Happy Science is an organized spiritual religious group formerly known as . They are a cult, plain and simple. But what makes this religious group push the boundary into a cult? It's not the odd beliefs, or the amount of followers; what makes the Happy Science group a cult is their manipulation tactics both outside and among the group's members themselves. Their most infamous manipulation tactic? Anime.
As of 2021, they have nine full-length anime movies promoting their beliefs. The cult's history isn't fairly long, as the group started only a few decades ago, however their beliefs are incredibly complex and a mixture of other world religions and mythologies. When it comes to their anime, however, there are multiple studios who have been contracted to make anime for them, including the slice-of-life royalty themselves Kyoto Animations.
Ryuho Okawa was a Wall Street trader affiliated with Toyota Tsusho, a financing branch of the Toyota car company. He claims his parents believed in both God and the Buddha, however, he wasn't active in religious activities. What was active, however, was the beliefs he was forming apart from his parent's beliefs; Okawa's beliefs from a young age involved unique views of spirits, souls, and the afterlife. On the 23rd of March in 1981, Okawa believes he was contacted by a divine spirit for the first time.
Later that year, Shinji Takahashi, the religious leader of the God Light Association, told Okawa that his destiny was to find a new religion for people to follow. Later that month, Okawa claims to have been contacted by Kūkai, Shinran, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Moses, and Nostradamus.
There are tapes of these supposed communications as well, where Okawa acted as the medium and a follower interviewed the spirit that Okawa claimed to be speaking through him at the time. Okawa began to publish his communications with spirits over the years to prove his claims within a collection of thirteen books. Partway through publishing these books, he switched from using one of his followers' names as a pen name to publishing under his own name as the books gained popularity, and he could quit his job with Toyota Tsusho.
And thus, The Institute for Human Happiness was born and later changed its name to Happy Science. He has claimed to be many things; although he originally claimed that deities such as Jesus and Confucius, he now claims he is the reincarnation of El Cantare, Hermes, and Gautama Buddha, among others. His current wife is claimed to be a reincarnation of Gaia. In general, the beliefs are proclaimed to be positive with the four tenants being Love that gives, Wisdom, Self-Reflection and Progress. However, many of the content, preaching, and their own anime seem to focus on their leader as much, if not more, than their main tenants.
Their History With Anime
In an attempt to find more ways to bring in members to the Happy Science group, they began to commission anime from fledgling anime studios that desperately needed clients. Their very first anime is Shiawasette Naani, a title that translates to What Is Happiness? in English. What makes this specific anime special is that it is the first anime produced by Kyoto Animations as the main studio. Previously, Kyoto Animations had worked on backgrounds and in-between frames for larger studios, but this was their first with the main studio credit. It was, however, the only anime that Kyoto Animations made for Happy Science.
Later, multiple anime films were produced by various small companies until they made their own animation studio called HS Pictures Studio. Through this studio, they've now produced a four-part movie anthology that has not only won awards, but can be found on Tubi, the free streaming platform. Critics have universally panned all of their movies, along with anime fans. After slugging through five of the movies, I can confirm a few things; there is barely a plot in any of them, the dialogue is all over the place, and the movies seem to focus more on the greatness of Okawa than the messages they want to get across. Oddly enough, they also are anti-vax, nationalistic, and are full of manipulative recruitment advice they encourage throughout the movies.
Many online creators, but especially Mother's Basement on YouTube, have been covering the cult's movies for a while. And although those living outside and inside of Japan have disregarded the films, the cult still somehow receives enough money to continue to produce these films, among the books, speeches, and other content they produce. Although they show off a front of peace and happiness, their anime films are proof of their dangerous views and manipulation techniques disguised as recruitment.