I just watched Gangsta., one of the darker anime to air in the past year. I’ve seen a few anime that center on crime syndicates and corruption, but this is one of the most horrific—up there with Black Lagoon‘s second season. The anime’s setting, Ergastulum, seems hopelessly corrupt, and the anime refuses to sugarcoat it. There isn’t even a redemptive ending—perhaps because the manga itself is still incomplete. We’re just left with a heavy sense of evil and tragedy, with no solution offered.
And yet, even among all the pain and sin, there is compassion, love, truth. Don’t get me wrong: I would not recommend Gangsta. to very many people. If my 16-year-old self asked about it, I’d tell her to stay far away. But for me, in the place I am now, the anime provides a way to process the brokenness of the world and the pieces of goodness that are still present. Because sometimes, the world can feel a lot like Ergastulum: enslaved by sin and strangled by violence. Read the rest of this entry
When it comes to Christian allusions, Death Note pulls no punches.
Whether it’s an artistic replication of The Fall of Man by Michelangelo, Light’s literal taking of the forbidden fruit, or the Gregorian choirs, crucifixes, and god-complexes, there’s a bit of Christian influence sprinkled across every chapter (and episode) of the series.
Perhaps the most conspicuous allusion, though, is L himself, whose very name harmonizes with el—the Hebrew word for God in the Old Testament. From his self-created trinity, to his seemingly omniscient and miraculous crime-solving abilities, L has the Christ-figure persona down-pat. Death Note director, Tetsuro Araki, even threw an exclusive foot-washing scene into the anime’s 25th episode, just to ensure that the imagery couldn’t be missed.
In the midst of all these iconic allusions to Christendom, though, there’s a subtle reference to Discipleship that gets lost along the way. It’s a shame, too, since it’s one of the manga’s most poignant representations of Christ’s provision.
During their mission to bring Kira to justice, L and his team of police force detectives hit a snag. Namely, that the main force is pulling all support from the secret operation in response to threats from Kira, and that any officers who wish to continue working alongside L will lose their jobs.
L allows his team to come to their individual decisions.
The catch? It’s a test of loyalty.
Time for me to take another foray into the Leijiverse! Lupin III gave me no ideas for this week’s article, but I remembered the first episode of Galaxy Express 999 held some very important themes on mortality. Some themes in Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 cause me to wonder whether Leiji Matsumoto might indeed be a Christian. If not, he ranks as a noble pagan–along with the likes of Cicero and Lao-Tze. (And perhaps more moderns are familiar with Matsumoto than Cicero.) The two works above began serialization in the same year (1977) and share a similar theme: remembrance of death drives one to nobility while forgetfulness of death leads to corrupt morals. Christians believe the same thing, though perhaps no book spells it out as well as Budoshoshinshu, aka The Code of the Samurai, which was written as a guide for Bushido: “As long as you keep death in mind at all times, you will also fulfill the ways of loyalty and familial duty….your character will improve and your virtue will grow,” (3). In the anime Captain Harlock, forgetting death led to a population which declined to lift a finger to preserve their own lives against the invading Mazone and which drowned itself in distractions and worthless pursuits.
The moral corruption in Galaxy Express 999 is a bit more subtle. People can now plant their minds into machine bodies and so live for as long as 2,000 years. This technology is touted as increasing human flourishing, which it does in terms of increased lifespan. However, it has a dark side: the poor are unable to attain mechanical bodies, suffer destitution, and essentially live without the protection of the law. But, the poor dream of one day boarding the train Galaxy Express 999, which is rumored to take them to a planet where they can obtain mechanical bodies free of charge.
Lately, I’ve been watching an anime called “The World God Only Knows” (referred to as TWGOK from here on in). For anyone who hasn’t seen or heard of it, I’ll give a brief plot explanation, without any spoilers (or, without anything you won’t learn in episode one). The anime follows the story of a “professional dating simmer” (this guy plays dating sims all but 24/7), Keima, who has become known famously online as “the god of conquest” for his ability to “conquer any girl”. In hell, some “souls” have escaped, and a demon, Elsie, is sent to capture them. Thinking the “god of conquest” is her best chance, she invites him into a contract – he, thinking it is a game challenge, accepts. Only after she explains what the reality is does he understand what he’s agreed to.
Bound by a contract that must be completed (or they will die), they have to find these loose souls and capture them. The problem is, these loose souls hide in people – people with spaces in their hearts (in the show, all females). Those spaces have to be filled – by love – before the soul will be pushed out and can be caught. Naturally, as a guy who lives on dating sims, the main character has hardly spoken to a real woman (and prefers those in his games). Yet, he has no choice but to help complete the quest.
Perhaps it’s my brain’s ability to make weird connections to things, but watching this anime, I can’t help but be reminded of our call as Christians to save the lost, and also the reminder that we are not battling an earthly enemy, but a spiritual enemy.
In TWGOK, the souls that inhabit people with emptiness in their hearts are meant to be those of demons. If left long enough, these souls can gain strength and manifest in the world. Ironically, this is fairly similar to how demons work, as far as we can understand from the Bible. Naturally, demons have one purpose – to aid the Devil in drawing us away from God. It is far, far easier to attack someone who has an “emptiness” in their heart, than it is to attack someone who has no room for a demon to get their foot in the door of your life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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).
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.
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.
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.