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.
Created and developed far from Europe and the Americas, and conceived in a country where less than 1% of the populace is Christian, manga could hardly be called out for inaccurately portraying Christianity. It would be silly for calling out mangaka for getting the story of Christ wrong or for presenting the Bible as “just another religion.” Still, manga is full of religious references to God and gods, which presents a great opportunity to discuss matters of spirituality. And that’s the idea behind this new series of posts, Fact Check, in which I’ll investigate some of the claims of anime and manga characters and weigh them against the truth of scripture.
Today’s claim comes from that PTSD suffering soul from Aldnoah.Zero, Lt. Marito. When speaking to Dr. Yagarai, and thinking about his past military exploits, he says the following:
Sins you’ve committed cling to your soul and haunt you forever and sins that have gone unpunished aren’t forgiven until you die.
The claim then is two-fold, about how sins affect us both now and forevermore.
Let’s look at the first part of the claim, that sins “cling to your soul” and, like a specter, haunt those who’ve committed them. I think perhaps few would dispute this portion. Those who’ve done wrong often can’t shake their deeds, with the memories of such sin affecting their mind and even their actions. From literature, the great example is Lady Macbeth and her descent into madness after her role in regicide. But we might also be able to look within at our sins and how they’ve guilted us and maybe in the worst case, caused us to detach from others and become something less than what we once were.
In Aldnoah.Zero, Koichiro Marito reflects his own words. He is a shell of himself physically, unable to pilot a Terran mecha when a Kataphrakt attacks in episode five. And though he isn’t drinking by this time, it is insinuated that Marito is an alcoholic, and probably because of his past “sins,” however he would define them.
Boundaries play a role in all relationships. Depending on the closeness between two people, and each person’s ease with intimacy, walls between people can be high and near uncrossable, low to the point where one can simply step over them, or somewhere between. Boundaries can even disappear altogether. Episode four of Blue Spring Ride (Ao Haru Ride) explores this them in the boundaries established between pairings in our group of main characters.
It’s tough going for the new leadership group at first. Kou and Futuba arrive late to the leadership camp, causing frustration and bitterness among their teammates and others. In this already dispirited mood, each person seems to let the worse of themselves show instead of the best, creative further unpleasantness. Conflict further ensues among the group, including a humorous one between Yuri and Toma involving a cupcake.
The other conflicts are more serious. Kou and Futuba continue to have their boundary issues as they try to figure out who they are to each other now. Kou thinks he has that answer figured out, with Futuba meaning nothing to him, though his actions speak otherwise. Futuba, on the other hand, is just plain confused, and throughout the episode wonders what Kou exactly means to her now. Time and events have erected a wall between the two, and they are each trying to figure out if and/or how they can cross it.
Most significant to me, though, is the wall between Shuko and Tanaka, which seems impenetrable. This episode hits us over the head with the reason that Shuko very unexpectedly joined the group; it’s because she is in love with Tanaka, her teacher (and Kou’s brother), though he is very clear and strong in warding off her advances. The wall between them is erected both by morals and by Tanaka himself. He won’t let Shuko into his space – he won’t let her cross his personal boundaries.
Something More: Redemption x Redemption, Freedom of Mardock Scramble, and Defective Christian Marionette J
The Medieval Otaku points to the character development of Rune Balot of Mardock Scramble as an example of how obligation can lead to freedom, particularly in biblical context. [Medieval Otaku]
He also tells us that as with Lime in Saber Marionette J, we have reason to rejoice in our defectiveness. [Medieval Otaku]
Annalyn investigates a heavy need for redemption in Hunter x Hunter. [Annalyn's Thoughts]
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.
If you were to describe Yato, what words would you use? Lazy? Easy-going? Self-centered?
Patience, in fact, is one of Yato’s most defining characteristics in the Noragami anime. It’s best demonstrated in how Yato faithfully waits for Yukine, trusting in him to make the right decision and remaining steadfast even as he lays dying. It’s in serious qualities such as this where an anime kami resembles the living Christ. He, too, demonstrated a loving patience for mankind, remaining obedient to the Father unto death. As Yato struggles from his blight and refuses to kill Yukine, Christ is tortured on the cross, refusing to call down legions of angels to pull him off and destroy his enemies, knowing that his death and resurrection would lead to the possibility of redemption for all.
God sees something in us, even as the Bible declared us His enemies, and provides a path to salvation. Yato saw something in Yukine as well. Even as Yukine heads further and further down the path of sin and self-destruction, Yato remains patient and graciously loves his shinki. He even refuses to replace him with Nora, a former shinki who wants to return to Yato.
But it’s also through Nora that we see that Yato’s patience isn’t infinite. He is gracious and kind to Yukine, a lost soul in several definitions of the phrase, but has shut the door on Nora. And why does he do so? Those of us who haven’t read the manga don’t know the details, but the anime does give some hint. Yato rejects Nora because she first rejected him in whatever way she acted. This is demonstrated by how Nora refuses to take Yato’s name, an evil thing in sight of the kami. It’s a sign of disrespect.
