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Planetarian: An Analysis (Part Two)

Today, James continues his guest post series on the visual novel, Planetarian, which is now for sale and download at Steam.

At the end of Part One I suggested that there is a coherent religious message to be found in Planetarian. Before I elaborate, I must emphasize that there is obviously no way I can be certain that the author of the story intended to communicate the precise message I have in mind. Even so, considering the evidence that exists in the story, I think it is highly probable that the author at least intended to convey something very similar to what I propose:

I believe this story promotes the idea that true humanity is to be found not in ourselves, but rather in God and specifically in Jesus, the perfect human.

Again, I could never prove that the author actually meant to say this, but as I hope to show you, if nothing else it is incredibly easy and natural to take this message from the novel based on its content.

My interpretation is rooted in a key juxtaposition of music and story that takes place at the very end of the novel. Yumemi has sacrificed herself in order to save the Junker from certain death at the hands of the Fiddler Crab. As we see her fragmented remains scattered about, a mournful tune begins to play. This song is titled “Perfectly Human” in Planetarian’s in-game track list, but alternate translations of the title are “Perfect Human” and “The Perfect Man.” Assuming the song’s title has been meaningfully chosen, we must ask: in what sense is Yumemi “perfectly human” or a “perfect human”? The novel bends over backwards to periodically remind the reader that Yumemi, for all her intelligence and kindness, is still a robot. Clearly her tendency to constantly check her databases for information and coming up short—in addition to her corresponding failure to assimilate the new information the Junker repeatedly tries to convey to her—mark her as less than human, so in what sense is she a “perfect human”?

The answer becomes evident if we take into account the third possible translation of the song’s title, “The Perfect Man.” In this moment Yumemi has just “taken the bullet” for the Junker, thus saving his life. She approached the Fiddler Crab “without any hesitation at all” and the Junker observes, “It was like a scene from an antique religious painting.” In stepping into harm’s way for the sake of the Junker without considering her own wellbeing, she was a selfless servant to the end, even to the point of “dying” for the Junker. This scene strongly evokes Jesus’ death on the cross that he suffered so that not just one person, but all people might live. As Philippians 2:8 says, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

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Planetarian: An Analysis (Part One)

Today, on Beneath the Tangles, we’re proud to present the first of three guest posts about Planetarian from James, a gaming blogger.  Check out today’s post and return Wednesday and Thursday for the rest of the series!

Recently, planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~ —featured on BtT’s own list of recommended visual novels—was released on Steam. After reading it (and drying my tears), I was inspired to write this essay. If you haven’t already experienced the novel yourself, I encourage you to head over to Steam and download it—$10 is a pretty sweet deal, after all. (spoilers below)

Despite its short length, Planetarian’s story is striking indeed. The apparent disproportion between the novel’s simplicity and its emotional power led me to wonder, why did this story touch me so? Before I can give my answer, though, it is necessary for me to spend some time talking about the pervasive spiritual themes that are present in the story. As such, the purpose of Part One is to draw attention to these themes.

Upon reading Planetarian with a careful eye it quickly becomes evident that the story is filled with religious elements, the most obvious example of this being the novel’s ongoing discussion of prayer and Heaven. It begins when the Junker, in an offhand remark, suggests to Yumemi that she pray to God that the projector be repaired in time for the next day’s 11:00 AM presentation. Yumemi, dutiful robot that she is, promptly asks in response, “Which god should I pray to, then?” A lengthy and somewhat humorous exchange follows in which Yumemi decides she should pray to Dionysus because the Junker would like him best, to which he replies that she should instead pray to “the god of robots.” After scanning her data banks for this entity, she declares: “I cannot find the information you have requested in my base databases or in my accumulated databases.”

