Mekaku City Actors episodes 1 and 2: Artificial Enemy and Kisaragi Attention

It is very rare that there is ever an anime I am dead-set on watching while it airs. Mekaku City Actors is an exception. For those of you that don’t know, Mekaku City Actors is based off of a series of vocaloid songs, light novels, and a manga, all known collectively as The Kagerou Project. I’ve only listened to the songs and read a bit of the manga, so while I’m very interested in the plot and characters, the majority of the story still eludes me. The Kagerou Project doesn’t have a very straight-forward story line, and when there are fan theories are based on other fan theories, it can be hard to figure out what’s going on. I have no idea if the Mekaku City Actors anime is going to be any good, but I hope that, if nothing else, it might clear up the plot a little a little for me.

Episode 1: Artificial Enemy

The story opens with a sort of dream-sequence scene, involving a girl who I will not name, because I think that might be considered a spoiler, but who is important to the story and, incidentally, my favourite character.

Red Scarf Girl...or Ayano

She’s voiced by the same seiyuu as Nagisa Furukawa. Make of that what you will.

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An Anime Easter

Easter is the most holy day for Christians – one that’s more meaningful than even Christmas, even if it’s eclipsed by that holiday.  As such, it’s a good opportunity for Christians to reflect on Christ and even for non-Christians to explore the holidays.

Don’t know exactly what it’s all about?  Why not take a look at the short below, done in anime-style by a studio in Japan, and demonstrating the meaning of Easter through a unique lens:

Happy Easter!

Holy Week: Yukine’s Sin and Comprehending Holiness

Noragami grew on me week by week through the winter season, but it took one specific episode to win me over.  At the end of episode eight, Yato has collapsed from the blight brought on by Yukine’s sins.  And in the next episode, Yato’s, on death’s door (for kami can die), endures of pain and an almost-imminent demise, all because he believes in a young boy who is to prideful to admit that he is the cause of Yato’s pain.  And in the kami’s actions, we also get a glimpse of the love of God.

Up until this point, the Noragami has been careful to develop Yukine as a character.  There’s a balance here for the audience’s reaction to the pre-teen; we alternately consider him a brat and a sympathetic figure.  We understand his immaturity, since he’s still a kid and he’s in an overwhelming situation. But the audience also resents him, a sentiment that builds as we see Yato getting more and more hurt, while patiently enduring for the sake of his shinki.

Yukine’s juvenile acts are serious – so serious that Yato is not only hurt by the blight taking over his body, he’s dying from it.  The god Tenjin remarks that he has no idea what Yukine has done to let this get so out of hand, and that Yato should simply kill him and be done with it.

Even as Yato lays dying, Yukine is stubborn and resistant.  Even though he knows he’s guilty, Yukine’s pride and his pain weight more heavily upon him than does the possibility of losing Yato.  And while Yukine is different from the other shinki is his stubborness, he’s actually much closer to a typical person (ironically) than any other character in the series.  We’re all at least a little like Yukine – wrapped up in self-worth, selfishness, and self-love.  All these are sins before a holy God for a simple reason – they say that we’d rather worship ourselves than worship God.

Yato, Hiyori, and Yukine

Art by ハザノ (Pixiv ID 42262190)

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Holy Week: Patient Yato, Patient Yahweh

If you were to describe Yato, what words would you use? Lazy? Easy-going? Self-centered?

What about…patient?

Patience, in fact, is one of Yato’s most defining characteristics in the Noragami anime.  It’s best demonstrated in how Yato faithfully waits for Yukine, trusting in him to make the right decision and remaining steadfast even as he lays dying.  It’s in serious qualities such as this where an anime kami resembles the living Christ.  He, too, demonstrated a loving patience for mankind, remaining obedient to the Father unto death.  As Yato struggles from his blight and refuses to kill Yukine, Christ is tortured on the cross, refusing to call down legions of angels to pull him off and destroy his enemies, knowing that his death and resurrection would lead to the possibility of redemption for all.

God sees something in us, even as the Bible declared us His enemies, and provides a path to salvation.  Yato saw something in Yukine as well.  Even as Yukine heads further and further down the path of sin and self-destruction, Yato remains patient and graciously loves his shinki.  He even refuses to replace him with Nora, a former shinki who wants to return to Yato.

Nora (Noragami)

Art by Kane (Pixiv ID 42863109)

But it’s also through Nora that we see that Yato’s patience isn’t infinite.  He is gracious and kind to Yukine, a lost soul in several definitions of the phrase, but has shut the door on Nora.  And why does he do so?  Those of us who haven’t read the manga don’t know the details, but the anime does give some hint.  Yato rejects Nora because she first rejected him in whatever way she acted. This is demonstrated by how Nora refuses to take Yato’s name, an evil thing in sight of the kami.  It’s a sign of disrespect.

