Robert Miller’s Reflections
My Last Day is something of an oddity in the anime world, as there isn’t much out there in the way of Christian anime. Someone will probably mention Super Book, which I personally have never seen, but outside of that there really isn’t much to choose from, at least not presently. As a result, seeing a high quality Christian anime film—even at only 9 minutes in length—is something of a treat for believers who also like to indulge in anime. Also unique to the film (at least, as far as this writer is aware) is the fact that the film tells the story from the perspective of the thief on the cross whom Jesus forgives in Luke 23:43. Yes, this means there is a bit of speculative footage in the film, but nothing that messes with the theology or doctrine of the Christian faith. Mainly, original content is portrayed through the thief’s backstory, which shows him killing and robbing a man. The film also seems to speculate that the man was haunted by what he did, and possibly seeking repentance if not already repentant. While the thief’s real backstory is a mystery, we know that he recognized his own sinfulness on the cross.
That said, the rest of the film holds true to the biblical account of the crucifixion. As someone who found apologetics extremely attractive during the early parts of his faith, I appreciate the adherence to historical crucifixion. I know that’s not the point of the film, but it’s one of those things that helps to bring the reality of the scenes home. Things like the nails being driven through Jesus’ (and the thieves’) wrists as opposed to their hands and the fact that they only carried the cross beams as opposed to the whole cross were historical details that I definitely appreciate. True, this doesn’t affect the meaning or the impact of what happened to Jesus, but it does serve to provide a more accurate depiction. I would recommend picking up Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ for a more in-depth explanation of these elements.
Now you’re probably thinking, “This is nice and all, but how did the film touch you, personally?” Well, to be honest, it would have probably been better if I had written this with no prior knowledge of the film. While I did re-watch it prior to writing this, I had already seen it before, so I didn’t go into it blind. That said, I again appreciate the attention to detail, and the fact that the film doesn’t shy away from the reality of what Christ endured for the sake of making people more comfortable. I’m sure it probably doesn’t hold a candle to The Passion of the Christ (a film I still have yet to see), but anime in general is more lenient in terms of bloody and violent content, and the animators certainly don’t shy away from displaying it. Some people may argue that it is unnecessary, but the traditional depictions of crucifixion tend to show Jesus hanging on the cross, looking sad, with maybe a little bit of blood on Him, when in fact He was brutally beaten and tortured to the point that his back was shredded, with nails driven through His wrists and feet. He hung on the cross and struggled for every breath. This detail is sort of shown in the anime, though not significantly. Again, check out The Case for Christ, as it contains a pretty in-depth explanation of what would have typically gone into the flogging/crucifixion.
Why do I feel this is important? Because we need to understand what Christ went through when He suffered and died for us. There is a new level of appreciation for His sacrifice when you realize just how much He went through. To the original audience of the Gospels, “And they crucified him” (Mark 15:24a) would have conveyed enough of a vivid mental image because they were familiar with the practice. Those of us in 21st century America, on the other hand, have never witnessed a crucifixion, and so we need a little enlightenment.
The fact that Jesus, the Son of God, God in the flesh, would allow Himself to be beaten, tortured, and hung on a cross, where He would have fought for every breath He took while dragging a bloody, beaten, and torn back across splintery wood, says a lot about how much love He had for us. It should drive a new sense of appreciation in us… and a new sense of disgust for our sins, which are ultimately what put Him on the cross in the first place.
The fact of the matter is, we need more Christian anime. Unlike most mediums, anime doesn’t shy away from more controversial content, and since the majority of the Church seems to have a generally negative opinion of it, it hasn’t been pigeonholed into some safe and sterile ideal that it should live up to. This means that anime is more capable of depicting those things in the Bible that we’d rather pretend weren’t there (or that we’d rather forget were there). I’m not saying we go for full-on debauchery, where we show David having explicit levels of sex with Bathsheba, but I am saying it could display some of the more gruesome moments of the Bible (perhaps the entire world drowning in a flood?) that Christians might shy away from depicting in more traditional media.
