Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Warrior Priests and Armies of God

Organized religion has a lot in common with the military. They both have a hierarchy of power, snazzy outfits, and ostensibly, a founding interest in protecting others from danger, whether it be physical or spiritual. Sometimes religious folk will make the connection explicit, as with the Jesuit sect within the Catholic Church, which was founded by a military man and whose members are called “Soldiers of God”. Nevertheless, in most cases religion and military forces have very different images and priorities.

Fiction sometimes tends to conflate religion with the military to the extent that they are the same thing. Although many religious leaders have spoken out against the idea that violence is ever necessary, it’s not uncommon to open a book, watch a movie, or read a manga that involves priests or religious folk fighting—for any number of reasons, but in a decidedly physical fashion.

gunslingerAnd I find that unsettling. St. Thomas Aquinas and other “just war” theorists may have argued that war can be justified for certain reasons, but it’s difficult to look at a regiment of crusaders or even just one nun with a gun and really believe that their intent is to bring peace to a troubled land or to protect innocents. Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Christianity in Anime

As with any situation where some people try to represent a tradition they don’t really know that much about, the Japanese are pretty ace at reimagining Christianity in the weirdest of ways. (Disclaimer: Yes, I know America does the same thing when they make every Buddhist monk a master of kung fu or something, I know as far as Christianity is concerned Christians have some of the least space historically to complain about appropriation, but that’s not what I’m gonna focus on today.)

Christianity first came to southern Japan with the first merchants during the European age of exploration, circa the 17th century. The Japanese government had finally restabilized itself following the Warring States era, and the ruling Tokugawa family decided that the foreigners’ religion (among other foreigner things) was a threat to the nation, and implemented a closed-borders policy, where no foreigners went in and no Japanese went out. Part of this policy made being a Christian a capital offense. This went on for over two and a half centuries, until the Tokugawa regime was toppled, America bullied Japan into reopening, and a new government was established. To this day, the population of Christians in Japan is about 1% of the total number of Japanese.

tl;dr: Historically and currently, Japan doesn’t have a lot of Christians and the Japanese in general (yay sweeping generalizations) don’t really get or care about getting a grasp on the meat of the doctrine, since they mostly all follow a vaguely atheist mix of Buddhism and Shintoism.

In part, because of the fact that Christianity isn’t really understood, there are a lot of really crazy anime that involve Christianity since it can make a theoretically great backdrop for anything with a supernatural plot. You may remember my Manga Mondays review of Hellsing? Well, it’s my honor to start there.

A priest, courtesy of Hellsing.

Hellsing’s main characters are English Protestants fighting vampires, and good god are they bloodthirsty, but not as bloodthirsty as the amoral and nigh-sociopathic forces of the

Catholic Church’s Division XIII, the Iscariot unit. They are basically a holdover from the most vicious and brutal of Crusaders—willing to kill anything—human or supernatural—that doesn’t profess the Catholic faith. At one point in the story, the Pope (who may or may not be JPII) gives permission for actual Catholic crusader armies to level London, as the first step in a Reconquista of the heathen Protestant islands. Yikes. The Church is by no means perfect, but I’m pretty sure that the Vatican does not have legions of crack soldiers for this sort of purpose.

Also, there’s, y’know, the gun.

There are also a lot of misconceptions about religious life. For example, Sister Esther of Trinity Blood and Sister Rosette of Chrono Crusade both have romantic interests in their male companions, Father Abel, a priest, and Chrono, a demon, respectively. Rosette’s also drawn in a super fetishistic way—thigh highs and garter belts under that habit? Of course there are. Trinity Blood also goes against current Catholic doctrine with a female Cardinal, but Caterina’s so badass that I don’t give any bothers about that.

In Rurouni Kenshin filler as well as in Samurai Champloo, the main characters encounter secret Christian groups in southern Japan, and they often wield plans to take over Japan like real Christian groups wielded rosaries.

