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Christian Symbols in Anime and Manga

This week I will be touching on a sensitive topic, at least one that you skirt around with Western audiences/readers – the depiction of Christianity in anime/manga. We all know that the portrayal of religion in any media form is a touchy topic and thus, a lot of folks frown on manga and anime for its rather liberal – not to mention random – use of religious symbols. But am I the only one who wonders about Christian symbols in anime? I mean, it doesn't really matter what your personal beliefs are; what I am talking about in this case is curiosity about the influences on this country's art forms. What exactly is the connection between religion and these media formats?

Firstly, I suppose we have to cover the bases and explain why Japan's fascination with Christianity is weird. If you consider that Christianity is a minority in this Asian country – often cited as 1% of the total population – wouldn't you start wondering why they are so taken up with this particular religion? Why does it feature in anime, either as part of apparel, the backdrop or even as part of the overall storyline?

Well, there are a number of theories suggested by authors and anime fans in order to explain these inputs. Some believe that a religious ban by Tokugawa in 16th century might have contributed to Japanese folks not being in the know about the religion. This in turn would explain why there were few Christians in Japan. It would also explain, as is pointed out by Patrick Drazen in this article (a must-read if you are curious about depiction of religion in anime), why Japanese grasp of Christianity is limited to TV and media depictions and referrals. That would surely result in an entirely different take on something that was completely foreign to that land, right?

That actually brings up the other theory. Many have noted that the view of Christianity in Japan is akin to other cultural depictions in Western media. The best comparison, noted amongst fans, was the portrayal of voodoo magic in Hollywood flicks which ends up as fancy little unknown art that has unlimited possibilities.

Folks also believe that Japan adopted a more secular view on life and thus, tended to push the boundaries on a lot of topics (and not just religion). Therefore, the writers would pick from any or every cultural or religious topic possible and … just run with it. They aren't being disrespectful in such cases and neither are they poking fun at any of these themes; the theory is that, given their laidback attitude, the writers also can't imagine anyone taking offense to such re-imaginings.

Until someone does a more indepth research, we won't know for sure. However, it has to be said that Christianity features, in one way or another, in a number of anime and manga. Shows or comics that used symbols or references purely as part of apparel or props include the following: Misa's cross in Death Note; the depiction of priest fighters in Trinity Blood; Quinchies' crosses in Bleach; The Christ references in Serial Experiments Lain; the crosses in Rosario and Vampire; and the hefty cross (actually a disguised gun called Punisher) carried around by Nicholas Wolfwood in Trigun. The most interesting cross reference was found in the aforementioned Drazen article. Here he points out how Sailor Moon featured a lot of crucification which, funnily enough, was taken out of the Western dubbed versions.