Here’s our final part of the summer anime 2015 review! We’ve saved the best for last (or did we?)
Medieval Otaku – 9/10
Arslan Senki is one of those shows which just misses a certain something–je ne sais quoi–to render it a masterpiece. I love the massed battles, compelling and unique characters, and the torrent of schemes and traps Arslan and his champions must dodge. Though the setting is reminiscent of the Persian Empire, they bring in weapons and armor relating more to the Middle Ages–perhaps to give it more of a fantasy atmosphere. (Persians did not have long swords or maces tailor made for Sauron.) In particular, I loved the inclusion of chain mail through CG, though its proportions are cut to the size of the haubergeon–the smaller version of the coat of mail which became popular during the Age of Plate. At any rate, the show delighted the medievalist and fantasy lover in me and fully deserves the above rating–as one might expect from one of Hiromu Arakawa’s works.
Here’s part 2 of 3 of our summer anime 2015 review!
Baby Steps 2
Baby Steps 2
Annalyn – 8/10
In the Spring anime review, I gave Baby Steps 2 a 7/10. Now that I’ve finished it, I decided to give it an 8/10. I admit, it’s a little difficult to defend the score change. The visuals didn’t get much better. Most of the characters squeak by with minimal, unremarkable development, and very little about the conflict matters to Ei-chan’s life off-court. So what’s changed? This season, Baby Steps convinced me that tennis-related conflict is plenty—partially because the character himself is so absorbed in the sport, his growth as a person is attached to his growth as an athlete. He is introspective, and while he does enjoy and learn from his friends and mentors, I can’t expect the same relationship-oriented themes that are so prevalent in team sports anime. Instead, themes arise in how he approaches his sport and, by extension, his life. This season, he learns a lot about balance. Off the court, that means balancing rest, romance, eating habits, and practice. On the court, he learns to balance instinct, reason, and emotion. As he sorts through these lessons, a bigger pressure hangs over his head: he has to make it to the All-Japan Junior and win in order for his parents to support his tennis career. Before, I thought that wasn’t sufficient. I’ve changed my mind. Tennis is Ei-chan’s life, and losing it would completely change his future. I’m invested in his goals now, and I’m fascinated by his internal conflict and how it plays out on the court. I hope a third season of Baby Steps comes along soon!
As students head back to school, it’s time for our summer anime review! We have plenty of great (and not so great) anime to review, and these review posts will be featuring the most diverse set of voices from the Beneath the Tangles staff to date, so look forward to them.
My Love Story!!
Japesland – 8/10
I’ve written on Ore Monogatari numerous times as it has aired, which says something about my opinion of the series. If you’ve read those articles, then you know that I praise what it’s done to break the shoujo mold, while still holding to some of the tropes that make it what it is (utilizing without subverting, in contrast to shows like Now and Then, Here and There or Madoka Magica, which are entirely subversive). Unlike your traditional shoujo, conflicts created by teenage misunderstandings are actually resolved, and the male lead is neither a slender hunk nor egotistical. It’s a wholesome break from the mold that I appreciate for that reason, but it is by no means perfect. As much as I personally enjoyed it, I have to acknowledge the common complaints that even arose from many of our staff here at Beneath the Tangles, particularly revolving around the lack of satisfying conflict and resolutions often falling back on the male lead being a ridiculously nice guy. Regardless, I still have to praise the show for focusing on characters with moral compasses stronger than perhaps any I’ve seen before in the genre. I can’t recommend this show enough for anyone looking for a romance with less anime angst.
“If I was born to die, then what was my reason for existing in this world?” —Konno Yuuki, SAO II.
Sword Art Online II has many faults, and some folks can’t take it seriously as a result. That’s a shame, because SAO deals with big issues that warrant serious discussion. The characters’ conversations in the last episode, especially, demanded my attention, though I decided to wait until it aired on Toonami to write about it.
First, some background (and spoilers):
Konno Yuuki and her mother contracted HIV in the events surrounded her traumatic birth, thanks to an infected blood transfusion. Before they realized what had happened, her father and sister were infected, too. She was able to live normally at first, but in fourth grade, her immune system began to fail. By the time we meet her in SAO, she has lost her entire family to AIDS, and she herself has been hospitalized for years. Virtual reality equipment allows her to escape from her pain and her hospital bed, into ALfheim Online. She is the best swordsman around—partially because she pretty much lives in ALO, and she gets plenty of practice. She appears to be a cheerful, happy girl.
Asuna befriends Yuuki in the game, and they become close, although Yuuki tries to push her away at first. Eventually, Asuna helps Yuuki experience as much of the outside world as possible from her hospital bed. In return, Yuuki encourages her to have a candid talk with her mother.
