As I continue brooding about life and true happiness, I can’t help but think about the anime series Angel Beats! After re-watching the show for the eighth time, I realized just how often the characters’ thoughts about religion (and the afterlife) affect what happens in the plot. While the story
occurs in a world considered the afterlife, how they choose to pass on (or stay in limbo) is affected greatly on different belief systems. From Buddhism to Christianity, the characters believe in different icons or principles from these religions and make a lot of assumptions about this world because of their beliefs.
Spoilers after the jump!
Angel Beats! is about Otonashi, a boy who’s recently died and arrived in limbo. As he has no memory of his past life, he wanders the only building in this world, a Japanese high school. The only humans he runs into are a group that call themselves the “Shinda Sekai Sensen”, or the “Afterlife Battlefront”. All the other people in this world are called NPCs by the battlefront, because they seem human, but don’t have a will of their own. The S.S.S.’s main goal is to “rebel against God”, or rather to refuse to pass on. Every member of the battlefront has their own reason for rebelling, but the general reason is because their past lives were so miserable and unfair, and that they can’t believe that God is a benevolent being. Why should such a cruel God be allowed to choose what fate people have when their past lives were so horrible? The S.S.S. warn Otonashi that if he decides to ignore the battlefront and live life like a normal student, he will be “obliterated”, or pass on with no guarantee of what happens to him (reincarnation, etc).
Another goal of the S.S.S. is to fight a girl they call Angel. They believe that Angel is able to communicate with God, and gained powers from God to aid her in her mission to obliterate people. The group tries a number of missions to incite Angel so she must confer with God. They believe that if they disrupt NPCs taking classes and preventing people from passing on, Angel would have no choice but to report to God and seek advice. Later the battlefront finds out that Angel isn’t an angel, but a human just like them named Kanade. As they try to make God appear, they realize that this world isn’t influenced by God. By the end of the series everyone decides it’s best to pass on willingly, even if they’re unsure of the outcome.
Oddly enough there are no specifics about what kind of religion everyone believes in, but they do bring up different philosophies. In the beginning of the series, the battlefront talks about how they don’t want to pass on because they don’t know if people reincarnate. And if they did incarnate, what if it wasn’t as a person? What if you end up as an animal and get eaten? It’s rather surprising to hear that kind of conclusion when the original intent of the battlefront is to rebel against God, but it’s a realistic problem to consider. In Buddhism it’s believed that a person can be reincarnated either as a person, an animal, or as an etheral being. Buddhism is one of the most common religions in the world, but it’s still shocking when a show decides to openly and casually talk about what might happen in the afterlife. The characters in the show could also be Hindu, since Hindus believe in reincarnation, along with a god(s), yet the show never goes beyond any more philosophies from these religions past being reincarnated. The story never gets into a lot of detail as to who decided to stay out of fear of what they’ll reincarnate into, but since the group continued to stay in this world, it triggered the shadow creatures to appear. They lost members of the group to these creatures because they were afraid to move on, when everyone could have otherwise left on a peaceful note.
The most puzzling things about this show are how they view Kanade as an angel, and how God is represented. Since they refer to Kanade as a worker/messenger of God, the group could be referring to a number of religions. Since only one unspecified, onmipresent God is mentioned, they could be referencing Christian, Judaic, or Islamic beliefs. They never refer to God anything outside of “God” (like Christ or another holy name), so it’s unclear which religion they’re referring to. It’s also strange since Kanade doesn’t seem very angelic, so the only reason the group thought Kanade was an angel was because when a person joined this limbo world and interacted with her (living a normal school life), they were obliterated. It’s possible that they assumed she was working for God because she was obliterating people, since angels are known to assist God in different affairs. She also helps people pass on in the most peaceful way possible, by helping them move on from any past grievances. In most cases, angels are known to be passive beings meant to help people. While she does have powers, there are other individuals in this world that have developed powers of their own.
By the end of the show, Otonashi is surprised that Kanade is human, even when she admitted as much in the first episode. The only thing that really made Kanade seem angelic was when Otonashi suggested she create feathered wings to use, so she could help Otonashi pass on and give people a sense of peace. Everyone seems to accept these few ideas as true, that angels are real, and that there is a God. Again, no one admits to having a specific faith in a religion, but no one discounts them either. This can be considered a mix of beliefs, or even seeing the afterlife with an agnostic viewpoint.
I’m glad the show doesn’t get overly serious about any religion. While accurate religious representation is important, it’s also important to show how people can be open to several different religions, along with the idea that it’s okay to be indecisive. It’s important to show that it’s okay to not fully understand (or have faith) in a religion, but to respect that people do believe in different religions. Everyone agreed with views from several religions, and this influenced how they saw the world and decisions they made. It’s nice to see characters casually talk about religion, but a shame that the anime doesn’t make more of a point about being agnostic (or atheist). The only time religion is explicitly mentioned is when the battlefront has to go on a mission to fight Angel.
If this anime seems interesting, I highly suggest checking it out! Not only are the female characters treated with respect, but the band they use for the soundtrack is amazing as well! Just know that the ending is a tear jerker….
What do you guys think of Angel Beats? Do you think there should have been more of a religious focus? Let us know in the comments below!
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I loved this anime and your review of its attitude to religion greatly interests me. While I don’t believe in God, I did like the direction they took with the anime in fighting God, acceptance of death and the notion of reincarnation being discussed without the tropes of specific religions. I was a little irritated at the fact that a God was an accepted fact, so an atheist position wasn’t even considered, but it was still good nonetheless. Great review. 🙂
Reblogged this on The Chronic Chronicler and commented:
Because I love anime and I have an interest in religion, despite not believing in any or any God myself, I thought you should all have a look at this. Be sure to share it round, leave loads of comments and of course, click the like button if you found it enjoyable!
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