For as long as I can remember, back even to my elementary school days, I recall always desiring to be different or unique. I can even remember my public school teachers all hammering that message into my and my classmates’ collective heads. “Be yourself” seemed to be the key phrase (and considering my years of work in IT for public education, and consequent time spent in public schools, seems to still be the key phrase) tossed around like an inflatable volleyball on the beach, for it floats easily and just seems to fit the setting.
Now before I continue on any further, I must qualify the rest of this article by saying that I do not disagree with this statement in the slightest. While it should perhaps not be taken at face value (some happy medium must exist behind the conservative convention that being oneself gives way to a lack of moral objectivity and consequent slippery slope of moral degradation and the liberal convention that moral subjectivity declares being oneself the path to defining morals themselves), there is redeemable value in those simple words, “be yourself.”
And with that explained, I would like to delve deeper into my personal experience with this concept of individuality.
As I mentioned in sentence one of this article, my personality has always been one governed by popular opinion. Governed not in that I blend in with society’s trends, but rather the opposite, that I purposefully have gravitated toward that which is not popular. This is a part of myself that I have determined through reflecting on past decisions, from decisions as minor as deciding a video game class based on looking up polls on which ones were used, and selecting the least popular, to decisions as major as choosing not to share some of my interests in fear of accidentally making them more popular and thus removing myself from the category of “unique.” This latter example is where I would like to spend the majority of my time today.
After getting so down on Futaba last week, I was really glad to see an entire episode dealing with her dilemma and her real desire to tell Yuuri the truth. But further, episode seven of Blue Spring Ride (Ao Haru Ride) continue to showed Futaba’s shortcomings, which are the same we all have.
The show opens as episode six left off, with Kou having stepped off the train to be with Futuba, who has come to terms with her “love” for him. He notices the scent of her hair. She falls even more for him and decides she must tell Yuuri that she, too, loves Kou.
But in between, something interesting happens. Futuba runs into her best friend from middle school. If you remember back in episode one, Futuba compared herself to Yuuri, having been ostracized during middle school as Yuuri was during high school. Futuba’s middle school friend had been her only companion, but eventually abandoned her, too, and here we find out it’s because she thought they both liked the same guy. Futuba makes the connection with Yuuri and Kou and becomes more distressed, wondering what effect all of this will have on their relationships.
What Futuba fails to realize is that her lack of honesty is already having ripple effects. Yuuri is worried about Futuba, and so hidden feelings are having an outward impact. And what if Futuba failed to tell Yuuri about her feelings for Kou until they exploded out into the open? What kind of effect would secrets revealed have then?
A long-running project of mine is to get my wife to become an anime fan. It started when we were dating and I got her to fall in love with Studio Ghibli. Over the years, I’ve shown her a number of series, too, and they’ve been a hit (mostly): Clannad, Kids on the Slope,
Attack on Titan (I went for the jugular and FAIL), Kimi ni Todoke, and now, Honey and Clover.
Each character in Honey and Clover is wonderful, but my very favorite is Ayumi Yamada. For whatever reason, I connected with her best, and felt as much empathy for her struggles as with any of the others. Also, clay. Ayumi’s talent is my favorite among the cast’s.
There’s something soothing and beautiful about pottery making, isn’t there? The idea of a sole person turning a block of clay into something smooth and beautiful and useful with just hands and wheel is idyllic. The same imagery wasn’t lost on the Bible writers, who made frequent comparison of God to the potter:
Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
The comparisons between God and a potter are plentiful:
- God cares. As the potter must carefully and skillfully manipulate the clay to stay from ruining it, God is gentle with us. His patient and grace are abundant with a people that are far more stubborn than clay.
- God is creator. The potter and clay metaphor brings to mind the creation story. As clay comes from the earth, Genesis explains that humans, too, come from the dust of the earth. God breaths life into humanity, as the pottery shapes life into pottery.
- God shapes us. Ten potters can be handed the same size and type of clay, and each create some wholly different piece. But the similarity is that the potter guides the entire process to make the clay into something more than it was.
