In a recent episode of The Rose of Versailles, Oscar’s coldness towards the now Queen Marie Antoinette struck me as too severe. Since her rescue of Marie Antoinette, the queen has always held Oscar in esteem, and she uses her new authority to pour favors onto Oscar’s lap: she raises Oscar to the post of regimental commander and lavishes her with gifts. However, Oscar turns down the gifts, sets conditions on her promotion, and only associates with Antoinette to the degree that her duty prescribes. At the same time, Oscar bemoans Antoinette’s lavish spending, her neglect of royal duties, and the plight of the poor.
I find myself vexed with Oscar’s attitude. Her polar opposite is a young Swedish nobleman by the name of Fersen, who basks in Marie Antoinette’s presence and adores the young lady for her beauty and grace. At times, he tries to remind Antoinette of her duty, but his efforts are weak. Fersen and Oscar become perfect examples of how not to influence someone’s conduct for the better: neither syrupy amiability nor stringent adherence to duty influence a person’s conversion. Christians are to stay salty (Matt. 5:13), but a spoonful of honey catches more flies than ten barrels of vinegar, as St. Francis de Sales tells us.
With the recent episode of Charlotte, a point was brought to my attention that reminded me just how much Westerners miss out on things related to Japanese culture. While I have a different post I wanted to write, it in fact connects to this. When I previously described things lost in translation, I also mentioned cultural differences. My guess is that these cultural differences usually do not play a significant role in the plot or story. A lot of them often go over our heads as we don’t even realize we missed something. But sometimes we notice them; we notice them and interpret them according to our culture rather than Japan’s.
Episode 7 of Charlotte focuses on Yuu’s descent into madness as he is overcome with grief at the death of Ayumi. He starts off simply holed up in his apartment, eating nothing but delicious cup ramen. He escapes the school, takes an unhealthy amount of joy in a videogame, and then begins abusing his powers to win street fights. Finally, just as he is about to turn to drugs, Nao kicks some sense into him, literally. There are a lot of ways to interpret this scene but most likely there are no Westerners who reacted the way it was written to be. How bad are drugs, really? Conservatives might view the scene in agreement: drugs are very dangerous and cross a line which should not be crossed. Others don’t see it as that bad: drugs are not inherently such an evil depending on the circumstances and what kind of drug, so maybe this was a circumstantial implication. Still others don’t see how it’s so much worse than his previous state: Yuu was already stabbing people, causing serious bodily harm and enjoying it; didn’t he already cross a big line? But it’s hard to remember when thinking about this scene that you are painting the scene with your idea on drugs. And it’s harder to realize that a culture exists with a completely different view because even if your ideas are based on facts, they aren’t based on relevant facts – the relevancy here being Japanese culture.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on how drugs work in Japan, but I feel I am knowledgeable enough to shed some light and make people rethink this scene from a different viewpoint. Basically, drugs are a huge taboo in Japan. No one wants anything to do with drugs, the yakuza wouldn’t touch drugs with a ten kilometer pole, and if anyone found out you used drugs, they would probably turn you in and never want to speak to you again. You can very realistically lose your job and place in society once people find out you use drugs; they are simply viewed as that horrible. It is probably nothing like how it is in your country and culture. When Yuu is about to take drugs, it is a very clear depiction that he is about to cross a line that should never be crossed. This is understood and felt by the Japanese audience because it’s a real reflection of their culture and upbringing. Even if you agree with or accept this depiction, it will fail to invoke the same level of feelings or reactions as it would from a Japanese viewer.
So, we finally found out why Yamada Aoi ran away from home. I wondered how they’d weave serious backstory into this lighthearted show, but they actually did it pretty well.
Spoilers ahead, in case you didn’t guess.
Basically, Aoi’s mother isn’t good at talking. She overthinks everything, and when she finally opens her mouth, very few of those thoughts come out. When Aoi’s father was alive, he could interpret his wife’s miniscule expressions. He kept the family in a more stable state. Once he was gone, his already communication-challenged family had extra emotional burdens to process. He left a”Top Secret Mom Manual” for his kids, but reading it was not their first priority. Aoi didn’t even notice she got one. Instead, her relationship with her mother broke down. Aoi felt misunderstood and pressured to do well in school. She felt no sympathy—no emotion at all—from her mother, and she came to hate studying. Her mother, on the other hand, felt awful. She wanted to encourage Aoi to do well, and to comfrot her when she failed her entrance exams. But the words didn’t come out. Instead, she just bought more study books to help.
