Article: Youkai and Tenshi, religion in anime part 1

Youkai and Tenshi, religion in anime part 1
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Youkai and Tenshi, religion in anime part 1

. Art is one of the main features in any culture and one of the best ways you can tell what a people are like is to look at their art. It can tell what people think and believe in ways that even when asking someone directly they will have difficulty telling you. Religion is one of those things people have a difficult time discussing and thus sometimes you have to look at people's art to find out what they really think. Any basic overview of Japanese culture will tell you that there are two dominant religions in Japan, Shinto and Buddhism. However it hard for an outsider to understand said religions, let alone their effects of Japanese society. So this is where art (in this case anime) comes into play to help us in understand these forces in Japanese society.

Anime most often has some element of the fantastic, with angels (tenshi) and demons (Youkai) being common. These creatures are portrayed quite differently than someone from a western culture would expect. Touched by an angel doesn't seem to have a Japanese counterpart. The depiction of angels and demons tends to go with one of four themes; pollution demons, devil with a soul, ms. Perfect, and the kabbalistic enigma. Even though these four themes occur fairly regularly in anime, they are not universal nor do the themes always mean the same thing. This like all articles I write are just inferences I have made from watching years of anime and reading the books of those who know more about the subject than I.

The pollution demon theme is perhaps the easiest for the western mind to empathize with. This theme is found in mainly action anime and anime with environmental themes. In this theme there are demons and the demons are evil like you would expect. The main difference is that instead of demons trying to corrupt humanity, the demons themselves are the result of the corrupt acts that humans do. Also these demons are usually only nominally sentient with little more motivation than the wreak havoc. This gives the heroes in action anime a quick and disposable foe to kill.There is also the possibility that the pollution demons might have been more benign spirits angered by the acts of humanity. The demon boar in the beginning of Princess Mononoke would be a good example of this.

The devil with a soul theme is radically different from western religion, thus illustrating the differences between the Japanese religions and the Judeo-Christian ideology. When the devil with a soul theme appears you will find a demon who acts like a normal, if amoral person at the beginning of the show. As the story progresses the demon slowly sheds his or her evil tendencies and becomes a moral person. This idea comes from the idea in Buddhism that hell is only a temporary place and that redemption even for the people there is possible. Often the greatest evil in anime that has demons comes from human villains, as demons in Buddhism are the result of evil humans. Inu yasha is a good example of both sides of this theme. Inu Yasha starts off as a uncouth and uncaring half demon but eventually loses his indifference to humans. Naraku on the other hand started out as a normal human but through his depraved desires loses his humanity and becomes a demon.

Most people in Japan are not Christian. The Japanese do find certain aspects of Christianity fascinating. Mainly these are trappings of the religion not the core values. For example there are numerous wedding chapels in Japan. These chapels are there simply for the purpose of holding Christian style weddings and not for regular worship. This style over substance stance on religious iconography sometimes extends the depictions of angels in anime. The theme I have titled ms. Perfect is such the case. Often times when you see a girl in anime with angel wings they are there to emphasize the girl's innocence. Even when the girl is an actual angel she is a general good deed doer rather than a servant of god. Misha from Pita ten is an example of this idea.

As I have said before Japan is not a Christian nation. With a lack of Christians there is also a lack of criticism that occurs when anime covers Christianity in a controversial or heretical way, or as I call it using the theme the kabbalistic enigma. These shows will have a take on western religion that uses a lot of obscure references to make the show more interesting but often goes far off track from what most people that actually follow the religion believe. Evangelion is a prime example of this theme

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