And it’s that last point that most presses upon me. Today, I was reminded what a sinner I am, how vicious I can be, and how inhuman (or perhaps how very human) I am at my worst. At my lowest, I turn to God, because who else can I turn to? Friends and family don’t have the power to change me, and I’ve found that I don’t have the power within to transform myself. But the Holy Spirit can empower us to change and to become far more than we are – nearer to image of Christ.
And in that sense, when we feel like clay – something buried in the earth, lower even than dirt – we know that we are being shaped, molded into the image of Christ. And in that sense, there’s nothing else better to be.
While Barakamon continues to provide Christian bloggers with some juicy themes (how am I not watching this series?), a number of writers visited older titles this week as they talked spirituality:
Courtney tackles the question, “Should a Christian watch anime?” [Geek Meets World]
Medieval Otaku looks as the falsehoods shown in Nisemonogatari and what role sin and purpose can play in being phony (or genuine). [Medieval Otaku]
Frank reexamines Sakura Trick and whether yuri anime can have redeeming value for Christian viewers. [A Series of Miracles]
He also looks at episode 5 and 6 of Barakamon and finds in them wisdom for Christian living. 
Lazarinth points out the theme of fear and religion in a review of Patema Inverted. [Fantasy and Anime]
Rob tells of an unexpected experience he had when apologizing on behalf of Christians at Otakon. [Geeks Under Grace]
Michael analyzes Manga Messiah and shows us it’s gospel presentation. [Gaming and God]
D.M. Dutcher tells how Barakamon demonstrates the healing power of the church. [Cacao, put down the shovel!]
Dutcher also gives his Christian-centered review of Love Live School Idol Project. 
He provides another review, as well – this one of Tenchi Muyo: The War on Geminar 
As part of the Something More series of posts, each week 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 if you’d like it included.
Periodically, I like point back to some of the more than 900 posts we’ve written here on Beneath the Tangles. “Mileposts” is about blogging milestones – those little breakthroughs when posts hit certain numbers of significance in terms of hits. Three articles recently hit such mileposts.
Sword Art Online, Episode 10: You Complete Me
Milepost: 40,000 Hits
While a new season of SAO brings up it’s own set of interesting spiritual themes, the first season had me writing episode after episode, including this post, in which I spoke of the relationship between Kirito and Asuna and a little bit of my own marriage:
And note Asuna’s words; she will protect Kirito “forever.” The completeness of marriage is not only in two becoming one; it is also in the contract that is born – one that is meant to last. Kirito will stay with Asuna “until the end.” Asuna will stay with Kirito “forever.” They will create a whole and complete marriage.
Oreimo Finale: I Can’t Believe My Series End Like This (Wait…Yes I Can)
Milepost: 5,000 Hits Read the rest of this entry
If last week the tables were turned, in episode six of Terror in Resonance (Zankyou no Terror), the players are now hurtling in opposite directions. Nine and Twelve are racing into traps to disable bombs while the authorities, controlled by Five and the FBI, have the upper hand.
This episode deals a lot with set-up and the reactions of three different groups. Five and her FBI handler are now in fact the terrorists (if they couldn’t already be called that after last week’s events). Five arranges a bomb in an airport and sends out a riddle, pretending that all of this from Sphinx. Her intent is to draw Nine and Twelve into a trap, where she can play an airport-wide game of chess with them. The boys have no choice but to abide if they want to avoid being blamed for possibly hundreds of deaths, though Lisa now appears to be the Ace up their sleeve. And Shibazaki, no longer a “lone wolf,” is joined by his comrades as they decide to go to the airport, even though they’ve been ordered to stay put.
Each of these three groups is lead by outcasts – those that don’t belong. They’ve all been forced into their situations, or otherwise ostracized in a way that’s led them to become dangerous in their own rights. Terror in Resonance very accurately shows what can happen when we treat others as outcasts – they can become angry, bitter, crazed, and/or violent. While Nine and Twelve are attempting to do something just (though neither is entirely stable), Five has become a would-be mass murderer. Meanwhile, Lisa seems willing to join in on terrorist schemes, still under the assumption, it seems, that Nine and Twelve are trying to hurt people. SHE’S OKAY WITH THAT, as long as it means she has a place she belongs.
