Demonic Representation in Anime

Demons. What are they exactly? Where did they originate from? I spent several years researching and familiarizing myself with the topic so I’d like to give a bit more of an academic discussion in this post. No, I wasn’t a Satanist or anything (although I did possibly tell people in high school that I was to get them to leave me alone…um that didn’t happen). Also, I’d like to include a link to one of my favorite websites on demonology. It doesn’t get into any majorly hardcore stuff, but if you’d like a basic overview then you can go to this website. This post is based entirely on my knowledge of the subject, and I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, but I’ll definitely fact check and try not to include any inaccurate information.

The word demon originated from the Latin word daemonium (via the Greek daemonion), meaning lesser or evil spirit. However, although the word takes its roots in Latin/Greek, demons existed long before the classical era. In the research I have done, the first reference I’ve seen to a demon is probably the ancient Mesopotamian (Assyrian and Akkadian) maskimmu. Back then though, demons weren’t demons the way they’ve been imagined in modern society as these demonic interpretations stem mostly from Christian mythos. This is not to be confused with Biblical mythos as the Jewish representation of demons differs immensely from those portrayed in Christianity.

I would like you to bear with me because I am about to demonstrate the evolution of a demon. Starting from her origins in Ancient Mesopotamia all the way to her most well-known form as a Judeo-Christian demon.

As a reference point to demonstrate this demonic evolution, I would like to start with a demon I happen to be particularly familiar with just because my research centered largely around her. This Mesopotamian demon (I refer to her as ‘her’ because she is usually a singular entity) is named Lamashtu. She was known for murdering and kidnapping children, causing miscarriages, and as the bringer of nightmares. Now I know who hangs around my room at night all the time XD. Lamashtu is not a beautiful woman or a succubus as most of us associate with female demons in modern day. There is nothing sexually appealing about a lion or bird headed woman riding around on an ass donkey while suckling a dog and a pig at the same time. Although if that’s your thing, I won’t judge. The most interesting thing about Lamashtu is that she is actually the daughter of a god–the sky god Anu.

Ok. Bear with me because things start to get complicated right about now. Lamashtu has a sister. A very beautiful sister named Inanna/Ishtar who is the goddess of  love and carnage (think Athena smushed together with Venus) and this sister has a handmaiden named Lilitu. Lilitu is a wind goddess, a minor character in the Sumerian pantheon, but she will soon become so much more. Lamashtu soon is forgotten in the pantheon and Lilitu evolves from a simple bird-headed wind goddess into a harbinger of nightmares. She also kidnaps children and causes miscarriages. Sound familiar? I thought so too.

Now let’s move to Biblical mythology. I know you’ve heard of Lilith and if you haven’t well, let’s just say I’m going to destroy the Bible for you just a little bit. Lilith was…wait for it…Adam’s first wife. Yep, that Adam–the one from the creation myth. To make a long story short, Lilith refused to be in the submissive position while having sex with Adam, went on to ‘have relations’ with the Archangel Samael (the angel of death), and ended up as Satan’s favorite wife. Her children, known as the Lilim are said to kidnap and murder infants (according to Jewish mythos), making the whole evolution come full circle.

So what does this have to do with anime? Well, for starters, I’ve noticed that anime tends to be quite liberal in its interpretation of demons and Hell. You can compare a more traditional representation: Blue Exorcist to something that is clearly pandering: Black Butler. Obviously these show’s aren’t the only two with demons as a presence–far from it–but since I just finished these two up recently I thought I’d throw them together into a single post about demons rather than dedicating separate posts to each of them.

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Look at that Yaoi pandering 101.

Black Butler. For the sake of space I’ll just link to a synopsis. Oh jeez. So many nasty things I could say about this show, but since I’m talking specifically about demonic representation here, I’ll stick to that. If you’re interested in any of my other scathing commentary you can feel free to email me or ask about it in the comments haha.

