Category Archives: Music

Inspiring Praise: Hatsune Miku, Mitchie M, and the Emotion of Song

I’m not sure that I could identify myself as an overly emotional person.

If you know me as well as my immediate family, that statement probably sounds like an outright lie. Growing up, I was always quick to cry (a source of constant frustration, being a male). Even random conversations that resulted in seemingly little in the way of serious repercussions resulted in a teary-eyed mess. Anything from being chastised for being late for work to attending a good friend and co-worker’s pre-funeral viewing, and I was simply put out of commission. I can recall many angry and upsetting conversations around the time I entered college, particularly centered around issues of my waning faith, though surrounded by issues of a changed family situation and self-inflicted doubts and pressures.

But my statement still stands. I’m not sure that I could identify myself as an overly emotional person.

Why is it that I still make this statement, despite the previous paragraph that clearly lays out constructive reasoning for determining why, in contrast, I am an emotional person?

Perhaps this feeling stems back to my view of God and the Christian faith I follow. While I’ve had many emotional experiences relating to my views of God, I don’t know that I can say that I’ve ever directly felt the emotion of God directed toward me (though, perhaps, with the exception of the feeling of peace that said God exists and looks to my best interests). When, during worship songs, people raise their hands high at the apex of a piece of music, I’ve never felt the inclination to join. When I visited Japan on a missions trip, I can’t say I ever felt the oppressive atmosphere that several members claimed to feel in the shrines and temples (that is not to say they didn’t exist as much as I simply did not feel them, though that debate is another topic for another article). I even remember in a psychology class, the professor taking a poll and asking, “Do you believe that God [assuming He exists] is as emotional as people make him out to be?” My overwhelming response, of course, was “no!”

Although the Bible often personifies God with human characteristics, particularly emotions, I have, as I have matured in my beliefs, held fast to the idea that God is not the being that is so often caricatured by modern Christianity. Emotions are, of course, not inherently bad. If that were the case, the Bible would not personify God with them so frequently, nor would they be such integral parts of certain passages. However, He is an indescribable being. He is one without existence in time or space, one without substance that can be analyzed in our limited three dimensions (oh, how I want to reference Ever17!), and surely one that can only be moderately understood through analogies.

Now Japes, all this lofty and pretentious talk of human emotion and the nature of God is well and fine, but where does Miku fall into it? Thank you for asking, attentive reader! Let me direct your attention to one of Mitchie M’s newest Vocaloid creations, “Burenai Ai De”:

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Planetarian: An Analysis (Part Three)

Today, James concludes his guest post series on the visual novel, Planetarian, which is among those we recommend for Christian audiences.

Note: This post continues directly from the end of Part Two

If we keep this meaningful juxtaposition of music and story fixed firmly in our minds and accept the Christian interpretation, the rest of the novel falls into place remarkably well. To begin with, consider the setting Planetarian takes place in. The entire world has been ravaged by a “Great War” instigated by “foolish and selfish human beings.” By the Junker’s own account, “People worked so hard to slaughter each other…even when there were no humans left to fight” because they had become bent on “the internecine creed of revenge and massacre.” In this way, “The purpose of life became merely to live,” and “There was nothing left in this world but dirt immersed in poison and unspeakable ruin.”

In light of the Christian interpretation, this terrible state of affairs represents the depravity of mankind when left to its own devices, in all of its fallen sinfulness. (Not even the institution of the Church is immune to this systemic corruption, as the mere existence of the sniper nun from “Jerusalem” sadly attests.) The grim world depicted here is captured all too well in Micah 7:2-3a, “The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well.” The fruit of mankind’s evil literally descends on people’s heads and destroys them in the form of the poisonous Rain. No one seems to have even an inkling of a better way of life, much less a means of attaining it. Indeed, in what must be the epitome of tragic absurdity, some people actively worship the very instruments of their own self-destruction (recall the Junker’s memory of the village idol made out of battle mechs). What delusion is this, that people would seek salvation from the works of their own hands, and artifacts of destruction to boot!

When the Junker, a product of this degenerate world, first meets Yumemi, her kindness, innocence, and unflagging devotion to serving others are initially dumbfounding to him, even repellent (note how at first he characterizes her smile as “childish” and her selfless behavior as “deranged”). As time goes on, however, he begins to describe her in much more generous terms—her smile becomes “pure,” “innocent,” “gentle,” “so gentle that even the angels would covet it,” and she herself is a “treasure.”

