Friday’s Feature: Angels and Demons in Anime

One thing all anime fans know is that if it exists as even a vague idea, somewhere, someone has made an anime about it. Probably more than one someone. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that many stories in anime are built on some of the trappings from the Christian and Catholic church. While some of these stories might attempt something resembling a realistic representation, more often than not, in true anime fashion, an idea is borrowed and then it gets the full anime treatment. And while some people might dislike the way various religious icons and ideologies end up being represented, the end result has been a range of interesting stories that might not otherwise have existed.

Now using religious ideology as the basis of a story, or borrowing heavily from religious texts for characters, themes and ideas, is nothing new, there’s something quite interesting in the way anime tends to do it. With only around 1% of Japan actually identifying as Christian, writers can take quite a few more liberties with the subject matter they are borrowing from without as much fear of audience backlash as writers in more western countries. And while movies like Dogma and the like show that even western writers can get away with subverting the original message, there’s a much greater risk involved.

Devil.png

And while at some point I’d probably like to get more into the various influences of religion within anime narratives, today I’m really just wanting to look at how angels and demons have been represented in a small section of the medium. There are far too many stories that have borrowed these iconic characters to really generalise across the board, but there’s a definite trend that has surfaced in how angels and demons are being depicted.

The trend I really have noticed is that angels are getting a really bad reputation in a lot of these shows (a trend that also seems to be taking place in the west with fallen angels being a trend that bubbled up after the success of Twilight and the market over-saturated with vampire romance and so people jumped on the fallen angel bandwagon instead). While it might be a little earlier than that bubble, Angela/Ash from Black Butler is a prime example of the type of character and depiction that angels regularly get given.

Angela.jpg

Cruel, sadistic, and slightly crazy, Angela is very driven by her goals which may or may not have anything to do with a higher will power. Her actions are justified as righteous in her own mind even as they leave the audience wondering who the real demon in the show is. And that isn’t to say that Sebastian comes off looking saintly given his violent and predatory nature is well known. It’s just that when you compare him side by side with the angel there’s definitely a question of which one is supposed to be in the right. Even the neutral Grim Reapers end up siding against the angel toward the end of the season as their plan threatens to upset the balance of the world.

Gabriel.jpg

If we look at something more recent and comical, Gabriel Drop Out gives us essentially a lazy, drop-out of an angel who’s inherent good nature is so easily corrupted by the pleasures of earth (gaming) and very quickly abandons her original mission. While I didn’t get far into the series, I found this to be an interesting depiction of an angel. It didn’t paint Gabriel into shades of gray, but simply had her become a slacker, which really doesn’t fit with the image of an angel but at the same time didn’t necessarily make her bad either. Throw in the fact that the ‘demonic’ characters in the show seemed to be genuinely sweet and there’s a mess of ideologies going on here that are played for laughs and humour but have probably strayed a fair way from the borrowed religious themes.

Even The Devil is a Part Timer works on subverting the audience’s expectations. It sets up a standard Satan versus Hero situation and Lord Satan (Maou) is corrupt and trying to take over the world. There’s no question of his evil nature in the first episode or of the hero’s righteousness. However, as the series progresses, Emi (the Hero), resorts to stalking, petty rumour spreading, jealousy, and other underhanded tactics while Maou pretty much conforms to the new world’s rules and laws. We also learn that Emi is part angel which begins to subvert the idea of what an angel is before Mitsuki shows up.

Mitsuki.jpg

Despite being an angel, Mitsuki is very much on par with Angela from Black Butler. He kidnaps characters, he tortures them while laughing about it, he’s petty and vindictive, and ultimately he’s overwhelmed by the power of Maou. And at that point no one feels even slightly sorry for him because he’s a complete an absolute jerk who totally had it coming.

One anime that takes a different approach is Angel beats where Angel (or Tachibana) is originally portrayed as a cold and efficient killer, but later it is realised she is acting in the best interest of others she’s just a really, really bad communicator and no one had ever taken the time to ask her what she was doing. Turns out she isn’t an angel anyway which kind of makes the title of the show a bit odd (unless you count the fact that the computer program she’s using to generate some of her weapons is called Angel Player). Ultimately though, Tachibana is actually trying to help the other students live a happy school life, make peace with their previous life, and move on. Which is probably the most angelic sounding character I’ve mentioned so far.

Angel Beats

Demons in anime go anywhere from being mindless beasts hell-bent on destruction, to articulate and savvy romantic interests. The defining trait of being evil is questionable in most of these characters and a lot of them are portrayed as being very human or having very human motivations. And regularly there is no connection between demons and any specific religion as they come across more as random monsters then creatures from the pits of hell. Frequently demonic characters are ones a human audience can sympathise with. It’s an interesting trend though it does make you wonder where all the ‘evil’ demons went. You know, the ones that actually wanted to devour human souls and lead us into ruin.

