Greetings! It has been quite some time since I’ve taken time to write a post, so my apologies for that. Each of Key’s stories have one or two themes that are more recognizable that separate them from other Key anime. Most of these themes are fairly universal, but at the same time, have heavy Christian undertones. These undertones will be explored in today’s post. There will be spoilers ahead for several Key anime.
There are plenty of Christian elements present in Key works, so the idea of Christian themes is not that strange. However, the undertone of these themes, while apparent to Westerners, may not be as obvious to the largely secular culture of Japan. The reasons for Key’s inclusion of such themes is unknown to me, but I would like to think this is a subtle form of evangelism. Either way, we will be looking at several Key anime today, all ones I have watched through completely. Most of these will be rather brief to allow for further exploration in later posts. Additionally, I will do another post in the future regarding Christian motifs that would be far more recognizable, such as the angels in Kanon (2006). Now let’s dive in!
Planetarian: Hope and Service
It is not really a secret that Planetarian is one of my favorite Key anime (in fact, you can read my review for it HERE). One particular reason is its richness of themes and how it takes advantage of the setting to accentuate the themes. The most prevalent, and directly highlighted, theme is hope. Now, hope is not a exclusive theme to Christianity. Most religions exist to offer humanity hope. The hope of Planetarian is manifested in two ways: the stars and prayer. It is the latter where the tie to Christianity comes in. In episode 2, Yumemi expresses worry about the projector being fixed. However, she is offered hope by the suggestion of Kuzuya to pray about it.
The prevalent theme is service. The Christian undertones come not from a direct comparison to Christianity, but rather Yumemi’s overall attitude toward being a servant. She is a cheerful servant and tries to do everything to her fullest capabilities, similar to the kind of service Christians are called to, specifically as stated in Philippians 2:14-15 saying, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing… Then you will shine among [others] like stars in the sky (NIV).” Additionally, her motivation for being a servant is as to honor her creators, much as how a Christian’s service should be to honor God.
To read more about servanthood in Planetarian, check out an article HERE.
Kanon (2006): Miracles
Kanon was Key’s very first visual novel and anime, and right from the beginning Key was utilizing Christian themes. The theme of interest here is miracles, which are not just prevalent as a theme, but are also essential for driving the plot. The anime makes a point of showing that miracles are possible to happen, even to those who do not believe in them. Again, miracles are not necessarily a Christianity exclusive theme. However, the miracles seem very Christian in nature, not being overblown or immediately obvious, as opposed to most miracles in mythology that are full of grandeur. A good example of the opposite happening in the Bible is the healing of the paralytic man, as described in Matthew 9:1-8. While the miracle is clear and evident, the only thing that really happened was Jesus speaking to the man and commanding him to walk. The miracles of Kanon are additionally uncredited, and with all the Christian motifs, it can be assumed they were caused by the All-Knowing God.
To read more about the role of Christian motifs in Kanon, you can check out an article HERE.
Clannad: Suffering and Redemption
One of Key’s most praised anime, Clannad is noted for the character depth. These character depths are often the result of some sort of suffering, which is also a prominent theme for the anime. The thing with the suffering of Clannad is that it is not about escaping suffering, but accepting suffering. If it was coming from the Buddhist approach to suffering, the characters would be trying to avoid the suffering. This is hardly the case, as many characters willingly undergo suffering, which they (wrongly) see as retribution for their sins. A good character example can be seen in Kotomi Ichinose, who cites that her look for redemption with God is a self inflicted suffering.
Going along with the theme of suffering, redemption is an important theme in Clannad. The redemption of any character is never self earned in the anime. It always involves the intervention of others and encouragement for any character to be redeemed. Tomoya is the most noteworthy example, specifically in Clannad: After Story. This is reflective of how men cannot redeem themselves, but only through Jesus Christ they can be.
Angel Beats: Salvation and Faith
Angel Beats deals much more directly with Christianity than the other anime on this list, since it takes place solely in the afterlife. The questioning and supposed fighting against God all call into question any Christian elements of Angel Beats. The primary Christian theme in Angel Beats is salvation. Salvation is being granted freedom from suffering, something most people regard as being allowed into the afterlife. Angel Beats shows salvation as the act of “graduating” from the purgatory world in which they reside.
Ironically, the other theme is faith. In Christianity, we only receive salvation by faith and faith alone. Salvation and faith go very much hand in hand. This is not explicitly the case in Angel Beats, but there is a unique faith present within SSS. They believe in God, as their belief gives them a reason for existing and someone to fight against. While this faith is not for the right reason, it is faith nonetheless.
For more on salvation in Angel Beats and other relations to Christianity, check out this other article HERE.
Thank you all for reading! What are your thoughts on these observations? Do you agree or disagree? Be sure to comment below what you think! I look forward to hear what you all think.