God acts similarly.  Read the rest of this entry

Holy Week: Noragami and a Saving Grace

The world of Noragami reflects the pantheon of kami in Japanese religion.  There’s an unraveling uniqueness to Yato, but from the beginning, Noragami also emphasizes the truth of Shintoism, that he is just one of many gods.  And without a shrine, Yato is a minor one at that.

The presence of many kami in Shinto religion is just one of many differences between that system and Christianity.  Yet, Noragami demonstrates to us a very Christian idea through Yato, one god who offers a similar gift as the One God.

Yato, Hiyori, and Yukine

Art by 砂糖イルノ (Pixiv ID 42444617)

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Holy Week: Yukine and Matters of the Heart

As a Christian, I’ve found that one of the hardest things to explain to non-Christians is about the seriousness of sin.  Without comprehending this, the gospel story makes little sense and thus there’s little to compel one to be open to the religion.  One of the roadblocks in trying to help others understand the gravity of sin is that we’ve grown up with varied definitions of the phrase, and it’s become perhaps defined best in our culture as “doing something bad,” rather than as rebelling against God.  Add to that other cultures’ and religions’ uses of the word, as expressed in Noragami and other anime, and it becomes a word that’s loaded with meaning that isn’t necessarily Christian, and becomes a confusing path to explore.

Another roadblock is in understanding that sin doesn’t have to be something we physically commit.  This comes into play with Yukine and Yato in Noragami.  Even though Yato warns his shinki that even when Yukine simply thinks sinful thoughts, Yato suffers, Yukine continues to do so.  Perhaps he just wants to cause Yato displeasure – no surprise for an adolescent with a holder as annoying as Yato.  Or maybe Yukine just can’t accept the fact that he could sin by simply coveting.  After all, Yukine resists stealing items on a couple of occasions, as if trying to stop himself from crossing that boundary.  Moving from thinking to doing is, apparently to Yukine, the bridge between sin and not.

For Yato, there is no difference.  Coveting and giving into mindful temptation is the same as physically giving in – they both cause Yato harm in the form of a blight that eventually consumes most of the kami’s body, particularly taking over once Yukine indulges completely in sinful desire.  And so, not only is thinking sinfully considered a sin, but it becomes a root desire that helps beget the physical detrimental actions.

Yukine Noragami

Art by 謖 (Pixiv ID 41940946)

These ideas are very much in line with Christianity.  From the Old Testament, the Bible makes it clear that God is concerned with our heart and mind, even above physical actions:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

- I Samuel 16:7

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Anime Today: One Week Sinners

Wow, has the Spring 2014 anime season started off with a bang. I have already picked up 10 new shows that I plan to watch through to completion, in addition to the two I was already watching from last season (Nisekoi and Tonari no Seki-kun), and I have not been disappointed. While a number of what I have picked up so far will most likely be duds, the greatly hyped Mushi-shi sequel and Mekakucity Actors have both so far lived up to my expectations, and brand new ones like The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior and One Week Friends have thus far been quite promising.

The last of these mentions is the show I would like to focus on today, and while I would love to spend the rest of this article gushing about my feelings and opinions of what we are going to be seeing the next few months in the anime world, that is something to be left for another piece.

With that said, One Week Friends has really gotten me thinking over the past two weeks since it began airing. I’m always a bit nervous for this column, “Anime Today”, when a new season rolls around, lest I not have enough material within the first few episodes of each new series, but One Week Friends immediately struck me in terms of writing motivation.

If you are not yet familiar with it, One Week Friends (or Isshuukan Friends) is a middle school drama/romance that seems, in most ways, to play out akin to its many (many, many, many) slice of life brethren, with one major catch: the female interest, Kaori, of the male lead, Yuuki, has a memory problem that causes her to lose the memories of her close friends every Monday.

one week friends

Art by coma (Pixiv ID 42777163)

This is not a new concept. Simply looking at anime like Ef: A Tale of Memories, or even in the western world, a movie like 50 First Dates (something I think I saw at a friend’s house nearly a decade ago and have no intention of watching again), one will find many comparisons in existing media. However, the setup has not been out used. In fact, I would claim that it still comes across as something rather creative among its anime contemporaries, despite many past instances of this memory loss “trope”, mostly because it is being used as something less amnesiac, and more regular and constantly debilitating.

Even only two episodes in, the entire situation does a great job of pulling at your heart strings. I like to compare One Week Friends to a fantastic merging of two of my other favorite anime, Ef: A Tale of Memories (which I already mentioned) in its memory-loss driven romantic drama, and Usagi Drop in its general animation and writing style, as well as focus on wholesome relationships.

All of this culminates in a seriously captivating story of a boy and a girl trying to maintain a relationship that suffers strains unlike any other.

