I’ve been meaning to watch Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi (Okami-san and her Seven Companions) for a while. This twelve-episode anime draws heavily on fairy and folk tales, and my love for these classic stories never dies. I finally watched it this past week. It was… decent, once the narrator’s voice stopped annoying me. The title character, Ookami Ryoko, is part of Otagi Bank, a school club that does favors for “clients,” with the expectation that said clients will return the favors when called upon. The characters go on adventures of varying difficulty (the delinquent school in town provides danger), and it’s generally a fun club anime that unapologetically mixes tropes, stereotypes, and well-known tales.
Otagi Bank members help their schoolmates out for a cost, but they have their fair share of trials themselves. The fourth episode, “Ōkami-san and Otsū-senpai’s Favor Repayments,” confronts the idea of favors among friends. One of the secondary characters, Tsurugaya Otsuu, is obsessed with returning favors. When Ryoushi, the main male character, saves her from from getting hit by a stray baseball, she insists on becoming his maid… and I don’t mean just doing a bit of housecleaning, either. After all, Ryoushi saved her. She goes above and beyond, even sleeping in his little one-room apartment so that she will be available to tend to every perceived need. Ryoushi is so uncomfortable with this arrangement, he can’t sleep. Yet she is too worried about returning the favor to realize that he really just wants her to let him sleep in peace.
Otsuu has a tragic back story to go with her obsession: when she was younger, an older brother figure died saving her from being hit by a car. She can never repay him for his sacrifice. Instead, she is determined to repay all other perceived debts in her life. Otsuu overworks herself trying to repay Ryoushi. He goes to the Otagi Bank’s president with the problem. The group of friends comes up with a plan: do so many favors for Otsuu, even she can see that it’s impossible to repay them. The first step of the plan? Dress up as maids and wait on her hand and foot for an entire day. Of course, at the end of the day, she says that she’ll try to repay each of them for what they’ve done. They tell her that it’s impossible, and even if she did manage to repay the favor, they’d do even more for her, so the cycle would never end. They explain that since they are friends, helping each other out is only natural. Otagi Bank might be founded on a system of favor and debt, but the group’s members themselves need no such thing. There are no favors between friends.
This plot idea isn’t new. Many anime, movies, and TV shows include characters who are too proud or insecure to get help from others, or who feel they must repay every nice thing that’s done for them. (Arakawa Under the Bridge comes to mind, though I’ve only seen an episode or two of that.) They don’t know how to accept kindness with no strings attached. After years of watching these characters learn about friendship and kindness, I’ve finally realized how much I have to learn myself. Among my family, I don’t hesitate to ask for anything. But I’m more awkward with friends and classmates: If I accept an offer of food, but never give food in return or offer further friendship, is that rude? If they write me a note on my birthday, or just because they want to encourage me, doesn’t that mean I have to do the same? If I write a kind note or do something else for them, will they see it as more than passing kindness? I really can’t offer much companionship as a friend right now! Will I make them feel obligated? I don’t expect anything back, not even deeper friendship, I just want to do this one thing.
It’s kind of ridiculous. Read the rest of this entry
A year ago, I wrote about how God’s love could be compared to that of a yandere. This year I’d like to make another kind of comparison on the topic of love, but instead of focusing on God, I want to focus on Christians and our love for God. Our love for God is, or at least should be, the greatest emotion we can possibly offer. It is a love which drives us to worship Him, follow Him, strive to be like Him, and serve Him. Anime loves to depict similarly idealistic characters – from the main character who always has to help others to the school idol who is loved by the entire school to the deredere archetype that is just helplessly in love with another. Anime, and people in general, love the idea of love.
But in real life, these ideals often fall apart. Especially in Japan, people who reflect even a fraction of such ideals are hard to come by. It is a sad irony in that although Japanese people can be so friendly on the surface, their hearts are so disconnected from each other. But while they may fail to emulate the type of godly, unconditional love which Christians (should) have, that doesn’t mean similarities don’t exist. And while rare, such a type of love is something which the Japanese are drawn to.
