Faith is a funny thing. It seems so easy to keep right up until the moment it is tested. It’s fine and dandy to trust when things are going good and I know exactly what is happening, but I always surprise myself by how quickly that faith can wobble when things get a little tough.
Kotoura goes through something similar with Manabe during one of their summer breaks when she does not know what he is doing. While Kotoura is used to rejection, she is not accustomed to not knowing what’s going on. Her psychic abilities allow her to hear the thoughts of everyone around her as if they were being spoken out loud.
Throughout her life, people have avoided and hated her for expressing their thoughts out loud. Even her parents reject her after her power causes trouble at school and she exposes that each of them is being unfaithful to the other.
The opening theme song in Baby Steps (both this season and last) includes three English words: “Believe in yourself.” Last year, I didn’t pay close attention to those words. In this season, the phrase “Believe in yourself” becomes more important than it did before. It’s a trite phrase, one we often repeat to each other, but I think it’s worth reconsidering, especially as a Christian.
Last season, Maruo Eiichiro started playing tennis because he needed the exercise. By the end of the first 25 episodes, he decided that he loved tennis enough to become a pro player. His parents were a little uncertain about the decision, so he agreed that if he didn’t win the next All Japan Junior tournament, he’d give up the dream and focus on studies. To that end, his coaches arranged for him to train in America for two weeks. Baby Steps 2 begins with his first days at the training facility.
Ei-chan (as his crush and I both prefer to call him) has been playing tennis for less than two years, and he’s already training alongside new pros and players who have been aiming for pro since before he started playing. It’s not easy. As he starts playing against all these excellent players, he settles into a “losing habit” that he can’t seem to break. In the second episode, a young pro, Alex, gives him the advice “believe in yourself.”
Ei-chan’s game starts to improve after his chat with Alex. By the fourth episode, he’s expanded on the advice:
“Believe in myself. I’ve come this far.”
“Believe in myself. And trust my instincts!”
The idea is that his training and talent will yield results if he believes in himself. He’s not totally wrong. If he believes he’ll lose, he probably will. Believing in his ability to win is crucial. But that’s not telling the whole story.
Now, I don’t think Ei-chan has a stupid level of self-confidence; he’s teachable, humble enough to see his need to grow, and can gracefully admit defeat. Still, I think it’s worth it to step back and reconsider the true place of self-confidence in the big picture. Read the rest of this entry
There’s a distinction between a Christian in name only and one in practice. You don’t have to proclaim yourself a Christian to know as much – those outside the faith can see the actions of, say, the Westboro Baptist Church and without much knowledge still firmly state that these folks are not practicing the faith as Jesus taught it. It’s only a skip and a beat to Christian characters in anime, who aren’t there to preach the gospel to a nation that’s 99% non-Christian, but rather to color a series by bringing in a background that might provide for interesting storytelling. And so when you see a priest character, like Nicholas D. Wolfwood of Trigun, you understand as a viewer that this character is probably developed as a Christian in name, not in spirit.
What’s interesting about Trigun, though, is that Wolfwood is saved spiritually in part through the words of an unbelieving plant. And even more surprising is this – that “plant,” Vash the Stampede, is a better example of faith than his seemingly spiritual counterpart.As we delve into the topic of faith, it’s probably a good idea to get a good definition of it. The writer of Hebrews defines it as such:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
– Hebrews 11:1
This definition is significant in a variety of ways. Since many might focus on the idea that we “do not see” when it comes to faith, one could easily make the assumption that having “faith,” in a Christian sense, means that you believe blindly. That’s an easy conclusion to make, but it would be a wrong one. Not being able to see doesn’t mean making irrational jumps based on emotion and upbringing and whatever else leads one blindly to religion – it means trusting in one’s belief even if you can’t see it right now. Even when the road is difficult and you’re in despair, a strong faith will lead you to lean on your belief even when you can’t see it played out in action.
Have you ever heard this one? Three Christians and an atheist walk into a…
Oh wait. That’s actually not a joke – it’s our next podcast episode. At the end of this month, I’ll be joining The Tangles’ hosts, Japes and Sean, and a special guest as we talk about anime, religion, and the intersection between the two.
This is where you come in. We need your questions to help stimulate discussion for the podcast. Please leave one or two (or more) below. Here’s what we’re looking for:
- Questions about Christianity, atheism, or anything else related to religion – feel free to get personal if you’d like.
- Questions religion in anime, whether superficially or thematically
Thanks in advance, all!
The first 75-episode season of Daiya no Ace (Ace of the Diamond) ended on a hopeful note, but I admit that Sawamura Eijun had me worried. For those of you who haven’t watched Daiya no Ace: Sawamura is the main character in this baseball anime. And yes, as usual, “main character” means pitcher. But he’s not the ace. Nope, even after seventy-five episodes, Sawamura is still just a talented, over-enthusiastic first year with a lot to prove.
It doesn’t help that he gets a the yips after a pitch-gone-wrong during the summer tournament. Sawamura can’t throw to the inside anymore. It’s devastating. He tries to pick himself up. But during a practice game, his new weakness becomes clear. He’s taken off the field. The coach doesn’t even let him practice with a ball for a while, regulating him to running instead.
Sawamura doesn’t protest the new regiment, because he knows: “I am so weak.”
It’s painful to watch, but necessary.
Some of Sawamura’s concerned classmates talk to Chris-senpai, a third-year catcher who has already taught Sawamura a lot. Chris tells them that he is sure Sawamura will not only overcome his pitching trouble, but become stronger because of it.
When I hear those words, I smile. Sawamura is the age I was when I realized how weak I am. In my early teen years, I was confident in myself, my mind, and my spiritual standing. I knew it was time for a challenge, so I had the nerve to ask God to humble me (oops). Sure, in my head, I knew I was weak compared to God and many of his servants, but I felt strong.
