Type: Setting, premise and character cliché
What made it popular: Japanese interest and mystification of western culture/religion
Cliché Level: Low
Where can you find it: Hellsing, Toaru Majutsu Index, Chrono Crusade, Blue Exorcist, D Gray Man, Trinity Blood, Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Zero etc, Highschool DxD. (Heavily confined to the genre of fantasy)
In real life the Roman Catholic Church is a shadow of its former self, it is no longer one of the key balancers and powers in Europe as it used to be, and far too many of its followers claim to be Christian yet have never even read the Bible and they are losing the numbers of their actual faithful day to day to the Orthodox Church.
Not so much in anime however, as the Roman Catholic Church for some inexplicable reason remains a mystical and powerful faction, that influences and protects the world from the shadows. It’s priests and nuns are portrayed as exorcists, demon hunters, vampire hunters, healers and other miracle makers.
The Japanese Catholic Church cliché can manifest itself in a variety of ways such as the Catholic Church being an Illuminati-esque organization or something with its own private army, the individual characters within the church are also likely to be super powered badasses, immortals, non humans or even straight up psychopaths. It does not really matter what form this cliché takes, for the average western viewer can easily tell when the Japanese Catholic Church is in effect.
(It is made all the obvious by all the fancy dresses they wear and all the inexplicably complicated but stylish weapons they tend to wield.)
In a multitude of anime they frequently use self censoring to hide the fact that its about the Catholic Church, this includes such methods as simply calling the organization with the simple denomination of the “Church” or the outright removal of notable figures and icons such as Jesus Christ. But no matter what they change and remove, it is still quite obvious when a religious organization or a priest is based off on Christianity.
Why its bad:
This cliché is primarily bad from the perspective of a Western person as even the most inexperienced and irreligious people can tell that their portrayal of the Catholic Church is faulty. And I’m not talking about the supernatural stuff or the Illuminati Church, no what I’m talking about is that the Japanese writers who write them, have zero to no idea how western churches work or operate, which is why they end up making a dozens of mistakes that blatantly stand out.
One of the easiest examples is that anime frequently has Priest characters that are teenagers or even actual children. Obviously forgetting the fact that the Catholic Church has an age restriction on priest, according to canon laws they need to be at least 25 years old in order to be one. It’s not like they cannot have a 25 year old bishounen as a priest, they are just pandering towards the teenage audience as usual or are simply unaware of this rule.
Second example is the case of Nuns. For some inexplicable reason the Japanese don’t understand how nuns work or what do they even do in the social hierarchy of the church and are apparently incompetent at doing basic google searches to find out that information. So what they do when making nuns is that they take ideas from something similar to nuns from their own culture that they are familiar with, in this case Shrine Maidens also known as Mikos.
Japanese Shrine Maidens and Nuns are only similar in the manner that both are women that are also religious figures who occasionally perform certain services, rituals and ceremonies, but that is where all the similarities end. Shrine Maidens have a relatively greater degree of freedom in their roles and movements compared to the western nuns, who usually live in closed off communities. And most importantly Mikos do not need to take vows of chastity, they can marry off and have children whenever they want. They are also commonly depicted as magicians, seers, diviners who use their magic to help Japanese lords and warriors in folklore.
So what do you get when the Japanese writers makes a “western” nun based on the idea of the Japnese Shirne Maiden? She will become a powerful spellcaster, usually serving as the wizard type of character within the party and will also be prone to being perverted and sexualized just like Mikos in anime. The only thing that really defines them as Catholic is their outfit and the Christian stereotypes that they act out.
It must be understood that this type of cliché is invoked and used for the exact same reason western movies have occasional far eastern elements and characters. It evokes a sense of mystery and unknown in the viewer due to not being knowledgeable and familiar of the other land’s culture and religions. Adding the Catholic Church as an organization is a very easy tool for Japanese writers to create the image of a foreign and exotic faction from something already existing for the Japanese viewers.
(Kinda similar to how we use the Triads and Yakuza in western movies)
But just like the Chinese laugh or feel insulted when they see our portrayal of their culture in movies, so can this cliché make us laugh at the absurdity and the over the topness, which our western culture and religion has been presented with. This cliché is obviously not as damaging to the Japanese and other Asian people as to the westerners who are familiar with the Catholic Church. It also at certain times can be quite offensive if you are an actual religious person.