ANS Feature: Religion In Anime And Manga
By: Jonah Morgan
Spiritual beliefs and traditions from across the world have been present in Japanese cartoons and comics since the beginnings of the media. The greatest masters of these respective art forms have touched upon the topics with works bearing their influence having gone on to become some of the most popular successes with fans. From Christianity to Hinduism to Buddhism, it can all be found within these 2 staples of Japanese pop culture.
Director Hideaki Anno drew on elements of Christian and Hebrew Mysticism in arguably the most popular anime series in the last 10 years, Neon Genesis Evangelion. Anno has been mentioned to have used Japanese books on the Kabbala and Christian theologies for his source material although a great mystery has always surrounded which publications were specifically referenced.
The early 1980’s saw the production of 2 of the most highly successful Bible related animation series in history: Superbook and the New Testament focused Flying House. Produced jointly by Pat Robertson’s CBN and Tatsunoko (Gatchaman/G-Force, Macross/Robotech), both weigh in at 52 episodes apiece and recieved a great deal of popularity in Japan when they originally aired. Since then Superbook has gone on to be translated into 25 languages and shown in 70 countries. When broadcast in Russia and the Ukraine in 1991, the series reportedly produced more than thirteen million requests for gospel literature.
Ranma 1/2 creator, Rumiko Takahashi, made a novice Roman Catholic Nun the focus of her One Pound Gospel story. In the series, Sister Angelica must deal with the affection of young and reluctant boxer, Kosaku Hatanaka.
The great Eastern traditions have been represented as well in recent series such as Earth Girl Arjuna and 2000’s Yugo Sako film, The Prince Of Light which were both rooted in Hindu philosophy. The god of manga himself, Osamu Tezuka, made religion the focus of one his last great works, Buddha which chronicles the events surrounding the life of young Siddhartha.