Meet Sebastian Michaelis, our demon extraordinaire:

sebastian__the_black_butler_by_thayuu_chan-d308ygb

He’s sexy, he’s suave, he’s perfectly composed and unswervingly loyal to his master’s whims. He’s also a terrible demon. To start I’d just like to point out that I did some name research (as I tend to do for things like this) Sebastian- Venerable Michael(is)- Who is like God? Ok.So I was a little bit disappointed by this for starters. Sebastian doesn’t even have a proper demonic name. One could argue that he’s a sub demon, one of little importance who doesn’t show up in any grimoire, but trust me I’ve scoured those things top to bottom and there’s no ‘Sebastian’ in sight. If he is supposed to be this ‘all mighty’ devourer of souls, a solid name like Belphegor or Moloch wouldn’t have been a bad idea. Sebastian was poorly researched in other areas as well–not only in name. What reason would he, a proper demon, have to make a deal with a child in exchange for one soul. The mythos of the world was unclear, but it sounded as if Sebastian could pretty much devour hundreds of arbitrary people in one go. If that was the case then what did he want with Ciel?

I know that it seems like I might be basing my arguments off purely the Judeo-Christian tradition, but demons throughout different pantheons tend to share a core set of values. Demons are manipulative. Sebastian did whatever Ciel told him and while I searched for malice, any suggestions he gave to him were based purely on fujoshi pandering. Not to mention, you’ll be hard pressed to find a demon who will stick around for years just to help a prepubescent kid enact revenge on some angels. Right. Also, demons adhere to a very strict pantheon. They are not free agents as BB seemed to be implying. Demons in the grimoires are actually ranked according to their title (Duke, Prince, Marquis, etc.) and the number of demonic legions they command. At the very least they all answer back to Satan. Sebastian did not seem to fall under any of these restrictions, which was interesting considering there was a very clear chain of command when it came to the shinigami.

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Although I guess when the shinigami act like this there’s probably a good reason…

No other demons were present in the episode, which is the reason I got the idea that he was a free agent, that and the fact that he was allowed to make the contract with Ciel. The unswerving loyalty part was unconvincing and Sebastian’s motives, which I suppose were intended to make him seem more likable and ‘human’, were out of line with what the classic image of a demon is. Now that isn’t to say that the idea of demon doesn’t change and evolve, I mean have you read any YA paranormal lately? (If you haven’t then I envy you.) However, in this case, it seemed like they were trying to make Sebastian seem like a proper demon, but failed miserably. In YA paranormal at least the writers make it very clear that the demon is some sort of deviant from the majority of the race, but with Sebastian he was an entity unto himself and his abilities/origins were undefined. I mean I guess I shouldn’t judge the show too harshly since he was essentially just there to play a part in the really weird Yaoi dynamic between himself and Ciel.

Ok. Moving on. Let’s talk about Blue Exorcist, a show that I liked much better for many reasons, but also one that I thought much better embodied the idea of ‘demon’ in both Japanese and Judeo-Christian traditions. Here’s a link to a synopsis if you haven’t seen the show. All of the major players were there e.g Satan, Mephistopheles, etc. and I thought the juxtaposition between Judeo-Christian demons and Japanese spirits was well executed. The focus was mainly on western demons, but there were some others thrown in there for added interest.

So let’s talk about Rin, the son of Satan and why I thought he worked as a demon. He was half-demon, half-human which definitely gave the writers some leeway in terms of how to portray him, but I thought they stayed fairly close to traditional interpretation. He could manipulate flame as his primary ability and was erratic and a bit of a bad boy in contrast to his quasi-angelic brother (I won’t spoil the ending for you, but there is definitely something of a reversal). Of course they erred a bit into the cliche with the pointy horns and the tail, but I didn’t think it was overemphasized.

blue_exorcist

Looks like a pretty standard demon to me.

Then there was Satan. This was an interpretation that I actually really enjoyed. Obviously to create Rin and his twin brother, Satan had to impregnate a mortal woman, but what surprised me was that it wasn’t a very cliched Rosemary’s Baby horror movie type scenario. Satan was humanized or rather given empathy and human emotions to a certain extent, at least enough so that he could form a romantic connection with Rin’s mother. It was definitely unexpected, but at the same time refreshing–just goes to show that if done in a clever fashion revision of a standard trope can be effective. I mean of course then Satan kind of goes crazy, not to say that he wasn’t crazy already, but he goes crazier to try and fulfill his love’s dying wish (or what he thought it was).

