Just to be clear, these posts are always just my completely subjective and occasionally random picks. Not an actual value judgment. Wait, that’s not what I wanted to clear up. Oh yeah, when I talk about anime religions I’m not talking about Anime that feature religious themes or elements. And I’m not talking about a religion where we worship anime, although they would totally get my money.
I mean completely fictional religions that are an important(ish) part of an anime’s plot. Creating a religion from all parts in order to add to the world-building of a story is a pretty basic concept. People have been doing it for a very long time. And yet, it remains very difficult to pull off. It’s one thing to come up with an interesting dogma it’s another to make it realistic and something the people of your universe would in fact logically follow. And even if you pull all that off, you need to somehow weave those elements into your actual story in an organic way.
So whenever I see anime pull something like that off, I’m just impressed. And here are 5 fictional anime religions that stuck with me.
5. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann – Gunman Worship
Admittedly, Gunman Worship is not a huge part of Gurren Lagann, at least not directly. It is practised only in the isolated Adai Village and is an adaptation of the classic trope of having rustic civilizations worship technology as magic. It also weaves in the double whammy of having peace-loving people unknowingly worship a weapon.
But the narrative does establish rituals and a history for this religion. What’s more, it’s the religious structure and mindset that shapes Rossiu much more than the actual beliefs. And the moral rigour it instilled in him as a child certainly does have major implications for the plot and outcome of the story.
A nice example of the worshipping the bomb trope that’s kept up in subtle ways, until the very end of the series.
4. The Promised Neverland – Heathens
This is actually what got me thinking about this post in the first place. Heathens is the religion (or sect) that Sonju and Mujika belong to in the second season of The Promised Neverland. As far as world-building goes, it’s a utilitarian plot point more than anything else. We actually know next to nothing about the religion or why any Demons would follow it and the only belief we ever hear of is that they don’t eat humans. Or at least not farm-raised ones.
There is a clue that it’s a polytheistic religion. Sonju does mention “The Gods” on a few occasions, but that’s as far as it goes.
I have it on my list not so much because it’s a great religion or anything, but it really is a wonderful plot device. It opens up a lot of possibilities and creates the possibility of adding in protagonist demon characters without taking anything away from how scary they are. These demons are just as powerful and capable of murder. They don’t even necessarily see anything bad in eating children, they just have moral oppositions to raising them as livestock. And moral oppositions aren’t always the sturdiest thing. You probably know an ex-vegetarian or vegan yourself.
3. Fullmetal Alchemist – Ishvala
This one is sort of the opposite of the Gunman worship. It seems to take inspiration from native religions and has the notion of a God Earth. A singular creator that is also the earth and life on it itself. However, what I find particularly interesting is that Ishvala directly forbids alchemy.
Within the story, there is an explanation of this and it makes perfect sense. Alchemy alters the Earth and potentially everything on it, as such it is an assault on the God Earth and an act of perversion. And pious people would probably be horrified by it.
But alchemy is also magic. I get that it’s an analogue for technology but those are somewhat interchangeable once it gets to a certain point. And historically, more primitive religions don,t have any specific teaching on technology and the practitioners tend to really like it. So Ishvala is a bit of a subversion and also a bit of a very convenient plot device. It is one of the important elements that lead to the near-extinction of the Ishvalan people and set most of the events of Fullmetal Alchemist n motion.
2. Death Note – the Cult of Kira
Death Note has one of the most subtle and yet logical depictions of how a belief system can come into existence in modern times. There are countless cults in the world and since the advent of the internet, groups of people getting together to worship or believe a bunch of stuff that seems might weird to outsiders, are multiplying like wildfire.
Actually, when compared to some real-life contemporary cults (or belief systems, or philosophies, whatever you wanna call it), the cult of Kira is rather reasonable. There is a Kira in the Death Note universe and his presence has a demonstrable impact on the world. Of course, people would believe in him, governments and the police force confirm he exists. And he brings down justice from out of nowhere, that’s way more godlike than a lot of people we’ve worshipped throughout history.
And technically there is a god involved. It’s Ryuk and not Kira but hey, close enough. The cult of Kira doesn’t have any major implications for the plot. It does make a difference here and there but the story could have been pretty much the same if it didn’t exist. And that’s why I like it. It’s not a necessity or even a utility for the narrative. It’s an actual pure world-building element and I think it really works. I could totally see a cult of Kira happening in the Death Note universe.
1- Fire Force – Holy Sol Temple
I am fascinated by Sol. It’s a mish-mash and a very intricately created religion. On the surface, it bears a lot of resemblance to Christianity with a large assortment of iconography and rites that look familiar but just a little uncanny. Holy Sol is also the only religion on this list to hold considerable political power in its Universe and to be presented as much as a business as it is a faith.
And it’s so grey. Sometimes it appears to be outdated and adversarial. A huge force that keeps the people in the dark and does everything it can to preserve its power above all else. But then at other times, it is portrayed as a source of solace and comfort to a people who desperately need it. And it hasn’t squashed or assimilated Asakusa. In fact, there has been no religious tension portrayed with other groups at all. Which is super rare.
So the Holy Temple of Sol is a puzzle. An intriguing one. And a central plot element of Fire Force. I look forward to learning more next season!
There you have it. All of these fictional religions have brought something to the stories in which they exist and left a mark in my mind.
Do you have any fictional anime religions you are fond of or fascinated by? Have you ever tries to create your own religion?