On Drawing Religious Messages from Anime

In any meditation on anime and religion, my major premise is the following: all men, whether they realize it or not, are seeking Jesus Christ.  In St. Gertrude’s revelations, Our Lord remarks to the saint that he looks fondly at people who read books, because He believes that they really wish to find Him among their pages.  This leads us to the question of how to find Christ through fiction.  People have been turning to novels since the 19th century for religion (which you shall indeed find in the best of them: Alexandre Dumas, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and others), but can one also discover God in cartoons from the Land of the Gods?

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The first thing to note is that not every anime cleaves to a pagan worldview.  For example, Wolf’s RainArpeggio of Blue SteelBlassreiterMardock ScrambleTrigunLe Chevalier D’Eon, and Glass Fleet either use Christian elements effectively or derive from a Christian author.  When I write about these shows, Christian themes are there for the taking: this is how I can meditate on Our Lord and Our Lady through Wolf’s Rain.  Nevertheless, such articles usually do not come to me so easily, because the majority of anime adheres to a pagan worldview.  How is one to discern Christ in a story whose author does not  know the Lord?

Kiba and Cheza_2

The answer lies in allegory and symbolism.  However, ancient peoples understood allegorical reasoning much better than moderns (as is shown by students’ constantly complaining about analogies on tests); but, this form of reasoning is essential to understanding religion.  Words inadequately convey spiritual realities.  For example, we call God Lord.  This same word can be applied to Genghis Khan, Charlemagne, or King George III.  The word lord was originally used to apply to figures like these, but how can they compare to the Lord of the Universe, Who rules all things spiritual and material with complete knowledge of all that happened, occurs presently, and will be in the future?  We also refer to God as the Architect of the Universe.  But, how can someone who draws diagrams of a house be compared to the One who has designed the cosmos?  We can only describe God and other religious concepts by analogy, where words stand as metaphors for something greater than they can express.

Eleonore at the Gate

To see how this becomes applicable to anime, let us take the beginning of episode two of Madan no Ou to Vanadis.  *Many spoilers from episodes two and three ahead!*  Tigre attempts to exit (it cannot really be called escape, can it?) Eleonore’s castle, only to be stopped by Eleonore herself.   What allegories to Christianity might we find in this example?  First, let us note Tigre’s utter destitution and powerlessness compared to Eleonore, the lord of the castle and leader of an army.  Compared to God, people are poor and weak.  We must rely upon God for everything.  In regard to our hero and heroine, Tigre has no hope of defending his fief from enemy attack, but wishes to return home anyway despite certain death.  This contempt for his life enrages Eleonore both because Tigre is participating in an exercise of futility and because he neglects to rely upon her. In the same way, people often rely upon themselves instead of God and rush headlong into certain failure.  If only they had sought God’s aid, they might have succeeded in their endeavor.

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But, for various reasons, people are either neglect or are afraid to approach God.  One way of overcoming the fear of approaching God is to approach Him through intercessors.  (An important thing to remember on All Saint’s Day!)  Yet, nothing delights Our Lord as being approached directly and with full confidence in Him.  On what does this confidence rest?  Knowing that God loves us and wishes for our happiness.  After all, Jesus Christ has been described as the Bridegroom and the Church as the Bride.  The love of man and wife becomes symbolic of Christ’s love for the Church.  Bride and bridegroom denote newlyweds in particular, and one cannot imagine newlyweds being inclined to refuse each other anything.

This was a great shot, by the way.

This was a great shot, by the way.

Well, dear readers, you see where I’m going with this, don’t you?  Though their sexes do not match their roles, this symbolism works very well for Eleonore and Tigre.  (Also, unless something untoward and horrendous happens, they are certain to get hitched.)  Tigre boldly asks for an army from Eleonore, who bursts out laughing with delight and happily gives him the army with a few conditions.  These conditions bind Tigre more closely to her, as occurs when we receive anything from God.  As St. Bernard of Clairvaux says, the reward for loving is to be able to love more, and the opportunities for loving increase the more closely two people are bound to one another.  And so, Eleonore not only gives Tigre the gift of her army, but even joins it in order to defeat the most powerful opponents herself.  In a similar way, God delights not only to give us what we ask for but more besides.  Though we are expected to continue in the firm desire to do the right, God truly brings about our triumphs–only requiring that we have a firm and complete confidence in Him.

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At any rate, that is how my mind draws connections between anime and religion most of the time.  One cannot be afraid to think a little outside the box and reconcile imperfect analogies!  May this help other people use literature and film to think about their faith.

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7 comments on “On Drawing Religious Messages from Anime

  1. David A says:

    Very interesting!

    I agree. There is a longing for Christ and salvation in humans.

    That can be seen in certain archetypes and themes that are repeated constantly in stories at various degrees:

    Salvation, redemption, sacrifice, love, etc.

    For the exercise of doing analysis that point at religious messages, I’ve found various levels:

    1). The stories that touch these topics at a basic level.
    2). Stories that include more symbolism, and that direct their parallelisms in an ambiguous manner.
    3). Stories that directly include Christian messages.

    A). And finally, Christian stories.

    When speaking of characters, the less content they have, and the more they adhere to certain characteristics, is easier to interpret and reinterpret them in a Christian manner.

    Now, on seeing these analogies in things that don’t seem to be very compatible, these require certain overlooking of some elements, and trying to focus on the most good parts. I’ve found some articles where I think… wow, are they expanding the interpretation too much? or how they can draw something good without addressing the (obvious?) problematic content? and similar questions.

    There is another exercise that is useful too. The reconstruction and reinterpretation of stories. Similar to fan arts, or fanfics, trying to expand on certain aesthetic, moral, philosophical and religious elements.

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    • “…articles where I think…wow, are they expanding the interpretation too much.” I’m sure that you’ll find some of those on here! One person particularly noted that phenomenon for my article on the theme of wealth in Kill la Kill. However, it’s like how Babe Ruth is remembered for his home runs; but, besides those awesome hits, he struck out more than the average batter. One just has to go for it sometimes. 🙂

      I had not thought of fanfiction and fan art as a vehicle for expanding on the philosophical and religious elements of certain anime. Not a bad idea, though.

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      • David A says:

        Yes, that series* is one that generated lots of these articles. I’m surprised that what was basically is a fanservice-fest (while I’ve read that are certain explicit and barely censored scenes [like the abuse scenes from ep. 16], I’m using the term on the broader meaning, and not only referring to the sexual elements) inspired people to wrote even long articles.

        *I haven’t watched beyond episode 2, I think, but I’ve read about the series.

        Yes, fan art and fanfiction can serve for these, even as a training ground too.

        Like

      • Heck, I didn’t start out as a fan of Kill la Kill (https://medievalotaku.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/defensio-pudoris-against-the-shameless-philosophy-of-kill-la-kill/), but the anime convinced me over the course of twenty-five episodes that it had a heart and soul. And the animation is really too poor for it to have any hope of drawing people in by fanservice–at least, that’s what I think.

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      • David A says:

        Quirky styles could count as a form of fanservice too, some people like the style of animation from the people involved, and look forward for other productions from them.

        Like

  2. Michael M. says:

    Reblogged this on Gaming And God and commented:
    Medieval Otaku talks about finding God in anime, which I believe is a great topic and one not looked enough into by anime viewers.

    Like

  3. […] Medieval Otaku tells how he draws allegories from and symbolism out of anime. [Medieval Otaku] […]

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