By Jesus Puentes
“A life unlike your own can be your teacher.” —St. Columban
Anime?! That’s right, anime! This is about how Japanese cartoons have had an impact on my faith life, in particular, a show called “Naruto Shippuden.”
As you might already know, anime is wildly popular among millennials, and is a kind of phenomenon that has had deep emotional and perhaps life-perspective-altering impacts on young people, especially since its rapid increase in popularity in the past couple of decades.
One thing to note here is that a recurring theme among young adults, as far as their worldview goes, seems to be that people should be more “tolerant” or “accepting” of others who don’t share their beliefs or lifestyles. I propose a spin on this, and not a new spin at that, since the Church has been living it out since her birth, and that is this: since in every religion and every culture in the world there is a ray of truth, and since we have been given the Holy Spirit to discern the good from the bad, take what is good and make it your own, and add your own flavor to it. Seeing things in that manner, one can come to see a bit easier why I chose to write about the influence of this particular art form on my faith life. Now, let’s get right to it!
What is “Naruto Shippuden,” and why has it had any impact on my faith? In broad strokes, it is a show about a loud, head-strong adolescent ninja with a huge heart. He comes from the Village Hidden in the Leaves (Konoha) and he strives to be recognized by his peers and one day become the Hokage (the village leader), as well as bring peace to the entire shinobi world. Oh, and he has a ridiculously powerful demon fox inside of him, sort of a parting gift from his dad (long story).
There are many aspects of this show that have some sort of relevance to our understanding and practice of faith. The one I’ll be talking about here is the absolute intergenerational, lifelong investment that the village makes to the shinobi lifestyle. That is, a life plagued by war and strife, marked by bitter memories of previous wars and lives lost therein, motivated by the undying desire to become a stronger warrior to protect those one loves, where the blood of one generation’s heroes sows the ever-nearing true peace of the next generation. This is a lifestyle taken on because people are born and thrown into the darkness of the shinobi world, and ultimately, because they search for peace.
Make a few analogies here, and you’ll start to see how this relates. Imagine that the shinobi lifestyle is the Catholic Faith, and the shinobi world is our world, plagued by spiritual warfare. Each shinobi village such as the one Hidden in the Leaf, or the Sand, or the Rain, is like a different place where the Church lives, each with its own unique geographical features, cultures, traditions, strengths and weaknesses. Fathers and mothers pass down their own warrior techniques and arts called jutsu to their children, who then pass on their knowledge and skills to others. Entire academies are built to teach young people how to hone and apply their skills. At one point I began to wonder to myself, “Imagine if we would live out our faith like this!” If we would only understand that our Catholic faith, like the shinobi lifestyle, is exactly that, a lifestyle and an integral part of every aspect of our lives, not merely a set of actions and a list of beliefs in which we claim to partake, but which we set aside when it comes to our public and social life.
Seeing this kind of dedication fully reveal itself over time in “Naruto Shippuden,” I was inspired in my own life to reach for a more integral faith life, incorporating it more into every facet of my being, and to help others do the same. If this seems like somewhat of a strange concept at first, think of the times when you’ve been inspired by the heroes of a movie, a radio drama, or a comic book series. It’s not that uncommon to relate to the characters of these legendary adventures. The same applies to anime. Really thinking about it, anime seems like just the kind of expression of a life unlike our own, which, as St. Columban said, can indeed become our teacher.
Jesus Puentes is a third year philosophy student at the University of California, Riverside and Volunteer Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry at St. Mary Parish, Fontana