On Christian Otaku Outreach

Subahibi has finally been announced for an August release (which isn’t July 20th, very disappointed). Considering its fame across the entire otaku community, I’ll be interested in seeing people’s reactions, even if I think it’s gotten a bit overrated over the years (also because Sakura no Uta ended up being even better). Even so, as a philosophical masterpiece that people have waited years for and with a translation project(s) that spawned numerous memes, this is one of those titles where I put on my elitist cap and wonder how you can call yourself an otaku if you’ve never even heard of this title before. I guess I should apologize in advance, but this post is going to be closer to a rant that a usual coherent post. This frustration I have with the otaku community – and mainly the Christian otaku community – also played a role in why I left Beneath the Tangles.

The more I interact with or listen to Christian otaku, the more I question how otaku they really are. This is a frustration that is admittedly in part elitism on my end, and I try to curb that as much as possible while phrasing my opinions in a more joking manner (i.e. bad anime is bad). But any elitism I may feel toward others’ interests and knowledge is often less about feeling superior and more about feeling disconnected. Because there is a big difference between “you don’t like what I like,” and “you have absolutely no idea what I like even is.” I’m sure this is a feeling that every anime fan can empathize with, so there is no reason to think that the same phenomenon cannot occur even within a fandom as large as this one is.

I should clarify I don’t intend to criticize Christian otaku who don’t have any interest in visual novels (the part of the fandom that personally relates to me, but there are numerous other fringe niches that exist and are ignored). You like what you like, and I like what I like. However, when it comes to the topic of ministry and outreach in this area which is very close to my heart, this disconnect brings about two related issues that I can’t ignore. The first is the general ignorance of what is out there and what it looks like. I remember reading about a Christian anime fan who was excited to attend Comiket because it’s a “Japanese anime convention.” Little did she know how much of the event was literally pornographic, and she was scarred, to say the least. Even people who are more aware about the culture than this will paint the industry with broad strokes without actually knowing any details about it.

Now, it’s basically a catch 22 to expect people who aren’t well informed about the industry to understand it. But I suppose what I want of people is awareness to some degree and to be more open about learning rather than trying to generalize something you know very little about. Especially when it comes to the former, it’s absurd to me how misinformed or ignorant self-proclaimed Christian otaku can be. Probably over 99% of them don’t even know what Subahibi is, even though it was one of the most praised titles in the community in the last several years (and this not limited to only VNs). I understand that this is caused by a mix of different interests, that the majority of anime fans talked about stuff like Madoka, SAO, and Shingeki instead, and most of all, that most fans are new fans who haven’t been engulfed in the fandom for decades, but again, that’s exactly why I’m trying to bring about awareness on the subject – and again, specifically when it comes to Christians. It’s unreasonable to expect someone to know about everything; the sub-communities are so large and expansive that it’s basically impossible. However, I wish there was some better awareness surrounding some of the biggest, most talked about things, and that these things exist and are loved by the fandom. If you are going to call yourself an otaku, then at least have the awareness to know there is some spectrum from 1-100 (to keep things simple) and you fall at the 20 or the 50 or maybe the 70, and that there are things beyond that into the 80s and 90s and 100. Honestly, I wouldn’t even put myself into the 80s on such a hypothetical scale.  I have my limits, but I’m well aware of what exists beyond that, and that’s what I’m asking of people who are attempting to do Christian outreach in this weird but attractive fandom.

Dies Irae is pretty good too

This leads into the second issue when Christian otaku actually start talking about and doing outreach work. If you are an anime fan reaching out to anime fans, then fine go do that; that’s great. But this means you are completely unequipped to deal with other people, who are further along the yes-overly-simplified-2D-spectrum I just mentioned. This in itself is again okay because that’s how things will always be in any field. However, while the first issue is fine in a vacuum, when you combine outreach with the previous issue of lack of awareness, it has the potential to go wrong in all kinds of ways. Especially in a part of the fandom that is almost inherently anti-Christian (i.e. porn games), for Christian otaku outreach to 1) not be able to relate to them, 2) not even be aware of some of the biggest titles, and 3) still imply you can understand them, that is going to exacerbate any disconnects that already exist. I mean, I feel that disconnect pretty strongly even as a Christian; how much worse will it be for people who are wary of Christian fans?  I don’t expect you to change your interests nor am I intending to set a bar of elitism that you must pass. However, I do wish that when someone mentions something as widely recognized as Subahibi, that you don’t give a blank stare of ignorance, or when someone starts talking about porn, that you at least know how to deal with the situation rather than being surprised that there are fans who glorify these things.