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Planetarian: An Analysis (Part Two)

Today, James continues his guest post series on the visual novel, Planetarian, which is now for sale and download at Steam.

At the end of Part One I suggested that there is a coherent religious message to be found in Planetarian. Before I elaborate, I must emphasize that there is obviously no way I can be certain that the author of the story intended to communicate the precise message I have in mind. Even so, considering the evidence that exists in the story, I think it is highly probable that the author at least intended to convey something very similar to what I propose:

I believe this story promotes the idea that true humanity is to be found not in ourselves, but rather in God and specifically in Jesus, the perfect human.

Again, I could never prove that the author actually meant to say this, but as I hope to show you, if nothing else it is incredibly easy and natural to take this message from the novel based on its content.

My interpretation is rooted in a key juxtaposition of music and story that takes place at the very end of the novel. Yumemi has sacrificed herself in order to save the Junker from certain death at the hands of the Fiddler Crab. As we see her fragmented remains scattered about, a mournful tune begins to play. This song is titled “Perfectly Human” in Planetarian’s in-game track list, but alternate translations of the title are “Perfect Human” and “The Perfect Man.” Assuming the song’s title has been meaningfully chosen, we must ask: in what sense is Yumemi “perfectly human” or a “perfect human”? The novel bends over backwards to periodically remind the reader that Yumemi, for all her intelligence and kindness, is still a robot. Clearly her tendency to constantly check her databases for information and coming up short—in addition to her corresponding failure to assimilate the new information the Junker repeatedly tries to convey to her—mark her as less than human, so in what sense is she a “perfect human”?

The answer becomes evident if we take into account the third possible translation of the song’s title, “The Perfect Man.” In this moment Yumemi has just “taken the bullet” for the Junker, thus saving his life. She approached the Fiddler Crab “without any hesitation at all” and the Junker observes, “It was like a scene from an antique religious painting.” In stepping into harm’s way for the sake of the Junker without considering her own wellbeing, she was a selfless servant to the end, even to the point of “dying” for the Junker. This scene strongly evokes Jesus’ death on the cross that he suffered so that not just one person, but all people might live. As Philippians 2:8 says, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

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MekakuCity Actors Episodes 11 and 12: Moon-Viewing Recital and Summertime Record

Endings are important, so it’s no surprise that I watched the last two episodes of MekakuCity Actors with a little more trepidation than usual. I was hopeful, though: I had thoroughly enjoyed the non-linear storytelling of previous episodes, and there were many helpful explanations. Although it wasn’t perfect, MekakuCity Actors has done nothing but strengthen my love for the Kagerou Project, which seems to have formerly been rather weak in retrospect.

[Spoilers ahead, obviously. But If you want a non-spoilerific opinion on the anime as a whole, scroll down to the final paragraph]

Episode 11: Moon-Viewing Recital

I knew from the moment I saw his black Route XX hoodie that something was up.

I knew from the moment I saw his black Route XX hoodie that something was up.

Yeah, in those other routes, nothing ever went well for anyone.

Yeah, in those other routes, nothing ever went well for anyone.

YOU HAD ONE JOB SHINTARO

YOU HAD ONE JOB SHINTARO

It’s night, and a red moon in the shape of an eye shines. Shintaro wakes up in his room, finding that he suddenly remembers everything. Through Shintarou’s conversation with one of Azami’s snakes, we learn that seeing Ayano’s photo triggered his own eye-power, Retaining Eyes, which causes him to remember everything, including tragic memories from alternate timelines. If you remember, in Kagerou Days (Ep. 4), every time Hiyori dies, the scenario is reset. This has actually been happening for a long time, except with the entire plotline. (The exact start time is unknown, but it’s hinted that it’s before the characters were born). The snake asks him what he intends to do, and in response, Shintaro repeats the scene from an alternate timeline called Route XX in which he stabbed himself with a pair of scissors.

Because Kido never made anything worse. Ever.

Because Kido never made anything worse. Ever.