Nowhere have I seen this more than among the Nana Mizuki fandom. Perhaps my view is skewed since, well, I don’t pay nearly as much attention to any other fandom, and as a whole, the otaku culture in Japan has a fascinating difference in lifestyle compared to most other Japanese (but that’s a different topic for a similar phenomenon). In my short time in Japan, with moderate interaction with other Nana fans, I have come to feel that the love fans feel for Nana is similar to the love Christians have for God. Of course, I’d be the first to admit the numerous reasons why it’s an imperfect parallel, but compared to other Japanese people, and even compared to other fan bases, there is something here that reminds me of Christian love, and there is something about Nana that draws people to her in ways that remind me of how people are drawn to God.
Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, especially its second season A’s, is one of my favorite anime, and just hit its 10 year anniversary. At the least, it’s probably the anime I’ve rewatched the most number of times. The climax of the second season takes place on Christmas Eve, as the protagonists Nanoha and Fate engage in a final battle against the Book of Darkness. Among other plot revelations, the real predicament Nanoha encounters is not how to defeat her opponent, it is how to save her opponent (and this is a recurring theme throughout the series). The Book of Darkness was originally called the Tome of the Night Sky, but at some point in time, its name and purpose were forcibly changed for malicious goals. Even so, the conscious entity known as the Book of Darkness is aware of this change. Unfortunately, she believes there is nothing that can be done to stop herself from going berserk. Therefore, Nanoha desires to save and redeem her. Although the Book of Darkness has already given up on herself, Nanoha doesn’t.
In the same way, there may be times in your life that you feel you have fallen too far; you cannot be saved. However, God does not give up on you. He will continue to reach out to you until you respond. This Christmas, remember that God sacrificed his Son Jesus Christ at the cross to save all of us. No matter how far you’ve strayed from the right path, He is by your side, waiting for you to accept His help, love, and salvation.
Meanwhile, the Book of Darkness is having an inward conversation with its master Hayate, who has been absorbed by it. Although being its master is also the source of much of Hayate’s suffering and pain, she is still able to sympathize with the Book’s sadness as well. As the master, Hayate temporarily overrides the berserk program to help Nanoha. Although the Book of Darkness feels there is no hope, Hayate grants her a new name: Reinforce, and the two are separated from the malicious program.
When God chooses people to do His work in the Bible, it often comes with granting them a new name. Oftentimes these people feel no hope in themselves, that there is no reason to choose them. However, as if to reinforce the idea that they are capable of what He wants, God grants them a new name, usually with a specific meaning. Hayate bestows a name which means the opposite of what the Book of Darkness believes itself to be: one who supports and blesses others. It is clear that names hold more meaning to God than a way to call someone by, and when it comes to the meaning of names, remember that Christmas is all about the birth and name of Jesus, who saved us from sins.
And they will call him Immanuel – which means ‘God with us.’
Merry Christmas everyone!
It’s here – the end is nigh! A wonderful, amazing, long-running manga has finally come to a close.
At the end of September, and after a 13-year-run, Claymore finally concluded. So obviously, it took me almost two weeks to finally get around to reading the last chapter. But I must say, though the last entire half of Claymore hasn’t nearly lived up to the first half, the final few chapters were very, very good.
But maybe I’m just saying that because I feel they reflect something even greater than the manga itself.
If you’ve been reading the last few months, you’ll notice that Teresa of the Faint Smile, whose shocking death brought notoriety to Claymore many years ago, has returned. Clare has transformed into her mentor, and Teresa, the strongest claymore to have ever lived, is the only one powerful enough to finally destroy Priscilla.
But is it really Teresa who is victorious? Well, it is and it isn’t. In an internal dialogue, Teresa explains that she appeared because Clare’s wishes for and about her, and because of all that Clare had done – improving herself and building community with those around her. Because of all this, Teresa was able to reappear. And though Teresa’s physical embodiment will now disappear completely, she’ll remain with Clare in spirit, continuing to be with her. And as Clare embraces her mentor – indeed, her mother figure – she knows this to be true – Teresa will always be with her.
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.