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Tell me he doesn’t look just a little bit psycho…

On a closing note, I’d like to briefly mention a rather insignificant (all things considered) character in the show: Mephisto.

Mephisto_Pheles

Ok yea he looks kind of effeminate, but let’s ignore that for now.

Out of all the characters in both shows, I think he was the best embodiment of a classical Judeo-Christian demon. Mephisto successfully carried out the characteristics that Black Butler tried unsuccessfully to bestow upon Sebastian (the clever deviousness and self-serving immorality). He was a player in the story, but didn’t serve the largest role. Nevertheless, in all senses he was the character that most accurately portrayed what a demon ‘should’ be for all intents and purposes. Mephisto was so successful because his character was depicted in such a way that you never quite knew what side he was on or if he was even on a side at all. I’m inclined to believe that in true demon fashion he was his own self-serving entity that technically would answer back to Satan if the occasion arose.

Anyway, this post went on for way longer than I expected and there are definitely more things that I could say, but I think it’s time to cut it short. If anyone wants to talk demonology you can feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll be more than happy to give you my contact information.

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18 responses to “Demonic Representation in Anime

  1. Hiya! Very interesting read. I haven’t seen Black Butler, but I’ve seen Blue Exorcist.
    Out of curiosity, have you ever read the manga of Blue Exorcist? It differs a lot (i.e. all the happens with Yukio in the anime doesn’t, or at least hasn’t happened yet, in the manga, at least where I’m up to). Saying that, you also don’t get the back story of the Satan and Rin’s mother (again, at least not where I’m up to). However, Mephisto’s role is expanded a lot more. He is a lot more manipulative and cunning, and you still aren’t sure what side he’s on. I agree that, at least out of the anime that I’ve seen, he is the ‘best’ representation of a demon.

    • Thanks for the comment justanotheranimefan! I haven’t read the manga, but it sounds like there’s a lot of variation and information that it skips over.

  2. Gotta agree that Ao no Exorcist > Kuroshitsuji. Rin is a much better husbando than Sebastian is. Clearly, that’s the only distinction which matters.

    But about Kuroshitsuji, did you ever read into the manga of that series? I’m not a manga reader myself, but from what I know, the anime deviated a lot from the manga and included a lot more… er… pandering. It could be that Sebastian’s demonic background is more elaborated in the original story. I suppose it doesn’t really matter when this is a post that’s just about anime, though.

    Nice tidbits about the demonology, anywho! You learn something new every day.

    • Haha of course! Rin is so much better. I’m not much of a manga reader either so I haven’t read Kuroshitsuji. It’s possible that they did go more into the backstory, but I haven’t looked. I’m glad you enjoyed my lesson on demons :).

  3. Lovely post. I’m going to be brave and come out and say it. I’m actually a pretty diehard Black Butler fan. I can’t leave a long post but I will point out a few things:
    #1 Regarding Sebastian’s demonic name. Sebastian actually isn’t his name. His demonic name is never given (appropriately so, since names have power). Sebastian was a name given by Ciel as a taunt as it was the name of Ciel’s dog and is meant as a snub at Sebastian’s forced subservience as demanded by the contract.
    #2 I agree that there’s quite a bit of fujoshi pandering in Black Butler, but that in spite of that, Sebastian is still one freaky and scary demon. The show never lets us forget that no matter how “close” the two get, Sebastian will not see Ciel as more than prey. The finest delicacy, perhaps but a meal nonetheless. (For more messed up demon capers, check out Black Butler 2.)
    #3 Mephisto is an awesome character with much potential. That the show unfortunately did not fully take advantage of. Blue Exorcist was a pretty decent show though.

    • Thanks for the comment, jstorming! I definitely have some rebuttals to your comments, but overall you make some good points :).