Clearly, there was a communication problem. The mother didn’t even communicate that she’s struggling to talk. Aoi shouldn’t need a manual to tell her that. Meanwhile, it may have been helpful for Aoi to confront her mother, to speak her own feelings instead of being isolated within them—or at least to enlist her brother’s help.
The problem stemmed partially from differences. Aoi and her brother are expressive. If they’re happy, sad, angry, or excited, the world knows it. Their mom isn’t as expressive… but that doesn’t mean she’s emotionless, let alone that she doesn’t care. She expresses the only way she can—through subtle changes in her eyes, changes her husband could interpret, and that her son understands now that he’s read the manual.
Most of us don’t have such extreme communication issues in our families. But even in the healthiest, most understanding relationships, we often misunderstand each other.
Read the rest of this entry
A lot of things can drive us away from God. Most are subtle, as we replace God in our lives with money, success, lifestyle, relationships, or usually a combination of many things. And sometimes, an event pushes us away from God, as we purposely, in full realization, run away from our maker.
In episode seven of Charlotte, Yuu makes a run for it, hiding away from the world, from his life, from truth, from pain, but most purposely, from Nao.
I don’t think any of us probably watched this episode thinking that what Yuu was doing was fantastic or absurd. We realize how difficult the time is for him, and how hard it is to bounce back from a tragedy like he endured. Those with anxiety or other difficulties and illnesses probably understand Yuu’s condition even more deeply – once you’ve been pushed over the edge, it feels like an impossible task to do what people are telling Yuu to do – to move on with life.
And so, Yuu runs. He runs away from Nao and the student council, so that they won’t bring him back to the heavy weight of reality. And he runs to a place where he can simply satisfy his basic animal desires, to indulge in things that will keep him from the reality of life. In this way, Yuu reminds me of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32); though some tragedy didn’t push the prodigal to rebel, he did squander the money given him and breathed in “wild living.”
In the end, the prodigal returned to the father – not necessarily out of humility, but just for a place to go. Yuu is still running at the end of the episode, but knowing that he’s never likely to return, his “god” has to meet him more quickly than God met the prodigal.
I think one of the hardest things for a Christian aniblogger to do is to write to a general Christian audience rather than straight to Christian geeks. The level of acceptance and openness in the latter group can be diverse, but the spectrum is much, much wider with the more universal population. In her informative article about Yo-Kai Watch this week, Casey Covel (who also writes for us!) describes the franchise and details items that might be of concern for this more general audience of Christians.
When our bloggers give recommendations or write general information articles, as we did this past week with our manga recommendations, we’re also looking at a broader audience. But I think a further goal is this – we’re trying to educate and bring some Christians along who either are just discovering anime or have a very set-in-stone view about anime and other media that espouses cultural or religious ideas that are counter to Christian ones. And really good articles about media, like Casey’s or those in Christianity Today, accomplish as much, and in doing so, help break down some of the legalistic walls we might have in our hearts.
Check out Casey’s article:
Here are other articles regarding anime/manga and spirituality from around the blogosphere:
The Cat Returns supports the scriptural principle that each of us has purpose and meaning in our lives. [Lady Teresa Christina]
Adding more fuel to the fire that today’s Christian praise isn’t all that great is this song from Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny, which could be argued gives better praise than many songs sung in today’s churches. [Cacao, put down the shovel!]
What should Charlotte’s Nao do when getting slapped in the face by her classmates? Turn the other cheek, of course. [Christian Anime Review]
The abandonment by many students of A-TEC in episode three of Classroom Crisis recounts a piece of proverbial wisdom. 
Rob notes that Nagi no Asukara might be a good anime for Christians parents to show their children. [Geeks Under Grace]
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.
While our aim is to reach out to readers of all faiths (or none at all) with articles about anime and Japanese culture that spark discussion about spiritual issues, we also want to serve as a resource particularly for Christian audiences. As such, we’ve developed recommendations pages for Christians interested in anime series and movies and in visual novels. And today, we’re proud to launch a new page providing manga recommendations for Christian readers:
As always, our recommendations are not based on series that explicitly talk about the Christian faith, feature Christian characters, or even wholly support Christian values. We applaud series that point readers toward scriptural truths, even as they are presented apart from a Christian context. As such, these series feature topics like grace, sacrificial love, and humility. And with an understanding that many Christians are not as willing to dive into all sorts of manga as our writers are, we’re also cognizant of content that some may find offensive in this material, which helped guide our choices (and which we note in our recs).
Take a look at our page if you’re looking for recommendations, and please join in the discussion by mentioning your own recs for Christian readers in the comments section for future visitors to peruse through as well.
