Author Archives: TWWK

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers!

anime thanksgiving turkey

art by Rurutia8 | reprinted w/permission

I hope that you have a wonderful day today (and that you have the day off)!  Most of us, I daresay, live a life of ungratefulness where we don’t give thanks or think about our blessings near enough. Thanksgiving Day offers us an opportunity to do those things and reflect on hopefully what’s most important in life.

I think I can speak for staff when I say we’re all thankful for family and the blessings in our lives, but especially for God, through whom we have life and freedom:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

– 1 Chronicles 16:34

Happy eating!!

cover art by 梅岩 (reprinted with permission)

Becoming Yukines: Regalias and the Path From Sinner to Saint

My wife and I are both watching Noragami right now: she’s watching season one and I’m keeping up with season two. We’re roughly around the same point of each season, around episode eight, as I glance at what my wife is viewing (basically Yukine being super spoiled and almost destroying Yato), I’m getting a good look at certain parallels and especially at Yukine’s transformation. In doing so, I’m realizing it parallels my own, and that of all who say they belong to God.

noragami 7

1. We’re all sinners

Yukine was soo annoying in season one. Didn’t we all just want to smack him on the head? In fact, even the ever-patient Hiyori, the kind voice of reason, mentions how Yukine has drifted so far off. He’s the unexpected and unwitting villain in the first arc. By being stubborn and spoiled and hedonistic, he nearly does his master in.

If I’m being completely honest, though, I’m not a whole lot different from Yukine. I think a lot of people like to make the comparison between earthly parents rearing unruly children to God caring for us, and that image works quite well. We’re so unruly, so prideful (like Yukine, who does what he does thinking that he knows best), so sinful. We’re in need of a Savior, for we cannot save ourselves – not the way we are in our condition. Nope, we’re not good without God – we can only be good with him.

2. We need God

One complaint I have about Noragami is that Yato as a character doesn’t completely work for me. He isn’t quite believable – how can he be both a god (infallible, as he claims) and such a goofball? Unlike with Kenshin, a similar silly-to-strong character, we see soooo much of Yato’s ridiculous side that the changes to godlike state just don’t work for me. And even further than his strength and fighting ability, which I’m okay with, is his serious and compassionate sides, particularly with his patience with Yukine.

But our God – His character rings true to me, both through scripture and through personal experience. His patience with me is explained in scripture and bears out in my life. And his perfection and love allows me to be saved from my misery. While I have issues with Yato, his sacrifice for Yukine still reminds me of Christ’s for me, of God who loved us so much that even in my misery, even in my Yukine-ness, he would be willing to go to the utmost end to save a wretch like me.

3. We respond with love

Season two’s Yukine is very different than season one’s. I was quite taken aback, actually, rewatching parts of the first season and seeing how awful Yukine was to Yato. This season, he still bickers with his master, but serves him faithfully. Yukine serves him so faithfully, in fact, that he becomes a blessed regalia, having put his life down for his master, and then later starts to grow into a role as exemplar, seeking to support Yato. Almost despite himself, he’s come to love his master.

For us, when we’ve experienced the grace of God, the only proper response is to love him in return. And that’s what the Christian faith is about. “Relationship” with God means responding to him as our great love. And love to the greatest extent means laying down our lives – both in service to God and, if need be, physically as well. And we, too, will be blessed if we do as Yukine does, submitting everything for our master.

4. But we’re still not perfect

Of course, Yukine’s relationship with Yato will never be perfect. In fact, some comedy happens when Yato thinks of selling Yukine, and Yukine thinks of “moving up” in the god world. Yukine’s allegiance isn’t perfect, and he still may blight his master in the future.

For us, we’ll never find perfection in this life either. But we’ll continue to grow in our faith if we remember our first love and do what’s needed to let the Holy Spirit reign in us as we undergo transformation, running away from the temptations of the flesh and toward the things of the spirit, seeking God’s will.