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Rurouni Kenshin: Lay Me Down

If I’m being completely honest, part of what originally drew me to anime (and what draws many people, I think) was the intensity of violence in some series and movies.  Princess Mononoke was the first anime I watched that I knew was Japanese in origin, and the violence of it, though tame by some standards, both totally threw me off and absorbed me.  The same could be said of Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen (Trust and Betrayal), which doubly surprised me because my experience of Kenshin up to that point had been the mostly bloodless kind from sixty-odd episodes of the series.

kenshin and tomoe

Tsuiokuhen makes no qualms of how bloody it’s going to be right from the start, as a group of bandits mercilessly brutalizes a traveling slave caravan, including the young Himura.  The bandits, in turn, are dealt with in an even bloodier manner by Seijuro, who will become Himura’s teacher.

The focus of the entire Kenshin franchise is not on violence, however – at least not the lethal kind.  The emphasis is on Kenshin’s vow to save others by his sword without taking human life.  And although a few different events later in the battousai’s life have an affect on how he develops this ideology, you could say it all began in that caravan when he was protected by women whom he’d only known for perhaps a few days, or maybe even just a few hours.

Let me paint the scene, if you no longer remember it, or if you’ve never seen it.  Kenshin is a young boy at this point.  He walks alongside a group of individuals – slave traders and slaves – on the way to some destination.  When the bandits come and slay everyone in the caravan, Kenshin is left as the lone survivor, and only because of this – the women in the caravan cover Kenshin with their own bodies, pleading to the young boy that he’ll continue to survive, as they are all eventually tortured and killed before his very eyes.  Those acts of heroism buy enough time for Seijuro, who has detected the bandits’ presence, to arrive and slay the bad guys.

Kenshin, unsurprisingly, is forever changed.  All throughout the next day, he uses his two little hands to bury the dead, the women (who receive special burial), slave traders, and bandits alike.  And it’s here that Kenshin begins the path toward giving his sword for a greater cause (even if it takes another tragedy, and lots of war, for him to finally transform fully).  He gives his sword and his life as a commitment in devotion to the unnamed women who sacrificed their lives for him.

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Something More: Christian Anime Idols, Sailor Moon Gossip, and Integrity in SAO

The end of the summer season is here!  While some may not have enjoyed it much, it’s been one of my favorites in recent memory.  At least, judging by some of the posts below, it’s provided plenty of fuel for discussion!

Milesvibritannia looks at the issue of morality in anime, delving deeply into a number of series, including Tokyo Ghoul, Death Note, and Liar Game. [Anime Anemoscope]

Frank explains the biblical idea of “hating your family,” among other items, in his analysis of episodes nine and ten of Hanayamata [A Series of Miracles]

Frank also really enjoys the way that Locodol flips the anime idol formula, and see lessons applicable for Christians. [2]

D.M. Dutcher is able to find good application from a strange episode of Getchaman that features a molten lava Jesus and Jesus being carved on Mt. Rushmore. [Cacao, put down the shovel!]

Rob reviews episode five of Sailor Moon Crystal and discusses biblical teachings of gossip and looking at a person’s heart. [Christian Anime Review]

He also stresses the importance of integrity in his review of episode nine of Sword Art Online 2. [2]

Kit explores the deathly symbol of the higanbana, an autumn flower, which is seen in anime like Hell Girl and the Madoka Rebellion movie. [Study of Anime]

Casey Covel gives an extended review of the first volume of Attack on Titan, with particular emphasis for Christian viewers. [Geeks Under Grace]

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.

Untangled: Facing Opposition for Your Faith

In our Untangled feature, we answer questions posed to us from our readers.  Here’s an email that brideofdracula recently sent us:

First of all I love your blog! I think it’s awesome how you connect anime and religion.

My question to you is kinda personal: recently, I moved to America from a muslim country. I am a practicing Muslim and I currently am enrolled in a liberal arts college. My problem, is I face alot of criticism from atheists. They see me, see my hijab, and start criticizing me, my religion, my Holy Book. I don’t have a problem with atheists,  but I HATE it when they start mocking me. I’m asking you this because as Christians, you must have faced such opposition.  What should I do? Should I stop wearing my hijab?