I think especially because there has been a recent growth in people trying to do Christian otaku outreach (no doubt related to the recent growth in anime fans), this is an important time when Christian otaku have kind of a blank slate to define themselves. Yes, there is a huge anti-anime voice in the Christian community, but there has never really been a large, strong voice of Christians not only supporting otaku but trying to claim we all share the same interests too. Moreover, VNs in particular are in a similar situation in the West, with localizations starting to flood the market on steam. Titles fans have only dreamed of getting localizations like Subahibi, Dies Irae, Clannad, etc. actually happened. There is not going to be a better time to start learning about VNs as a Christian and become a part of a community that is very different yet much related to anime, just as I wondered only a few years ago.

the crux of what I want to say is that this is about forming a collective social implication about what the term “Christian otaku” means and therefore how Christian outreach on both sides will be affected by this perception

Right now is the time when Christian fans are beginning to define what a “Christian otaku” even is, and whether or not that includes or excludes certain groups and fandoms. It could just be the biased VN fan in me, but I feel that the boundary of a Christian otaku will be defined within a few short years. I realize it may sound alarmist in some ways, but frankly, people vastly underestimate the speed of influence that internet culture has on our daily lives. If people don’t make efforts now (which is in part what I’m trying to do, but I’m just a lone fan), people on both sides will start to form more defined ideas of what a “Christian otaku” means, who that includes, and most importantly, who they are willing to reach out to. In other words, the crux of what I want to say is that this is about forming a collective social implication about what the term “Christian otaku” means and therefore how Christian outreach on both sides will be affected by this perception. As of now, people view it as a joke, but are simultaneously willing to listen and learn about it because “lol what in the world is this supposed to be?” That luxury of being a foreign existence will not exist for long. As such, I would really like to fully implore Christian otaku working in the field of outreach, be it Japan or the States, to really consider the scope of the otaku fandom and how to broaden outreach as far as possible before such boundaries are defined.

Coming back to Subahibi, I would really like to see every Christian otaku at least have an opinion on it. I mean, right now, most don’t even know what it is. But this is a title that’s been almost universally praised as a philosophical masterpiece. It has so much to say about happiness in a broken world, a topic that I believe is very relevant to Christians. It has some of the most infamous use of adult content in the industry. I don’t think the scenes can really be called pornographic, because they are most certainly not intended to instill sexual gratification but rather disgust. For example, the beastiality scene got removed from the R-18 release; it’s that bad. I’m not going to tell you to read the scenes (I pretty much just literally could not physically read them.  Not even the images, just the pure text was already too much for me), but I can still acknowledge how much meaning there is to them in the greater scope of the story. There’s also this one spoiler that I will probably write on later which was incredibly remindful of our relationship with God. When I consider just how knowledgeable Sca-ji is about Christianity (daily reminder that this guy understands Christian theology better than any other Japanese author in the industry and uses references in proper context), a part of me wonders if that was actually intentional. I guess I would call those the three major reasons Subahibi is a work that would make for very interesting discussion among the Christian otaku fandom, but sadly, almost no one even knows what it is. I’m not even asking people to read it, just be a bit more informed about it to form some kind of opinion for discussion with others. Because I guarantee you that while being ignorant about these things will generate disconnections, having some kind of informed opinion on a porn game can lead to quite some interesting discussions.

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Author: Kaze

Kaze is a graduate from the University of Tokyo who currently works on developing gene therapies for genetic diseases. He is a Nanatard since 2009 and mostly spends his time reading VNs and studying Japanese. Strangely enough, also a devout Christian.

9 thoughts on “On Christian Otaku Outreach”

  1. I would challenge every Christian “otaku” to read my book. I completely understand the messaging you are deriving from these works but want to caution you on a few aspects of the culture that underly much of the materials and how lines need to be clearly drawn.

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  2. I went from here to your article in all-ages VNs, and from there to your long and interesting article from January 13, 2014, about Christian ministry in Japan, an issue about I was previously unaware. I think I understand your point better now. As for me, a year and a half ago I didn´t know Evangelion or Madoka existed, or anything outside Miyazaki and Makoto Shinkai, much less Subahibi or Saya no Uta. Since then, I have enjoyed up to twenty six great anime series, a few not-so-great ones and two VNs, and while I´m still at the 10 of your 100 scale, at best. That in itself is somewhat exciting. I´m currently continuing my long-term watch of LOGH and just bought Little Busters, which will arrive next month. As you know, I have my barriers. I never thought about what kind of fan, if any, I am, or how that affects the definition of Christian otaku itself, or about the potential of anime in preaching the Gospel among otaku; it makes sense that some people can be reached only throught beauty. From now on, I´ll pray for that ministry.