When we make the decision to do all that, to live Christlike lives, we’ll find supreme value in our life. We’ll live it out to the utmost extent. And we’ll be like this growing Yukine – an examplar and blessed regalia, though in our case, we carry titles more valuable – sons and daughters of God and his royal ambassadors.

cover art by Nora | reprinted w/permission

Nora and the Demons that Tempt Us

There’s always been a lot of transition at my church. We were once comprised of about 80% college students, and though there are more older folks (like me!) attending now, it’s still largely a “college church.” Because of this characteristic, year in and year out, I see students leave, finishing their four or five years, and moving on to the next part of their lives. It’s difficult to let them go and it’s draining, a bit, when you’re limited in how much you can build a relationship with someone before they’re gone.

But even more difficult is when I see (usually through Facebook) that some of these treasured friends have turned away from their faith and moved to a dark place, away from God’s truth and love.

nora noragami aragoto

art by さとりをひらこう | reprinted w/permission

There are so very many reasons why followers of Christ will cease to practice their faith (and in some cases, turn entirely away from it), but prime among them is one that a lot of us don’t like to admit or think of – and that’s the work of the devil and his followers.

In Noragami, we’re set in a world of humans and gods, of spirits and demons. There are lots of interesting parallels to make between a show with Shinto twists and the Christian religion, but really, only one particular element very clearly reminds me of my faith. Nora – and perhaps her “father,” are so very reminiscent of Christian demons. They blind, tempt, and entrap, and have the ability to tear down even the very strong.

Read the rest of this entry

Something More: Holy (Menma) Ghost, the Infallible Bishamon, and Joseph Smith Agrees with Jun Maeda

There are so many great articles from the past couple of weeks (as well as a few I listed that I missed linking in the last column). I hope you’ll take some time to peruse the links below.

I want to start with the one that’s most meaningful to me, personally, written by D.M. Dutcher, an author and friend of this blog. Lately, he’s been watching a series called The 35th Anti-Magic Platoon (he is forever watching series or reading manga I’ve never heard of) and found a common trope in anime – that of a group of people who truly support each other, becoming strength for each other’s weaknesses. Unfortunately, the Dave’s experience, and mine, too, has been that those fictional Japanese characters and their relationships are much more real, and much more Christlike, than those found in church.

For me, church was an easy place to leave once I started college. As with Dave, I found it ritualistic and lacking in genuine relationships. Thankfully, God molded me through that time and led me to a church where, actually, I still struggled to find deep friendships, but where I did find people really trying to seek God and, more importantly, the woman who would become my wife; my relationship with her (and later my children) taught me so much more about real relationship with Christ than years of surface level friendships ever could.

God’s word is so clear in how we should seek him and in how we should love each other (the church). But largely, mostly, we’re disobedient, doing things for show or avoiding investing deeply in others. As I grow in my faith, I try to become that person I needed when I was younger, trying to reach out in love and care to those in the church. Because ultimately, if we’re just “playing church,” we’ve become the exact opposite of what God would want of us, and embarrassingly, demonstrate a Christlike life less well than moe anime girls.

Read Dave’s full article at his website, Cacao, put down the shovel!

>> Bear Your Troubles

Here are the rest of the articles I dug up this week!

I really like this article about how Menma of AnoHana isn’t just a ghost – she’s a good representation, as well, of what the Holy Ghost does in believers’ lives.

Sam also watched Puella Magi Madoka Magica recently, and found a strong parallel to poor discipleship in Sayaka and Kyoko’s relationship. He also dived into each of the character, comparing Madoka to a loving Christian, Homura to a legalistic Christian, Mami to a lonely Christian, Kyoko to a discouraged Christian, and Sayaka to a deceived Christian.

Socrates, Buddhism, St. Paul, and Joseph Smith all in Angel Beats? You bet.

Expelled from Paradise deals with the oft-discussed idea of utopian societies, something that the Bible discusses, too, albeit in a very different manner.

I’ve been reading about King Saul lately, so it’s very timely to read Matthew’s post on how the king lost his humanity, like how Lin chooses to do the same in Fullmetal Alchemist and how we do, too, when we choose to sin.