      1. To say that ‘names have power’ is to use a blanket statement. It really depends on the world, but I can see where you’re getting with this point. I guess what I’m wondering is how a name like ‘Sebastian’, which doesn’t have any negative connotation is used as a taunt. Unless Ciel is using it ironically?
      2. Eh I guess I’ve seen demons that are much worse and thereby don’t find Sebastian to be too terrifying. Part of the reason he isn’t scary is because he lays all his cards out on the table. We pretty much know what Sebastian is and knowledge/understanding of something makes it less frightening–at least in my opinion.
      3. Agreed, they did not take advantage of Mephisto the way the should have. I’m not sure if he was better utilized in the manga.

      • We pretty much know what Sebastian is and knowledge/understanding of something makes it less frightening–at least in my opinion.

        I think you can make a genuine case where the knowing actually makes things more frightening. There’s nothing quite like seeing a reminder of your inevitable doom every single day. The fact that Sebastian is such a perfect servant in every other way gives his relationship with Ciel a kind of co-dependency angle that is both sweet and horrifying. These two things reinforce each other.

        … Well, in theory that is. The horror tends to get swept under the carpet most of the time what with all the badly timed comedy and awkward yaoi fanservice.

      • Hmm I can see your point, but I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. And then of course this is all in theory since, as you pointed out, the show is pretty much a mess in general haha.

  4. On another note, Rebecca, I think I’m starting to see you’ve developed quite a partiality towards shonen fantasy. A couple of posts ago, you talked about your love of FMA: Brotherhood and you’ve also written some good things about Fairy Tail and Magi. I also recall you saying you’ve gotten quite sick of generic fantasy literature. Could it be that the greater emphasis on character development over politics and worldbuilding in anime appeals to you more than the Tolkein-inspired novels? When I was first getting into anime, I preferred shonen fantasy over the usual swords-and-sorcery stuff for that very reason.

    • I definitely think that I’m transitioning away from the ‘high literary fantasy’ genre. I read so much of it in high school that I’m jaded and quite sick of it. To me shounen is much more fun and I definitely enjoy the quick pace and character driven plots. I’m sure my tastes will change again in the future, but for now I’m having fun :).

      • I love messy shows. They’re ambitious (usually) and have so much potential.
        It’s always good to have a diversity of opinions! Sebastian is by no means the scariest guy but his proximity and carnal/spiritual? interest in Ciel was enough to deeply disturb me. I agree with froggy-kun that known fears are sometimes legitimately more scary than the unknown (ignorance is bliss in this way).
        Glad to hear you’re getting into shonen–people always complain it’s so mainstream but I think the shows are fun.

  5. That was a fun read; I actually haven’t read up on a lot of demons or their lore. I guess I’m too busy nitpicking at other things. XD

    If you’re curious, the manga to Black Butler is much more enjoyable (at least I thought so), though it’s still quite a strange read. It’s the kind of series that you have to turn off your brain to enjoy.

    You’re making me curious as to what happens with Yukio in the anime! D: I’ve read the manga up to volume 6, but only saw episode one of the anime. A-1 Pictures always manages to disappoint me, so I’ve been procrastinating. XD

    • Thanks blue0star! Demon lore is definitely one of my favorite mythological branches. Let me know if you want any suggestions for reading/research. Also, I can definitely see how Black Butler requires a bit of brain turning off to enjoy XD. If you do decide to finish Blue Exorcist (which I highly recommend) let me know what you think!

      • Definitely let me know about demon research materials; it sounds like a lot of fun to read up on!

        I’ll have to pick up the anime of Blue Exorcist again (if only for the twins); I’m thinking of buying it, but I’m also afraid that A-1 Pictures is going to break my heart somehow. So I’ll just stream it for now. XD

  6. I have done some research for a paper I am writing for school and I came to find that Sebastian Michealis shares his name with a fresh inquisitor who wrote a book on the classifications of demons. It was an interesting find, the creators may have been basing his character off of that in some fashion.

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