When you’ve been a die-hard anime fan for a while, you come to realise that there is something for everyone. You name it, there is probably an anime about it. For my original digital artefact, I wanted to focus on the depiction of the Chinese Zodiac across mediums. However, when I stumbled upon this GIF while scrolling through Tumblr, I found myself intrigued by ‘Anime Jesus’. Why had I never seen him? Where was he from?
After some investigation (A.K.A googling ‘Anime Jesus’), I discovered that the GIF was from a slice of life/comedy manga series called Saint Young Men (Saint Oniisan).
‘Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha, the founders of Christianity and Buddhism, are living together as roommates in a Tokyo apartment while taking a vacation on Earth. The comedy often involves jokes about Christianity, Buddhism, and all things related, as well as the main characters’ attempts to hide their identities and understand modern society in Japan.’ – MyAnimeList
Why did I decide on this anime? Well, growing up my primary education on religion was through scripture, which was spent as a bludge more than a time to practice Christianity. Religion is often something I would sweep under the rug as ‘complex’ and ‘unnecessary’. As someone who identifies as atheist, I am not tied to any form of religion. However, a common theme I have noticed in many anime, are the references of spiritual manifestations or religious entities. This theme is always something I passed as a spectacle and paid no mind in understanding it’s deeper context. For this experience, I thought to understand how Saint Oniisan touches on the influence of religious beliefs in Modern Japan. Spending most of the anime discovering if it trivialises the relationship of the two religious worlds of Christianity and Buddhism when they collide.
Scouring the streaming sites, this series was adapted into both a 2 part OVA (Original Video Animation) and a Movie. I decided to watch the Movie, due to being easier to access on online sites such as KissAnime, Gogoanime and Crunchyroll. There were only subbed versions available and as it was later in the night and I had my fingers crossed that I could stay awake for the length of the animation.
Within the first few minutes, I could already notice that Saint Oniisan’s drawing style, especially of the characters, was quite different to what I was familiar with. Think a more proportioned, ‘realistic’ depiction. Despite their ethnic backgrounds being of foreign decent, Buddha and Jesus have predominantly Japanese features. Their ‘foreignness’ is emphasised in other ways during the animation. For example, the scene where Jesus is mistaken for ‘Johnny Depp. I found this scene particularly interesting, as in this reality, Japanese girls were more likely mistake Jesus as a celebrity rather than a religious figure.
Although this is fictional, I believe there is some truth behind the attitude of community members such as the elderly and children towards the prominent religious figures. I couldn’t help but observe their ideas on ‘happiness’, ‘enlightenment’ and ‘revitalisation’. One of the more interesting characters in the anime, was the yakuza. We are introduced to him during the sauna scene, where his Buddha tattoo grabs their attention. Characterised by his criminal behaviour, he parallels Jesus’ historical experiences with his own.
Modern means of expressing faith are challenged throughout Saint Oniisan. Presented by events, food, places and objects scattered throughout the anime. Buddha and Jesus are continuously seen wearing different shirts which I’m assuming had relevant virtues of their religions printed on them. I wasn’t aware of this until one of the community members commented on it and I was upset that these sayings were written in kanji so I couldn’t read them.
Like its name says, slice of life commonly presents the ‘every day’ experiences of a culture. Buddha and Jesus engage with places such as theme parks and spas in the location of Tachikawa. Contextualising their experiences to a specific Japanese suburb (which I had never heard of) presented it in an almost touristic nature. Despite these new and exciting adventures for the characters on earth, the place itself was not particularly new and exciting for me. The repetitive nature of slice of life was well… boring. Nearing the end of the movie, I found myself checking my phone every so often. Even having to re-watch parts as I was distracted by thoughts of hitting pause and going to bed. The one thing that kept me watching was Jesus and Buddha’s relationship, which I couldn’t help but label a ‘bromance’. Almost feeling borderline sacrilegious, it was hard not to wonder whether or not this was avoidable.
I was surprised how much this text made me think. I’m my next post I will be having a more in-depth look at what stood out as epiphanies during this experience.