Many years ago, out of what I felt to be a godly conviction, I gave my roommate my DVD collections of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Serial Experiments Lain, the latter because a specific scene in the series tempted me to sin and the earlier because I felt the show represented God in a poor light. Since that time, I’ve acquired both series once again and have watched them on multiple occasions.
Did I change my mind? Had I made a mistake? Actually, I neither regret giving the original DVDs away nor bringing the series back into my household. Instead, these anime represent what I was learning when I was young and what I’m still trying to master now—a discerning of what media I feel I’m able to take in while still honoring God and what actions I need to make with anime as I seek to grow in my Christian walk.
Letting Go is Worship, Too
Much like the initial limerence, one feels when a relationship begins, the discovery of anime or some other geeky or pop culture outlet can be all-consuming. With its fascinating direction, engaging characters, and thrilling content, Evangelion was what converted me from a curious observer to a full-blown otaku. It opened a brand new world for me. But it also opened a door for sin in my life.
Much like Lain and any number of other anime I was viewing, Evangelion was full of fanservice. Famously, many episode previews even ended with a promise by Misato of more fanservice in the next episode. Easily tempted toward lust, this and other series fanned those flames within me.
After coming to faith, I reevaluated what I was watching. Evangelion, which was such a significant series in my fandom development, not only hit that checkmark of being too tempting in its content but even further troubled me because of how it represented what appeared to be the Christian God. Evangelion’s God was bent on destroying humanity, despite our God’s promises of life from Genesis, and the humans fighting back against him were (sometimes) depicted as the heroes. I couldn’t abide by that representation of my loving God, and I felt that in my heart, I was rooting against Him as I watched the show.
In speaking about sin (and specifically about lust), Jesus explains the extreme measures we should take to root it out (Matthew 5:29-30): “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right-hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
Ultimately, giving these valuable DVDs to my friend wasn’t as extreme as Jesus’ figures of speech, but it felt that way a little. It did hurt. It was like I was giving away my babies! But I realized it was a spiritual act of worship—I sacrificed, in my own college boy way, to honor God. And after a time, I felt good about my decision. I knew by doing so; I had avoided further sin.
It’s your act of worship, as well, to do what needs to be done to honor him. You know better than anyone what kinds of media lead you toward sin, whether something indirect (perhaps you’re watching a series you love so much that you stay up late and miss church on Sunday) or something more prominent. For instance, I tend to avoid zombie series, both anime and otherwise, as they stay with me intensely for many days after watching and fill my mind, leaving me depressed and out of sorts, unable to dwell on things above.
Cutting series out of your life that push you away from God is an obvious step, but one that takes some commitment and thought. Ultimately, it’s up to you to take on and develop that habit. But what of that more complicated scenario I had with Evangelion, in which I found the story troubling? And by extension, isn’t all anime created in a culture that is 99% non-Christian, opposed to God in some way?
Ungodly Content Making You Godly
I came of age during a time when preachers spoke of the evils of Pokemon from the pulpit. While that is far rarer these days, Beneath the Tangles, the website on which we approach anime from a Christian perspective, still regularly receives questions and comments from individuals who believe it’s sinful to watch any anime. After all, isn’t all anime ungodly?
I’m reminded of the Corinthian believers who struggled with eating food sacrificed to idols. Although not quite the same scenario, the idea of being free to watch anime made by non-Christians, which speak of a worldview without God (or even opposed to him), is something we should take into account. We know who God is, and he is no less because he is replaced in anime by Shinto spirits.
However, if your conscience is telling you otherwise, like the sacrificed food, “it is defiled” (I Cor 8:7). As a young adult, I had to stay away from Evangelion. But older and now watching media in a different light, I can enjoy Evangelion and even use it to encourage me on my walk, to think about what conclusions about humanity it draws, and to see the flaws and godliness of its characters—and think about the same within myself. Or I can simply marvel at the creativity of the show and enjoy the humorous elements. There’s much to glean about God in all sorts of media, and subtle or not, I think that’s what feeds our love for the very best tales that are being developed. There is authenticity and creativity there that, at its core, tells us about God and his story for the world.
Evangelion showed us something unique and beautiful in its depressing worldview
Approaching anime as if it can be “good”—not a holy type of good, but in a way that lifts up its creative and enjoyable features—can change how one thinks about media. There are flashes of God everywhere because we are his image-bearers, and the things we do will oftentimes reflect his very spirit.
Still, the approach I’ve given is not some perfect system, nor would I lie and say I consider every anime I watch with a perfect sense of discernment. The complexity of anime is such that I could simultaneously be, and often am, fed content that I know I should avoid and that which is benign or good in the same series, episode, or even scene. But as I seek to keep God at the head of all things in my life, even my anime watch list, and also seek him earnestly (those times I’m in valleys somehow coincide with the times I’m most susceptible to binging series that tempt me to sin), I’m able to freely watch most anime series while rejecting those that push me toward sin.
Ultimately, as with everything, it begins and ends with honoring and loving our Father. To paraphrase I Corinthians 10:31: So whether you eat or drink or watch mecha series or read isekai light novels or start a shoujo manga, do it all for the glory of God. That’s the key. That’s what’s worth remembering. Everything is for the Father—even Japanese animation.
Meet TWWK: When he was a college freshman geeking out on Digimon, Princess Mononoke, and Toonami series, Twwk had no idea that his burgeoning passion for anime would combine with a later transformation in Christ to lead to Beneath the Tangles, a ministry where volunteers share the same devotion to Christ and fervor for anime to bear witness to other otaku. He continues to lead the ministry, while working as a historian and serving his family in Austin, TX.
If you’d like anime inspired articles and commentary check out Beneath the Tangles’ website: https://beneaththetangles.com/