by Caroline Furlong
I have written many times about how the anime Zoids: Chaotic Century influenced my storytelling. This anime series, which follows a boy in a semi-Western setting on the alien planet of Zi, had giant mechanical animals that humans could pilot. These magnificent creatures still hold a place in my imagination, and I would not be the writer I am today without the inspiration this show gave me.
But there is a part of the series which affected me almost as much as the giant zoids prowling across the screen. It is a small item, but in the context of the times – present and past – it is important. This is the myriad small allusions made to Christianity throughout the series.
During the time period when Zoids aired, there were Christian shows and some Christian-leaning series on the air. The most well-known would be Touched by An Angel, but Mysterious Ways and Early Edition did not shy away from portraying Christianity positively as well. The fantastic and/or sci-fi fare I prefered, however, was pickier. For all their excellence, the later Star Trek spin-offs and similar series were rather thin on allusions to the Faith. When they did bring it up, it was largely to mischaracterize it in some way.
Animated shows were, in their own way, worse. X-Men: The Animated Series had two stellar episodes focusing on the faith of Nightcrawler, and Spider-Man fighting free of the Venom symbiote in the bell tower of a church. But beyond these and a few other scenes/distinct episodes, the Faith I practice and Christianity, in general, was remanded primarily to reruns of The Twilight Zone, older Disney fare, and a variety of films and television shows which came from Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Then Zoids: Chaotic Century aired. The first episode introduced the audience to a priest, Father Leon, visiting the grave of his deceased friend Dan Flyheight on the anniversary of his death. We see a church in the center of the village where the hero, Van Flyheight, lives. Van’s older sister Maria sends him to Fr. Leon so the man can meet the mysterious girl Van discovered in some nearby ruins. We then watch the poor priest try to live up to his duties and lecture the boy for worrying his sister – only to find his best friend’s son fled while he was distracted.
Later on, it is revealed that Fr. Leon was in the military and that he carries a gun. Though he never uses it, the scene where he revealed it was a shock, as no modern Western show would have had a true priest carrying such a weapon. At the time the show aired, I did not know that priests had a history of actually entering battle and fighting alongside soldiers, in Medieval and more modern conflicts, such as the Cristero War. Most eschew weapons and battle entirely, in and out of fiction, in order to bind up wounded souls rather than harm them further.
Of course, as the series progressed, we saw more references to Christianity. A church with an attached orphanage, with a priest and a nun caring for sick children, appeared in the episode “Run, Wolf!” Then we saw the brief return of Fr. Leon in the second season’s opening installment, as well as a flashback to his military days in “The Distant Stars.” Finally, there is the appearance of a villainess known as “The Blue Devil,” who first confronts Van in a church. And, strung throughout the show like bright beads on a chain, was this loaded word: “miracle.”
Every appearance Christianity makes in the series is small, no more than an episode in length. Nevertheless, it had an impact on me, as the rest of the series did. I was accustomed to seeing religion dismissed as an old superstition in sci-fi, while the fantasy I watched and read included pantheistic religion or no belief in much of anything at all. The few times faith did appear in Western media outside of “Christian entertainment,” it often seemed to be contradicted and overridden by later items in the story or series.
Zoids did not do this. While Christianity is not well-understood or applied when utilized by most Japanese writers, this was important. As more experienced Christian anime consumers can attest, these Oriental artists’ fascination with the Faith often gets mixed up with their own pagan beliefs, which can be discomfitting, discombobulating, or just plain painful. Thus the minimal insertion of Christianity into Zoids was, in many ways, a blessing.
It was a particular blessing for me because it taught me something valuable in the presentation of the Faith. A writer need not drum it into the story or ostentatiously display it. Good stories can and have been told where the Faith plays a major but understated part in the narrative, or where it is so baked into the tale that one does not realize it is there. Professor Tolkien proved the latter point well and I would argue that Zoids, foreign production that it is, charts an able path to the first.
The Faith in Zoids glimmers through the cracks in the worldbuilding of the story. Based on my experience with it, I believe that if authors today stand aside long enough, then the Almighty will fill in the chinks in their worlds in like manner. The results, while not very noticeable, would be profound nevertheless. Yet I think they would still qualify, on the minutest level, as the “miracle” readers need in the fight for their souls in this weary old world.
To that end, as they say on Zi, I will “See you on the battlefield!” fellow fans, writers, and readers. For, lest we forget, the work of Evangelization puts us in conflict with the forces beholden to the Prince of this world. Whether we enter combat on God’s behalf from the cockpit of a metaphorical Zoid or through the keyboard and the pen, we still fight. We still seek to spread the Word of God to others so that souls may be saved for all eternity.
What could be a greater challenge, a greater honor, than to enter such an important arena of combat?