I must confess that I have been viewing anime fanart much more than I’ve been producing it in my time at deviantArt. In doing so, I’ve been trying to get a handle on what all these other fanartists are doing, and why. To be honest, I haven’t fully understood what I’ve been doing, and why. Perhaps all this consumption of fanart has helped me begin to figure it out.
I see all skill levels represented in those who like to produce fanart. I see light sketchy pencils, graphite and colored pencil work with meticulous shading, ink, markers, paints, and of course digital art. We can find anime characters alone, in pairs or groups, interacting with people’s “OCs” or original characters, wearing other clothes, advanced or regressed in age, gender-converted, and goodness knows what else. Some produce almost photorealistic versions of anime characters as if “brought to life.” Others use fewer lines, trying instead to capture the passion and gestures of the characters. Still others are content just to copy the authentic characters as closely as possible. Creating pieces of all of these types involves careful observation, a skill which (as a teacher) I am encouraged to see is still alive and well. And of course, in addition to anime fanart, there is fanart based on American comics, live action shows such as Harry Potter, games such as Legend of Zelda, and even Vocaloid.
What none of this descriptive prose addresses is why we do this. Why can the fanartist not resist picking up that pencil, brush, or tablet pen, and making his or her thoughts about this or that character visible? Certainly part of it is because making art is fun. At least, it had better be — if not, we’re probably doing it wrong. Part of it, I also believe, is because we are made in the image of one who is himself a creator, in fact of the Creator himself.
As Kermit the Frog so famously put it, “It’s not easy being green.” Likewise, it’s not easy being a Christian who likes anime. I’m not saying at all that Christian anime fans endure any type of suffering – that’s both shallow and ignorant. However, many Christians struggle with joining their love of the medium with a belief that often runs counter to the ideas expressed in it.
At the same time, anime in manga can express spiritual truths, whether or not those were the intentions. This blog provides ample support for that. Spiritual ideals can be found in just about anything. I have a friend (currently attending seminary) who claims to have found God through Metallica; he is especially proud of this point.
Likewise, I ran across a most interesting post, dated 2009, written by Ed Sizemore of Manga Out Loud, who moved from the Evangelical tradition to the Eastern Orthodox one. His assertion is that anime and manga helped change his thinking. Take a look at his entry, which not only bridges anime with spirituality, but makes some very interesting, yet sensitive, critiques about modern Evangelical practice and culture.
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. Read the rest of this entry
Christian themes and symbolism are ever-present in anime and manga works, from the surface-level use of nuns (Toaru Majutsu no Index, Trinity Blood) and crufixes (Kannagi, Neon Genesis Evangelion) to deeper themes that also have universal relevance, like redemption (Trigun). Japan, however, is not by any means a “Christian” country. And so, I think it surprised many to see the deep exploration and use of Christian themes and symbolism in Haibane Renmei, a series adored by critics and audiences alike. While it contains ideas that cross a variety of religions (Buddhism particularly), Christian themes are most strongly present in the series. In his book, Set Apart, Daniel Cronquist analyzes these ideas which, while perhaps not purposely present in the show (according to creator Yoshitoshi ABe), are nevertheless undeniable.
Haibane Renmei begins as religiously vague as any, taking place in an unknown land and featuring angel-like beings. However, as the series progresses and as the audience discovers more about the world and the haibane, Christian themes and symbolism become more apparent. In fact, near the end, these ideas are expressed so furiously that by the time I got my mind wrapped around one connection, another was being thrown at me, and I knew I’d have to sit down for repeated viewings if I wanted to see and think about all that was happening in the series on a “spiritual level.”
Cronquist, luckily, analyzes these ideas for us. For instance, he discusses the setting as representing purgatory, explaining the concept of this afterlife destination briefly for those unfamiliar with it and drawing connections between that setting and the one in the series. The author’s discussion of Haibane Renmei’s settings is particularly insightful, especially when he writes about the river underneath the walls surrounding the city of Guri. Read the rest of this entry
In 2002, Haibane Renmei, an acclaimed anime with heavily spiritual themes, premiered in Japan. While many pointed out Christian themes in the series, one individual went even further and wrote a book discussing Christian faith in light of Haibane Renmei. Daniel Cronquist, writer of Set Apart, is a civil engineer who traveled extensively throughout Japan. I was delighted that he agreed to do an interview about his book: Read the rest of this entry
And now we’re grown-up orphans
That never knew their names
We don’t belong to no one
That’s a shame
But you could hide beside me
Maybe for a while
And I won’t tell no one your name
And I won’t tell ‘em your name
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we flipped through books and clicked through dozens of webpages to find the perfect name for him. It had to sound right – together with our last name, together with a middle name, and in context of what was acceptable today. We went through a similar ritual with our second child. Most importantly for us, the name had to mean something.