    Anime fandom is trending in Spain, but not the kind of anime I like: Lain, Kids on the Slope, Haibane Renmei, Kino, Toradora, Clannad or Now and then remain unknown here. For me, it´s been a solitary pleasure, like reading the classics: I´ve tried to pick the best, and they´re really good. The online anime community with its complexities is something I´m just discovering. Some of my hobbies are like that, from American comic to fantasy and science fiction to Greek classics or even philosophy: small, passionate communities, some Christian fans, some things that are anti-Christian in nature, enlightening masterpieces with striking parallels, meaningful discussions and unexpected chances, junk often mixed with gems. I try to look for good critics and to find information, and I sometimes feel the urge to comment about what I´ve loved. I would say that for now I´m mostly interested in anime and VNs as art, as a mean to show the beauty and the sorrow of the human condition and the truth of the human heart which can be looked at with Christian eyes. Maybe I´m too much of a novice yet to participate in certain discussions. We´ll see.

    That said, I´ll try to give an opinion. I probably cannot read the work itself if there are sex scenes, yuri and explicit beastiality, but from the Wikipedia page, Subahibi sounds interesting: unreliable narrators, multiple perspectives about the same time lapse, short, suggestive catchphrases about archs and characters, nods to classical literature, Alice in Wonderland, Cyrano and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms are all resources which can be used to reach a deep narrative with multiple layers.

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    1. Thanks for going back and reading those old posts to get a better understanding of where I’m coming from. I was worried that this post drifted a bit too much in different directions and it would be hard for people to actually catch my point without thinking I was trying to push a different kind of narrative. Anyway, it’s definitely an interesting time where anime popularity is growing across the world. I feel like with the power of the internet and technology today, culture is also progressing much faster than we are used to. This means chances to establish proper Christian communities within related niches come and go faster than most can react to properly. In that sense, I feel Christians tend to be a bit behind the curve on otaku things, even though they have great intentions. It’s awesome to hear you are fairly new to the fandom but have already learned to appreciate the gems, or at least the potential for such enlightening stories to be told within the medium.

      On Subahibi, I definitely don’t expect you or others to read it, but being informed and having an opinion on it is appreciated. You hit the nail on the head with that last sentence; Subahibi’s references to classical literature are amazing precisely because Sca-di uses them as metaphors within the story itself. This leads to an incredibly well layered plot with deep philosophical questions that are mirrored from the references into the story. I particularly enjoy his scarce but intentional references to Christianity as well, since it’s clear he understands a lot of the theology and uses it appropriately to give insight into the characters and plot.

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  3. Thanks for your post, Kaze – as usual, you give us all a lot to think about.

    I guess a couple of things come to mind in response – first off, the use of the phrase “Christian otaku.” I personally only know two Christian otaku – you and JP. Christians do a lot of harm as they enter into ministry that deals with a specific culture. We see this historically and we can see this now, specifically, with otaku evangelism. I understand that Beneath the Tangles has and probably still is doing some of the damage, even as I DAILY become frustrated with one particular site that has become a major voice of Christian geekdom (folding “otakudom” into their expertise) while presenting Christianity, I think, in a poor light. I personally try to refrain from calling myself an otaku (though I’ve used it as an identifier) because I’m giving myself a title I haven’t earned, and I lose credibility among “true believers” if I do. It’s funny that I want to identify in that way when it’s carried such a bad connotation for so long! But then there are others who do take it, use it, and believe they are it, and I sometimes cringe when I see that identifier being used by someone who has noooo idea, but I also realize it’s part of their journey, their maturity, and that over time they’ll grow (hopefully) to have a better understanding both of the community they’re reaching out to and of who they are. If only the western anime fandom hadn’t redefined “otaku,” or used a different word to represent themselves (I would say that “otaku” in American means someone who enjoys popular anime, is involved in anime fandoms, enjoys conventions, and is “out” as a person who enjoys anime), this wouldn’t be an issue.

    But secondly, my journey has shown me that you can understand someone without intimately understanding what they love. It’s a little presumptuous, but I think I understand just how you’re feeling with this post, for instance. I’m not personally going to read Subahibi, and that undermines my credibility as an “anime expert” and “Christian otaku” (though again, I don’t claim or want those monikers!), but that doesn’t mean I can’t relate to someone who understands what a significant VN it is and/or who treasures it as a nominal work. And it doesn’t mean I can’t minister to that person. We just need to be open and willing both to listen and to genuinely care about that person, which means caring about their interests, if we want to engage them in a relationship. I’ll give you an example.

