We would like to note that neither of the authors of this article are Aboriginal, and if any members of the Mowanjum community have any concerns or issues with anything stated in this article, we would love to be contacted and take those concerns into account to ensure that this reporting is as appropriate and respectful to the Mowanjum and their land as possible.
Lasengle’s world famous gacha game, Fate/Grand Order has become famous for creating anime character versions of various myths and historical figures. Because of this, it isn’t uncommon for the game to pull figures from various religions. Examples of this range from the various Greek gods depicted in the game’s story or even biblical characters such as Noah.
However generally, as with fiction in general, there are some religious characters who it would seem distasteful to create anime character versions of. Some figures, like Jesus or Mohammed would feel too blasphemous and disrespectful to portray in this method.
Unfortunately, the game crossed that line with a less known religion during their 2023 summer event in Japan, as Fate/Grand Order felt the need to depict a figure from Australia’s Aboriginal Mowanjum community
It has become a sort of minor tradition for Fate/Grand Order summer events to introduce a new NPC to serve as the event’s villain. These NPCs have ranged from China’s Xu Fu to a young version of Christopher Columbus. This year’s summer event in turn decided to pull from Australia for this year’s villain, more specifically they chose a Wandjina.
After it is revealed that a Wandjina is the antagonist of the event, the player gets to participate in a boss fight against a gigantic version of the character. Whether or not we will see this character in the future remains to be seen.
The issue here is that Fate/Grand Order shouldn’t have portrayed the Wandjina as a character at all, as the Mowanjum people object to any and all depictions of the Wandjina without their approval because of how sacred they are. Only members of the tribe can paint the Wandjina, and there are protocols one should follow to approach and look at the rock art of the Wandjina, to put everything into context.
To quote Leah Umbagai, Executive Councillor for Mowanjum Aboriginal Art & Culture Centre and an artist who paints Wandjina images, “You have to call out, you know? There’s a reason for you to say your name, who you are, what you’re going there for. Identify who you are. You know, little things like this. It’s really in-depth information that we have to abide by, even just to go there.” (Source). This is not something that one can do lightly. It’s a meaningful part of their religion and their land.
While we don’t know what the decision making process behind Fate/Grand Order adding this character was, it illustrates a common attitude toward indigenous beliefs, where they are taken to be “ancient mythology”, and so can be used however one wants within a work of fiction without being disrespectful to indigenous people. It doesn’t help that in the case of depictions of the Wandjina, online research is often clogged up with people who are not members of the Mowanjum community posting their own, incorrect “theories” about the Wandjina.
While I can commend Fate/Grand Order for attempting to highlight the culture and beliefs of less well known cultures, I wish this was done with respect and permission. I hope that in the future, Fate/Grand Order doesn’t attempt any more portrayals of this Wandjina figure.
This controversy will most likely be forgotten as time progresses. The event has already ended in Japan and while it may get a resurgence when it is localized in two years, it most likely won’t make that large of an impact as most Americans are likely unaware of the Mowanjum and their culture.
However even if it is only for a brief amount of time, we should try and cause a stir about this offensive depiction. Because if we do not, it is entirely possible Lasengle will try to profit off of this Wandjina character. Past summer antagonists like Xu Fu were eventually made full playable characters in the game’s gacha and it is entirely possible Wandjina will meet the same fate.
So please raise your voices and let Lasengle know that this type of character isn’t acceptable. Perhaps if there is enough uproar, we can prevent them from making this character a part of the gacha machine in the future.