Bakuman is a highly-acclaimed series about creating manga; humans perhaps share a need to be artists in different ways and see art all around us, as demonstrated by the characteristics of the Creator. Teresa Christina also writes about introverts, who often want to retreat into their comfort zones, but spiritually speaking, where should that comfort zone be? And what can characters in OHSHC, Soul Eater, and Naruto tells us about introversion?

Medieval Otaku writes about a topic that’s been on my mind lately as well – the importance of committing information, like Bible verses (or chapters or books) to memory. Rote memorization gets a bad wrap, but as Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation demonstrates, it can actually support critical thinking skills.

The way Kirito is living (and sleeping) when Asuna first encounters him in Sword Art Online tells us much about how we should live in the here and now.

Did you watch the Bishamon mini-arc of Noragami Aragoto? It was very enthralling, and it brought up the questions of the infallibility of the divine.

Grave of the Fireflies should lead us to consider action, rather than simply feeling bad for an hour and moving on with our lives. Well, it’ll lead us to cry first; then we can do.

Not necessarily spiritual-related, but this anime comfort zone post reminded me of the different ways Christians approach media, and how the mindfulness of how we consume culture is maybe more important that what we consume (I think I’m personally Sword Art Online on the scale, btw).

The Egyptian god Medjed can be your romantic partner in a new otome game entitled, Egykoi! Egypt Kami to Koishi yo~. Oh, Japan…

As part of the Something More series of posts, Beneath the Tangles links to writings about anime and manga that involve religion and spirituality.  If you’ve written such a piece or know of one, please email TWWK to be included.

cover image art by みそら | reprinted w/permission

Anime Today: Discipling and Parenting, Saitama-Style

One of the (many) funny aspects of One Punch Man is the relationship between Saitama and Genos. With very different (and equally clueless) personalities, the two are quite a match. Genos adopts Saitama as his mentor early in the series, but despite their closeness, the two never seem to be on the same wavelength. In particular, Saitama struggles with figuring out how to train Genos.

opm 1b

It’s not easy being a sensei. I know how Saitama feels – it’s the way I’ve felt in lots of relationships, as manager to employee, discipler to disciplee, and parent to child.

In my workplace, I’ve recently added a couple new staff members. They have their quirks, as do we all, but one in particular is difficult to work with. My usual management techniques are lost on him, and I’ve had to learn to adjust. In fact, I’m still trying to adjust. I often feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.

Discipleship can also be similar. Last year, I really invested in the lives of two young men and the discipleships went really well. The two guys were hungry for God and eager to meet with me, and that encouragement helped me along in my instruction. This year, however, my duo is more challenging. It’s sometimes tough to get beneath the surface of my current disciplees, and I’ve been discouraged on multiple occ

asions. I often wonder if I know what I’m doing – and to be honest, my response is often that, really, I don’t.

opm 1a

But most of all, this “I have no idea” mentality shines through in parenting. Read the rest of this entry

Everything Becomes Death: Imperfectly Inside Secret Sin

In episode five of Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider (Subete ga F ni Naru), the director’s wife serves tea and cookies to Sohei, Moe, and the associate director, during which time Moe subjects the woman to tough questions. Even though the widower says she’s trying to keep herself from thinking about her husband’s murder, she just doesn’t seem that broken up. He died mere hours before via a knife to the back of the neck, but eh, she’s mostly fine.

Denial, or is she feeling justice has been served?

I wonder if the director’s wife knows what’s now been revealed to the audience, that the director, Shiki’s uncle (or “uncle”), had an affair with his niece when she was underage. Maybe she also knows that her husband (possibly) had some role in the deaths of Shiki’s parents.

And in the end, perhaps the director’s wife is relieved at this comeuppance. He got was what coming to him.

seiji and shiki

Hidden from the view of the world (with the possible exception of a few intimate people who may have had knowledge of it, as I suggest above) is this affair between Seiji and Shiki. But even in secret, Seiji, who though he was being manipulated was still absolutely at fault for committing such acts outside of his marriage with an minor, paid the price. He was destroyed by his sin.