We now interrupt the regular plotline for a Zombie Apocalypse

We now interrupt the regular plotline for a Zombie Apocalypse

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MekakuCity Actors episodes 9 and 10: Ayano’s Happiness Theory and Fantasy Forest

There are only two more episodes left of MekakuCity Actors, and, while it hasn’t been a perfect ride, I love the way all the little bits and pieces of information are finally coming together to form a story that is not only coherent (sort of), but intriguing. The two most recent episodes were based off of two of my favourite songs in the Kagerou Project, and my expectations were high. They were not disappointing in the least.

Episode 9: Ayano’s Happiness Theory

Oh hey! I think I've heard this before somewhere!

Oh hey! I think I’ve heard this before somewhere!

The episode opens with Ayano’s mother, Ayaka, reading her a story: The story of the little monster, in fact. So if you were wondering when the story-book clips at the end of each episode would tie in to the main plot, the answer is “Episode 9.”

They BETTER be saving that budget for the finale!

They BETTER be saving that budget for the finale!

Following that, there is a cover of Ayano’s Happiness Theory in place of the opening. While the cover itself is lovely, the opening art showcases some of the worst opening animation choices I have ever seen. Now, I will begrudgingly admit that after watching it several times over, it’s kind of sweet on its own, but the fact remains that when put in the anime alongside the regular animation, it’s nothing short of jarring and cringe-worthy. But I digress.

Kano, you've got to start being nicer, or pretty soon everyone new to the Kagerou Project is going to hate you!

Kano, you’ve got to start being nicer, or pretty soon everyone new to the Kagerou Project is going to hate you!

Two people in a deadly situation on August 15th, and only one makes it out...I wonder what could have possibly happened?

Two people in a deadly situation on August 15th, and only one makes it out…I wonder what could have possibly happened?

Ayano Kido Seto

Maybe he's hiding something?

Maybe he’s hiding something?

Tsubomi Kido, Shuya Kano, and Kousuke were adopted by the Tateyama family, and Ayano was like a big sister to them. Sadly, their happiness was cut short when Ayaka and Kenjrou were caught in a landslide on August 15th, and Ayaka died. Not long after, Ayano finds her mother’s research notes in her father’s room…along with a copy of the little monster’s story. Read the rest of this entry

MekakuCity Actors episodes 7 and 8: Konoha’s State of the World and Lost Time Memory

Episode 7: Konoha’s State of the World

I don't get why they didn't just talk about their health problems a bit last episode. Of course she knew--Why else did she think he missed so much school?

Why didn’t they just talk about their health problems last episode? Of course she knew–Why else did she think he missed so much school?

...I had trouble thinking of anything funny to say at all the constant sadness in this episode.

…I had trouble thinking of amusing captions with all the constant sadness in this episode.

The episode opens with us learning that Haruka has collapsed and is now hospitalized. Takane feels awful for leaving him alone, and decides to leave him with Kenjirou and get his things from the school instead of staying with him.

If only that were true.

If only that were true.

Pfft.  Yes, I'm sure that would work out great.

Pfft. Yes, I’m sure that would work out great. Jin, stop trying to ruin my OTP…Please?

She says it like she's talking about herself, don't you think?

It’s almost like she’s talking about herself

As she is wallowing in shame, she runs into Ayano, who has also been attending supplementary summer classes. They talk about school and Shintaro, and eventually Ayano confronts her about her fear of being rejected by Haruka, and encourages her to tell him how she feels.

If only she hadn't been such a Tsundere, maybe she could have had her wish.

You shouldn’t have been a Tsundere, huh?

Oh hey, if is itsn't [spoiler omitted]

Oh hey, if is itsn’t [spoiler omitted]

Takane thought about what she said, and realised that Ayano was absolutely right. Unfortunately, she collapsed soon after, likely due to her condition, and then weird things started happening. When they were over, she was no longer human. Read the rest of this entry

Vocaloid as Artistic Expression

Japes, our Anime Today columnist, has written a number of articles about the intersection of Christianity and anime for his other blog, Japesland.  He is editing and resposting a number of these entries, including the one below, to Beneath the Tangles.

Right off the bat, I feel compelled to say that Vocaloid is an enormous passion of mine. From Hatsune Miku to Megpoid, from Supercell to Jin, I adore what the Vocaloid movement has become since its pick-up in 2007.