Yet Yuuki is still dying. In the end, surrounded by her friends in virtual reality, she says this:
“If I was born to die, then what was my reason for existing in this world? Without creating anything, or giving anything to anyone. Wasting so much machinery and medicine, causing the people around me trouble. Suffering, worrying… and if I were just going to disappear in the end, it would be better to die right now. I thought that so many times. “Why am I alive?” I wondered for so long, but… but I finally feel like I’ve found the answer. Even if there’s no reason, it’s okay for me to be alive. Because my last moments are of such fulfillment. I can end my journey surrounded by so many people, in the arms of the person I love.”
So, it’s okay to be alive because… you’re loved and feel fulfilled? Sorry, I’m not satisfied with that. Read the rest of this entry
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
– John 15:13 (KJV)
I recently heard a wonderful sermon on the value of friendship by Tim Keller. He spoke of how when it comes down to it, friendship is about a person choosing to be intimate with you. Christ called us friends, and took that love to the ultimate end point – death in place of us.
In the final episode of Charlotte, Yuu acts as that friend for all the children with the Charlotte disease, taking their illnesses upon himself and saving their lives. And yet, despite his noble act, Yuu isn’t the best of Christ figures – but maybe that’s because he’s not only an image of Christ, but also an image of us.
Yuu as Christ
As I mentioned before, Charlotte treats the mutations as a disease. Because of its origin, there’s no X-Men/Marvel style debate here – it’s something that needs to be cured. And as Christ took our sins upon himself at greatest personal cost, Yuu plunders the users’ and carriers’ abilities, knowing that it may destroy him.
Episode 13, though, gives us I think a unique insight into Christ, one that scripture only sparingly shows us – that of what Christ must have felt when he died in our place. No, he didn’t forget himself (or us), nor do I think he had to remind himself of why this was happening to him. But the physical and emotional toll upon Yuu might make us think about what Christ went through.
I’ve heard it said that Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t much of one at all, him being God. On the contrary, though, I say it was far more so because of who he is. Perfect and pure, like the purest lamb, he was butchered (physical pain) and taken for the first time ever out of his perfect loving relationship with the Father, the only perfect relationship and the only one ever justified (emotional pain). Christ’s agony was demonstrated by his cries on the cross, and the distress upon him pictured by Yuu’s weariness and loss of himself when taking in everyone’s diseases.
But unlike Yuu, Christ never forgot. Christ cried that “it is finished” when he was about to die, fully knowing that the tortured he endured was for reason and done as he had planned. Sin nailed Christ to the cross – but Christ always, fully and consciously, allowed it to happen.
Nitori is Not Going to Hell For Wanting to Wear a Bra, Part II: A Christian Response to Gender Dysphoria
Last week, I dove into gender dysphoria, explaining what it is and hopefully helping fellow Christians understand that individuals who are confused regarding their gender or who don’t identify with traditional gender roles are just as in need of love and grace as anyone else – they’re not some suddenly created outcast group that God doesn’t care about. We, too, should, must care for them.
But how do we care for them if we think they’re constantly living in sin? Or are we approaching them from the entirely wrong angle?
Mark Yarhouse, referred to in my last article as really developing my outlook on this issue, tells of three frameworks regarding gender incongruence. Most evangelical Christians might fit into the first, which identifies people who see gender dyphoria as simply wrong. Others might see gender incongruence as a disability (Nitori’s sister, for instance, says about her brother, “He’s sick.).” And finally, there are those that would celebrate it and even to a radical extent, try to wholly deconstruct sex and gender.
Instead, an integrated approach, Yarhouse suggests, makes most sense when approaching the issue. It also allows us, I think, to break our own walls of hypocrisy and pride and to graciously approach individuals on the transgender spectrum with love.
But how does such an approach work within a Christian perspective? I think we can see part of that answer in Hourou Musuko, where the main characters are looking to establish relationships and community with people that understand them. Unfortunately, gender dysphoria mixes with teenage angst to make it difficult for Takatsuki and Nitori. Neither is particularly happy as they struggle with their gender identities.
Indeed, gender dysphoria by definition is a struggle, a wrestling with feelings – often very heavy and painful ones – that one’s sex doesn’t match his or her gender. It reminds me of other conditions that we might deal with, like anxiety or depression. When we’re overcome by these conditions, are we sinning? Are we more specifically dealing with the repercussions of the fall?
Perhaps this lack of connection between gender and sex isn’t always willful rebellion, cultural influence, or any type of choice, but a mismatch resulting from the condition our world suffers from – sin. An imperfect world leads to imperfect conditions, such as the feeling that one doesn’t belong in his or her body. Then, having feelings of gender incongruence might instead be approached with empathy, since we all live in this imperfect world.
And with that in mind, we should engage these folks with the gospel message as we would anyone else. They are no more or less in need of grace than anyone. But we must be careful to not hoist our biases and expectations on them as we minister. We must treat them similarly as we do others. We can’t flip the message for this group and expect transformation before salvation, when the latter must always precede the first.