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Holy Week: The Book of Hiyori

One thing that struck me immediately about Noragami is that there were so many connections that could made in the series to Christianity.  Joseph of Medieval Otaku (who’s now on Twitter, by the way), thought the same:

The most surprising thing about Noragami is how many of its themes one can tie into Christianity despite its Shinto background.  As a minor example, we have the fact that Yato only takes 5 yen coins for his services.  Spiritual gifts are priceless.  Since they cannot be equated in any way with material goods, money given to religious institutions are rather tokens of good will than amount tendered for particular services.  All the money in the world would not be the equivalent of a single drop of holy water.

I recommend you check out Joe’s article, as he goes on to make more interesting connections, particularly to Catholicism.

Of course, I’ve charged into this week seeing many links as well, mostly New Testament in nature, but episode nine added an even more ancient flavor through a pivotal plot point that played like an allegory.

Leading up to this episode, Yukine has slowly been turning toward sin, almost right from the start.  Fed by fear and sadness, he continues down this path, turning fully toward it in episode eight.  And as he sins more and more, Yato pays the price through a growing blight – one that grows out of control, to the point where only an ablution, a dangerous ceremony, can heal him.

As Yato lays dying because of Yukine’s sinful actions, three shinki must come together for the ablution to take place.  Two are found, but a third is hard to come by.  Desperate, Hiyori turns to a very threatening place – the Temple of Bishamon, the home of the god who most wants to see Yato destroyed, for assistance.  But here also dwells Kazuma, a shiki of Bishamon who admires Yato and owes him for some unknown event in the past.

Hiyori Iki

Art by .PEN. (Pixiv ID 42857071)

With much trepidation, and understanding that her life is at stake, Hiyori screams and yells as the temple entrance to plead for Kazuma to come along, knowing that if Bishamon would come out instead, she, Yato, and Yukine would all perish.

In the Bible, a similar set of circumstances occurs in one of my favorite books, EstherRead the rest of this entry

Holy Week: Noragami and Treating God as a Genie, Part 2

I mentioned yesterday that at first, even our (generally) level-headed heroine in Noragami, Hiyori Iki, treats Yato with little respect.  Further, she looks to him to fulfill her own needs.  This is no surprise, of course, as she’s in a very unusual and confusing situation, and Yato has agreed to take her case, even taking payment from her.  Thus her communication with Yato early in the series is mostly focused on her desire for him to fix her troubling situation.  Hiyori’s focus is on her needs.

When we communicate with God, through prayer, we also often focus on our needs.  I imagine that many of us spend the bulk of, or all of prayer time, on our own concerns.  Instead of spending time in adoration, confession, and thanksgiving, we may put 80% of our prayer time (and an even higher percentage of our heart and desire) toward supplication.

Yato and Hiyori

Art by オットン (Pixiv ID 41664341)

How should we pray then?  While the answer to that question is multi-faceted, there’s one simple change that many of us can make, and one that I think we can see through how Hiyori changes as Noragami progresses.  She progresses her relationship with Yato, changing how she interacts with him.  Surely, some of this comes from learning a bit more about his fearsome past actions, but a lot of it comes with Hiyori learning more about Yato and his heart.  There’s fear there, but concern as well.  She begins to think more about Yato, forgetting her own needs and attending to the kami because she cares for him.

Instead of the static, person-to-object type relationship I mentioned yesterday, Hiyori’s relationship with Yato becomes dynamic and moving.  And that’s what we should aim for as well.  Even if we don’t have God speaking to us audibly, we do have responses from Him in His words, actions, and through circumstances, other people, and a variety of other conduits.  He is responding to us, but we have to have enough faith to trust Him as being there and listening to us.  If we have that, we perhaps wouldn’t speak to God as if reciting off a to-do list – after all, we’d never do that with the friends we see physically before us.

I encourage you during this week, especially, to try to focus on having a relationship with God that’s similar to Hiyori’s with Yato’s – moving, real, and developing.  And there’s no better place to start than by opening communication – and that, by prayer.


Holy Week: Noragami and Treating God as a Genie, Part 1

Near the end of the Noragami series, an anime-only antagonist is introduced.  Like Yato, Rabo is a god of calamity, and the series does it’s best to make him seem a match for our laid-back (but occasionally awesome) hero.

Apparently, Rabo has returned after centuries of absence, but in just a short time, he has made his presence felt among the general populace.  One of Hiyori’s friends, Yamashita, mentions that invoking his name in attempt to off somebody is a fad, I guess akin to writing down someone’s name in a Death Note notebook you purchased on eBay.

In this same discussion, the girls have a quick, but meaningful discussion characterizing the gods.  Yamashita tells of all her wishes to the kami, to which Hiyori chastises that she shouldn’t burden the gods with too many wishes.  Yamashita responds, “But that’s what gods are for!”

Yato and Rabo

Art by mime6 (Pixiv ID 41703179)

Although it’s played for comedy, Yamashita’s words reveal how many of us treat God in deeds, if not also in words.  Our head knowledge might know God to be a living spirit who is dynamic and loving and full of life.  But our words indicate that he’s static and idol-like, something to go to when we’re in need.

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