Anime Review: Spring Series Triple Whammy

Sakamichi no Apollon/Kids on the Slope

First of all, this is one of those anime that are equally referred to by their English and Japanese names, so I’m not sure what to call it. I’ll refer to it as SnA the rest of this post. SnA is not the kind of fare I usually seek out—emotional, slice-of-life stuff—but I was unfairly roped in by the one-two punch combination of Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, etc.) as director and Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain, Ghost in the Shell, Darker than Black) as composer.

Basically, this show is about three kids who are in love with jazz music and each other, living in Kyushu (the southernmost part of Japan) in the 1960s. The animation has a very different look and feel to it than most shows I’ve watched, the selection of jazz music was great even to me as a total jazz noob, and it definitely felt like it could have been a real-life story to me, which, I suppose, is high praise for a slice-of-life story. It’s also only twelve episodes, so it’s not a huge time commitment.

There were a few things I didn’t like about SnA—first of all, and this is not just my inner fujoshi speaking, the two boys and the two girls had far better chemistry with their same-sex friend than they did with their designated love interest. People really strongly defend Sentarou and Kaoru’s relationship as being platonic, and far be it from me to put a box on what straight male friendship in the 1960s looks like, but I don’t think that a guy who wasn’t just a little bit interested in his guy best friend would describe him as ‘so handsome that sometimes it takes my breath away.’ I honestly thought they might end up together at the end of the series. Also, it had a bit of a slow pace to it, but that’s probably just my action-loving brain being confused by a more thoughtful plot without lasers or robots or anything. I recommend it.

Haiyore! Nyarko-san!

Oh, Nyarko-san. I had such high hopes for you. The premise of this show was what pulled me in: Most of the cast is Lovecraftian gods/eldritch horrors/etc, but in the bodies of mostly adorable high school girls (and one boy). Nyarko is actually a Nyarlathotep, Hasuta is actually a god of winds, Kuko is actually Cthuga, a fire deity, etc. I was hoping that this would be fun, intellectual, and different. Instead it was just a Lovecraftian twist on a harem anime. Seriously, boring male lead with inexplicable number of supernatural love interests vying for his attention in ways that are probably definitely inappropriate for middle-schoolers (or ageless gods in middleschooler bodies), various homosexual crushes dismissed as disgusting and perverted, lots of non-consensual kissing. Don’t waste your time unless you really like harem anime.

Sengoku Collection

I was actually quite surprised by Sengoku Collection. I have this weird habit where I hope that one day harem anime will get less annoying and rapey and so I continue to watch it for one reason or another and continually get disappointed. (Love Hina someone recommended to me, I watched Shuffle for the dads, etc.) The description of and first episode of Sengoku Collection had me believing for sure this would be another example of this. (The gimmick in this show being, of course, Sengoku (Warring States) era warriors are falling through into modern day, except they’re from an alternate universe where all of them are beautiful young women rather than gruff old men.)

Like I said, I figured this would be another crappy harem anime, but actually each episode has taken the time to focus on a different Warring States figure and their individual conflicts upon arriving in modern times. The only real connecting thread is Oda Nobunaga, who wants to get back to the Sengoku period and is collecting magic power from the other women to do so. She usually shows up at the end of an episode and talks, bargains, or fights the other girl and then disappears again. This anime is twice the length of SnA and Nyarko-san, so it’s not over yet, but I’m actually enjoying tuning in every week as of right now. (Although I think they may be running out of Warring States-era figures, becaues the last episode I watched was about Kondou, Hijikata, and Okita of the Shinsengumi, who didn’t live until 300 years after the Sengoku era.) Either way, though, I do recommend this show.

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.

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!