Manga Mondays: Trinity Blood

Hey all! It’s been, hell, it’s been a while since I’ve picked up a Manga Mondays around here, but for the good of all I sat down yesterday and re-read all of the Trinity Blood manga I own just so we could talk about it.

Explaining the plot of Trinity Blood is a bit tricksy. You see, the manga is based on a set of light novels, and an anime exists as well, and each of them differ slightly. But the manga is the one I’m familiar with (I’ve never read the novels, and it’s been years since I watched the anime), and this is Manga Monday, not light novel Monday, so I’ll do my best to sum it up.

The setting is a post-apocalyptic Eurasia, divided into human and Methuselah empires. The Methuselah are a long-lived alien species whose traits and habits strongly resemble the human vampire myth, but the story makes it clear that calling a Methuselah a vampire conveys ignorance and/or xenophobia. Humans (mostly led by the Vatican, which controls most of Western Europe) and Methuselah (whose empire is based more in what was once western Russia and Eastern Europe) have held an uneasy peace for centuries, since the apocalyptic events that coincided with the Methuselah’s arrival.

The story starts off in the city of Istavan in Hungary, on the border of the two empires, where Sister Esther Blanchett, a young nun, is betrayed by her best friend and falls in with a priest from the Vatican’s special forces in order to stop the traitor. Political, emotional, and dramatic tensions mount as her former friend plots to set off total war between the Vatican and the Methuselah. After diffusing her former friend’s first attempt, Esther follows the priest, Father Abel Nightroad, back to the Vatican, where she is trained to be a part of the special forces as well.

Abel is a great character, a textbook crouching moron hidden badass who loves humans and tries to embrace pacifism despite his dark secret: he is a genetic experiment, a bloodsucking creature called a Crusnik who feeds on Methuselahs, developed during the first interspecies war as an ultimate weapon for the humans. Most of the time he’s a goofy, clumsy guy who flirts with literally everyone (even the robot priest) and takes 13 sugars in his tea; but fuck with him, give him a reason to release the nanomachine controls on his Crusnik form, and he’ll end you.

Esther is, after re-reading this series, one of my favorite manga heroines. She’s never oversexualized or objectified. She and Abel, save for a few instances when they’d just met, have a relationship that is wonderfully, relievingly platonic (yay for realistic male-female friendships!). She often gets herself into sticky or dangerous situations, but she almost always saves herself (and others, at times) rather than needing to be rescued. She is fiery, caring, and noble, a good on-the-fly strategist and a loyal friend, but also flawed in different ways. She is often naive; she has to train hard to become a skilled marksman; and when she learns Abel’s secret, she is realistically and understandably terrified of him and has a difficult time overcoming this fear to restore their friendship.

This was one of the things that, weirdly, really made me happy about her characterization. When you find out that one of your good friends is hiding a terrible monster, especially when it’s something you’ve been trained to fear, hate, and kill, inside himself, it’s unrealistic that a person will just shrug the revelation off and move on with being friends with no issues. (This was one of my biggest beefs with the Blue Exorcist anime.)

The series is also full of other strong female characters, both human and Methuselah: Esther and Abel’s boss, Cardinal Caterina Sforza, is a caring but stern administrator and a genius at political scheming. The Empress of the Methuselah is a loving and maternal figure who’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and kick ass when the situation calls for it. Lady Astarothe is a low-ranking Methuselah noble who’s loyal, intelligent, a skilled warrior, and comfortable with her body. (But seriously on the topic of objectification, this series is really wonderfully non-objectifying while not being afraid of the female form—there’s an entire scene where Astarothe and Esther talk in the bath, and even though that meant ten or so pages filled with boobs, the scene wasn’t portrayed in a sexually titillating (/badpun) way—they just happened to be in the bath, and thus there was nudity.) The rest of the cast, both female and male, are a bevy of interesting, unique, and well-developed characters as well.

The story also has a lot of interesting religious aspects and themes. Any divergences from current Catholic doctrine or practice (female cardinals, militaristic special forces populated by priests and nuns, robot priests, and boy popes) I personally forgive, because considering the story is set 900 years in the future a hell of a lot of things could have changed. Abel and his family are both named after and obvious callbacks to creation-myth characters: Abel, Cain, Seth, and Lilith. Other character names are obvious callbacks to notorious Catholic leaders of the past—Caterina and her brothers, a bishop and the Pope, have the surname Sforza, a family closely tied to the Borgias in medieval/Renaissance Italy.

There are also interesting race-related themes, regarding intolerance, fear, and hatred of those who are unlike ourselves. That’s another reason I liked Esther—although she grows to accept humans and Methuselah for their character rather than making judgments about their species, we see that she has to work through her preformed prejudices in order to do so. I found this far more realistic; if she’d started out as a girl from a border town growing up around fear of ‘vampires’ for her entire life, and then the second she met a real one she immediately befriended them, it would reek of Mary Suedom to me.

The art of Trinity Blood is beautiful and the storytelling is clever, funny, and flows very well to me. Unfortunately this series was licensed in the US by Tokyopop, which went under last summer, so only the first dozen or so volumes of this ongoing series are available in English. Despite that, however, it’s definitely worth checking out. Give it a look and tell me if you liked it as much as I do! (Athough feel free to write less—good gorram I wrote a freaking novel here…)

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!