“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.
Another season of Baby Steps is complete. I’ve always liked it, but I felt a little more invested this season. Ei-chan has already mastered the basics and set a goal: win the All-Japan Junior to prove to his parents that it’s plausible for him to go pro. In the process, he continues to develop his tennis strategy, with a focus on the balance between reason and instinct. Related factors, such as pressure and various emotions, have to be balanced as well. Then there’s risk and caution, offense and defense… Ei-chan is painfully conscious of each factor. Reason comes naturally to him, but he can’t always predict and reason through a problem. Then he has a choice: let the never-ending analysis hold him back, or set aside some of the reason and start taking risks.
I’m the type to get so caught up in my head, I get effectively paralyzed for five minutes just deciding whether to buy cookies or candy. In this case, I’m only risking a few dollars. For anything more important than that, I have to sit down with my journal or planner and map out the situation.
As expected, Charlotte is rushing toward a surely emotional end. This 13-episode series has no time for long arcs and episode-long resolutions, so in quick order we see Yuu’s recovery (physically and emotionally) and Misa’s finale. But in the midst, we also have a plot point far more significant – that of Yuu’s decision to save everyone.
It’s no surprise that the proposal comes from Tomori, even if she only half-seriously suggests it. And while the suggestion of how to save given to a Christ figure from one I’ll later describe as more representative of humanity doesn’t fit the Jesus allusion, much of the proceeding portion of the episode does, especially when it clicks with us what Yuu plans to do, what it means, and what the ultimate conclusion will be.
What Yuu is Doing
As the strongest mutant, Yuu is perhaps the strongest person on earth, the “best human.” In scripture, Christ is the second Adam, a demonstration of perfect humanity (and perfect godliness). Indeed, while Christ is perfect in every way, Yuu is representative of different people in different parts of the story – the needful, condemned human in the first part of Charlotte and now the powerful savior in the second.
And in that way, it shows Yuu to be the fulfillment of humanity. For Christians, the Bible demonstrates as much – the Old Testament showing our sin and prophesying of the Christ who is to come, and the New telling of Christ’s saving grace. In this show, Yuu is that testament – showing the depths of humanity in his early selfishness, his need for a savior to save him from his sins, and now, like the New Testament, as the Christ who will take on the sins of the world to redeem it.
Which brings up point two:
Nitori is Not Going to Hell For Wanting to Wear a Bra, Part I: Understanding Gender Dysphoria as a Christian
When the anime version of Hourou Musuko (Wandering Son) aired in 2011, much of the reception in the blogsophere was lukewarm. A lot of folks, having anticipated the adaptation, were disappointed in how different it was from the manga. I, on the other hand, without any previous connection to this story of a boy who wants to be a girl and a girl who wants to be a boy, absolutely loved it. It touched me and made me reconsider how I thought of individuals who identify as transgender.
However, I don’t know if I was ready for it.
I left the story feeling I should change, but I didn’t really. Fast-forward a few years, and my experiences on Tumblr caused me to research the topic, which then led me to read Understanding Gender Dysphoria (Mark A. Yarhouse), a study that informed me even further, and which forms the basis for much of this post and the one that will follow it. Like Eddie Redmayne, “my education continues,” but in the meantime, I want to introduce this topic to our Christian readers, many of whom probably flee from it, like I have my whole life.
Part of my issue that I was totally confused by the terminology – what does cisgender mean? Why would someone prefer to be called they? Is it still LGBT, or have other letters been added to the acronym?
I won’t go into all the definitions, but there are a few important terms that I think will help confused Christians understand this issue better:
- Gender dysphoria – Part of the title of this post, and a term I’ll refer back to, gender dysphoria is the distress an individual experiences when that person does not feel their biological sex matches gender identity.
- Gender and sex – Gender is what it means to be male or female; sex is biologically whether you’re male or female. Note this distinct but significant difference.
- Transgender – As Yarhouse notes, this is an “umbrella term” describing a diverse audience of people who live out a gender different from their sex.
- Cisgender – This is what perhaps most Christians would view as “typical” – the state of gender matching sex.
- Transexual – An individual who wants to or has transitioned from the sex to which he or she was born.
There are a host of other terms as well, like genderfluid, genderqueer, and intersex, which I encourage you to research. But the ones above are a good starting point for getting into the conversation.
It’s also important to note that gender dysphoric or transgender does not equal homosexual. Though one might be both, they are separate things, and many, many people with gender dysphoria are not gay. I remember this first clicking with me when I wrote a post about Hourou Musuko discussing Makoto’s feelings for his male teacher. Because I was vague in addressing homosexuality and never mentioned Makoto at all, a commenter was wondering why I was connecting the show’s transgender themes with homosexual ones, when I had never intended to.
But more importantly than understanding terminology, of course, is to understand people. Unfortunately, a common Christian response to individuals who feel this incongruence between their gender and sex is one of judgment and disgust. It’s taboo almost, an attack on morality for many, representative of all that might go wrong in a person’s life and all that’s gone wrong in culture. That, of course, is wholly the wrong reaction for a people who claim to follow Christ, who taught us to love everyone (and why we should).
SKET Dance is a former Shōnen Jump manga, that was adapted into an anime in 2011. This comedic series follows the mysterious school club known as SKET Dan, which functions practically as a “Helper’s Club.” The organization consists of three main characters who work together to help people who come to them with requests. The main characters are Bossun, who is the club leader and a brilliant detective when he has his goggles on; Himeko, who is from Osaka and is an excellent close combat fighter when she has her street hockey stick (and she always does); and Switch, a strange boy in glasses who talks through his computer and is a powerful strategist. The club ends up drawing many different colorful characters with odd requests, and this eventually ends up putting the club at odds with the Student Council.
SKET stands for English words Support, Kindness, Encouragement, and Troubleshoot. These function as the primary guiding principles for the club.
In 2011 and 2012, SKET Dance was my favorite anime. This is really strange because I am not much of a fan of comedies. I really loved it because SKET Dance is built on layers of characters and their personal struggles. I believe the show was at it’s best when it dives into the difficulties in the characters’ lives. Each main character has a serious struggle that they have gone through or are fighting through, but the show doesn’t show them striving to overcome them on their own. Instead it shows a sense of family and community that help them overcome. They then try and do the same for others.
I highly recommend SKET Dance, especially for a younger audience. The show definitely falls into the genre of shōnen comedy, but it lacks a lot of the vulgarity of similar series. The show does deal with struggles that many middle school and high school students will be familiar with. I believe the show is also fitting for adults as well, because of the depth of character development and the fact that it is just funny. The one complaint I do voice about the show is episode 1. The first episode is meant to introduce the club, but the story is completely irrelevant to the series and it is a bit painful to get through. You can watch it, but you don’t need to.