A particularly strange case is that of Saiyuki—the story is based on a founding myth of Mahayana Buddhism, for cripe’s sake, and the main character is a Buddhist priest, but in the anime at least, we see statues of the Virgin Mary protecting a town from demons in a way that nothing Buddhist can.

And there are dozens of anime, mostly romantic (they’re a particularly common setting for shoujo-ai like Maria-sama ga Miteru) that are set in Catholic schools, but where the chapels are more of a place for a dramatic scene change than a place for worship.

I could go on for a long time, here. But I won’t. There are certainly anime that represent Christianity more reasonably. In the new anime Kids on the Slope/Sakamichi no Apollon, the main character moves to Kyushu and the friends he makes are Christians. In general, he has a typical Japanese reaction—he doesn’t get it, but he doesn’t resent them or try to convert them or anything either. They just happen to be Christian, with no guns, demons, or corny, chaste, and over-dramatic girls-love involved. To be fair, this is a slice of life anime and most of the rest I mentioned are fantasy in some way, but nevertheless, it was a breath of fresh air to see it.

What other anime do you know of with weird religious overtones or themes, readers? Let me know in the comments. For now, though, that’s a wrap on this week’s Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus.

Tune in next time and get some religion!

Manga Mondays: More vampires, more problems.

The Hellsing franchise is one of those that every anime fan is expected by some unspoken rule to be familiar with.  And a very long time ago, I watched the original anime and considered my dues paid.  However, when Borders closed last year (God rest its corporate soul), I managed to get all ten Hellsing mangas at one of their going-out-of-business sales. Knowing that they ended somewhat differently than the original anime, (they even made a second anime, a series of OVAs, so that a true-to-book animation existed a la FMA: Brotherhood) I figured I’d sit down this past weekend and find out exactly what happens in this classic of mangadom. First, an intro to the plot: Hellsing, aka the Royal Order of Protestant Knights, is an organization dedicated to the extermination of vampires, but it depends strongly on its trump card: Alucard, a centuries-old and insanely strong vampire who has sworn fealty to the leaders of Hellsing.  With his master Integra Hellsing leading the way, he, newly-turned vampire Seras Victoria, and a ragtag group of mercenaries go head to head with vampires, the Catholic Church, had-fifty-years-to-regroup Nazis, and traitors, but mostly one big fat combination of all of the above. (Mostly, though, it’s Nazi vampires.)

Next,  why it is exciting: Alucard is a nice break from the prissy romantic vampires of today and even from the seductive and pansexual vampires of Anne Rice’s heyday.  He will shoot your arms off and then drink your blood from the stumps. (Yeah, by the way, this series is intensely gory.  Limbs and organs and blood just flying everywhere all the time.) Also, at the risk of sounding like a dick, well, Nazis. They fascinate the public mind; otherwise there wouldn’t be so many movies about them.  Hell, the Daleks in Doctor Who are basically space-Nazis in trash cans. Nazis always make an interesting villain.  And Nazis and vampirism mix well together – Nazis did have a thing for the supernatural and the occult, and it’s relatively easy to believe they’d jump on the immorality train if they could.

Nextnext, a list of awesome chicks, because Hellsing is BRIMMING with them:

  • Integra, or to be exact, Sir Integral Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing. She’s the ancestral head of the Hellsing organization, but she certainly deserves the position.  She had the clout to garner respect from the baddest vampire in history when she was twelve. She lacks any sort of supernatural powers, but can still kick ass in a fight, whether with swords or guns. She can and must take responsibility for all of Alucard’s actions, and does so with no regrets.  She doesn’t let personal matters get in the way of the battlefield or Hellsing’s work.
  • Seras Victoria is turned by Alucard early in the first manga.  She takes a while to get used to the lifestyle of a vampire, but eventually gets the hang of it like nobody’s business. She’s intensely loyal to Integra and Alucard, and will END you if you threaten them or any of her other friends.
  • Rip van Winkle fights for the Nazis, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t badass. She’s a vampire sharpshooter whose bullets can turn in midair, allowing her to take down entire platoons in one shot.
  • Zorin Blitz is an illusionist, but can also kick your ass with a scythe. Her powers allow her to burrow into your psyche and dig up your deepest and most unpleasant memories, and then trap you in them while she cuts you in half.
  • Yumiko/Yumie, a Catholic nun with a split personality.  The former is sweet and gentle; the latter is a cold-blooded assassin.
  • Alucard.  Yes, I said Alucard – he’s a shapeshifter, after

