A Christmas Dialogue Round 1

←[104] This was a round-robin by lelangir, Lbrevis, ghostlightning and usagijen. In it, we start by discussing Christmas (we started a while ago heh…) and how it’s turned into such a commercial enterprise. We use Kannagi and Lucky Star as vehicles for our discussion.

This round robin took place in the form of a chain letter. I wrote a short remark, and emailed to the next participant. I hoped that this would develop a linear dialogue, although that’s only part true.

Round 1. See Round 2 Here

lelangir: So, in relation to Christmas and religion, one interesting case is in Kannagi, specifically Zange (which wiki tells me means “penitence” or “confession” in Japanese). In essence, Zange chooses her host, a Christian nun, because it is a more popular religion, and so all the faith she receives is what nourishes her existence. Nagi, on the other hand, comes from an ancient religion, which is not so monolithic in itself, “Shintoism” being an agglomerative representation of many tribal religions. This is also shown in Natsume Yuujin-chou 02, where a god continuously shrinks until he vanishes because his only worshipper and source of faith, an elderly lady, dies. People have mentioned how Kannagi is social commentary on religion and cultural idolatry. And this is supported by, literally, the idolization of Nagi, manifested quite clearly in the OP.

Lbrevis: I think it all comes down to the fact that generally speaking the Japanese are not religious, at least not in the way the West is. Just the other day I saw a bumper sticker that said “Keep Christ in Christmas.” The driver would undoubtedly be horrified to know that in Japan Christmas is a commercial event where the Christmas cake is far more important than a baby in a manger.

So getting back to shrine maidens, it’s not surprising that Kannagi mixes pop culture with religion in a way that would be sacrilegious to everyone else… in America! (thank you, Bandit Keith). It may be, for better or for worse, that Nagi has really hit on something here and this is the only way to make an ancient religion like Shintoism relevant.

ghostlightning: The Philippines is the largest Christian (Catholic) country in Asia, and over here, the Christmas season begins in… September! So imagine the eerie juxtapositions of Santa Clause and Jack o’ Lanterns during Halloween. Here however, despite the overt colonization into Christianity, we appropriated Catholicism right back – in very animistic ways. Patron saints bless locales the same way Nagi the patron goddess of her area.

You’ll really see oddities, such as the Black Jesus in the heart of Manila (Quiapo district).

The people, the worshippers, by appropriating religion to fit within their own understanding and comfort levels, perpetuate religion. I’m pretty sure Jesus isn’t black, and neither are Filipinos, but the Catholic church didn’t/couldn’t declare this sacrilegious. Nagi may be on to something.

usagijen: I recently thought about how Japanese can’t say the pun-ny line ‘Christ puts “Christ” in Christmas’ because of how they represented Christmas in their language — クリスマス — simply KURISUMASU, with no Christ in sight, and I guess that would make more sense when you take into account what Lbrevis said. They could’ve opted for the Chinese equivalent, 聖誕節, if they really wanted to show its religious roots, but they didn’t, as though they just adapted Christmas for the sake of its “modern-day rituals”. In the words of ghostlightning, it’s like they simply appropriated Christmas to fit their own understanding, in the same way religion works, or pop culture for that matter.

There’s a reason why idols, both in religion and pop culture, are called as such. And when you see the incredible feats my fellow countrymen — the Filipino devotees — go through just to touch their beloved Nazarene idol each year (illustrated in the pic provided by ghostlightning), no less than the die-hard fans of, say, Michael Jackson or Miley Cyrus (or other phenomenal craze), who cry, faint, and fall head over heels for their beloved pop star idol, the intersection between the two becomes even more vague. Do we call the religious devotees’ act sacrilegious, or simply an admirable display of faith and devotion? How about the overzealous act of fans? The thin line that separates them is the sanctity aspect of religion, which is quite ambiguous in and of itself. Religion is a mainstream pop culture, after all. Now if my confusion serves to affirm the social commentary present in Kannagi, then all I can say is, Nagi may be on to something indeed.

Concluding questions for the reader

1. Are you a religious person in any way? Does your anime watching conflict with or support your beliefs?

2. Are you comfortable with how religion is portrayed in anime? If so, does it make the show interesting? entertaining?

3. If you were to draw a line, what is/should be taboo?

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  1. Posted January 5, 2009 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Still in all probability Jesus was not born in December at all, as it probably was an easy way for Christians to compete with the pagans on the longest night of the year. Besides unless the owner was a dumb ass that killed his entire herd or otherwise lost it, in the dead of winter that manger would not have been empty. Besides the market is older than Christianity and who could pass up the chance to make some money? To be sure there is a religious Christmas, and then there is the monstrous economic holiday that retailers try to profit after a slow year. Far as I am concerned Christmas the monstrous commercial holiday is a cornerstone of the economy, you can add a dash of religion to it if you’d like but who can say no to gifts?

