Atheist Characters in Anime
Atheism is growing in acceptance, worldwide. Today, it's only punishable by death in some countries. The ludicrousness of the fact that atheism is persecuted anywhere, in this day and age, however, is a subject of discussion for another day. The fact is, Japan is not one of the country's where atheism is frowned upon. In fact, considering how Buddhism and Shintoism have evolved, and are currently practiced there, there is an argument to be made for the majority of Japan's population being atheist. One might then suspect to be able to find a representation of this atheism in Japanese anime.
That's not entirely true though. See, in Japan, unlike in the West, there is no Judeo-Christian norm looming over everything. Perhaps a large percentage of anime characters are atheist, but we're unlikely to ever find out, because there's no reason for them to bring it up. It's simply not a factor, most of the time. The same thing happens with video games. Unless religion is a theme, its unlikely to have a character express one belief or another. For this reason there's not a whole lot of "confirmed" atheists.
That's not to say there are none, however. I've done my best to gather together as many characters, with supporting quotations, as possible, for the reader's benefit. I will try to maintain this list, adding new characters as I come across them.
Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist)
Let's kick off things, and get the ball rolling, with a fan favorite. Edward Elric is one of very few characters -- in any medium -- whose atheism is displayed front and center as being a major aspect of who he is as a person. He's certainly the most well-known atheist of the anime world, if internet discussion is anything to go off of. Finding a specific quote to show this disbelief in God proved remarkably easy. The following conversation happens in the very first episode of the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist series:
Ed Elric: So, if you pray and polish the altar enough times, someone who's dead will be brought back to life?
Rose Thomas: Something like that.
Ed Elric: Water: 35 liters. Carbon: 20 kilograms. Ammonia: 4 liters. Lime: 1.5 kilograms. Phosphorus: 800 grams. Salt: 250 grams. Saltpeter: 100 grams. Sulphur: 80 grams. Flourine: 7.5. Iron: 5. Silicon: 3 grams. And trace amount of 15 other elements.
Rose Thomas: What's that?
Ed Elric: It's all the ingredients of the average adult human body, down to the last specks of protein in your eyelashes. And even though science has given us the entire physical breakdown, there's never been a successful attempt at bringing a human to life. There's still something missing, something scientists haven't been able to find in centuries of research. So what makes you think that a hackjob priest with his parlor tricks is going to be able to? And in case you're wondering, all those ingredients can be bought on a child's allowance. Humans can be built on the cheap. There's no magic to it.
Rose Thomas: Well if there's no magic to it, then you bring someone back to life?
Ed Elric: Just a matter of time, Rose. Science will find a way. Science is the answer to everything. If I were you, I'd drop the scriptures and pick up an alchemy book. We're the closest thing to gods there are.
(Fullmetal Alchemist, Episode 1)
Roy Mustang (Fullmetal Alchemist)
Another fan favorite from the Fullmetal Alchemist, Roy Mustang is less frequently understood to be an atheist. This, however, does not make the fact untrue. In the penultimate episode of the 2003 series, in a conversation with King Bradley, Roy Mustang states his disbelief in a god rather directly:
King Bradley: People are foolish.
Roy Mustang: Foolish enough to let you profit off their pain and suffering.
King Bradley: You've got me all wrong. To stop the human race from leading itself to ruin, I enter and take the stone, thereby preventing its use. I think of myself as one of God's guardian angels.
Roy Mustang: There is no such thing as God.
(Fullmetal Alchemist, Episode 50)
Wrath (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood)
This will be the last character from Fullmetal Alchemist on this list, I promise. It's just so easy to include these characters due to the directness of their words. In Brotherhood, the homunculus Wrath differs quite heavily from his 2003 counterpart. Amongst the many differences, is an articulated distaste for the idea of God:
Wrath: 'God', you say? Now this is intriguing. How much longer do you think your god plans to wait before unleashing his fury? Just how many thousands of lives must I take, before he decides to strike me down?
Soldier: You're a monster!
Wrath: "Open your eyes. 'God' is nothing more than a construct created by man to inspire fear and promote order. If you wish to see me struck down, for all these atrocities, use your own hands to do so, not 'God’s'."
(Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Episode 30)
Revy (Black Lagoon)
There are a lot of adectives and adjective phrases that might be used to describe Revy from Black Lagoon. Hotheaded, angry, impulsive, and badass are some of these words. She is also undeniably an atheist. The following conversation between Revy and Rock is very telling about Revy's personal philosophies. It's really a lot of food for thought, as it touches the surface of a variety of topics such as nihilism, daoism, and possibly capitalism. Her feelings towards religion aren't exactly subtle, however.
Revy: This and this. What would you call these?
