Anime, Manga and Christianity: A Comprehensive Analysis
Barkman, Adam, Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies
Abstract: In this paper Barkman begins by arguing that anime and manga are important windows into the worldviews of many people and as such should be taken seriously by religious experts and philosophers interested in cultural criticism. With particular focus on how Christianity is represented in anime and manga, Barkman first identifies major themes in anime and manga having to do with Christianity (such as pluralism, gender and so on) and second critiques this from a traditional Christian perspective.
Key Words: Anime, Manga, Christianity, Philosophy, Japanese, Pluralism, Gender, Protestant, Catholic, Angel
Legend has it that back in 1945, shortly after American troops occupied Japan during World War II, a famous Japanese department store - no doubt eager to capitalize on western traditions during the holiday season - set up a display of a life-size Santa Claus hanging from a cross. Whether this event actually happened or not we don't know, but for those who have spent any time in the Land of the Rising Sun this legend certainly has a ring of truth about it. While all cultures practice to some degree what Stuart Hall calls "encoding" (that is, a given culture putting its cultural values into its cultural products) and "decoding" (that is, the same culture reading its own values into foreign cultural products), the modern Japanese are especially famous for embracing anything and everything foreign - religion not the least of which - and transforming it into something . . . well, unique, to say the least.
One of the most interesting platforms where the Japanese engage in this type of religious transformation or coding-decoding is in anime and manga. Consequently, herein I would like to explore a variety of different anime and manga series which, to be specific now, utilize Christian imagery or themes. This I would like to do first by elucidating the philosophy or theology that is being forwarded by Japanese anime and manga artists and second by comparing and contrasting this philosophy or theology with orthodox beliefs.
Do Angels Practice Voodoo? The Pluralism-Exclusivism-Inclusivism Debate
As I said, the Japanese celebrate Christmas. Yet in Japan it's not a day to celebrate Jesus's birth, as it is in the West; rather, Christmas is a time for lovers - a time for first sexual encounters and engagement rings. Consequently, in Japanese anime, such as Always My Santa, The Big O and Suzumiya Haruhi, the fact that Christmas is Jesus's birthday is often shown to be interesting trivia, much like Buddha's birthday, common knowledge in Asia, would be to western audiences.
Yet Christmas isn't the only Christian tradition that the Japanese have appropriated: most couples celebrate Valentine's Day and many also opt for so-called Christian weddings - weddings in Christian churches - when they get married; hence the expression the Japanese "are born Shint?, marry Christian and die Buddhist."
And this leads to a question central to both this paper and the philosophy of religion as a whole: how should we understand religious diversity? There are three basic answers to this question.
The first answer comes from the pluralist, who, in the manner of Immanuel Kant and John Hick, thinks that there is an absolute distinction between Ultimate Reality (the Noumena) and Ultimate Reality as humanly and culturally perceived (the Phenomena).1
Because of this absolute distinction, the pluralist typically maintains that we can't univocally describe Ultimate Reality (where "univocity" means that the words applied to Ultimate Reality mean the same things that they do when applied to us). The best we can do is equivocally describe Ultimate Reality (where "equivocity" means that the words applied to Ultimate Reality mean something different than when applied to us). Thus, the important thing for the pluralist isn't propositional truths or doctrines about Ultimate Reality; rather, the important thing is perceived personal salvation or transformation. …