The sins we commit, and often particularly the “big” ones (which happen to be those we usually hide) can destroy us. They beget sin after sin as we hid the original one, and they prevent us from reconciling with God and thus from strengthening our relationship with him. And as we effectively sever that relationship, it’s no surprise that such sins might destroy us.

I’ve come close to such an experience myself.

Read the rest of this entry

Noragami Aragoto, Episode 6: The Pain of Being Human

Noragami Aragoto isn’t a graphically violent anime, but in episodes five and six, gruesome events are occurring (though off screen). In episode five, these horrible deaths are affecting Bishamon; in episode six, they affect us.

While one of Kugaha’s phantoms is being fought off by Yato after the god of calamity attacks the doctor, the other phantom continues to run amok among Bishamon’s regalias, devouring them and chasing a band of survivors into a holy spring, where they seek refuge.Two young female regalias are the last to arrive in the safe haven, but before getting there, they have a conversation that felt very real to the moment. The younger girl has lost all hope as the carnage continues, knowing that her friends have been torn apart and feeling that her master, her god, is about to die. She is brought back to her senses by the older regalia, who reminds the other that Bishamon gave them a name.

Their god loves them – she’s shown it through her words and deeds. And for her, they must carry on.

noragami 6a

Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.

– John 12:27

Violent scenes are commonplace in anime – in fact, they’re much of what anime is known for among the general public. But for some reason, the scenes tonight, though cast in shadow and covered with screams rather than blood and guts, stood out to me. I think it’s because the episode hammered home the relationship between the humans and the gods of Noragami – they each were suffering seeing the other in pain and near (or in) death.  Bishamon’s suffering we’ve known of since she’s gone through this before, and it reminds me a bit of how God might feel in his love and patience, “not wishing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9).

But in episode six, continuing from the scene with the two regalia, we see see the opposite more clearly – the humans’ relationship toward their god.

Read the rest of this entry

Something More: Gundam Orphan Christians, Suffering in FFX, and Congratulations to Marina!

None of us want to suffer. In the west especially, there’s seldom any good seen in suffering, only hallow “silver linings” that we use to encourage those going through struggles. In east Asia, suffering is more tolerated and even embraced, though of course, it’s still not preferred. We see this in the media produced there, such as in Final Fantasy X, in Tidus and Yuna, as Jack Hoey points out, “rage against the indifferent heavens” upon discovering that the church is hallow and that there is no meaning to the suffering Yuna was to undergo.

In his article about suffering, Hoey also points toward Silence, Shunsaku Endo’s classic (now being made into a film by Martin Scorsese). The book tells us that, indeed, there is meaning in suffering. Silence is as troubling a book as I’ve ever read, because it makes us question what we believe by putting forth unimaginable suffering and putting us in the position of those who witness it. But Christians (the primary character in Silence is a Jesuit missionary) must know that when we turn to Christ, we, too, must carry our cross daily and share in the sufferings of the Savior, who in turned had suffered so greatly for our sake, while keeping an eye toward eternity, where suffering is no more.

Read Hoey’s entire excellent article at Christ and Pop Culture:

>> Revelations of Suffering in ‘Final Fantasy X’ and Shusaku Endo’s ‘Silence’

Here are other articles involving spirituality and Japanese media from the past couple of weeks:

The result of acedia can be viewed by the change in Kenshin following the events involving Kaoru in the Jinchu arc of Rurouni Kenshin. [Medieval Otaku]

Are there any “Christian” anime? There are certainly at least some original English language works that could be categorized as such. [Anime Revolution]

Rob compares Mikazuki’s devotion to Orga in G-Tekketsu to the way a Christian should be devoted to God. [Christian Anime Review]

And last, but most certainly not least, we here on the blog would like to congratulate Anime B&B’s Marina on her recent engagement! We wish you a wonderful wedding and many blessings in your marriage! Read about Marina’s engagement and then check out her guest turn on The Tangles podcast.

As part of the Something More series of posts, Beneath the Tangles links to writings about anime and manga that involve religion and spirituality.  If you’ve written such a piece or know of one, please email TWWK to be included.

