“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. [John 17:20-21 (NRSV)]
I had my first crisis of faith when I was eight years old. I snuck downstairs to watch my latest anime fascination on Adult Swim - Fullmetal Alchemist. It was an incredible show. The characters had such depth. The stories were hauntingly human. But my world was rocked as I heard the main character Edward Elric brush aside the concept of God. The crisis didn’t come from someone questioning God, but that I didn’t disagree with him.
While that may raise the hackles of some naysayers in the world of secular media, keep in mind that the same kid who had a faith crisis is now an ordained clergy person in the United Methodist Church, so secular media doesn’t ruin believers absolutely. The false gods that Ed fought against were of human origin and needed to be called out.
Should you choose to venture into the world of anime (and I hope that you will), you will discover that mangaka (manga authors) have an obsession with writing characters who are in pursuit of becoming God. From the retro classic hits of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Akira into today, the story of the MC (main character) striving after God is a popular one to explore. And to be clear - I’m not suggesting the MC wants to be like God. The goal is to replace God.
Platinum End & the God Game
A more recent example of the God Game can be found in a new series called Platinum End that began serialization in the Fall 2021 Anime Season. The show is written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, the same team behind the incredibly popular series Death Note, which was widely acclaimed and received an unfortunate Netflix film adaptation.
In Platinum End, the story centers around Mirai Kakehashi. Mirai is a student who lost his family in an accident and has been living with his abusive Aunt and Uncle for much of his life. After failing the placement test to get into the school he wants (which would have presumably also gotten him out of his abusive home), Mirai climbs to the top of a building with the intent of death by suicide. He throws himself off of the building only to open his eyes and find that he’s being carried by a flying being. The being is an angel - yes, a real life angel - named Nasse who has been watching over him all of his life.
Nasse explains that there are twelve other angels who have been assigned to humans that are filled with despair just like Mirai. The angels have been tasked by God - yes, the real God - to find a suitable replacement as God plans to retire/cease to exist. The angels have a nuanced hierarchy by which they can bestow powers to kill or force others to fall in love with the shooter, not dissimilar from Cupid’s arrow. Thus the brutal, cutthroat competition for who will become God begins. It’s filled with backstabbing and betrayal as the competitors strive to attain the ultimate role in the universe.
Just a Stranger on a Bus?
The question that immediately pops into mind is, “Why?” Platinum End is the most recent example of the God Game genre, but it’s far from the only. Earlier this year, I wrote a sermon on High-Rise Invasion, which also follows the story of those seeking to become ‘those closer to God’ by murdering the other humans involved in the game. Where does this obsession come from?
As someone who considers myself the sommelier of the Death Game genre (such as the latest hit Squid Game, but that’s just the beginning), I believe that the root of this obsession lies in the humanity of the story. In the episodes of Platinum End that have been released thus far, the viewer hasn’t actually met God. In Fullmetal Alchemist, their interpretation of God is still quite neutral albeit nothing like the Christian God. The violent, chaotic, murderous God of the God Game is almost always as broken as humanity usually tends to be.
The truth presented in the obsession with becoming God is that no one could, should, or would become a very good God.
The _____ of _____ is the Root of All Evil
You’ve heard it said that ‘money is the root of all evil.’ And then you’ve heard it said that ‘the love of money is the root of all evil.’ But I tell you that the argument of the God Game mangaka is that it is the power of humanity that is the root of all evil. In our glass-half-full western lens, Uncle Ben tells us that with great power comes great responsibility and so we should be wise if we’re given power.
But the cynical story presented in Japanese anime is that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
To be frank, Platinum End is a fine anime at best. The protagonist Mirai is a bit bland. But he’s clearly being set up to be innocent, naïve, and genuine in his pursuit of happiness as opposed to godliness. However, Mirai’s foil antagonist is presented as someone capable, manipulative, and cunning with ulterior motives for his power. The dualism being presented will result in a clear battle between ultimate good and ultimate evil. Even more predictably, it seems likely that Mirai’s innocent likeability will lead to him fostering friendships and the trump card that concludes the series will be the power of friendship.
The Christian God Game
Fortunately, we have a better ending in our faithful reading of this story. The God Game shouldn’t shake the bedrock of our faith. The truth of the God Game for Christians is that it is literally our namesake. Our very title means that we are striving to be ‘like Christ.’ The very point of our mission is to become like God through the life of Christ. It isn’t one that involves being better than the others. It isn’t one where we have to kill to get to the top.
The joy of the Gospel is that it isn’t a zero sum game at all. The God Game is an open invitational where participation is enough. It’s a collaborative effort of communal striving for something beyond all of our individual capabilities. We don’t need to concern ourselves with good and evil or the dualistic thinking that comes alongside the act of othering. Our sole focus is on the true God Game.
The missing ingredient for the God Game in anime is found in the loving one-ness of Jesus. We aren’t called to a game where we replace God. Rather, we are called to a community of being that wipes us clean of the broken duality of sin through the Grace offered by Jesus Christ.
Nathan Webb is a major nerd in just about every way. He loves video games, anime, cartoons, comic books, tech, and his fellow nerds. Hoping to provide a spiritual community for people with similar interests, he founded Checkpoint Church--"the church for nerds, geeks and gamers." Nathan can be found lurking on some visual novel subreddit, reading the latest shōnen entry, or playing the newest Farm Sim. Nathan is an ordained provisional elder in the United Methodist Church in the Western North Carolina Conference. He also hosts his own podcasts: Babble On and Chatpoint.