In our Untangled feature, we answer questions posed to us from our readers. Here’s an email sent by Mason a few days ago:
How do you guys go about choosing your anime? I don’t watch a lot but I like watching currently airing ones (because I have something to look forward too) so I would like to know how you guys go about finding anime :)
TWWK: Mason, I think most of us on staff here have a good idea of what we want to try out before each new season begins. I usually check out a season preview post or two and choose the shows I want to try. As for older series, I have a backlog that’s developed over the years. Whenever I read about a series that interests me, I add it. So I would say that typically I find anime by word of mouth.
Hansha: A lot of times, I’ll get suggestions from friends or they’ll start fangirling over one and insist I watch it. Other than that, I usually go through Hulu, Netflix or Crunchyroll and read descriptions. I’ve also gotten interested in a few anime because of cosplays I’ve seen at a convention or on different pages of cosplayers I follow. I think others on staff are more plugged in than I am though.
Japesland: I’ve gone through stages. At first, I based what I watched completely on word of mouth. Then I began looking online for recommendations, particularly from Beneath the Tangles (shameless plug for our Anime Recommendations and Anime Movie Recommendations pages). Then, I returned to word of mouth and friends’ recommendations and built up an enormous backlog, much as Charles mentioned (I marathoned a LOT of anime in the course of two years to get through that monstrosity!). Now, I’ve seen enough that I am generally able to find anime that I like myself, which is good because most of what I watch is currently airing nowadays! I recommend either asking friends, or checking blogs like ours as we write about new anime that we’re watching.
Kaze: I watch a lot of mediocre shows that I know are going to be mediocre, but I imagine most people aren’t weird like that. In terms of shows that I actually hope will be good, I rely on a few things. First is word of mouth, but particularly from people whose opinions I trust and tend to agree with. This is most useful when friends are familiar with the source material and can give you some concrete opinions rather than blind guessing. I also look at the staff and studio behind the anime. For example, P.A. Works tends to make very similar originals, so people tend to either like or dislike most of their work. I’ve also reached the point where I will watch anime for the seiyuu (voice actors), which as strange as it may sound to some, I don’t see how it is different from people watching TV shows for their favorite actors. Finally, while it probably isn’t helpful to you right now, the more you watch, the more easily you can identify shows which are going to be a flop or not, at least for you personally, because you start to see the trends and tropes.
And now, I’ll open it to our readers – how do you choose which anime to watch?
Anime Expo is always a crowded, good time, filled with fun events, including the Masquerade, a competition featuring choreographed, costumed performances. Beforehand, groups are able to play a short introductory video. For one group, cosplaying as Magi, that video gave them an opportunity to showcase their message:
You are loved just as you are.
Based in Orange County, the group, Jesus Otaku, focuses on “creatively modeling the love of Jesus to bring otaku and the church together.” Sssociated with Saddleback Church, pastored by Rick Warren, Jesus Otaku is an active group of about 15 members who cosplay and attend area conventions where they purpose to let anime fans know just what they expressed in that video – that they are loved just as they are.
Jesus Otaku was co-founded by Jonathan and Cecilia, each impressed upon by God to start a ministry for otaku. Emphasizing Saddleback’s church planting (including a church in Tokyo), the idea for such a ministry had been in Cecilia’s mind for years, though everything came together when Jonathan returned from a mission trip and independently announced his ideas for something similar. And from there, a ministry was born.
Episode six of Ao Haru Ride (Blue Spring Ride) picks up right where episode five left off, dealing with Yuri’s admission to Futuba that she likes Ko. While Yuri tells Shuko the same and deals with the pains and delights of a crush, the scenario puts pressure on Futuba to really think about her feelings toward Ko, and by episode’s end, she lets chance become the final push to catapult her toward admitting to herself that she, too, loves him.