Christian anime also means the possibility of reaching people with the Bible who would otherwise never touch or interact with stories from the Bible. Whether to my shame or not, I have to admit that I don’t generally watch “real life” Bible movies, yet I can easily sit through My Last Day because it is shown in a medium that I find appealing. If this is true for me, how much more so would it be for someone who would typically have no interest in Bible stories whatsoever? Presented as anime, these stories may open viewers up to finally experiencing these moments, which may drive them to the source (the Bible itself) and ultimately to Jesus. Is that speculation on my part? Sure, but I don’t see why the idea is impossible.
Ultimately, My Last Day achieves what it sets out to: it depicts the crucifixion of Christ in the anime medium, from the eyes of a character with whom we should be able to readily identify–the thief on the cross, the forgiven sinner who did not deserve Jesus’ forgiveness, and yet received it anyway. If I had any criticism to give of the film, it would simply be that it makes the amount of time Jesus hung on the cross seem short—a matter of moments rather than hours—which is likely due to constraints with time, budget, or whatever else the creators had to work with. It would have been nice if the length of time had been better communicated, but it is a relatively minor point in an otherwise amazing piece of art. In contrast, I noticed a small moment where Jesus’ blood blows in the wind and seems to go across the crowd of people, which makes me wonder if the creators were alluding to the Old Testament practice of sprinkling the blood of sacrifices over articles and people (see, for example, Exodus 29:21). I may be reading too much into that, but if that allusion was there then it was a pretty cool addition for believers to pick up on.
This Easter, take a few moments to sit down and watch this film. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again, and invite some of your non-Christian, otaku friends to watch it with you. Hopefully, it will peak their interest and give you a chance to talk about the greatest gift ever given.
Michael Morejon’s Reflections
When I think of Easter, I do not imagine rabbits and eggs. (Rabbits are mammals, so how did eggs get involved anyways?) To me, Easter has always been, and will be, about the resurrection of Christ. The core of Christianity is that Jesus Christ is no longer on this Earth, but in Heaven sitting on the right hand of our Heavenly Father. There are many movies, books, plays, and TV shows that portray what happened before and after His resurrection, but when it comes to the medium of anime, there is barely anything. Japanese animation has little to nothing to offer in regards to the earthly ministry of Christ, but one noteworthy anime short has been produced. My Last Day is a powerful short film by Barry Cooke, who was a former Disney animator, and Studio 4C, who created the Animatrix, and features some beautiful animation. The characters look realistic and the voice overs are professionally done for the whole nine minutes of the video.
Anime is something special because certain animations are difficult or impossible to do with real actors. When showing the crucifixion of Christ, you can see every detail, from the sweat on his face to the nails going through his hands and feet, up close. The facial expressions and screams lend to the agony that He took for us all, which I think the anime medium gives a new perspective to. Christians can benefit from viewing anime because it tends to tell deeper and more controversial stories. Cartoons here in America are made to be silly, funny, and kid-friendly, but anime is often for a more mature audience. There are deep correlations to emotion, spirituality, life, and fantasy that are not found in other media (except, perhaps, books), so I hope more anime will be released that will give us glimpses of the history of the Bible.
I have used this video in a panel at an anime Con because of the impact it has. It shows that any medium can be used to show us the passion of our Savior and the pain he endured on the cross. The Bible is neither a work of fiction nor something nice to tell people about, but the story of an ultimate sacrifice that saves us all from hell and gives us eternal life. There are many Christian illusions to God, the Bible, its values, and Christ, within the anime medium, but the literal resurrection of Christ is not a topic that has been seen in anime until My Last Day. Perhaps the reason is that Japan itself has very few Christians and churches, only following the Christian ritual of marriage in church, which is common. People with a personal relationship with their Creator are hard to find, so anime more often reflects a Buddhist or Shinto religious context than a biblical one. I do hope to see more short films, or even entire seasons of anime, about biblical stories that today’s audience would enjoy.
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