Rock: A medal and a human skull.
Revy: You're wrong, Rock. These are things. When you strip away their meanings, that's all they are. Just the word "things." And if you were to once again give these things meaning, their value wouldn't be determined by some rosy, so-called memory. It would be determined by the one thing everybody agrees on. Money. That's all these are worth. The rest is nothing but fancy words to add appreciation.
Rock: Is money... God?
Revy: It's power. Something a lot more useful than God. Rock. Besides this, what do you put value on? God? Love? Don't make me laugh. Back when I was a brat and crawling on the streets of that dump, for whatever reason, God and love were always out of stock. Before I knew better, I clung to and cried out to God. Well, I believed in God, right up to the day cops beat the hell outta me for something I didn't do. It was just because I lived in a poor neighborhood. With no power and no God, what can a Chinese bitch rely on? It's money. And guns. With those two things, the world's a great place.
(Black Lagoon, Episode 5)
Misaki Nakahara (Welcome to the N.H.K.)
Now here is an interesting one: Misaki Nakahara from Welcome to the N.H.K. In episode 22, Misaki Nakahara delivers speech -- a lecture, as she describes it -- on the idea of God. The speech resonated strongly for me, because its structure is analogous to the process of becoming an atheist that I, and many others, have experienced. We first begin by questioning if God is truly benevolent. We ultimately conclude that he does not exist in the first place. Misaki's speech is as follows:
"Please take a look at this. I have created a chart that shows the ratio between pain and fun in life. It is evident from this chart that fun things, things that make life worth living... These kinds of happy occurrences make up less than ten percent of a person's life. People who believe in God say this world was created by God. Therefore, this world of pain and struggle was created by God. The God who created such a miserable world cannot be a good person. God is evil. There's no doubt about it. Do you have any counter arguments? Since God is evil, he does mean things. The one responsible for Satou-kun's reclusion is probably God. Letting me see Satou-kun and that senpai come out of the hotel is also God's ill will.
"That's why I know what I have to do about it. I have to... defeat God. This world would probably transform into something wonderful if such a mean God vanished. The problem is... I don't know where God is, much less how to defeat him. Unlike the others, I can't believe in God, since I have a poor imagination. Like the people attending the same meetings as my aunt... and the people going to hatsumoude. If an extravagant miracle would occur before my eyes, like in the Bible... I would be able to believe in God. If I had faith, I could blame all the bad things on God."
(Welcome to the N.H.K.,Episode 22)
Roronoa Zoro (One Piece)
Roronoa Zoro from One Piece: known for being a swordsman capable of fighting with three swords simultaneously. Less known for his religious beliefs. He nonetheless does comment on the subject, specifically, during the Skypiea Arc. He receives the approval of Chopper, but the disapproval of Nami.
Tony Tony Chopper: Zoro... is more arrogant than God.
Nami: Those priests are on this island too. And you're never supposed to anger God! That's just common sense!
Roronoa Zoro: Sorry, I've never prayed to God...
Tony Tony Chopper: Ohhh! So cool!
Roronoa Zoro: I don't believe in him, so why should I pray to him?
(One Piece, Episode 159)
Sanzo Genjou (Saiyuki)
I don't like spreading information that turns out to be false, so let's put an asterisks on this one. I have never actually seen an episode of Saiyuki. Furthermore, it's not currently anywhere near my to-watch list. However, I have been told that there is a character named Sanzo Genjou, whose atheism would be confirmed by the following quote (if this quote is legitimate.) If anyone can confirm this (ideally with an episode number), I would be very much grateful. Similarly, if anyone is able to show a quote that disproves this claim, I will also be grateful, and I will remove this entry. The quote is as follows:
"I don't believe in anyone, nor do I believe in God. I just believe in myself."
Phew. It was certainly an undertaking to compile this list. In addition to racking my brain for the characters I could think of, and using Google to fill in the gaps, I had to research the individual episodes in which these claims were confirmed. I then had to transcribe the quotes; and this all took a lot longer than I expected it to. I hope it proves useful, however, because I know I've searched for lists like this in the past only to come up empty.
This being said, if anyone can submit characters that I've overlooked, the list can be improved. There is a comments section below for this purpose. If you can, please make use of it!
More by this Author
An educational look at Hua Mulan, the woman who pretended to be a man so that she could serve in the military instead of her father, and who inspired the 1998 Disney film, Mulan.
A look at religious symbolism found in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. It examines Father, the homunculi, the Oouroboros and Flamel Cross, the Church of Leto, and comparisons between characters with Jesus.
A detailed breakdown and review of the 2004 anime, Elfen Lied. Words that might describe it include: brutal, relentless, and... beautiful.