ANIME & MANGA - Article
11:00 - 19th July 2014, by David West

The One, True Faith (sort of)

Christianity is very much a minority faith in Japan, where roughly 1% of the population belongs to one Christian denomination or another. The majority of Japanese people do not consider themselves to belong to any particular religion, although many will observe Buddhist and Shinto practices on special occasions - festivals, weddings and funerals being obvious examples. The highest concentration of Christians is found in western Japan, where the first missionaries arrived in the 16th century. With such a small number of practicing followers in the country, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that the presentation of Christianity in anime and manga is not exactly the stuff of strictest orthodoxy.

In Blue Exorcist, the headquarters of the Order of the True Cross is located beneath the Basilica of St Paul in the Vatican, so clearly the True Cross Academy is connected to the Catholic Church. Yet there are female Exorcists, which seems unlikely in an organisation that refuses to ordain female priests. One Exorcist in particular, Shura Kirigakure, walks around in a bikini top and hot pants. You can almost hear the Cardinals having seizures at the sheer impropriety of her wardrobe choices.

If anime is to be believed, most priests spend a great deal of their time fighting demons and vampires, seen in Trinity Blood, Chrono Crusade and the Korean manhwa Priest by Hyung Min-woo. Chrono Crusade features the partnership between a demon called Chrono and an Exorcist-nun called Sister Rosette, who fight demons in New York in the 1920s. Rosette is a member of The Order Of Magdalene, which trains exorcists, similar to the Knights Of The True Cross. In the series, Rosette is 16 years old. In the Catholic Church, most orders have a minimum age of 18 for nuns, and in some cases it can be older, so 16-year-old nuns are strictly the stuff of anime.

Rosette pales in comparison to the Eda, the gun-toting, foul mouthed, hard drinking nun from The Church Of Violence in Roanapur, featured in Black Lagoon. The Church Of Violence looks like a Catholic Church at first glance, but it's a cover for smuggling, corruption and the CIA. Perhaps it's not the best place to go to confess your sins, unless you want to be blackmailed. And probably shot.

In the world of the two Hellsing anime adaptations, the Vatican's operatives in the Iscariot Organisation are rivals and enemies to the Hellsing Organisation, which defends Britain and the Anglican Church against supernatural menaces with the aid of an immortal vampire called Alucard. Integra Hellsing seems to harbour a particular hatred for the Catholic Church, while the Iscariot agent Alexander Anderson is a fanatic willing to go to any lengths in the service of the Vatican.

Sometimes anime and manga creators don't even seem to grasp the most fundamental tenets of the religions they feature. In Fate / Zero, Kirei Kotomine is a Catholic priest... and so is his father, which is remarkable, since Catholic priests take vows of celibacy. The Fate series all concern the Holy Grail Wars - a series of violent battles fought between Masters and their Servants for possession of that Holiest Of Holies, because if Jesus loved anything, it was a good scrap. Forget that 'turn the other cheek' business; it's time to kick ass in the name of Christ. Then there's the fact that most of the Servants fighting in the Grail Wars come from time periods that far predate the birth of Christianity, including Pagan figures like Hercules and Gilgamesh.

In Spice And Wolf, the Catholic Church is a menacing, oppressive force in society and a constant threat to Holo, a wolf girl worshipped as a Pagan deity, and as such, an affront to the Church. One of the relatively few series to show the Catholic Church in a more realistic, grounded fashion is Shinichiro Watanabe's Kids On The Slope, in which two of the lead characters, Sentaro and Ritsuko, are practicing Christians. When their classmate Kaoru finds out, his surprise reflects the minority status of Catholicism in Japan, and he's not really sure what to make of his friends' faith.

The one recurring common factor is a preference for the Catholic Church in anime and manga, rather than any of the other many Christian denominations. With the notable exception of Hellsing, the Anglican Church barely gets mentioned in anime, and the Eastern Orthodox Church is unrepresented on page and screen, despite being the second largest form of Christianity on a global scale. Perhaps what makes the Catholic Church so appealing is the combination of visually striking iconography and the hierarchical structure of the faith that Catholicism offers creators. The Vatican provides a ready-made headquarters and power centre perfect for secret organisations like the Knights of the True Cross and the Order of Magdalene. Somehow the notion of a clandestine, anti-demon force located within Canterbury Cathedral lacks the same sense of grandeur and mystery.

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