God acts similarly. Read the rest of this entry
Wow, has the Spring 2014 anime season started off with a bang. I have already picked up 10 new shows that I plan to watch through to completion, in addition to the two I was already watching from last season (Nisekoi and Tonari no Seki-kun), and I have not been disappointed. While a number of what I have picked up so far will most likely be duds, the greatly hyped Mushi-shi sequel and Mekakucity Actors have both so far lived up to my expectations, and brand new ones like The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior and One Week Friends have thus far been quite promising.
The last of these mentions is the show I would like to focus on today, and while I would love to spend the rest of this article gushing about my feelings and opinions of what we are going to be seeing the next few months in the anime world, that is something to be left for another piece.
With that said, One Week Friends has really gotten me thinking over the past two weeks since it began airing. I’m always a bit nervous for this column, “Anime Today”, when a new season rolls around, lest I not have enough material within the first few episodes of each new series, but One Week Friends immediately struck me in terms of writing motivation.
If you are not yet familiar with it, One Week Friends (or Isshuukan Friends) is a middle school drama/romance that seems, in most ways, to play out akin to its many (many, many, many) slice of life brethren, with one major catch: the female interest, Kaori, of the male lead, Yuuki, has a memory problem that causes her to lose the memories of her close friends every Monday.
This is not a new concept. Simply looking at anime like Ef: A Tale of Memories, or even in the western world, a movie like 50 First Dates (something I think I saw at a friend’s house nearly a decade ago and have no intention of watching again), one will find many comparisons in existing media. However, the setup has not been out used. In fact, I would claim that it still comes across as something rather creative among its anime contemporaries, despite many past instances of this memory loss “trope”, mostly because it is being used as something less amnesiac, and more regular and constantly debilitating.
Even only two episodes in, the entire situation does a great job of pulling at your heart strings. I like to compare One Week Friends to a fantastic merging of two of my other favorite anime, Ef: A Tale of Memories (which I already mentioned) in its memory-loss driven romantic drama, and Usagi Drop in its general animation and writing style, as well as focus on wholesome relationships.
All of this culminates in a seriously captivating story of a boy and a girl trying to maintain a relationship that suffers strains unlike any other.
It seems that these days, the trend with anime romantic comedies is to stick with a tried and true formula, but insert some semi-unique element that works as a major plot device. Nisekoi is doing just that this season with the “rival gangs” plot point, while relying on some of the best all-time anime romcoms for story development. In fact, the last few weeks have shown just how much this series is relying on the past, with an early-season “save the drowning girl during a weird swim competition” episode straight out of Toradora and both the “girl falls on top of the boy” trope and “there are two promised girls” complication from Love Hina.
I’m a little saddened by the complete lack of imagination, since I’ve been pinning all of my hopes this season on Nisekoi, but I’m also not too disappointed, as the two classic series I mentioned are perhaps my favorite romantic comedies.
And there’s a lot to be said for imitating something really that’s already really well done. But while doing such smashes creativity in animation, there’s a good connection to real life, where imitation of what is good is part of the Christian life.
The Gospel message is simple, and yet many people misunderstand it or are simply ignorant of it. And thus, it’s sometimes helpful to use a familiar cultural artifact or form to illustrate the message. In this case, I’ll be using one of my favorite series of the 2013 fall anime season – Beyond the Boundary.
While the series as a whole – and even the primary episode I’m analyzing (episode 11) – could hardly be called a strong biblical allegory, certain aspects of it are beneficial for understanding what Christianity is all about.
Sinful Man is Bound for Death
One of the major themes of the Old Testament is that man is constantly in rebellion with God. While this is obvious in stories like the Tower of Babel, it’s more practical when we realize that falling short of holiness, of God’s standard, leads to sin. And sinning is rebellion against God. It’s, in a way, telling God that our way is better than His. And like a dirty white cloth can never become clean magically on it’s own, we, too, stained with sin, can do nothing to become holy and clean by our own power. This is significant because of the outcome – a unholy creature cannot be in the presence of God, who provides life; thus, he or she is bound for a place without God, a place of death.
In Beyond the Boundary, the title demon has latched onto Akihito at some point and he carries this weight around with him. Akihito, on his own, would not be able to remove this disease from his body. It’s a weight that changes him into a terrible creature and which leads to death.
If there’s one thing that anime Christmas episodes have in common, it’s romance. Most of them involve a romantic element, with the usual involving some Christmas date presented with some anime misunderstanding or angst. Christmas cakes are also involved, as is snow and shopping.
With this in mind, the other day I asked my Tumblr readers if they considered Christmas to be a romantic holiday. They responded with an emphatic no.
Maybe anime has gotten to me, but in my mind, Christmas has become more and more romantic, right up there with New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. And my favorite Christmas anime is a romantic one – the Love Hina Christmas special.
I rarely ever write about a currently airing anime, Space Brothers being the only exception. Part of that reason is because I’m relatively new to Beneath the Tangles and have been slowly digging my way through ideas that have been floating in my head for the past few years. The other reason would be I like to have a very clear and established view and understanding of whatever I am writing about; I want to encapsulate the work as a whole rather than a certain episode. That’s just how I am as a writer. However, Uchouten Kazoku has impressed me so much the last few weeks that I decided to write about a select couple of episodes.