    I have a close friend, someone who I’ve said on more than one occasion is the kindest person I know because he sincerely cares about what you’re saying – he wants to know all about what you’re passionate about. He once tried to share something with me when I was talking to him about the struggles of parenting, which he prefaced by saying that he couldn’t begin to really understand what I was going through. It’s true that he couldn’t understand me exactly (not that any of us can understand one another fully), but he still spoke words to me that consoled me, because he was willing to listen to what I cared about and respond genuinely. While an otaku ministering to an otaku is ideal, what ultimately leads people to Christ isn’t shared interest, great blog articles, awesome content, great strategies, or super sermons. Those all assist if done with a proper heart. What brings people to Christ is the Holy Spirit working through someone who cares, someone who loves, someone who is willing to be a friend.

    That all said, I wish for more true “Christian otaku” out there, not only that they exist, but that they become willing to do the dirty, painful work of getting involved in otaku lives. Writing, posting videos, and doing social media posts about anime is opening a door, but really becoming involved with people is the friendship needed to show Christ’s love. We hardly minister to real otaku at BtT because we largely don’t attract them anymore (and less so with your departure I’m sure), but I HAVE done so in the past, and I look back fondly on conversations with people living in Japan about anime I wasn’t watching and faith they weren’t buying into. We still have that connection. I hope there are more folks like you coming up, actually otaku, who are doing this type of ministry – and quickly, because you’re right, everything is changing really, really fast – almost week by week, but certainly month by month.

    Take care, Kaze, and keep cranking out these important posts. We need to hear them – certainly I do!

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    1. Thanks for the read and extra long reply!

      Firstly, on people being a “true otaku” or not, I do think it’s important to note that as much as I may rant about it and you may agree with much of what I say, it is perhaps a hopeless endeavor. The term has been misused so much, it is questionable what the “real” definition is anymore in such a grey spectrum of fandom. Arguably, the word was never used correctly from the moment it left Japan. Thus, in some ways, it is less the term itself I find issues with but rather the intent and thoughts behind the individual fan. Repeating ourselves a bit here, but someone who has noooo idea what he’s talking about but thinks he does is just so wrong, but someone calling himself an “otaku” simply because the term has become so diluted over the years is completely different. In the end though, it’s probably still the most accurate and commonplace term to use when speaking of fandom, so here I am using it.

      Secondly, absolutely. As I mention in the post, I’m not asking people to become more otaku so much as to understand the context properly and being able to find ways to converse about it in an informed manner. You are someone I know is completely capable of this, and as far as people I know personally, I do consider you the “gold standard” of who I think of as someone who may not be an otaku but absolutely understand that truth and can still properly connect with otaku. My rants do tend to be one-sided, but thank you for being someone I can point to as an example of what I want of Christian “otaku.”

      Finally, I was just thinking about it again earlier this week, but things really are changing too fast. This makes the underlying issue that Christian otaku ministry is simply too far behind the curve and even if they aren’t falling behind, they aren’t catching up either. It’s a very awkward situation, and as much as I can write things about it on a blog, it’s definitely something that is not as easily addressed as “watch more anime.”

      Thanks again for reading and the words of encouragement. I admit I’m often hesitant to write things I know are going to be controversial or are likely to invite misunderstandings about my intent or meaning, but I will certainly continue doing so as my heart leads me.

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      1. Thank you for the kind words, Kaze, and above all, please keep writing whatever is on your heart. Your voice is MUCH needed!

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    2. TWWK, you took a whole bunch of what I wanted to say already haha. So I will leave a much shorter reply below. Good stuff! So true, that it’s the Holy Spirit that leads others to Christ, not our “amazing” content. It’s just a bridge to knowing who He is.

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  4. Great post here Kaze on a topic rarely written about, if at all! I admit, I have claimed the “otaku” title yet, I’m not one. TWWK explained it well, what otaku are considered outside of Japan. I know a little bit of the otaku lifestyle through anime and reading articles, yet even though I’ve watched over 100+ anime series I don’t fall into the category.

    I’m glad to see that you are breaking down what that kind of ministry looks like. Maybe a post on some examples of what you or others have done that has been successful would be nice to read about, just my thoughts.

    At the end of the day though, and again just my opinion not taking away from what you wrote, Holy Spirit is who touches souls. I have seen drug attics, people in prison, all kinds of different cultures, rich and poor, come to know the Lord Jesus Christ personally (whether meeting these people personally, seeing it happen in other ministries or read about it from real life stories). Whether it’s an otaku, gamer, geek or whoever, God can and will encounter them in a supernatural way when they seek Him.

    I will keep you in prayer, that God would use you to share the gospel with others in your sphere of influence.

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