Hello everyone! This is RishRaff here. The idea of this Bonus Post series is to do an in-depth analysis of different anime series and see how they relate to Christianity. While this may seem like a fruitless effort, due to the largely secular culture of Japan, you may be surprised. So I invite you to join me in analyzing Angel Beats through the lenses of Christianity. Beware that there will be SPOILERS!
Why Christianity v. Anime?
You may ask what would spurn me to write on such a topic. I am a Christian myself, and as such, like to search for Christian influences in media, especially anime. LowKev and myself have spent a number of hours discussing various anime, and how to understand them in a Christian context. This provides insight for people into the attitudes of the Japanese in regards to Christianity, and religion in general. I have my own personal thoughts on that as a whole, but I will offer that another time. Today I want to discuss one of my favorite anime, Angel Beats! A summary of the anime will be provided below. If you already know the premise, you may think the anime is more anti-religion than religious. However, I want to raise some important points that suggest that the anime is at least encouraging telling viewers to give Christianity a chance.
So without further, let us continue!
Summary: Otonashi is a young boy living in the afterlife with no memories of his life before his death. He joins a school organization called the SSS whose mission is to fight against God. -Crunchyroll.com
Themes of Redemption and Salvation in Contrast with Uncertainty
While only covered at a shallow level in our review of Angel Beats, the show does contain extensive themes of redemption and salvation. It contrasts these themes with uncertainty among the characters. While this does not immediately declare the show as promoting Christianity, it does give a good starting point. The redemption aspect is most notable seen in Yuri, the leader of SSS. She had a hard life while she was alive, having witnessed the murder of her siblings while being unable to protect them, and having implied to have committed suicide (which is generally considered dishonorable). She fights against this past, blaming God for the sins committed against her and her own shortcomings. This is a pretty typical attitude of atheists it seems, saying “I cannot believe in a God who allows so much evil in the world.” I can see where they are coming from, and I would argue against them, but this is a discuss about anime and Christianity, not Christianity in the wide world. Nonetheless, Yuri is in great need of redemption to help her feel at peace. The redemption when she turns down the offer to become a “god” of the afterlife school world and confronts the AI character deep within the guild. She comes to terms with all she has gone through, both in the afterlife world and while alive. The interesting part of this is that she finds redemption after accepting the love she feels for everyone in the SSS. The parallel here is obvious, in which by accepting the love and sacrifice of Christ one find redemption and salvation.
Yuri finds her salvation, which is known in the anime as graduation, by moving on from the purgatory style afterlife school. The salvation theme applies to all the characters as they graduate from the purgatory. Now all these positive themes are set a constant uneasiness of uncertainty. The first instances of this are in very first episode, where the cast explains to Otonashi that they do not actually know what happens after the graduation. While this moment is comedic seeming, it also shows the anxieties of the characters about moving on. The discussion shortly therefore after between Yuri and Otonashi regarding the existence of God further sets the idea of uncertainty in the background of the show. However, despite the uncertainty, the characters still have faith that there is a God (albeit for the wrong reasons) and in the end a better world beyond the purgatory. While all these themes are all well and good, and match up with a Christian worldview, you can argue that they can just as easily argue they can be themes of Buddhism. Well, now I will argue for the existence of God in the Angel Beats world, and not only His existence, but also Him directly interfering in the characters’ lives.
God in Angel Beats
This is where I will dispel the supposed anti-religion sentiment some people deem Angel Beats to have. God appears very plainly in Angel Beats, one needs to only look. The bulk of this argument stems from the mere existence of the afterlife school. There are several aspects that suggest that it is one of many levels of purgatory, in a similar vein to Dante’s Purgatorio of the Divine Comedy. The world offers a chance of redemption from the horrors and sins of one’s life, similar to the Catholic idea of purgatory. The fact there is only Japanese students, and all of roughly the same age, allows one to reason that there may be multiple of these afterlife schools, for various peoples, also helps to argue for the idea of this particular afterlife school being one level of many. The existence of the school also implies a creator of the world. At this point, you may mention the idea of the Programmer. I will step away from my argument to state it is stated by the AI that the Programmer merely changed the protocols of the world (episode 12). God also interferes with the workings of the world, it would seem. This is hinted by Otonashi in episode 13 when he says, “I might have come here to fulfill that purpose [to help people pass on].” This would seem to imply so other force that brought Otonashi to the afterlife school. It is very interesting to note that while he had amnesia, there is no reason why he would have amnesia upon dying, as he was fully functioning mentally when he did pass away (episode 7). One can reason God brought Otonashi to the afterlife school to help save everyone else. Another strong point is the presence, and power, of love within the series. Love is central idea in Christianity, and comes directly from God. All this being said, there is another way to interpret Angel Beats as an allegory for the Christian missionary situation in Japan.
Angel Beats as an Allegory
Perhaps one of the more interesting ways to view Angel Beats is as an allegory for the journey of a Christian missionary and their interaction with the Japanese populace. Before I start, in case you do not know, an allegory is, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “a story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for ideas about human life or for a political or historical situation.” The Christian missionary in the story is Otonashi. He arrives in the afterlife school (symbolizing Japan) not knowing anything, much like the ignorance that some first time missionaries would have upon first arriving in the missions field. He interacts with the different characters who all represent different aspects of the Japanese culture. For example, Yuri is the person struggling to find hope where there is none, unless one looks to God. In searching for hope in other things, they are rebelling against God, just as Yuri literally does in Angel Beats. She can even seems to represent the general attitude of the Japanese, who are seeking something more fulfilling than their current lifestyle and religious preferences. Kanade fits in to the whole allegory in a strange way, as she seems to represent the false salvation offered by other religions. This is reflected in the mistake made by the other characters in assuming she is an angel who is in direct communication with God. Otonashi ultimately succeeds in his mission of helping the other characters “graduate.” The idea of reincarnation confirmed by the first epilogue of the series can be seen as people being literally reborn, as a parallel of the metaphorical being reborn mentioned by Jesus in John 3:3. To summarize, Angel Beats is the allegoric telling of a Christian missionary who arrives in Japan, not quite sure what he is doing initially. However, through getting to know the people and the culture he has a way to point them to the true God and hope of salvation, of which many of them achieve. Seems like Angel Beats is even deeper than one would expect.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article, which I realize may be a little long. I hope you were able to find the discussion interesting, regardless of whether you agree or not. My main goal of composing this Christianity v. Anime series is to show that anime is not necessarily an evil thing that some Christians might see it as, and that it can contain Christian influences and themes. Feel free to comment your own thoughts on what I have written, and your own beliefs/interpretations. I look forward to reading them!