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.
In recent years, Japanese animators have had their fun with their various religious figures, from Jesus and Buddha to the host of kami in Shintoism. Noragami continues this trend of poking fun at the supernatural. Though it’s become a bit more serious in recent episodes, the show still continually makes fun of it’s hero, the Shinto god of war, Yato.
In America, certain groups would be at an uproar if a show featured Christ as a main character and continually made laughs at his expense. It’s far different in Japan, where Yato is a fictional character meant to stand among many other kami. Religion in Japan is far different than that in America – not are there many Shinto gods, but the majority of Japanese identify as Buddhist in addition to Shinto practitioners. Most are also atheist.
But despite these differences in culture, I would argue that Christians often treat God as the characters in Noragami do Yato. While we may not be so brazen in how we disrespect Christ, it’s in our actions that we relegate Him as something less than He is. Our language, our values, our goals, our time, our money – do these reflect an obedience to Christ, and thus, a strong faith in Him?
As a follower of Christ, one of my favorite things is seeing God in areas where you least expect Him. This is especially true in anime, and writing this column, “Anime Today,” has been wonderful practice in seeking out these appearances in modern form. Although many Christians make the mistake of believing God to only show His hand in exclusively “Christian” media (I use that term loosely), as an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God, throughout history He has proven Himself to use people from every walk of life to present His truth (just look at the interactions of ancient Israel with the gentile nations). With this in mind, Gingitsune has continued to prove itself a testament to both general biblical principles as well as specific teachings of Jesus Christ during his ministry.
As usual, some of the most edifying themes I identify in media such as anime are not overt, but the more subtle ones that can often be missed. This is the case with the topic of today: trusting in an invisible God.
One of the more intriguing, yet less central, characters of Gingitsune is Makoto’s father, Tatsuo. A kind, unassuming Shinto priest, Tatsuo carries out his duties diligently from episode to episode, all the while caring for his daughter and Satoru. In the midst of his day-to-day activities, however, exists an inspiring character from which a believer can gain much. In particular, I was finally struck in episode nine by something that is easy to miss: his loyal devotion to the heralds (and gods) he serves.
Although Makoto and Satoru receive the majority of the show’s writing attention, Tatsuo continues to serve in the background with no complaints. This in itself could be a topic of discussion, but what is particularly striking about it is that he does all of this without the ability to even see the heralds he is even serving. Although his late wife could see them, and his daughter Makoto can now see them, Tatsuo has (assumingly) lived a life blind to the supernatural. However, this does not stop him from not only serving the supernatural, but also wholeheartedly believing in it.*
Stopping here provides an adequate presentation of what it means to follow a power that we cannot see, something that many Christians struggle with (myself included), but Gingitsune does not stop here. In fact, as I have seen throughout the series, Gingitsune follows through with some of its minor presentations by providing a more full picture of what the writers want to say.
At this point in the series, not only are we reminded of an undying devotion to an invisible (Shinto) power, but we are given the flip side of this faith: the perspective of the divine. Although not a god himself, Gin has his own views of Tatsuo and his faith. Despite being perhaps less focused than your average Shinto priest, Gin seems to give him great trust. In fact, this even extends to giving him more leeway than perhaps is normal for a herald-priest relationship (this is especially exemplified in Gin’s reaction to Haru’s dissatisfaction with Tatsuo).
This relationship reminds me greatly of many figures throughout the Old Testament. For instance, in the case of Abraham (Abram at first), on many occasions Abraham performed actions that were less than pleasing in God’s eyes. In one case, he lied to Pharaoh about his relationship with Sarah (Sarai at first) as his wife, saying that she was his sister (which wasn’t entirely a lie considering she was his half-sister, but I digress) in order to protect his own skin. Despite God’s displeasure with this sin, because of Abraham’s great faith in his God, God still delivered him from trouble by cursing Pharaoh. Another instance of this comes in the form of King David’s adultery with Bathsheba. Despite being a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), he still fell to the sin of adultery. However, due to his great faith and repentance, God forgave him and continued to work through him.
Unless something else is revealed later in the story past what has been released as of writing, Gin’s treatment of Tatsuo seems to parallel this attitude to an extent. Tatsuo shows great faith, faith that could even be considered greater than Makoto’s due to the difference in their ability to “see,” and this shows. This, then, causes Gin to act appropriately.
Christians can learn much from this image as, again, Gingitsune continues to reflect principles applicable to every believer.
The general feeling about Eren Jaeger is that, like countless leads before him in other anime series, critical viewers of Shingeki no Kyojin find this lead to be annoying and less-than-likeable. Me, on the other hand – I’ve liked Eren relatively well, though that could be because I’m deep down in love with SNK. And so, I’m willing to overlook his many negative qualities and chalk it up to “Well, if I was in that situation…”
That is, until this episode.
For the first time in the series, I’ve found myself feeling rage toward Eren, as he watched his comrades die and his remaining family fly toward certain death because he’s unwilling to fight a turncoat who he knows to be have betrayed and killed his friends and fellow soldiers.
Of course, I changed my tune a little when I thought about how much of myself and other Christians I saw in the Eren of episode 24.
Watching anime has almost always been a solo activity for me, but occasionally, I’ll get a family member or friend to join along. My family has long been charmed by Studio Ghilbi fare, but recently, I’ve also watched a couple of other series with my wife – first, Kids on the Slope (if you didn’t know, this show is one of my favorites), and now, Clannad.
One the reasons why I enjoy Clannad (and in fact, this rewatching now has me moving it up on my list of favorite series) is that I feel there’s so much to take away from it. It feels as if the story is providing us life lessons, to which we should hearken. Besides the strong emphasis on family and parenting in the series, it also emphasizes the role we can play in loving others. Another lesson I noticed this time around is this: we need to be careful about the decisions we make, because they can end up defining us and our relationships with those we love.