Please answer. I don’t think I can stand any more girls stuffing The God Delusion in my face. (Sorry about my English. It’s not my native language.) Thanks.

Thank you, first of all, for reaching out to us even though we’re of a different faith than you.  We definitely want our community here to cross religious boundaries, and some of that can occur when find common ground, such as criticism or persecution.

I think it must definitely be harder for you as a Muslim than for most Christians because through you hijab, you make your faith much more visible than others might.  Besides wearing, say, a cross necklace, Christians don’t usually express their faith by the clothing they wear.  Maybe that’s why when I attended a liberal arts university in a very liberal city, I never went through what you’ve had to endure.

I think that the best advice I could give you is this: make your everyday actions based on the bigger picture on what you most believe in life.  Sometimes, we have an idea of what we value most, but when suffering comes along and we’re tested by fire, we get to know where we really stand on those tenants we hold most closely to our hearts.  When you meditate on the bigger picture, it’ll help you determine the choices you make for issues like whether to continue wearing your hijab.  For example, if I were in your shoes, I would hope that I would be able to use a hurtful situation and turn it around, demonstrating the kindness, love, and grace that Jesus demonstrated to me through the gospel, which is at the core of my life.

I’d like to also open this up to our readers – do you have any recommendations for our brideofdracula?

Terror in Resonance Episode 11: Look to the Sky

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

- I Corinthians 13:4-8a

In the west, we color love as something that’s giddy and cute; passionate and sexual; cheesy and delightful.  And it can be all those things.  But love, at its best, is moving and powerful and dynamic.  It stirs people to action, to do right, to sacrifice themselves.  It can change a country.  It can change the world.

If the final episode of Terror in Resonance (Zankyou no Terror) ended 2/3 of the way through, it would have been merely beautiful, emotional, and almost perfect.  I was moved by subtlety and beauty of it all.  Nine and Twelve could live, they could survive, they could be happy.  Or even if they were arrested, they could still live and eventually be exonerated.

But that wouldn’t have been an ending of integrity.  It was an impossible ending.

terror 11a

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Naruto and Futaba Just Don’t Care (and Neither Should We)

Is there a specific characteristic that sets great anime protagonists and heroes apart?  While there are perhaps plenty of common traits they share, one that really just out is their ability to be themselves even when being yourself isn’t cool.

naruto uzumakiNaruto Uzumaki provides us a good example of this funny trait.  The Naruto manga is nearing its end, and after a more than ten-year run, it’s hard to remember what the character of Naruto was like at the start.  He was hated by his village because of the disaster the Nine-Tails brought upon Konohagakure.  But more than that, Naruto was just weird.  And although he’s matured so much, Naruto is still weird, far different than most of the hyper-serious, ninja-ninja-ninja-everything residents of the village.

Even as Naruto grows in power and develops his “ninja way,” he retains a sense of doing what’s right, no matter the sacrifice, a trait demonstrated in many ninjas of the past (including his own mentor), but not generally of the culture, which values the village as a whole above individuals.  Naruto loves both and is unwilling to sacrifice either.

But you don’t have to just look at shonen series to see this characteristic, though.  The same is true in shoujo.  Just look at Blue Spring Ride, for instance, where Futaba learns very early on to be true to herself.  And from that point forward, she’s unable to be anything but that.  She loses her “friends,” risks another friendship by telling Yuri the truth of her love for Kou, and frequently unleashes her feelings and worry about Kou onto him.  She’s herself, even though it would be far more convenient if he stayed as she was at the series beginning – a semi-popular girl who fits right in.