The moment you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived: Japes has returned from Japan! Please, don’t make too much of a fuss. Put the confetti away, save the cake for another time, the fireworks were a nice thought, but I’m sure there’s a better time to break them out…
Nah, who am I kidding. It’s party time everyone! Your favorite writer has finally returned after months of hiatus! It’s time to pop open that champagne you’ve been saving!
Ahem. Moving on.
If there’s one thing that surprised me about my time in Japan, it’s the amount of personal growth I did in a rather concentrated amount of time. Who would have known that living by yourself in a different country halfway across the world would do that to a person? Who could have guessed, right…? In the past three months, I have developed far more in my personality, my theological beliefs, my spiritual habits, my career goals, my personal goals, and everything else, than I ever have in a period of three months elsewhere in my life. But you know what’s really been solidified these past few months? My brilliance in anime selection.
I had a conversation with a college guy from my church this past week. We talked about how important it is to be straight with people inside and outside of the congregation. Too often with the latter, we’re guilty of “playing church,” rather than truly loving our brothers and sisters in Christ with the harshness that love sometimes demands. I think similar things could be said in a lot of different contexts – we would rather skirt around issues than really dive into difficult territory, even as we claim to love those that might be sinking in the troubles of life or in sin. But why would our simple discomfort keep us from loving people to our utmost?
The answer in some situations – and specifically with church – might be that we’re just not convinced enough, either of the truth of the situation, the need someone has, or even of our love for others.
In Charlotte, Nao Tomori is none of these things. She’s convinced a) of the truth that these students with special abilities are in danger; b) that they are in need of assistance only she and her student council members can provide; and c) that despite their faults, none of them deserve to go through what her brother did.
That last point about her brother in the one that certainly seems to be the motivating factor that’s moved her forward. She was a witness of what occurred – maybe not of the experimentation itself, but of what her brother was once like and how he changed afterward. She is utterly convinced of what these scientists are going to do to other students with powers. Nao has no doubt that her rescue attempts must be done. Even when other students assault her because of her bluntness, even when she is almost killed by those she wishes to help, Nao continues to do her work because she must.
A DVD copy of Spirited Away has sat in my room for over a month, still shrink-wrapped. I’ve wanted to watch it for years—or, should I say, re-watch it. I first saw it when I was twelve, before I knew what anime was. I hated it. It was dark and bizarre, and I didn’t know what to make of it. Three and a half years later, I stumbled across Naruto and was sucked into anime fandom. I stuck mostly to TV series, but I kept hearing about Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. After a few more years, I heard that Spirited Away won awards, and I often heard people call it their favorite Miyazaki film. Clearly, this movie—just a strange memory by now—was part of a greater legacy, one that, as an anime fan, I wanted to better understand.
I’m getting ready to put on the movie as I write this. But if I really want to know more about anime’s rich history, there are other, older titles I need to stop procrastinating on, including Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and at least a few more episodes each of Dragonball and Astro Boy (not to mention some of the anime Medieval Otaku writes about in his articles). I’d also benefit from reading old manga, especially that by the iconic Osamu Tesuka. Ideally, I’d spend time with even older Japanese art and literature. Why? So I can spout knowledge about “classics”? No. By learning about anime’s history, I can learn more about what’s inspired today’s creators, and better understand their references. And as a lifelong story lover, I love learning the heritage of any story-telling medium. It makes the current literature that much richer.
When I first think about anime history, my mind goes back about a hundred years, to animation’s earliest days. But as I indicated above, the history stretches further into the past, through days of woodcut printing and old fables. Anime classics are only the latest Japanese aspects of a worldwide storytelling heritage. If we forget that, we do ourselves and our predecessors a disfavor.
Why dwell on this now, in this post? Different kinds of heritage have been on my mind lately. Part of it comes from volunteering at a thrift store where people carelessly toss aside 100-year-old books and 200-year-old Bibles. A larger part of it comes from conversations about Catholicism and Church history, and from reading 1 Kings—part of Israel’s history and my Christian heritage. As I do, I realize how shortsighted we often are. Sometimes, American Protestants like to talk about “our Christian heritage.” Such conversations recall our Founding Fathers—who we wishfully repaint as faithful Christians—and occasionally go as far back as the Mayflower. And these conversations are usually, in my experience, fear-induced reactions to current events, such as the legalization of gay marriage, fear for our religious rights, abortion, etc. This can lead to political activism, even beneficial activism, but I think it’s healthier to step back and take a much broader view. By looking at a history between us and God that stretches back several thousand years, we can gain a lot: a bigger picture that emphasizes God’s role, rather than our own. Read the rest of this entry