In case you are unsure of what Vocaloid is exactly, Vocaloid is a voice synthesis engine created by Yamaha that has, over the last several years, been used to produce music sung by fictional animated characters (this was not the original intent of Vocaloid software, and I could probably write an entire post on the history of Vocaloid alone considering I have done an hour-long lecture on the same topic, but considering this is the Internet it would probably just be easier for you to look here than to read a long post by me, though perhaps I will consider writing such a piece in the future, and while I’m doing this I might as well add a few more commas and make this sentence as long as possible,,,,). For an example of Vocaloid in action, see the clip below from a relatively recent live concert featuring the most popular of the Vocaloid characters, Hatsune Miku.

What I would like to address here, however, is not the origin of Vocaloid, but its validity as an artistic expression. What do I mean by that, you ask. Why, thanks for asking, I’ll tell you exactly what I mean!

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Supernal Liberty Review

Nana Mizuki released her 10th album on April 16th, so I’ll be doing a little review of it. Although I’m hardly a music critic and am obviously quite biased with anything involving Nana, so it will be mostly my own ramblings. I actually already made my predictions when the setlist was announced earlier, and I was right on about half of them. Also, it managed to top the weekly charts with zero competition. Ironically, her actual sales dropped significantly compared to her previous albums, which had to compete with some of the most popular artists, but she still easily picked up the top spot.

sl_bd

1. VIRGIN CODE

The album starts with a very disturbing sound to my ears. I may be the only Nana fan who thinks this but the very first few static noises that are essentially just background noise and ignored by most were very recognizable to me. It reminded me very distinctly of A World Where Nothing Happened from Little Busters! the track which sent chills down my spine when it played during certain scenes which were just so depressing to read. So it was a really bad way to start the album lol. Anyway, afterwards comes a pretty fast paced song, with a beat that almost never relaxes. Fast paced, powerful songs are what I love from Nana, and with this, one of my predictions was correct that this was would be one of the best songs of the album.

2. GUILTY

This song is sooo catchy with a lot of Engrish. I sort of felt like this was something I’ve heard from BoA but it also has quite a Koda Kumi feel to it. The Engrish may be jarring to some, but I honestly find it just irresistibly catchy. The major downside to this song is it doesn’t even reach 3.5 minutes, at a length of 3:18. That’s pretty rare for Nana songs. As a result, GUILTY ends up being a repeat of Get My Drift? from Rockbound Neighbors – both are incredibly catchy with a lot of Engrish but disappointingly short.

3. アパッショナート  Read the rest of this entry

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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Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha: A New Beginning

It’s been awhile since my last post, and that is largely because I have moved to Japan to study at none other than Tokyo University. It’s an exciting new start in my life, and I definitely feel God put me here for more than just studying, or indulging myself in otaku culture motherland. I look forward to see what sort of plans He has for me but for now it’s still a chore trying not to get lost. As such, I wanted to write something to reflect a new beginning and nothing comes to mind more than Nanoha.

Art by でーぜる

Art by でーぜる

Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, as one might be able to guess from the title, is a magical girl anime, and it’s one of the best in the genre. While its first season debuted in 2004, the series still maintains enormous popularity in Japan 9 years later, with 3 seasons, 2 movies, plus three different ongoing manga stories, and more on the way, along with plenty of other merchandise. It’s definitely one of the stranger works in that an anime so popular in Japan is relatively unknown to Western anime fans despite being fairly recent. While the series begins with a very clichéd magical girl story, it is highlighted by Seven Arcs’ impressive animated battles and heartwarming stories of friendship. What distinguishes the main heroine Nanoha from so many other protagonists is her perfect middle ground between the hot-headed fighter and the reluctant pacifist. While she will always prefer to settle things peacefully through talking and mutual understanding, she does not hesitate to pick up her magical staff and ruthlessly blast her opponents with her full strength. It is lucky then, that the official description of Nanoha-universe magic includes being non-lethal despite destroying everything else.

One of the major themes in Nanoha is the idea of starting your life over. With every encounter, Nanoha engages her opponents with the desire to understand them. As the story progresses, the antagonists’ circumstances come to light, and they reach an understanding with Nanoha despite the various battles and crimes they have committed.  By the end, they find themselves an ally of Nanoha with the desire to start over again on the right path. This closely parallels how it is to start a new life as a Christian.  The series emphasizes the ability to have a fresh start on a more correct path.  When we accept Jesus into our hearts, it is described as being born again. We start our lives over again as followers of Christ instead of followers of the world.

Fate_1st Movie

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