    Anime will never respect Christianity because the ones who make it would not know who St. Peter is (until he sends them all to hell, mwuhahahahaha) and as such they can take the same liberties with their scant understanding. Had their grasp been better then we would have a much more interesting use of Catholic history with the Crusades, and Knights Templar. Besides all they really care about are Nuns and the sexualization of them. Also Goths and emo go hand in hand and use of the cross is indeed liberal. Overall Religion and dogma have never made much headway in Japan historically, they had a rich history of Sohei (Warrior Monks) kicking the shit out of samurai, but that is hardly dwelled upon in anime.

    There’s no real point in drawing the line since they will unwittingly cross multiple times and then loop back to do it again…

    There are no atheists in foxholes, but because we fox hole dwellers are a cynical bunch, perhaps Jesus was better off staying alive and helping the poor, rather than die for a bunch of ungrateful and idiotic apes. :P

  2. D=
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Seirei no Moribito’s Balsa used a spear and beat the crap out of a bunch of people using Katanas. That’s the closest I’ve seen breaking Crusader’s statement goes.

    I mean, unless they choose to animate Ravages of Time. No way in hell some guy with a sword is going to touch Guan Yu or Lu Bu besides Zhao Yun, let alone beat them.

  3. Stranger in a van With Candy
    Posted January 5, 2009 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    No I’m not religous don’t see much point in being that way just another set of rules to abide by in my eyes but i do believe in god and all that so no it doesn’t conflict.

    Yes I’m comfortable with it you shouldn’t be such a hardcore believer as to where you discriminate or hate otherwise you’re doing something that most religions frown upon to some level. The way that ‘religous’ holidays are portrayed in anime amuse me but if you think about it even in America it is getting to a point of nothing to do with religion little by little.

    Would never draw a line why cripple a person’s creativity?

  4. mareo
    Posted January 6, 2009 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    1. Are you a religious person in any way? Does your anime watching conflict with or support your beliefs?

    a) I want to believe in God, but I cant believe in religion. My family is 1/3 catholic, 1/3 buddhist and 1/3 atheist. I setled in the midle as a neutral zone.
    b) That is very general question, the correct answer can be ”depends of the anime”, but if you want a direct answer: No and No.

    2. Are you comfortable with how religion is portrayed in anime? If so, does it make the show interesting? entertaining?

    Aside of Hentai that can be REALLY bizarre, I think that anime is soft compared with South Park and Family Guy about catholic stuff. I have no problem, In fact I find amusing how Shintoism is portrayed in Lucky Star. Wait a sec… we are talking about Xmas in Japan or about religion in anime?

    3. If you were to draw a line, what is/should be taboo?

    Hmm… (scratching head) maybe playing with a cross in the mosaic zone?

    A little of topic:
    Talking about idols and religion, I remember two cases in southamerica of popular Singers that after they died in car accidentes their fans made them ”pseudo catholic saints”.

  5. Posted January 6, 2009 at 5:11 am | Permalink


    Some factual corrections here.

    1. The nun, as we know it, came from misintepretation of the Bible somewhere around the 10th-12th century CE, partly due to the Crusades. It could be earlier, but I can’t remember, nor have the time to check it out. For some reason, the Roman Catholic Church absorbed the monastic traditions and that’s how the Roman Catholic Nun came to being, most notably Mother Teresa.

    2. Japan has been secularizing themselves at a frenzied pace, starting from the Tokugawa Era. They are slowly losing the meaning of even their own polythesistic beliefs, reducing them to mere obligatory practices.

    3. Jesus was not born in December, but in June. June 6, to be precise. For those of you in the audience, yes, the famed date was chosen to compete with the worship of Mithras in those days, but they also chose the date simply because no one actually remembered when Jesus was born. Just as the Bible does not state actual dates for the creation of the Universe and the Exodus (thus leading me to think we might have to tack on an extra 300 years from the Exodus to the fall of Jericho), the writers of the New Testament simply did not write this date down because the act was more important than the date.