At the beginning of summer season, Uchouten Kazoku was not even on my radar. Nonetheless, I picked it up on its first episode for the sake of watching it with one of my good friends. It was interesting but nothing special. It was slow but not boring. It was clearly establishing a world of tanuki, tengu, and humans, but I had no idea how it planned to go from there. Uchouten Kazoku is by the same author as Tatami Galaxy, so on that note, it had a plus. Still, it was an anime made by P.A. Works, a studio that has a fairly bad reputation, particularly when it comes to adaptations. With their most recent failures of Another and Red Data Girl, I was still going in just waiting for them to mess up. Pessimistic, for sure, but that didn’t mean I would hate on it for the sake of hating on it. Indeed, the world building was done well and entertaining, not to mention Noto’s amazing performance as Benten. And when I was just starting to get bored of the slice of life, they pulled out some amazingly well written and executed drama.
Spoilers ahead, but it is revealed near the end of episode 7 that on the night their father was killed (captured by humans and eaten in a tanuki hot pot), one of the four brothers Yajirou had become drunk with him and essentially left him alone and presumably defenseless. Perhaps not directly, but surely indirectly causing the death by irresponsibly leaving his drunken father alone, he is filled with guilt and abandons life to become a frog in a well, literally. The oldest brother, Yaichirou, breaks down in tears with all kinds of emotions while the third son Yasaburou (I know, these names are so confusing) is left unsure how to feel. The youngest brother is left uninformed.
The following episode was absolutely beautifully done, and the show shot up as one of my favorites this season. We learn the last thing their father wanted was for his children to separate or be on bad terms. We learn of their father’s final words to his tengu friend, confirming that he was quite content with his life and even accepting towards his death. His final request was for his friend to take care of Yasaburou, which had been seen plenty in past episodes. He plainly states his death was a cause of his “idiotic blood.” When the brothers go home, their mother reveals she had known all along why Yajirou had chosen to live in the well simply because “he’s my son.” Although Yaichirou is implied to have anger and disappointment towards his brother, he responds “I understand him; that’s why it hurts.” The episode ends with Yasaburou narrating that the only thing holding together the four brothers were their love for their mother and the departure of their father.
This parallels the Christian idea of loving each other as family very closely, albeit not perfectly. The brothers are as different as can be and are described as each inheriting only one aspect of their father. However, they are able to stay connected as family because of their love for their mother and the departure of their father. As Christians, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, but while some get along great, others of us have more clashing opinions than we can count. But if there is one thing to connect us, it is our love for God and the death of Christ. Furthermore, it is not as if the brothers’ love is shallow as something to please their mother. They honestly love each other as brothers. However, they maintain their solidarity with each other despite their differences and disagreements because of the strength of their connection: their parents. They could have gone their separate ways with no ill will but they stay together. As Christians, we don’t have to agree with every Christian and love every single aspect and never ever feel even slightly negative about each other; that is not possible. If such a thing were to happen, we would lose the individuality that God gave us. However, we are called to treat and love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Just like these brothers, we are connected together by our love for God and the death (and resurrection) of Christ, if nothing else. And a connection through God is the strongest connection we can have with others.
As a result, while we may not agree with every action or opinion of our siblings in Christ (For example, some may have strong negative opinions regarding anime culture), we are expected to understand each other through God’s eyes and wisdom. Yaichirou, in a state of complex emotions that we can only infer, says that he understands his brother and that’s why it hurts. No matter how angry or disappointed he may or may not feel toward his brother, he also understands the pain and guilt. In the same way, Christians should be able to understand each other, put aside our many differences, and commune with each other through our largest common factor: our belief in Christ and love for God. Yajirou was already an outcast of sorts who was said to a failure of a tanuki. After the guilt of causing his father’s death, he chose to hole up in a well saying he has no right to call himself his mother’s son. And yet, she still does, just as God calls us sinners his children. Regardless of our sins and the sins we will continue to do and regardless of our opinions and views on what is right or wrong, we are all connected as siblings through Christ. And it is through Christ that we can best understand each other because it is the strongest connection we can have with each other. If we cannot understand our siblings in Christ, how much less will we understand those who aren’t?
While the familial love of the Shimogamo household is certainly one to admire and appreciate, it is not without problems. With the head of the household gone, there is a family feud between them and their cousins, who they never got along well with in the first place, over who the successor will be. Arguably, they do not share the connections the brothers have and symbolically are not a part of the family. However, their father wanted reconciliation between himself and his brother and surely considered them to still be a part of his family. In the same way, while we may not be siblings in Christ, we are all children of God, and there is no reason not to love each other as such. We my lack a spiritual connection, but we can still find connections with people in other ways, such as our love for anime. How Uchouten Kazoku will resolve the problems remains to be seen. Regardless, I look forward to the final stretch of the show with great anticipation. If it keeps up this quality, it might just be my favorite of the season.