This is one angsty complication, for a couple of reasons. First, Futuba and Yuri have a nice relationship and Yuri is a very nice girl – this is not a typical love triangle where it’s easy to root for one side over the other. And further, it’s uncomfortable knowing that perhaps the only truly kind character among the major ones is going to lose, if not immediately, then eventually. This is Futuba and Ko’s love story, but Yuri and Ko’s.
What’s most appalling, though, is how quickly (in only one day!) that Futuba decides that her feelings are more important than her friendship with Yuri. She doesn’t resist her feelings – Futuba lets herself feel all mushy toward Ko, and with a half-hearted internal apology toward Yuri, ends the day by perhaps making a decision to pursue the object of her affection, this though he’s mostly unkind toward her.
I can chalk it all up to high school immaturity and hormones – and probably should (I was there, too) – but I wonder if we don’t make the same kind of choice that Futuba does, just in different settings. How often do we choose ourselves, making decisions based on emotions – at work, with family, in our relationships. And all too often, selfish decisions can have consequences on co-workers, loved ones, or friends.
The anime movie Hal, a lovely piece from Wit Studio and Production IG, aired just one year ago in June 2013. Thus, it was a pleasant and refreshing surprise when I learned that Funimation had picked up the rights to dub and will be releasing the film in the US! Especially since I don’t believe too many people knew about this film prior to Funi picking it up.
Hal is a story about loss and dealing with grief. But it’s also about the hope of rebuilding.
I’ll be keeping this review spoiler free! So have no fear as you read and make sure you pick up a copy of the official Funimation release (scheduled for September 2nd)!
The story begins in a quiet village in Japan, with a curious robot named Kyuichi, trying to catch fish in a stream. Soon, the tranquility is broken by a commercial airplane bursting into flames in the sky overhead.
Then, we are introduced to a couple, Hal and Kurumi. Boyfriend and girlfriend who were untimely separated as Hal was killed on that airplane explosion. Kurumi falls into seclusion: not eating, not sleeping, not venturing out of her house anymore. Thus, she is sent a “Hal” robot (by direction of a local doctor in her community) to help her through her grief and keep her through her grief. At first, things don’t go too well. Plus, Robo-Hal (as we can fondly call him) isn’t the best at comforting anyone and can barely cook. But, as time goes on, he learns more about Kurumi and his persistence proves to be his most valuable attribute. But Robo-Hal is not without aid in helping Kurumi. The local doctor is there to give him encouragement, of course, as well as a group of old ladies in the local retirement home give him advice to help Kurumi. But more importantly, he finds a Rubik’s cube in Kurumi’s house, ready to be solved. And each side that is solved reveals a message, a wish of Kurumi. The more sides he solves, the closer Robo-Hal can get to helping Kurumi open her heart once again.
Just as things start going well, we learn that the situation isn’t exactly as it seems and the past cannot be so easily escaped.
But no spoilers for the ending! I did promise, after all. But I can’t guarantee the comments will be spoiler free, so beware!
The animation of Hal was stunning and gorgeous to look at. Could be a bit too shiny in some places, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching it all.
The story telling was simple, but expertly woven as to not drag on too long in places where it didn’t need to. At some times it felt a bit slow, but soon picked up, especially when we came closer to the climax of the story. The pacing was well timed and nothing seemed too rushed or too slow.
The use of plot devices made Hal all the more whimsical in some ways, from Rubik’s cubes to buttons to stuffed animals and to especially a glowing red button. It gave the story a other worldly feel, which fit with the story, interestingly enough.
Hal is rated PG-13 for more mature ideas (like death, etc.), but cursing is minimal and there is no sexual or violent content.
I always take a chance with most anime movies, especially originally created ones. Sometimes they do well and sometimes they don’t. Hal is a movie that did things well. It is a beautifully constructed story that ponders life and death and the reality that while all life must come to an end, we can still move forward with the memories of the ones we love.
I gave Hal a 9/10 on myanimelist, and even after watching it several times over after that, I still stay pretty firm in that rating. It’s definitely a film I would recommend in a heartbeat.