    4. I’m not too uncomfortable with the portrayal of religion in animé. Partly because the worst offender is actually a Korean manga, and partly because I understand why, and partly because the Roman Catholics got there first :P

  6. ZeusIrae
    Posted January 6, 2009 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    “the writers of the New Testament simply did not write this date down because the act was more important than the date.”
    And because the first written account appears at least 80 years after the events. Oral tradition are powerful but there’s limits.

    1)No, I am a catholic by culture and I identify myself with my fellow catholics even I don’t really share their sometimes excessive devotion.
    2) I always interested in the way anime portrays Shintoism and Bhuddism. It can be interesting, even if it’s not the focus of the story, the way it can be seamlessly blend in the story is interesting. But anything related to non-asian religions tend bore me, because most of the time it’s slightly ridiculous: huge crosses, weird clothes,mysterious organizations with links to the Vatican, most of it is completely over the top.

    3)I don’t draw any line. Well, even if a hentai showed Jesus having sex with an angelic loli, I still wouldn’t care. They have no taste but that’s all.

  7. Posted January 6, 2009 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    1. Are you a religious person in any way? Does your anime watching conflict with or support your beliefs?
    A. I’m Roman Catholic, and aside from the valuable time I waste watching anime when I should be studying, there’s really nothing wrong with it.

    2. Are you comfortable with how religion is portrayed in anime? If so, does it make the show interesting? entertaining?
    A. Comfortable? I often LOL. See NGE and Chrno Crusade. Shows a complete heyday with Biblical/Christian symbolism. NGE even screwed up its Biblical references in a epic manner.

    3. If you were to draw a line, what is/should be taboo?
    A. It’s all in the viewer’s perception. I don’t take the references seriously, so it doesn’t bother me too much.
    As to:
    1. The similarity of unusual religious practices to pop fanaticism:
    On the outside, yes, they are very similar. But they are focused differently. Pop fanaticism is directed toward a person or product, physically available, and so can change or decrease with time and changes in society. Religious devotism (not a word), however, is directed toward either concepts or spiritual entities, and usually has related concepts (eg religious laws) involved. This allows it to stick around longer, as people treat it more sacredly, teach it to others, etc.

    2. The ‘Black Jesus’ mentioned in the blog:
    It’s all about representation and localization. There’s nothing wrong with it (from a Catholic perspective at least) because the focus is the same, it’s just displayed differently. In most modern (read past 300 years) religious apparitions, the one appearing was localized — they spoke the language of the person they appeared to, etc. See Guadalupe. So if Christ and the Saints do it, what can be wrong? Yeah, a great argument, but it works.

  8. Jubbz
    Posted January 6, 2009 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    1. I am a Christian, but not exactly hardcore. I just happen to be one of the ones who believe that Jesus was black. =P

    2. I’m always interested in religious portrayal in an anime, regardless of what religion it is. Doesn’t really stop me if they make Christianity a bad thing cuz i know in my heart that being christian isn’t a bad thing. >_>

    3. the only line i’d draw is if they made God or Jesus gay. =\ (I know that sounded homophobic, but whatever, I’m not gonna debate it with anyone, even if i get jumped. )

  9. Posted January 6, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    1- I am atheist, so watching anime doesn’t enter in conflict with my beliefs :P

    2-The way religion is portrayed in anime never made me feel unconformable, to me it’s like any other subject like sports for example. If it’s well portrayed I like it if not i don’t like it. Although I must say for a country were most people are Buddhist/Shintoist there is sure a lot Christianity themed anime

    3- No idea, I am really tolerant so I pretty much accept anything. Probably the only thing I wouldn’t accept is religious propaganda in anime or an anime that says “hey this religion it’s better than the others”

  10. Posted January 6, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    1 – I consider myself somewhere between the lines of agnostic/atheist (depending on my mood :) ) I think that anime sort of confirms my perspective because it’s usually the religious groups that cause trouble. I’m sure their intentions were pure at first, but all it takes is a well-intentioned extremist and you get Light Yagami.
    2 – I think religion is a great plot device in anything. But that could be because I think of any sort of organized system of beliefs ends up being a ‘religion’, whether it’s from Kira and his followers from Death Note (although perhaps more of a cult and a more obvious example) to the extremist group Blue Cosmos in Gundam SEED who are sort of crusaders ‘cleansing the world’. Personally, I find it very cool, interesting, and often amusing.
    3 – I’m not sure if I would draw a line, or if there’s one close enough to think about. It’s a tv show. They can do what they want. Maybe if they’re blatantly advertising a certain religion TO THE AUDIENCE, then maybe I’d get a little annoyed. But otherwise, I’m cool with it.

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