    I desperately want to cosplay this.

    all, and in one of his final fights he transforms into a girl to show his opponent that changing his appearance should be a) simple for a vampire and b) irrelevant to how well he fights. (Apparently the internet calls this Girlycard, as I discovered when I hit up Google Images.) Needless to say, she is still just as kickass.

Reasons to be avoid Hellsing: If you are turned off by gore or heroes with dark grey morals, this is not the series for you.  In one fight Seras grinds her enemy’s face against a wall till all that’s left is an ear and a flap of skin.  I do not exaggerate about this.  Also, Japan often misses the boat when it comes to correct portrayals of Christianity and Catholicism in particular, but Hellsing features what is possibly the grossest misrepresentation of the Catholic Church that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve read a lot of Dan Brown books. Think Section XIII, the Iscariot Division, which jumps into the anarchy created by Nazi vampires attacking London to mount a ninth Crusade and try to take England for the Vatican.

Also, your mileage may vary (I usually found it interesting rather than a hindrance to reading), but all of the characters from non-English countries have their accents written into their lines.  (I didn’t even know Pip Vernedead was supposed to be French until last night, having only ever watched the OVAs in Japanese…)

ALSO, TRIGGER WARNING: The other issue that I would be remiss to not mention (especially because I’d have liked someone to warn me beforehand about it) is that there are two brief depictions of rape.  One is rape of a corpse and one is rape of a child.  They are only one panel apiece, but the images stuck in my mind enough that it would be a dereliction of duty not to warn people who may have even stronger rape triggers than me that they should be on the lookout. Many of the earlier villians also use rape as a threat when they’re killing villagers or hunting Seras or Integra.

And now back to your reglarly scheduled Manga Mondays.

As far as art style goes, it’s an interesting piece of work.  Kohta Hirano wrote and illustrated mostly porn/adult manga before writing Hellsing, and, well, his loving attention to boob detail is nothing new for a seasoned reader of shounen manga, but there are moments when you sort of double-take at how sexually a scene is portrayed. At the same time, there’s sort of a grimy despicableness to the character designs.  No one’s pretty all the time, and most people are never the stereotypical sort of androgynous-pretty people associate with manga characters. A general air of horror always lingers around the characters.

Finally, and I’m pointing this out explicitly because this is Lady Geek Girl’s most important criterion when she looks for new manga, the series is finished, and has a satisfying ending.  So if you’re up for it, go check out Hellsing!

All the Single …Folks: An Anime Top Ten

So. It’s apparently Valentine’s Day or something. The lead up to this manufactured pink holiday has the unfortunate cultural side effect of shaming all the people who lack a significant other into feeling alone and miserable. Well, being single ain’t all bad. Here are ten of the most kick-ass folks in anime who don’t need no romantic interest to be awesome.

1. Mirajane Strauss Mirajane is the most badass single lady in Fairy Tail.  She’s too concerned with keeping her family together and kicking ass in the name of the guild (either with or without her magical abilities) to worry about the long line of dudes (and ladies) that want to get with her.

2. Nathan Seymour a.k.a. Fire Emblem Fire Emblem is easily the most flirtatious of the Heroes of Sternbild’s Hero TV.  But that doesn’t mean he’s pinned down.  And don’t let his looks and playful personality fool you – he’s also the CEO of his own company and a powerful NEXT in his own right.

3. Sir Integra Fairbrook Wingates HellsingIntegra has a lot on her hands. Stopping the invasion of London by thousands upon thousands of neo-Nazi vampires is one of those things. Keeping a leash on her bff/trump card/vampire servant Alucard is another, and keeping track of the silly human girl he turned is yet another. Add in the superviolent secret Iscariot branch of the Catholic Church trying to take out her organization under the guise of stopping the invasion, and really, she does not have time to deal with suitors.

