Aniblogger Testimonies: Confessions of a Middle-Aged Otaku: Discovering Christian Messages In Anime
This is the second in a series of Aniblogger Testimony posts, where select writers will discuss their personal faith. Today’s post is by R86, frequent contributor on Beneath the Tangles. The previous post in this series was written by Lauren Orisini.
In this column, I intend to focus on my experience of anime as a Christian adult who discovered anime relatively late in life. It is probably enough to say of myself that I am an American male of vaguely European descent, in my early 40s, with a Ph.D. from a major Midwestern university in a physical science, and an educator by way of career.
I stumbled upon anime only within the last 5-6 years, and that mainly because I knew so many young people my students’ age were watching it. What I found at first was sometimes appalling (I was unprepared for the violence in Akira, for example, thinking I would be getting “just cartoons”), often silly, and usually entertaining. Mostly I wondered how I could so easily accept these strange depictions they call “anime characters” as replacements for live flesh-and-blood actors. Clearly I was in contact with something as different from American cartoons as one could imagine. And given my lifelong fascination with foreign languages, with one as different from English as Japanese being a slam dunk for capturing my interest, you will see why I was hooked before I knew it.
Soon, however, another phenomenon started to take me by surprise. Not with every anime I watched, in fact not with most of them, but with occasional ones, certain themes and concepts came forth with particular strength and clarity. Such themes include fighting alongside one’s comrades (whether in a sport or a battle), striving for excellence at one’s work, forgiveness, second chances, the breaking of curses, and many others. These themes are not specifically Christian, and in anime at any rate, probably do not come from the minds of creators who would describe themselves as Christians. However, viewing these ideas as I do through what we would call a “Christian lens,” the effects on me have been profound and lasting. Hard as it is for me to admit, these strange drawings called anime characters have excited my imagination more than any real-life actor in any live-action movie I have ever seen.
Of course we all know that there are real-life people called voice actors or seiyuu behind the anime characters. Certainly their skills (or lack thereof) have a great deal to do with the extent to which the character they voice “comes to life” in any given anime. And yet, what is it about these odd cartoons that can so easily bring messages before our minds, messages that seem too large for the character itself to contain, or even the most gifted real-life actor? What is it about anime such that even the memory of certain scenes can move an adult to tears? And where is God in all this?
I have no background in literature or psychology, but I do have my guesses. It may be that watching animated characters relieves us of the constant self-reminder, “But I know who that is. That’s Angelina Jolie / Anthony Hopkins / Samuel Jackson Lee / (whoever).” In contrast, we know perfectly well that an anime character doesn’t really exist. That is its charm, and its power. A power that goes right past the logical side of the viewer’s mind, and straight to the imagination. This is a moment that can be used of God to get messages across that, perhaps, never got across by other means. In addition, for those of us who are learning the Japanese language, it may be that watching subtitled anime further “occupies” that logical side of our mind, preventing it from interfering with the concepts and emotions that arise from the characters we watch and the situations they encounter. But again, in all this I am only guessing.
My experience of God through all this, though, is the same as in any other area of my life. Simply put, what God has been teaching me over the years is that neither my life in general, nor any particular detail of it, is truly mine. All of my abilities, all of my so-called possessions, all of my life’s circumstances, are there by his pleasure, and to be used to spread the fame of his glory, not mine. This is, at least in part, what Paul meant when he said of God in Acts 17:28, “In him we live and move and have our being.” More bluntly still, even fiercely, God describes his love for us as something that chases after us, that is 100% determined to have every bit of our lives in his service: “‘As I live,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out, I shall be king over you.’” (Ezekiel 20:33) Of the wrath that God the Father poured out on Jesus for our sake, I will leave it for worthier and more talented people to write; but suffice it for now to say that this is a love that pursues us and meets each of us right where we are. Apparently, that even includes while we are watching anime.
As far back as its history records, Christianity has valued very highly what we now call the “spiritual disciplines.” This would include such things as regular Bible reading, regular times of prayer, and even fasting. I would be horrified if anyone reading my words thought I suggested that watching anime can or should replace any of these disciplines. All I am suggesting is that God might in some cases use the medium of anime to communicate ideas and concepts, by dealing more directly than usual with the emotions and imagination of the viewer. Certainly this has been my experience. A small handful of shows that I have watched have, in this fashion, quite literally changed my life. And this middle-aged otaku is not ashamed to say so.
Enough, then, about me and my experience in watching anime. What about you? What about your experience?
Note: R86 has written a number of guest-posts on this blog relating to these “transformational anime.” Below are links to these posts:
- Take Me Out to the Ball Game: Big Dreams and the Unknown God in Major
- Pitch to Contact! Teammates and Character Transformation in Ookiku Furikabutte
- Swing with All your Might! Courage, Loss, and Renewal in Ookiku Furikabutte
- “Shikigami! Descend, O Great One!” Spiritual Gifts Personified in Onmyou Taisenki