When anime creators go to design characters for a new show, they’ll generally turn to established tropes, taking a red-haired angry tsundere or a deadpan kuudere, adding in a tomboy childhood friend or a blonde rich girl with a ridiculous o-hohoho! laugh. It’s not rare at all for mainstream anime to throw in a character wearing a nun’s habit, just to keep things random. Let’s explore themes of Christianity in Japanese pop culture, and recommend some good Christian anime for you!
Religeon in Japan is Laissez-Faire
Japan is a famously irreligious country, with perhaps 85% of people on the street replying that they follow no religion if you ask them… which is kind of funny because many of these people will have a butsudan (a Buddhist altar) in their homes for remembering their dead parents or grandparents, and possibly a kamidana, a similar device for worshipping kami spirits. They’ll also visit the Shinto shrine on January 1st to pray for good luck, viewing these activities as culture or customs rather than representing any deep faith.
The two core religions in Japan are Shinto, which sees kami (spirits or gods) in natural objects like trees or mountains, and Buddhism, which in Japan is mainly focused on remembering one’s ancestors. Japanese will generally turn to Shinto for happy events like weddings or to “christen” a newborn baby, then to Buddhism for anything related to death or funerals.
Japan’s “third” religion is Christianity, which is only properly followed by only 1% of the country. For the vast majority of Japanese, the closest they get to a proper church is a Western-style wedding because those are exotic and fun. An ESL teacher I used to know had a side-gig working as a minister, marrying Japanese couples, and he made pretty good money.
How Do the Japanese Feel About Christianity?
Get a sheet of paper and write down everything you know about Buddhism. It probably will be a pretty short list, right? The same thing would happen if you asked the average Japanese person to tell you everything they know about Christianity. They might write down the name “Maria-sama,” and that every nun sings gospel music just Whoopi Goldberg, but that’s it.
When I first arrived in Japan, I expected to find zero religious people here. Imagine my surprise when I was befriended by a local Baptist church, who (naturally) asked me to dress up as “Santa-san” in December, since you can’t have Christmas without a proper gaijin in that role. In addition to this Baptist church, there were Catholic, Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness congregations in my city.
There are two doorways to Christianity for Japanese people. The first is missionary schools, most of which were founded in the late 19th century when Japan was modernizing and opening itself to the West. My daughter attended one of these in junior high, and as a result only she and I have any knowledge of the Bible, while my wife and my son have zero.
Then there are foreign missionaries who come to Japan to spread their faith. The most common of these are Mormons, who can be easily identified because they’re always riding mountain bikes and wearing proper safety helmets. They give free English lessons to people who will come to hear their message.
Let’s Explore Some Christian Anime!
There are quite a few “Christian anime” that make use of the visual themes of Christianity for world-building or story reasons. Let’s take a look at some!
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Evangelion is famously filled with “faux-Christian” themes, from the coming of the Angels and the Second Impact being foretold in the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Spear of Longinus to Lilith crucified on a cross. Director Kazuya Tsurumaki has said in interviews that this was done “to give the project a unique edge against other giant robot shows” and that Eva has no actual Christian meaning.
A Certain Magical Index
The plot of this long-running novel and anime series is so convoluted I refuse to properly watch it because of my policy against getting into shows that require me to study the equivalent of a Master’s Degree to follow the story. The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England are among the various warring factions.
Why does Japan love Great Britain-senpai so much? Here’s a blog post for you!
Saint Young Men
A genius anime and manga. Jesus and Buddha are inexplicably living together in an apartment in modern Tokyo, and have many adventures together.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Kyoko Sakura’s backstory is tragic, with her father being an Anglican minister who goes mad due to the influence of a Witch, resulting in him killing Kyoko’s family.
It’s great when anime can be awesome to watch, and teach us something about history, too. In Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe’s classic series, the characters encounter some kakure kirishitan or “hidden Christians,” who secretly held on to their faith after it was outlawed in the Edo Period.
Haganai: I Have Few Friends
An excellent example of how Christian visual elements can be thrown around willy-nilly in anime. Gotta love those comic relief nuns!
Maria Watches Over Us
“Catholic Schoolgirls: the Anime” shows how Japan’s perception of Christianity is heavily filtered through missionary schools.
A well-regarded anime with character designs by Yoshitoshi ABe. That’s enough to pique my interest!
Another show that includes a holy nun character, to cleanse our souls after Tamaki’s constant fan service. Purification!
Vatican Kiseki Chousakan
An anime that follows two miracle examiners who investigate supernatural events.
Need Another Christian Anime? Saint Tail!
The only reason I know this show is that it was one of the three series parodied in Season of the Sakura, the classic hentai visual novel we published…26 years ago? Yikes! Incredibly you can play the game for free in any browser here!
Thanks for reading this post exploring Christian anime and how the Japanese feel about Western religion. Did we miss any important anime series with themes related to Christianity? Post them below, or reply to us on Twitter!
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