In Kotomi’s arc, we find out about the pains and happiness in her childhood, mostly in regards to how she feels about her parents and their work. Though the young Kotomi is resentful, the audience is likely to chalk that up to her youthful desires rather than to a real issue regarding parenting. And in fact, Kotomi’s parents seem almost perfect – they have the best of both worlds, doing groundbreaking work in their careers while lovingly attending to their daughter.
Of course, none of this is so simple in real life. Working moms have to deal with finding balance and the guilt that may come with being away from their children; stay at home moms, on the other hand, have to push away their own desires and deal feelings of worthlessness. Those that try to split the difference, working part-time, deal with a combination of these challenger. From my family’s experience, there is no easy answer.
This isn’t only true of parents. We must all make difficult decisions that involve choices. Read the rest of this entry
stardf29 continues his miniseries on the theme of adoption:
Last time, I talked about Bunny Drop and how, as an adoption story, it exemplifies the beauty in how we Christians are adopted by God to be His children, to be heir to His blessings. Another show that displays the beauty of adoption is Listen To Me, Girls. I Am Your Father! (Papa no Iu Koto o Kikinasai!, or PapaKiki for short).
The premise of this show is that 19-year-old college student Yuuta is asked by his older sister to look after her three daughters—Sora, age 14, Miu, age 10, and Hina, age 3, Sora and Miu being from her husband’s previous marriages—while she and her husband go on a trip. However, when their plane crashes and the two go missing, the girls are left with no one to care for them (Sora’s mother is dead, and Miu’s mother’s whearabouts are completely unknown). Yuuta, then, remembering how his sister took care of him when their parents died, decides to adopt the girls into his care.
While this show shares the adoption premise with Bunny Drop, PapaKiki differs in a rather significant way—a way that is a warning to anyone who still thinks that the “inheritance” we get when we are adopted into God’s family is earthly wealth.
For week three of our Haibane Renmei small group study, we delved into episodes four and five of the series. In episode four, Rakka joins Kana at her job in the clock tower, while in episode four she spends time with Nemu in the library. The latter episode, especially, contained some of the more obvious connections to Christianity in the series.
Here are some of the highlights of our discussion:
- The creation story in Nemu’s book shared similarities to the Christian one, particularly in the first few lines.
- The God in “The Beginning of the World” shares some similarities to the Christian God, particularly in terms of mercy and power; on the other hand, dissimilarities included laziness and ability to make mistakes
- We discussed Kana’s conclusion that the crows need to become less dependent on humans, while we, too, must become less dependent on our own comfort zones.
- The group reflected on which senior haibane each of us most closely associated with.
- We discussed how, because of the structure created by the haibane renmei and the townsfolk, the haibane must lived by faith, and how Old Home compared to some real life institutions in this aspect (ex. monasteries and dormitories).
We also discussed a number of other topics and shared about our weeks. If you’re interested in possibly joining us sometime during this summer, leave a comment below, entering your email when prompted.
Of all the great Studio Ghibli works, my favorite is probably Whisper of the Heart. Smaller in scale than almost any of the others, it’s a very personal story about a young girl, a boy, and their dreams. Because most of us remember well the days we were young and had dreams as big as the skies, this little story makes the heart stir for many of us.
As you get older, first bursting into the confusing time of adolescence and then into the world of adulthood, you realize that dreams and reality don’t usually meld well together. Even for those that pursue their dream relentlessly, the results don’t always match their hopes.
For me, I’ve seen most of my childhood dreams fade away – some because of what you might deem as circumstance (though I would call it divine intervention) and some because of my personal choices. And though I admit I sometimes feel a sense of loss when I think of what might have been, I’m quickly brought back to reality – to a good type of reality, knowing that I’m meant to be where I am right now, and that I wouldn’t exchange the circumstances of my life for a chance to live the dream.
I’ve been totally floored by Attack on Titan, the new series this season about GIANTS. Although our own Goldy wrote about the series’ potential, I wasn’t prepared for how riveting, exciting, and frightening this show would be.
Among other things I missed? The connection to religion in the first two episodes (what do I do on this blog again?).
Justin, who has been comparing the manga to the anime, pointed out connections to religion in episode two, particularly. Noteworthy is the street preacher who is entirely absent from the manga and the frightened people who call out to God as they witness the horrible events happening to their village.
The connection that stands out most though (and why shouldn’t they?) is the giants themselves.
Giants are the stuff of legend. They are the enemies in fairytales (“Jack and the Beanstalk“) and stuff of children’s nightmares (BFG).
Episode 11: “Various Ways to Spend Christmas Eve”
In the spirit of Christmas, I decided to retry an anime that I dropped over a year ago, Lucky Star. Last time I tried to watch the series, I made it to only episode 4. For this project, I watched episode 11 which takes place on Christmas Eve. The biggest things to stand out in the episode were related to the Japanese understanding of Christianity and Christmas.
One of the characters in the series stated that she wasn’t sure if it was okay for her sister, who was a shrine maiden, to wear a wedding dress for her wedding. This whole idea comes from a difference of understanding in Judeo-Christian and Japanese Religions. In Christianity, the main part of the belief system is this concept of faith. For example, the concept of grace through faith or that Abraham’s faith is credited to him as righteousness. For people of the English language, we can even refer to religions as faiths or beliefs.
In Japanese, the religions of Shinto and Japanese Buddhism are based upon action and tradition, such as going to temple festivals, praying to kami at shrines, or even dedicating children at temples. Read the rest of this entry