If we have a heart for the lost, for those dying without Christ, we must approach transgender individuals and those working through gender dysphoria with the gospel, as much as any other group. But first, we need to earn our way into the debate, demonstrating compassion, kindness, and caring. Otherwise, we’ll never be given a chance by a individuals that already often feel lonely, maligned, or hated.
One of Christ’s most interesting and off-discussed teachings is how he equates are internal hated toward others as murder:
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
– Matthew 5:22 (NASB)
We often project our anger at God or upon others without realizing just how significant our feelings are. And why shouldn’t we? We’re just doing what we feel.
Matthew Newman unravels this passage some as he looks into episode five of Angel Beats. In it, he describes the students’ viciousness toward Kanade, against whom they’ve projected their bitterness, and how Yuri has done the same against God. In both cases, the students are wrong to do so, as are we when we blame God or rage against others.
And taking it in another direction, why might it be that calling someone a “fool” (raka = baka?) would lead us toward hell? As Matthew mentions, we’re taking away the person’s humanity when calling them a fool. Christ’s wording is perhaps alluding to public humiliation of another, where we intend to destroy someone and make them less than human. This kind of anger is the basis of all sorts of evil, included among these, murder and genocide.
And if we can’t understand that, comprehending how our raging against others shows just how hypocritical we are and how much we need grace, then indeed, we are lost.
Check out Matthew’s full article:
And after you read that, check out these other wonderful articles from around the blogosphere:
Revolutionary Girl Utena is chocked full of symbolism, and Taylor begins to unpack it as it has to do with Christianity themes and allusions. [Taylor Ramage’s Blog]
Despite presenting an afterlife that is unlike the Christian conception of it, Death Parade brings up ideas and themes that coincide well with Christianity. [Christ & Pop Culture]
Cowboy Bebop reunion panels and cosplay events at Hawaii Con might be able to each us more about family – and Christian family – than we’d expect. [Lady Teresa Christina]
The way in which Nagisa’s carefully laid plans falls part in episode 10 of Classroom Crisis reminds of how ours might not match those of the Creator. [Christian Anime Review]
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.
Fellow Beneath the Tangles writer, Kaze, and I share many things in common, but one always immediately comes to mind: We are both hopelessly critical of what we consume. I think nothing illustrates this more clearly recently than the general reception of Charlotte. I think I can say with relative certainty, albeit having not consulted Kaze before penning this article, that the two of us are unabashed Visual Art’s Key and, by extension, Jun Maeda (the primary writer of the studio) fans. This studio is responsible for bringing some of the world’s best visual novels to us, such as Little Busters! and Rewrite, as well as some of the most well-received anime, like Clannad (a visual novel adaptation) and Angel Beats. Thus, it comes as no surprise that a new original anime (Charlotte) from the esteemed Jun Maeda had us, or at least me, chugging steadily along on the hype train up until it began this summer.
Expectations were high.
And from this point, while I think the two of use more or less agree, I can only confidently speak for myself. And I have been grossly disappointed.
However, while much of the conflict I feel with Charlotte is internal and framed around my high expectations, I find that much of the remaining conflict I feel stems not entirely from the inside, but from profound differences in judgment between myself and the Internet population at large.* It feels that for every negative reaction I feel, be it an undeveloped cast, horrendous directorial timing, and plot points that seem to rise and fall willy-nilly, I can find many directly opposing views. Even our own founder and editor, Charles/TWWK, seems to have a much more positive opinion of the series than I do in his episode-by-episode series.
But the point of this article is not to make the case that Charlotte is not as good as it’s cracked up to be. I’ve noticed something much more important than what score is appropriate for an anime. I’ve noticed just how it feels to disagree so fundamentally with a large group of people on something you feel passionate about.
It’s been a rough ride for Eren and his fellow Scouts, but after seventy-three chapters of black-and-blue heartache and falsified hope, he’s finally one step closer to that ever-elusive basement.
Whether due to my vivid imagination or my familiarity with the anime’s sounds, I often hear the Attack on Titan manga as clearly as I read it; chapter 73 is forebodingly silent, to be sure, with nighttime excursions led by lantern light, and only the solid sound of hoofbeats and the whine of ziplines breaking silence with the coming of dawn.
But the moment Eren steps foot on the wall and looks at his homeland for the first time in years, the sounds die completely: it’s a point of precipice—teetering between hope and despair—that allows Eren to have a god’s-eye view of everything he’s been fighting for. Understandably, Isayama dedicates a two-page spread to this single panel.
Themes of homecoming and oppression are inevitably linked in Attack on Titan: explainable, since it’s the oppression of the titans that gives way to humanity’s ultimate decision—fall into despair, or seek hope in the midst of it. It’s a vicious cycle, to be sure, and as the chapter opens, the omniscient narrator reflects on how humanity at first fell into helplessness, believing the titans would dictate their ultimate fate. The panels’ grim sights soon transform into images of hope, however, as the Scouts at long last embark on a journey to retake Wall Maria, and Eren sets foot in his homeland for the first time in years.