Japes, our Anime Today columnist, has written a number of articles about the intersection of Christianity and anime for his other blog, Japesland. He is editing and resposting a number of these entries, including the one below, to Beneath the Tangles.
Several days ago I wrote a piece that I titled “(Superficial) Christianity in Anime“, but I realized after reading over it again that I seemed to come off with a rather negative view of Christian themes in anime. Now while I do believe the majority of depictions of Christianity in anime to be overall inaccurate, and even offensive (although when taken as a work of fiction and/or fantasy, I believe it to be less so), I felt that it was worth pointing of the positives that can be found in the medium. Now the title I’ve given to this post may prove to be somewhat misleading, as depictions of “Christianity” as it is often defined are not my focus, but rather depictions of spirituality (and even theology in a broader sense).
I would like to begin with some of the more obvious and move into the more subtle as we move along this (brief) post.
If you read the aforementioned piece, then you are probably familiar with my positive take on the anime series, Haibane Renmei. Haibane Renmei is an amazing example of an anime that contains a number of Christian themes throughout it if one takes the time to analyze it. Disregarding the cherubic appearance of the haibane and instead focusing on the content of the story and dialogue, not only is a Christian faced with dealing with modern issues in Christian culture (something I find to be of less overall significance, but they are present nonetheless) such as the accepting church, but also the core doctrine of Christianity itself. “The circle of sin”, as The Communicator would say. The Haibane are trapped in their sinful states because they have done something wrong. When they accept this wrong (read: “sin”), they are inherently sinful, but when they declare themselves sinless, they are doing nothing but perpetuating the circle by sinning further. The only escape for this is to be forgiven by an external force.
For Rakka, this external force was represented by the crow at the bottom of the well (seemingly the one she wronged in her past life who chased after her into death with the intention of forgiveness), and for Reki, this person was Rakka (who saved her from her own will, as represented by the “train” that likely killed her in her past life).
Although this representation comes in the form of being forgiven by a fellow human, the analogy can still be made to the sinful human condition as per Judeo-Christian doctrine and the forgiveness of God through the sacrifice of Christ as per Christian doctrine.
I have yet to find an anime that spells out the Christian message as intricately as Haibane Renmei, but I continue to find bits and pieces of it through much of what I watch. One instance of this is the anime series, Spice and Wolf. This series gets a lot of flack from Christians (or the “religious”) for its negative portrayal of the Catholic church, but I honestly cannot sympathize with this view. For starters, despite the fact that I believe the Catholic church had a basis in biblical theology (I admire the Catholic church in many theological aspects over the Protestant church, though I am a Protestant) in medieval Europe (the setting of Spice and Wolf), and that the Church did an enormous amount of good in the way of helping the poor and contributing to the arts and sciences, the Catholic Church was also corrupt in many, many ways. One thing I greatly appreciate about Spice and Wolf is how it does show the corruption of the Church, but does not tie it to the existence of God. Through the series, the conversation of the existence of some sort of god comes up between Horo and Kraft, but it is not connected with their belief in the present Catholicism. I love how they depict this, as something that quite a lot of anime gets wrong (I believe) is that religious practice is tied one-to-one with the beliefs it represents. It would be like saying that if the concept of Buddhist meditation is wrong, then there is no such thing as reincarnation (the first does not cause the existence of the second).
Although not anime, another instance of otaku culture in which a similar view comes up is in the visual novel, Narcissu: Side 2nd. In this story, several characters are represented as following the Catholic faith in different capacities. One character grew up following the Catholic customs and perhaps believing the essence of what they represented, but eventually grew apart from her belief in God and (mostly) abandoned that in which she grew. Another character, on the other hand, is shown to continue in her practice of the faith, but her actual understanding of what her practice represented spiritually was never fully disclosed. Now in Narcissu: Side 2nd, the writer placed a note saying that he did not believe in Christianity nor God, but felt that such beliefs were an important aspect of healthy human living. With this view point in mind, I appreciated the way he wrote the story to question, but not belittle, the Christian religion while still maintaining the possibility of spirituality.
I could go on and on with these instances of Christian-comparable spiritual faith, and the same could be done with any religious belief, but the point that I would like to get across here is that, despite the numerous negative depictions of Christianity in the anime realm, there is a great deal of good to be had from the biblical lens (if you can be bothered to look).