[In case it isn’t obvious, this is not a serious post but uh… sarcasm doesn’t exist. Beep Boop. Oh and be careful with those airhorn links. They might be loud.]
Is anyone else watching Namu Amida Butsu!: Rendai Utena? Maybe that’s a trick question since I’m not really watching it either, but at around the midpoint of most seasons I like to scroll through the worst rated anime on MyAnimeList and pick out a few of the weirdest ones. And oh my god is Namu Amida Butsu weird…
To start with, the first half of the title is the literal Nembutsu, a prayer to seek love and wisdom from the Amida Buddha, most often associated with the Jodo-Shinshu school of Buddhism (depending on who you ask, technically it’s a chant, not a prayer, but hey, what is Buddhism if not a collection of obfuscated technicalities buried in esoteric terminology that Buddhists themselves can’t even agree on! And before the Buddhism Internet Defense League shows up to “technically…” me, that’s the joke). The rendai utena half of the title then refers to the lotus-shaped pedestals that hold images of the Buddha (plural). And oh my god there are a lot of Buddhas in this show… Check it, ’cause it’s weird:
The thirteen Butsu (again, technically 5 Buddha, 7 bodhisattva, and 1 wisdom king …take a breath… Fudo, Shaka, Monju, Fugen, Jizo, Miroku, Yakushi, Kannon, Seishi, Amida, Ashuku, Dainichi, and Kokuzo …and exhale…) of Shingon Buddhism protect the material world by battling monsters composed of human vice. For centuries, they have kept the world in balance. But alas!, the evil demon Mara has returned!, intent on taking revenge on Shaka-Buddha (the OG Buddha-boi himself, Siddhartha Gautama *airhorn*) by tempting humanity to sin and usher in a new decadent age. Can the thirteen Butsu, joined by the heavenly deities Bonten, Taishakuten, and Karuraten, defeat Mara and bring balance back to the world?
12 episodes and 16 protagonists, sign me up! If the insane excess of religious jargon deters you though, don’t worry because the creators don’t expect the domestic Japanese audience to understand either — each episode teaser on the official website attaches a freaking glossary to the bottom to help you along:
Yeah, but scrap that too, because apart from the character’s names, none of Buddhist vice-busting action matters much since Shaka-Buddha put a moratorium on direct exorcisms (or whatever you want to call it, technically). As a result, Namu Amida Butsu is really a slice-of-life cute-girls-doing-cute-things show about nonsense like buying a carton of milk or enjoying ~oishii keki~ (yummy cake). Just replace the girls with a bunch of sexy bishounen Buddha-boiz (*airhorn*) house-sharing in Bonno Temple while the petty gods bicker about stealing each others’ strawberries and junk. Check it, ’cause it’s weird.
I flatly don’t know what to think of this series. Jettison the religious miscellanea for a moment and consider the basic narrative problem I joked about before: how the hell do you manage 16 protagonists across a short 12 episodes?
The first six episodes tell me that you don’t in any narratively interesting way. Each Namu Amida Butsu episode follows a rough template: it picks out about two or three of the Butsu and runs them through some bland slice-of-life gags: Fugen and Monju go to the zoo! Miroku, Seishi, and Kannon go to the old folks’ home! Dainichi, Jizo, and Fudo go on a vacation! It becomes a little more complicated in that most episodes introduce and resolve some sort of relationship problem, but in general it stays pretty light (though that does raise the question: why would literal enlightened beings have such strong egos to get them in those relationship messes in the first place?).
In terms of the grand series plot, each episode conclusion might include some insight into the whole Mara ~Age of Decadence~ thing, but otherwise, with such a large cast, most episodes necessarily focus on character introductions. Sometimes a battle will show up, like during the transition between episodes three and four, but it always settles down again so that the Buddha-boiz (*airhorn*) can hit the town in Harajuku and buy some fruity, creamy crepes or whatever. It’s weird.
Why introduce characters that will never have time to develop in the narrative? Well, thank you me, I’m glad I asked! Because Namu Amida Butsu has an upcoming mobile game that the anime series wants to generate a little buzz for. And oh my goddd, ha! I had to stop typing because the idea of a faith-based otome game just makes me laugh too much.
A few months ago, I expressed some confusion about the intended audience for a similar mobile-game-advertisement anime, winter 2019’s Pastel Memories. But at least with that, I could imagine the otaku appeal of a dozen cute, steampunk-stylized battle-girls going on referential romps through Akihabara to acquire a bunch of anime merch. It’s pure, unadulterated commercialism with a setting to match.
But doesn’t a similar premise casting a bunch of sexed-up, bodhisattva pretty boys in the same role strike you as a contradiction when drawing from a philosophy and religion that preaches moderation, if not actual austerity? At first, I thought that Namu Amida Butsu might have originated as some sort of doomed attempt to make an old, decaying faith hip wit’ da yout’s, dawg (*airhorn*), like those wacky Evangelical Christian attempts to turn the New Testament into edgy violence-porn to appeal to teenagers or my local Catholic Church’s introduction of a rock band for a special weekday mass (kids these days like rock music, right? No, they like *airhorn* *dabs* *airhorn*).
Nahhh though, a quick browse through the official website tells me that the franchise has no interest in moralizing; Namu Amida Butsu wants to sell merch, baby! Big bucks for the Buddha-boiz *airhorn* Sexy saints? Yes please. Behold Saint Simeon atop his sturdy column (in four parts), and Saint Teresa pierced by Jesus’s hot, fiery spear! With our Butsu too, we’ve got sexy boys…
It’s sooo stupid, so, so, so stupid that it wraps around to earn its own absurd validity (like a “wrap-around straight” out of poker). Like I said in the introduction, I’m not really watching Namu Amida Butsu anymore. But I have taken to putting it on, getting bored in about two minutes, and flipping out my phone to browse reddit. Then I’ll glance up every once and a while to catch some nonsense that just makes me laugh uncontrollably. Sexy Shaka-Buddha making a taiyaki microwave meal … and eating it, with milk, in the bath? Ha, oh my god, why?! Sexy Monju-bodhisattva raking in the cash day trading on an ancient iMac desktop computer? Oh my god, hahaha, WHY?! Not-actually-sexy-but-they-tried Seishi-bodhisattva speaking in a boyish falsetto that absolutely does not belong to his super-fit power athlete’s body? Haaaaa, oh my GOD, WHY! Stop, stop I’m not laughing anymore, I’m coughing up blood for observing such sacrilege (but actually, still laughing).
I do not recommend Namu Amida Butsu. It’s a stupid commercial contrivance designed to build hype for a gacha-grind mobile game. It will teach you nothing about Buddhism, and when it tries, the contradictory depictions of its bishounen Buddha-boiz *airhorn* obliviate any serious contemplative value that they might offer.
But with all that said, um… how about sexy (oh~), androgynous (*swoons in Pali*) Bonten, King of the Heavens, in a bath towel?
Yes please. Why try to control your desires when you could have a poke at that?
Ohohohhh. Good god, what have I done…