I wonder if the Japanese particularly like these characters because of expectations in the country.  There’s certainly a less individualistic tone to the culture there compared to the west, and especially in the workplace, where standing out is usually something you don’t want to do.  What if we plugged Naruto into a Japanese conglomerate, or did the same with Futaba, or Kyoko (Skip Beat!), or Ichigo (Bleach)?  Havoc would ensure (and if this were an anime, the entire business would change), but one thing that wouldn’t alter is this – those characters would stay true to themselves.  They wouldn’t choose the culture over their own convictions.

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Untangled: Manga Recommendations for Christians?

In our Untangled feature, we answer questions posed to us from our readers.  Here’s an email that Stephen recently sent us:

I just stumbled across your site while looking for Christian manga reviews. I like what you’ve got here: Do you also do manga as well as anime?

We do, Stephen!  Though to be honest, we don’t touch on manga nearly as much as we should, probably because only a few of us read manga as actively as we watch anime.

One thing we are working on is a “Manga Recommendations” section for Christians to go along with other such sections, accessible through our toolbar.

Stephen went on to recommend two manga series to us:

1) Holyland: There’s just enough subtle symbolism to make this series powerful but not preachy. One of the main characters receives a cross in a church at one point, and later on, at a critical moment, grabs the cross and cries out (apparently to God), “Tell me what to do!” Lots of violence (it’s about martial arts after all), and maybe four scenes in the whole series with very brief nudity. For a mature reader, I think it’s well worth the read.

2) Hikaru no go: Perhaps the only manga I’ve read with absolutely nothing inappropriate, apart from the occasional swear word. One of the themes that crops up periodically is Sai, the ghost, meditating on why God has him remain on earth and appear to Hikaru, rather than going immediately to the next stage of the after life. Both Sai and Hikaru learn lessons, making Sai’s experience a sort of Purgatory. The emotional movements of this series are excellent, at least through the first story arc.

Thanks for sharing those titles with us, Stephen!  And now, I want to open this up to our readers – are there manga you specifically recommend for Christians?  Why?

Something More: Skip Beat Dependance and Christian Encouragement of Climb

After the plethora of posts last week, we only have two for this week’s column.  But fret not, they’re both wonderful articles by terrific writers.

Frank draws some significant lessons involving the journey of faith from the first four episodes of season two of Encouragement of Climb. [A Series of Miracles]

Annalyn looks back toward Skip Beat, all the way to the first episode, where she sees Kyoko’s dependance on Sho as something symptomatic in our culture. [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.

Free Eternal Summer, Episode 12: Rin’s Serving Heart

Because the series almost doubled it’s main cast this season, it’s easy to forget that Free! Eternal Summer has two primary leads – Haruka and Rin.  And while Haruka’s angst has been on full display this season, Rin has mostly tended to be in the background, influencing the rest of the cast in significant ways, but playing a secondary role after getting the “starring” part in season one.  Rin is again significant in episode 12 as he gently pushes Haru toward making a decision about the future.

What’s most remarkable about Rin this year, as I’ve mentioned too many times in the past, is that he’s totally transformed, doing almost a 180 from his previous season’s angry, emotional, arrogant self.  In season two, that turnaround is marked by what is perhaps Rin’s most pointed characteristic now – his serving heart.

Rin and Haruka

Though changing your heart doesn’t mean you necessarily change your “teeth,” as it were.

Throughout season two, Rin serves those around him, most obviously through captaining his swim team, and serving as a mentor and friend to Sousuke, Aiichiro, and Momo.  In episode 12, we see this side further, as he uses an important trip back home, one that he off-handedly remarks he’ll use to secure his future plans, as a way of helping Haru.  And also within the episode, he mentions a conversation he had with Makoto – he even still tends to that friendship as well.

How did Rin come to this point?  In season one, the cantankerous redhead was shown unconditional love by the Iwatobi boys, eventually leading to his absolute brokenness and a change of heart.  What results from that is a response from the deep recesses of Rin’s soul, a response so strong that it causes a holistic change in his life.  Rin had long sought his own desires first; now, instead of receiving, he gives.

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