Then, when I was fifteen, depression hit, soon followed by anxiety. ADD symptoms, formerly minor and easy to compensate for, were exasperated. Homework became a battle—low focus, low motivation, and the elephant on my chest often interfered. At one point, I tried to doubt God (I’m pretty sure he raised a metaphoric eyebrow at my childish stomping). Then I started to doubt my end of the relationship.
Read the rest of this entry
Warning – plenty of spoilers ahead. Please watch episode 22 of Your Lie in April before reading this article.
The final episode was Your Lie in April was wonderful – a heartwarming, moving second half joined together with a beautifully animated, wonderfully musical first half to create a memorable finale. Indeed, it was a tale of two halves, with that inevitable event separating them. I’ll wax more on the second half in a follow-up post, but first, let’s talk about the first 12 minutes of episode 22.
As Kousei performs his piece, putting all his heart into the performance, he imagines Kaori playing next to him. It’s a wonderful, happy scene, as we get to see Kaori’s frenetic playing for the first time in many episodes – many months for us as an audience – accompanying an emotional Kousei, who is optimistic that he will play with Kaori once again.
But in the midst of the performance, as he stares at the image of Kaori in his head, Kousei realizes that she will not survive. In some “red string of fate” way, he even feels their connection severed, as if Kaori literally died on the surgery table with doctors working over her while Kousei (probably) wins the recital as he plays over the piano keys. Kaori completes her playing and she slowly fades away into oblivion, as Kousei can do nothing but break down and cry as he finishes his own piece.
Kaori is gone. The series plays her death in a beautiful, symbolic way with their final song together – a duet instead of a solo and accompaniment. But perhaps this tender way of letting Kaori go tells us something more. Maybe it tells us that Kousei must go on, that he will go on, and that Kaori has prepared him so. Read the rest of this entry
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
Have you been keeping up with the happenings in Bleach?
The manga has become fairly intense, and after all this time, the story’s become exciting again. I haven’t been a fan of the series since early in the arc involving Aizen, but I just can’t help but to consume the manga in chunks every half a year or so just to keep up with the characters I once followed so closely. Right now, the world (as the Soul Reapers know it) is coming to an end after the death of one specific character. But never to fear, because of course, Ichigo is here!
And as is the tradition for a shounen, fight ’em series, he comes to
maybe probably certainly save the day after having done some training. Rukia and Renji have done the same. Maybe Chad and Orihime, too, though to be honest, I’m not clear on their storylines.
It’s no surprise that we see this type of storyline again and again in anime and manga – whether it be for physical breakthroughs, as in Dragonball Z or Naruto, or more emotional ones, as you might see in “training camp” retreats in series like Oofuri or Bamboo Blade. The opportunity to get away from the world leads one to cut out distractions and focus on a specific task at hand.
For Christians, there’s an added element. Not only can you cut out the noise, but in the quiet and stillness of a retreat – both from the environment outside and in one’s heart, you can perhaps hear God. What is he saying to you? What does he want you to do? And how will you respond?
I can’t remember the last time I watched a series that was as consistently excellent as Shirobako. I’ve not been let down by any episode – they’re all terrific. But this week, we might have gotten something a little better, a little more special. There’s some Shirobako-style fanservice in episode 19, in the image of a young Marukawa, Sugie, and Ookura; the return of Yano; and new relationship dynamics, like that between Yano and Hiraoka.
More significantly, we finally get a breakthrough moment for our main character, Miyamori. Though honestly, I was a little confused, as I wasn’t sure what the series was trying to tell us about career fulfillment for Miyamori. Is it that if you go full steam ahead, you’ll find your dream? Or is it that the dream is in the here and now? Or maybe it’s that if you find something you love, like how Miyamori feels about anime because of her connections to it, you’ll learn to love it?
For someone like me, who’s already established in a career, another lesson was most striking: when things are difficult, and you don’t know the way – in the big picture or in the small – there is a reason, and as you make wise decisions, there is a good end in sight, even if you don’t know what that good end is.
The new season of anime has brought another idol anime (think less heathen idols and more American Idol): specifically, another anime based on the iDOLM@STER franchise of idol-based video games. Cinderella Girls focuses on a new group of 14 girls, in particular focusing on the three newest members of the “Cinderella Project” group at 346 Productions: Uzuki, Rin, and Mio. Shortly after they are brought on board the project, they are put on the fast track to stardom as they are assigned roles as backup dancers for an established idol, and soon after that (in the most recent episode 5) are chosen to have their CD debut (along with two other members, Minami and Anastasia). This is all very exciting for these three, but not everyone is entirely happy with their success.
Miku is probably the most vocally displeased with how these three girls have gotten to have their idol debut already, when she has been with the project longer than they have. She challenges the girls to various games to try to take their place, tries to persuade the producer with her own debut proposal, and when all else fails, she “goes on strike” to make her case (and by “goes on strike”, she means blockading the company’s cafeteria). Her actions may be comical, but her frustration is very understandable: not only has she been practicing for a long time with no sign of her debut coming, but now she sees these three girls enter the project after her and get their debut before her–of course that would be disheartening.
Christians might also encounter a situation like what Miku goes through. They pray to God and seek after Him for something, whether that be a spouse, a promotion, or a special ministry opportunity, but God seems to remain silent about their request. This is discouraging enough as it is, but it only gets worse when they see their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those who have been in the faith shorter than they have, get married, promoted, or enter ministry before they do. They know they should be happy for them, but instead they start to feel resentful toward their fellow Christians or toward God. Their faith starts to waver as they wonder, “When will my time come?”