Japanese Media & the Death of God

Have you noticed that there’s a lot of Japanese media where God is the malevolent villain? It seems to happen most often in various RPGs, but it also crops up in anime and manga. So, why is this a relatively common trope?

One important thing to keep in mind is that most of the Japanese populous is Shinto-Buddhist. And Shinto-Buddhism is more about divine energy within nature than it is any single great God figure. Furthermore, the God figures in these various works don’t really resemble the Gods as portrayed in Shinto-Buddhism. As such, these portrayals aren’t likely to cause any offense to the target audience. With that in mind, I believe that there are two primary reasons for the relative popularity of this trope in Japan.

The first is that it’s an easy way for an action work to have high stakes.  Personally, I would love to see a series where the protagonists go through all kinds of difficult trials to try and find a way to kill God only to finally reach him and find that he’s a bungling moron and absolutely no threat. That could be an effective joke if it was done right. Still, the way it’s actually used the heroes have to face off against a being so powerful that he or she has been worshiped as a God. It offers a really convenient way to establish the antagonist’s great strength and demonstrate just how difficult the protagonists journey and trials are going to be. All without showing much of our antagonist until the very end.

Most examples I can think of where they have a “God is evil” narrative, the writer doesn’t bother to establish the antagonist’s character. Relying instead on the concept. To be fair, that can work effectively. Particularly when they find ways to demonstrate the antagonist’s cruelty and callousness. Which can be done without showing the character. When don properly this can allow for more time to develop the protagonists. When done badly, it comes across as a lazy way of not developing anything about our villain.

This brings me to the second point. There are several works, including the Breath of Fire II game, where the villainous God is shown as having supplanted a virtuous older God. In the case of Bof II, the dragon statues serve as the representations of the noble old dragon God. In this way, I believe that it’s also used as a response against religious missionaries who come into Japan to try to spread the word of their religion.

I also think that resentment towards these missionaries adequately explains why so many of these works have their antagonistic Gods surrounded by imagery heavily based on some Western religion, usually Catholicism.

Anyway, those are the main reasons I think that the “God is Evil” trope finds its way into so many Japanese works. Feel free to discuss your favourite examples of works that use that trope or to bring up other possible explanations.

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