Permission for illustration grated by the artist: duex | るろうに

Sen to Chihiro, Control to Freedom: The Significance of Names, Here and Forevermore

So your name’s Chihiro? What a pretty name…and it belongs to me now.

– Yubaba (Spirited Away)

In the west, we’ve largely destroyed the art of naming children. Parents scramble to discover a name that’s unique (but maybe not too unique), memorable, beautiful, and timeless, but in searching for an aesthetically pleasing name, most will forget something perhaps far more important – the meaning of their child’s name. In other parts of the world, including Japan, these meanings are more expressed and significant, adding a layer of beauty to naming that’s lacking here. Maybe this’s why in anime we often see a focus on characters’ names – not just what on they mean, but also in plot lines revolving around such.

In Spirited Away, Chihiro, our heroine, signs away her name; from henceforth, she’s known in the bathhouse as Sen. As soon as she becomes “Sen,” Chihiro comes under a spell that threatens to make her forget everything she’s known; the connection to her name is vital in helping her remember. Yubaba knows this, which is why she takes the name from her (and earlier, from Haku).

spirited away 2

The Japanese know well the power in names. In an effort to assimilate Koreans under it’s banner, the Japanese government enforced a variety of decrees, one of which was soshi-kaimei, pressuring Koreans to take Japanese names. This policy deeply affected Koreans*:

For generations, a destitute Korean father above the slave caste had at least been able to bestow his name on his child. Now even that was taken away. Many Koreans submitted their new names for registration wearing black armbands and went afterwards to pray at their ancestral tombs. Parents begged their bewildered children to forgive them, and a new generation of nationalists discovered themselves in the crucible of their parents’ misery.

Modern anime continues to emphasize how integral names are to our identities. I once described the significance of names in a series we think very highly of here on Beneath the Tangles, Haibane Renmei:

The haibane are given them as they are born into their new world.  These names reflect their dreams – it is a significant part of their identities.  The main characters have the names of Rakka (falling) and Reki (pebble).  As time passes, the mysterious beings known as the haibane renmei can present the haibane with new names, reflecting their growth or failure to grow past obstacles that seem fated to them.

The highly emotional conclusion of the series revolves around the Rakka’s and Reki’s name, which each prove to be both telling and life-changing.

In Noragami, which has returned for another season this fall, Shinto gods and goddesses are armed through regalia, spirits who are given names by the gods who oversee them. The regalias’ names tie them to their masters and give them an identity. On the other hand, “nora” are those that have multiple names and are looked down upon by the spirit community – they devalue the importance of names, which thus devalues the importance of relationship.

nora noragami aragoto

Nora, the nameless regalia — art by さとりをひらこう | reprinted w/permission

Read the rest of this entry

Anime Today: Beautiful Bones and Beautiful Death

I’m totally digging Beautiful Bones.

It seemed silly at first, like, “Let’s get a pretty girl, give her a young boyfriend-type, and make her singularly obsessed with bones. I smell a hit!”

But the show quickly hooked me. I enjoyed the character interactions, the animation has some key, sweeping moments, and the show’s just been fun.  There’s also an underlying hint of something deeper (we’ll get to that later) to keep me intrigued.

kujou sakurako bones

art by けいん | reprinted w/permission

That one’s skeletal remains, the barest sense of our physical selves and all that’s left after we’ve rotted away (and before we turn to dust), can tell us about life and death is peculiar and beautiful. The juxtaposition of life and death and the idea that we can tell of the living through the dead are powerful motifs, and are further colored by the presence of a beautiful protagonist, Sakurako, whose obsessive interest in bones is unexpected of one so young and pretty. As the series progresses, though, we get some insights into her interest, probably most instigated through the death of her brother.

That personal connection is really important because it humanizes Sakurako – she’s not just a comedic lead, then, but a character with heart, something that’s already demonstrated by her decisions to help others (though hesitantly).  Her assistance, and the people connected to the deceased, demonstrate the significance and value in humanity and life by breathing story into dead characters.

Read the rest of this entry


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