In western culture today, the meaning of names has lost much of its importance. For instance, my name means “strong and manly,” but I would never use those adjectives to describe myself, except in jest. In certain homes in the west, and in other countries around the world, name meanings are considerably more important. For instance, names in Asian countries like Japan and Korea have long held significance for the individual and his or her family. Read the rest of this entry
One thing that’s been tricky in this whole blogging experiece for me is to write for two very different audiences – Christian fans of anime, and non-Christian fans of anime. Mostly, I write to the latter while still keeping an emphasis on Christian spirituality. However, the Resources section of my site emphasizes both. Today, I’m adding a new element to that section that is particularly for Christian viewers, and specifically those who may be new to anime or are otherwise wondering what kinds of shows they might consider “Christian anime.”
Please take a look at Six Anime Recommendations for Christian Viewers. It contains six shows that I would consider excellent pieces for Christian anime fans to view in light of their faith. The list is also a work in progress, and I hope to eventually populate it with additional series and movies.
noun, plural -chol·ies, adjective
1. a gloomy state of mind, esp. when habitual or prolonged; depression.
2. sober thoughtfulness; pensiveness.
4. affected with, characterized by, or showing melancholy; mournful; depressed: a melancholy mood.
5. causing melancholy or sadness; saddening: a melancholy occasion.
6. soberly thoughtful; pensive.
Suzumiya Haruhi is one of the most recognizable characters in anime today and the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya solidified her popularity. Sure, on the surface she’s just a strong-headed tsundere with a knack for bending everyone around her to her will, but on a deeper level her melancholy peaks through and displays itself as the root of her eccentricity. Her dissatisfaction with reality and her perception of it as bland is what drives her to ferociously seek phenomena greater than herself that her own logic cannot contain (aliens, time travelers, and espers. As we all know from her famous introduction line, she won’t accept anything less). However, the irony of this entire set up is that extraordinary phenomena occur around her simply because she wants them to exist, but she can’t see them despite the fact that they’re right in front of her in the form of Nagato Yuki (alien), Asahina Mikuru (time traveler), and Koizumi Itsuki (esper). So, Haruhi fervently seeks what she can’t see before her, believing such things exist while grappling with her underlying sense of insignificance and refusal to accept her life is average.
In Haruhi’s character, we have a reflection of one aspect of Christian spirituality that is often overlooked or treated as a problem that’s easily solved: spiritual dryness. We get into a state of dissatisfaction with the mundaneness of our lives, so we adamantly desire proof of greater things at work in the world. All people feel this at some point, but in a specifically Christian context, we seek a sense of God-given purpose or some kind of infallible sign that we’re an important part in the story of the universe. Of course, just as Haruhi can’t see the extraordinary phenomena right in front of her, so we can’t see the work of God in front of us and we become increasingly burdened by a sense of monotony while desiring a place in something greater than ourselves.
While watching episodes for my 12 Days of Christmas Anime series, I noticed a word pop up time and time again – holy. It seemed out of place – a very religious, archaic-sounding word in a medium that was anything but. What does this word mean, particularly in context of Japanese culture and in comparison to Christendom?
There are a number of varying definitions for “holy,” but perhaps the two we most connect with it are that it has something to do with divinity (a supreme God) and that whatever is described in this way is venerated as if sacred. There’s something other-worldy, heavenly, and pure about a holy object.
The Japanese word for holy is sei (see Kanji character below) and is often combined with other characters to make a compound word. For instance, in Japan, there are holy men (hijiri), holy mountains (seizan), holy relics, holy communities and holy names (note: forgive me if my terminology is off regarding the Japanese language).
In fact, as I researched this word, what surprised me most was that a word which seems very western to me is probably used more commonly in Japan. The definition of sei is similar to that of the American counterpart – sacred, holy, and pure. And in Japan, too, where kami abound and religion is woven into the everyday lives of almost all individuals, there is a godly connotation.
I wanted to know why, in particular, the word is used when discussing Christmas in anime. Read the rest of this entry