This is the fifth in a series of Aniblogger Testimony posts, where select writers will discuss their personal faith. Today’s post is by Ed of Manga Out Loud. The previous posts in this series were written by Lauren Orisini, R86, Nikko, and Arianna.
Hi, my name is Ed Sizemore and I’m member of the Orthodox Church of America. I’m also a manga reviewer for MangaWorthReading.com and co-host of the podcast MangaOutLoud.com. I’ve been a Christian for 25 years, an anime fan for about 12 years, and a reviewer for 3 years.
(Note: For the sake of brevity, when I say anime in this piece, I mean both anime and manga. It’s just awkward to keep repeating that phrase.)
First, a confession. I’m not a great representative of Christianity. Lord knows, my sins and my struggles are many. This is not to avoid responsibility for the bad choices I’ve made, but to own up to the fact that I read and watch things I shouldn’t have. I can’t claim that my particular approach to anime fandom is a model for other Christians. I offer it is both a suggestion to the sons and daughters of Easter. (I stole that phrase from Karen Bradley.)
Let’s begin with the obvious. Japan is not a Christian country. Not even by a long shot. The 2006 Gallup poll found that only 30% of all Japanese people claimed to have a religious affiliation. 6% of all Japanese people identify themselves with Christianity. However, most experts say that only 1% of Japanese people are practicing Christians. It’s important to note this because anime is a cultural product and will reflect the beliefs of the society it’s created in.
Expecting anime to reflect and affirm Christianity is foolish. However, this doesn’t mean that anime is antithetical to Christianity. There are many beliefs in Japanese culture that coincide with Christian beliefs. For example, the Japanese have a strong belief in the importance of family. They would wholeheartedly agree with the Fifth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12, NIV). In fact, the Japanese would agree with commandments five through ten and the Jesus’ Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”.
So how can Christians enjoy anime? The same way we enjoy any other form of entertainment. The majority of the people creating TV shows and movies in America aren’t Christians either. We can take an isolationist position and simply avoid all forms of entertainment not created by Christians and having explicitly Christian themes. Or we can enjoy TV shows and movies that share some points of commonality with our faith.
Let’s look at Cardcaptor Sakura for a moment. Some Christians are going to be offended by the use of magic in the show. Other Christians are going to be offended by the homoerotic undertones in some of the relationships. And other Christians, like myself, are going to be unphased by these concerns and instead find a show rich in positive themes. Carcaptor Sakura deals with overcoming insecurities, the importance of family, the value of friendship, and much more.
Cardcaptor Sakura shows there is no one right Christian response to just a single series, let alone the entire medium of anime. Each believer has their own conscious before God. There is room for debate among Christians about which shows are appropriate and why. Debate is healthy because it encourages to each of us think more deeply about our faith and how we live it out in this fallen world.
The greatest gift anime has given me is it’s non-Christian and non-Western worldview. Anime has forced me to ask myself, “Am I offended at this for Biblical or cultural reasons?” It’s so easy to be lulled into thinking that if I find something shocking it’s because I’m a Christian. However, I’ve discovered that apart from one or two proof texts, I was finding it hard to make a solid Biblical argument for everything I found offensive. Anime helped me to separate my cultural biases from my Biblical beliefs.
For example, take nudity in the anime film Perfect Blue. Anyone familiar with Japanese culture knows that the Japanese have a more liberal attitude toward nudity than Americans. The main character, Mima, agrees to pose nude for a magazine. This scene is not gratuitous, but part of understanding Mima trying to change and mature her image from teen pop idol. It’s a decision she comes to regret and is representative of how Mima is letting other people dictate what her new, adult image will be instead of making her own choices.
Do I simply not watch Perfect Blue because of the full frontal nudity? Certainly, I can find Biblical verses that denounce nudity. Let me suggest, the nudity in Perfect Blue seems to echo many of the Biblical ideas regarding nudity. In the Old Testament, being naked is a symbol of shame as much as an enticement to lust. During this scene, we feel Mima’s shame. We long to clothe her and restore her dignity. I’m not claiming the scene is reflective of Biblical values. However, the initial shock it provokes certainly challenged me to think more deeply about my aversion to all nudity, regardless of context. Not all nudity is solicitous.
Of course, not all the anime I watch causes such re-examining of cultural mores vs. Biblical values. There are several shows, movies, and books that are just good entertainment. My favorite pieces are thought provoking and challenge me to look at the world with new eyes. The best stories make it hard for me to sleep as I keep turning over the author’s ideas and their implications. But those are admittedly fewer than I would like.
My continued love of anime comes from the Japanese belief that animation isn’t simply for kids. Animation has its own aesthetic. There are stories that can only be told properly through animation. Directors like Satoshi Kon and Mamoru Oshii have demonstrated this adequately. The Japanese aren’t the only ones to have such faith in the storytelling potential of animation. However, they are the ones creating massive amounts of new animation each year. So I’ll stay an anime fan as long as they produce quality stories. My hope is that anime will continue to teach me new lessons and be a catalyst to strengthen my faith.