In the last post, I recommended anime based on a Christian’s comfort level. G, PG, and PG-13. We’ll go a bit higher now, and talk about adult content and how it relates to story.
R-rated Christians have made peace with high level of violence or sexuality in works of art. At the R-rated level, it’s not just human-centered violence. It can include grotesque violence or violence specifically designed to shock. If you want to watch horror anime, this is your comfort level; you simply will not find anything lower.
R-rated sexuality for anime is a bit different than a normal film. In anime, usually actual sexual intercourse is rare, unless you go into straight pornographic work. Where in the west, you might see intercourse or full frontal nudity in an R rated film. most of what i have noticed in anime tends to fall shy of this. Usually the difference tends to be uncensored toplessness (female breasts with nipples,) and what I’d term grotesque sexuality; heavily sublimated or analogized versions of the sexual act.
This is also the level in which you’d find Yuri and Yaoi, regardless of objectionable content levels in the work itself. I include them in the R-rated level mostly because they’d be considered mature situations in the strict sense of the word for a Christian. You could also put any anime which explicitly challenges religious faith in here too. Generally the mature situations are actual mature situations, something where an adult would need to use discernment to watch.
This being said, Why should a Christian ever watch this level of work?
I don’t intend to say every Christian should always be this comfortable with this level of mature content. This is an issue where a believer’ conscience is important. There are some reasons why they do, however.
-Mature content is needed to tell a realistic story. The best example is war movies. There are times when sanitizing a story for all ages consumption is perversely immoral compared to not, because it can lead to misrepresentation and glorification. Some anime ue violence or sexuality not to titillate, but to set the mood or tell a specific type of story.
-The believer’s tolerance level was set before he became a Christian. Artistic taste is not something that changes easily, and some Christians simply can’t easily downshift to less violent or sexual media right away.
-The believer tolerates it under a form of duress. At some point, if you want to watch works that truly are adult, and not in a porn sense, you have to accept some level of this. The problem with pg-13 and under works is similar to the current young adult push. While there are tolerable amounts of mature content for the believer, the stories are for kids.
This is one thing which I dislike about modern Christian speculative fic culture by the way. Look, people, Harry Potter and even Tolkien’s works are kids books at heart. They simply aren’t satisfying in the long haul to many people.
While these are a few reasons why people watch it, there are also plenty of dangers:
-Mature content for story is rarer than mature content for filler. A LOT of this is simply padding to titillate the viewer or grab their attention. It’s lazy to make a normal harem anime, and just add a bunch of nudity to grab fan eyeballs. If the story is like Naruto, slopping in explicit violence won’t help either.
-Sexual situations can lead to sin. Is it possible for a believer to watch nudity, when it’s specifically sexualized, and not sin? Is it possible to watch the heavily sublimated form of sexuality in anime and not have it affect you?
-Aggressively non-Christian values can take a toll on the believer. It doesn’t have to be explicit atheism, but nihilism or philosophical Buddhist approaches can force a believer to react and either be influenced or need to debunk those values.
So, this being said, here are some recommendations:
Serial Experiments Lain: A very dark and brooding series similar to David Cronenberg’s works. Lain is a young girl who must deal with the suicide of a classmate, and the realization that after, she still lives in the Wired. It’s surrealistic and thought provoking.
Paranoia Agent: Satoshi Kon again, and this series brings in his trademark hallucinatory style. A boy named Little Slugger is attacking random people in Japan. Can he actually be a manifestation of their desire to escape?
Blue Drop: Yuri themes enter a rather stunning science fiction adventure manga. Technically only the first manga series counts here, as the second goes beyond R into NC-17 series. The anime also can be included as R. The earth is invaded by the Arume, a race of aliens made of all women, in one of the most spectacular scenes in manga I have ever seen. The first manga is more about forced sacrifice, while the anime is about love and disobeying orders.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: I don’t think any other work has defined anime or had such a profound impact on it than this series. It takes the old idea of children fighting evil with giant robots, and twists it into a Mobius strip of psychological drama and spiritual angst.
Fist of the North Star: An older anime which pretty much defines “ludicrous violence.” If you watch it intelligently, you’ll notice how exaggerated everything is: enemies are giants, not men, and the violence is literally absurd-touching people can make their heads explode. This is the ur-example of a lot of modern anime, as well, and its influence can be seen in many.
NC-17 Christians are a special case. These Christians tend to engage works specifically as reviewers or content creators, and therefore need to have high tolerances to even engage the work at all. An example would be a film student who watches art films from someone like Luis Bunuel in order to understand Surrealism, or to review for a blog or column. If you are one of these, you don’t need me to write a guide for you.
The difference between R and NC-17 in this guide is that the NC-17 anime and manga deliberately transgress social norms. They do so to twist or deconstruct common tropes, and use the shock to create meaningful works of art. This doesn’t mean pornography! Under no circumstance is a Christian ever justified in watching that.
It’s easier to show examples to explain, so I will do so:
Perfect Blue: Satoshi Kon’s thriller about a pop star stalked by an unknown person, and who soon loses grip on reality. Full frontal nudity and a rape scene make this powerfully uncomfortable to watch, but as a work of art, it’s incredible.
Wicked City: Grotesque sexuality to the point of getting out the barf bag. An agent of an organization that works with demons to make the peace between the spiritual world and the human world falls in love with one of the demons. A film student could have a field day with the symbolism here, but strictly not recommended otherwise.
Alien Nine: This hovers between R and NC-17, but I’ll include it here. This is a personal favorite, and it transgresses the whole idea of Pokemon. In this, young girls who have to “catch ‘em all” have to deal with a bunch of aliens that invade their school. It’s actually about growing up, and watching your body changing in ways you can’t understand as well as adult indifference to this, and it’s a powerful, draining experience.
Mind Game: Crazy surrealistic anime about a man who dies, and come back to life. It’s impossible to describe.
The key element here really is transgression. To use a Christian example, it’s the difference between Isaiah, who prophesied more or less normally, and Ezekiel, who tied himself up and lay on his side for month, or who baked a fire over human dung. By going beyond normal human mores, you shock your audience out of their comfort zone and force them to confront truth. However, many people won’t even get to the truth; instead, they’ll be turned off and focus on the means by which you use to startle them.
These are explanations, not justifications. A Christian needs to obey their conscience and God’s leading, and this means engaging every individual work of art on its own.
Rather than make another tremendously long post, I’ll finish this up in part seven.