspect of Christianity in anime and manga that I find interesting is how it sometimes fills the role of “that strange and exotic foreign religion”. In the West, if you want to give your character a set of unusual mystic powers, send him off to the Far East to study under some mysterious guru (Dr. Strange, Iron Fist, even Batman to some extent). A culture where that “mysterious guru” is the guy who lives down the street is obviously going to find him less exotic, so to get the same effect you borrow some costumes, terms, and symbols from that religion that’s really big overseas.

      It’s a fascinating case of getting to look at yourself from the outside.

  2. This is fascinating, but I also feel like the article just cuts off halfway. Unlike many anime which simply throw in Christian symbolism and terminology for cheap shock value or narrative convenience, Eighty-Six contains historical Christianity…. and what? Perhaps your point was just to demonstrate the differences between a series that merely cherry picks the low hanging fruit of a pop-culture understanding of Christianity without meaning anything deep and one that fully commits to integrating the faith into its narrative in an important way, and that’s all well and good, but I felt like there was supposed to be a follow-up point.

    Again, please don’t take this as someone angrily bashing your work. I enjoyed the article, the ending simply felt abrupt.

  3. I love this sort of investigation inside the setting as if it were a real place. Especially those having to do with religions and Christianity. I think that fictional worlds, Isekai especially, have to balance a consistent, organic, believable worldbuildingd and a global, meaningful feeling of depth, of connection to the human heart, and beyond. There being Christianity really changes the game. One of the reasons I love the Arthurian legend so much is because of how, even living in a world of magic and wonders, the knights and the king would give the first place to Christ, Confession and the Mass. That element really impressed me as a child, and I think it’s an organic part of the ideal of Chivalry, which in turn is an organic part of epic fantasy.

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