Now as I said at the start, there’s nothing new about the borrowing of icons and ideologies from religion in narratives, and trends in narratives come and go. But it will be interesting to see what sorts of angels and demons we get from here on out.

And on that note, I’d love to know who some of your favourite angelic and demonic characters are from anime so please be sure to leave me a comment below.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

avatar

Consider supporting the blog by:

Patreon2
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Advertisements

36 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature: Angels and Demons in Anime

    1. I’d probably love to have the time someday to actually properly research something like this rather than just going on examples I’m already familiar with. All it takes is time but at the moment I can’t get any deeper into stuff like this no matter how interested I am.

      Like

  1. I always loved Tales of Symphonia’s take on angels, what they are, and the sacrifices that must be made to elevate oneself to another plane. Same with the RailDex franchise’s take, even if that one is a little less obvious. On the more humorous side, you can’t go wrong with The Devil is a Part Timer (which you got) and Rage of Bahamut!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! You’re right, I didn’t realize that angels in anime have been giving a bad reputation to the definition of their title.
    The only angels I’m more acquainted with are the likes of Angemon and Angewomon from Digimon X’D… Umm… Does Chitanda count? There was a short scene where she was depicted an angel (*insert awkward laugh*)

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Hmm… Maybe it’ll make for a great post to look at how the perception/interpretation of angels changed over the course of the anime industry. I believe it might have something to do with the evolution of people-people interaction apart from religious and cultural practices.
        Now that I had a good sleep, I recall angel characters in Touhou game franchise also featuring ‘bad’ angels/saints (fairies even).

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah, I tend to look at anime angels and demons as basically just like two (generally) opposing factions of supernatural beings, rather than what we typically think of as “angels” and “demons” in the West. In many cases, it’s functionally not that much different than having a conflict between elves and dark elves, or between two opposing factions of wizards, or whatever. Less “good vs. evil” and more “us vs. them,” with the sympathetic side (usually) being the one the protagonist happens to fall in with. When you’ve been raised from the traditional Western Christian perspective of “Angels are always good,” “Fallen angels/demons/devils are always bad,” it does force you to adjust your thinking, though.

    Anyway, my favorite demon character is Laharl from Disgaea. The anime unfortunately sucked, as most adaptations of games tend to do, but the video game is a longtime favorite of mine, and Laharl was one of the funniest and most enjoyable protagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. For angel characters, definitely Tachibana if she counts, and also Rakka from Haibane Renmei.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As a Catholic, I love it when Christian symbols show up on anime, including when they’re reworked. I thought it was exciting when the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime showed us a glimpse of a long-dead civilisation that worshipped “Christ”, though they didn’t really follow through on the potential. And it’s been fun watching the Catholic imagery in Black Clover come more and more to the fore.

    Re demons and angels: One of the first things I taught my kids when they started watching anime was about yokai and how Christian angelic beings get reinterpreted in a Japanese cultural context. They got it. 😺 In fact, anime has proven to be an excellent opportunity to discuss cultural diversity and religious pluralism in our family.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! 😺 Though part of the credit is theirs: As one daughter told me yesterday, “I’m just curious about… everything.” They ask a lot of questions!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. *Squeals forever* I’m thrilled you mentioned my girl gang from Gabriel DropOut (and no hard feelings about dropping it, because one-trick ponies (depending on the trick) don’t appeal to everyone). I never could settle on the best Worst Girl, but, because this is about angels, I’ll give all my love to sadistic Raphiel. Anxiety makes me feel powerless, so I’m drawn to the characters who are capable of pulling someone else’s/everyone’s strings. Bonus points if that someone, like Satanichia (who, let’s not kid ourselves, is the real Best Girl), has no clue that he/she has fallen victim to the puppet master.

    While I’m admitting to fangirling all over the Twisted Sisters, how about the Twisted Misters? On the demon front, my loyalty lies with Hoozuki from, wait for it, Hoozuki no Reitetsu. Hoozuki believes animals/animal-plants are better than people, which, courtesy of my anxiety, is relatable as fuck. More importantly, he’s the kind of character who terrifies the rest of the cast to the point where you’re like “his dark side can’t possibly live up to All. This. Hype.”, and then he opens his mouth, and you have never been proven more wrong in your entire life. Basically, he’s the stuff of nightmares, which explains why he’s running Japanese Hell (and that’s A LOT of Hells), even though he has a boss, who acts like Hoozuki is Boss, as he should. Nutshell version: If you’ve ever wondered why there’s a monster under your bed, it’s probably because he’s on the run from Hoozuki.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hoozuki is one of those anime that I’ve forever had on my list to go back to because I didn’t really get into it at the time but thought it was worth a second shot. I still haven’t gotten back to it, but your comment has at least reminded me that this is on my list.