4. Kurosaki Ichigo You would think that with all the girls Ichigo’s always rushing to save (no one’s saying Bleach is a paragon of feminist awesomeness) that he’d end up with one of them. But he seems to have other things on his mind (defeating Aizen, gaining, losing, and regaining powers left and right, etc.), so he remains happily single.

5. Olivier ArmstrongOlivier (pronounced Olivia) Armstrong is more awesome than you can ever hope to be. She is a General, so she outranks you. She has kept the invading forces of Drachma at bay for how many years now in that brutally cold fortress in the bitter north? And if she can simply adapt and win when the world is literally breaking into its component parts around her, I’m pretty sure a little thing like being single on Valentine’s Day is none of her concern.

6. Heiwajima ShizuoShizuo is a sweet guy with a bit of an anger problem.  He definitely has his heart in the right place – he’s a great friend, a loyal brother, and a fierce defender of his turf.  He’s just too busy throwing vending machines at Izaya to worry about hooking up.

7. Fujioka Haruhi Our first Haruhi could care less about gender labels, let alone societally-imposed celebrations of heteronormativity.  She spends the entirety of her free time being surrounded (and often courted) by the most attractive boys at Ouran Academy, but all she really wants to do is get through high school so she can become a lawyer like her mom.

8. Hatake KakashiHe’s powerful and mysterious. He’s a sweet and loyal guy with a metric shitton of baggage.  He was even Hokage for all of ten minutes (once, I think). And right now (at least manga-wise) he’s fighting the biggest baddie of the Narutoverse head-on.  So maybe his singleness is a symptom of his inability to open up to others since Obito’s death. I think he may just have bigger concerns.

9. Suzumiya Haruhi  This Haruhi is only interested in non-normal things. And we’re not talking like underwater basket-weaving or hot sauce on ice cream – she wants to meet and befriend aliens, telepaths, and time travelers. No normal people need apply.  And when you’re basically God in the body of a wacky high-school girl, you don’t bother wasting time with significant others who can’t keep up with you.

10. Byakuran Depending on where you are in the series, Byakuran can be awfully loyal to Yuni, but she has no hold over his actual heart – he’s free for the taking (ladies and gentlefolks, wink wink).  Just make sure to provide lots of candy. He loooves him some candy. But don’t be sad if he turns you down. Byakuran is the man who was almost king – of a thousand parallel dimensions.  He arguably has standards higher that Haruhi Suzumiya’s.

I hope you enjoyed this walk through the awesome single folks of anime, and it’s helped you feel a little less forever alone on this day celebrating relationships.  Happy Singles Awareness to all my fellow readers without a special somepony. ^_~

Web Crush Wednesdays: Top 10 Fan Videos

Usually for Web Crush Wednesdays I post about a particular site, project, or person, but today we are going to do something different. There are a ton of awesome nerd videos out there and today I’m going to give my TOP 10 favorite videos.

10.

A sexy little video between Batman and Catwoman that captures their relationship better that many big budget Batman movies.

9.

Because there can never be enough raps about how awesome Firefly/Serenity is.

8.

So  raise your glass if you are wrong, in all the right ways!!

7.

You don’t always need your own script or actors to make a good fan video. Sometimes simply the right clips and some good music is enough. “Supernatural bringing you more creepy children. Sigh!”

6.

This is why you don’t piss off the Katamari gods!!

5.

Spike sure has run into some creepy characters. This video actually won for Best Dramatic/Serious AMV at Otakon’s 2010 AMV Contest!

4.

Will the real sugar baby please stand up!?

3.

If this doesn’t make you tear up from Harry Potter nostalgia I don’t know what will.

2.

Darth Vadar plays an accordion! Nuff Said!

1.

I LOVE fake trailers! But this one most of all! It will have you screaming, “Why isn’t this real!”

I hope after seeing these videos you have as much of a web crush on their creators as I do!