      Like

      1. On a good day, I understand about 80% of what’s going on around me…and that’s stuff from the culture I was raised in. As far as I can tell, Hoozuki is better with Japanese knowledge, so I’d watch it while I was doing other things, knowing my only takeaway from an episode would be Hoozuki is Boss, which is the show’s premise, so that’s not impressive. What I’m trying to say is I don’t want to talk you out of watching it, but I also don’t want to talk you into watching it. At least, I don’t want to talk you into prioritizing it over your current plans. Frankly, I would have gotten as much from the Hoozuki experience by looking at Hoozuki pictures, which takes less time…and allows me to bask in the glory of his adorable horn. Have you done a post on favorite horned characters yet (if not, you’re welcome!)?

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro Chan is a great example of this from the manic side. And the Death Note parody about the love angel called Love Tyrant. It has a love note instead of a death note, and its way more entertaining since it isn’t endless TALKING. I am not a fan of Death Note. I think its for the autistic serial killers among us.

    And Sora No Otoshimono (aka Heaven’s Lost Property) is technically angels, though I suspect they’re actually semi-human avatars for the AI systems running a generation ship’s sleeping crew entertainment module shared simulation. And yes that’s a long sentence, but all of it makes sense if you see the show.

    Ah My Goddess has angels and goddesses and demons. And a single kiss, which is a weak payoff for two full seasons. And Haibane Renmei, the original emo angel story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apparently there are a lot of autistic serial killers out there because Death Note is pretty popular. I really enjoy it. It might be a lot of talking but there is still a sense that it is going somewhere and I like dialogue when it is interesting and I found it worked in that.
      Ah My Goddess is interesting with how it mixes angels, goddesses and demons together.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Serial killers, or potential serial killer psychopaths are about 5% of the population. You have a 1/4 chance of sharing an elevator with one, and 100% chance of sharing a street with one. Its also been found that 25% of police officers are provable psychopaths, though the face the test was reliable back in 1980 was buried by the police officers union. There’s a complete academic paper about it.

        As for anime, I presume then, that you really enjoyed the various Bakemonogatari shows, since they are endless talking too? I put up with 3 series of that before I ran out of patience. I need more action in my shows, though it doesn’t have to be violence. I found Barakamon wonderful, and Niea_7, which is about aliens and poor people, to be wonderful shows. I even liked Love Tyrant and My Mental Choices. Goofy fun shows, never very serious.

        Like

  7. Angelic and demonic imagery, despite Japan’s neutral views on Christianity, has always been a staple in anime.

    I mean, Evangelion has lots of Christian imagery as well, I like how it’s used there.

    As for demons, well, can’t talk about demons without talking about Devilman!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Evangelion has a lot of imagery from a lot of religions thrown in and slightly mashed together. It makes for interesting viewing just to try to see if you can spot all the references and figure out where they are from.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Honestly I can’t really remember if I have ever seen an anime that featured Angels. So far one doesn’t spring to mind, but the opposite is true for Demons. Currently I am watching Berserk! And there are quite a number of very nasty demonic characters in that one. Then there is the movie Demon city which featured all kinds of nasty critters from the underworld. I have yet to see an anime though that really focusses on that light vs dark aspect, but as with so many animes it’s pretty much a question of finding the time for it (I’m now happy that in Berserk! I am finally watching a fantasty anime…yay me! 😊).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, demons are definitely far more prolific than angels in anime, though there are a few angels out there. Still, it supports the point that for whatever reason demons are the more popular characters in stories.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think in general people seem to be more attracted to dark things. Take Star Wars for instance as an example: Everyone loves Darth Vader even though he does some truly horrible things (and that’s putting it mildy lol).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. People do enjoy a good bad guy. They don’t want him to be too dark, and in the case of Darth Vader they get to point to his redemption at the end as a reason to really love him, but they kind of liked him even when he was stomping around choking people with his mind.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Lol…so true. Darth Vader has always been one of my favorite villains. When it comes to anime I think my favorite alltime villain (at least so far that is) was Makashima from Psycho Pass. As evil as he was, you still could relate to him…well at least sometimes that is. I guess you could totally see him being a demon made flesh so to speak 😊

            Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s