Blog Archives

Mercy in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

As many Christians will tell you, mercy and grace are some of the dearest and most beautiful qualities of God. Not only does he show us mercy every day by guiding us through problems that we often bring on ourselves, but he gave everyone on earth mercy by dying on the cross so we wouldn’t have to take the consequence for our mistakes. Yet when the idea of showing such great mercy is presented to most people on earth, Christians and non-Christians alike balk at the idea. We make all sorts of excuses to avoid giving anything less than whatever we perceive as justice to those around us when they’re in the wrong, especially if it comes at a cost, despite the fact that there are few people who have never received a kindness they didn’t earn.

Mercy is also one of the main qualities of Edward Elric, the protagonist of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Unlike the majority of the characters, he actually avoids killing his enemies, for no other reason than that they are human, his definition of which is quite broad. His judgement on this is called into question several times, especially when he has to deal with Kimblee, the Crimson Alchemist.

FMA: BrotherhoodKimblee is both a fascinating and disgusting villain. Unlike Ed, he is a sociopath who places no value on human life and delights in pain and chaos. Even though Ed knows this, when the soldiers at Briggs decide to kill Kimblee and his chimera henchmen, Ed protests, and argues that they should try to capture them instead. His request is denied, and the soldiers of Briggs think his idea foolhardy and soft.

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The Purpose of Trials in Fruits Basket

I have a tendency to shirk away from challenge. Complacency is a hole I feel I constantly find myself climbing out of. If I can avoid it or procrastinate, I usually do. It’s much easier to shove something into a metaphorical box and go watch Youtube videos then actually work through it.

Spiritually in my life, this is something God will tolerate for only so long. As always, God cares much more about me than I do about myself and wants me to have life in abundance, even if that means significant challenge.

There is one scene in Fruits Basket between Kyo and his master/father figure Kazuma that made me think about how sometimes God’s plan for my life and my desire to not deal with challenge, ever, come to a head.

As the cat of the zodiac, Kyo is the most cursed of all of the Sohmas. As part of his curse, he turns into a horrific beast if he doesn’t wear a set of beads and will be confined to a place on the Sohma estate for the rest of his life after high school. He copes with this situation by focusing all of his hurt and frustration on Yuki the rat, the most privileged of the zodiac that was said to have tricked the cat long ago, and keeping almost everyone is his life at a distance.

Kazuma confronts him about this one night.

Capmmmmmmmmmmmture

Kazuma: Is this the way you intend to go on living for the rest of your days? Ears plugged, eyes closed, hiding behind your hatred for Yuki? Read the rest of this entry

Honey and Clover, Potter and Clay

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.

Ayumi YamadaEach 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.

-Isaiah 64:8

The comparisons between God and a potter are plentiful:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Sword Art Online 2, Episode 6: Problematic Pain

If that bullet could also kill a player in the real world, and if you didn’t shoot them, you or someone you loved would be killed, could you still pull the trigger?

I won’t lie.  Sword Art Online 2 has kept me entertained all season long.  The Alfheim Online arc burned me so bad that I’ve lost the absolute love I once had for the series, but it’s starting to come back.  I’ve even begun to accept Kirito and Sinon in all their post-traumatic stress syndrome glory whilst just two weeks ago, I felt that the latter’s back story was too contrived.

Sinon Sword Art Online

I thought episode six, however, did an especially good job of demonstrating to us that these two characters had real fear and real pain from the past.  Their situations are more extreme than a typical person’s – they aren’t the hurts that most of us can relate to.  But they’re perhaps the kind of hurts that it might be good for us to reflect upon.

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Blue Spring Ride, Episode 4: Boundaries

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.

ao haru ride

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.

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Terror in Resonance, Episode 3: Unforgiven

In Episode 3, Terror in Resonance (Zankyou no Terror) continues barrel forward, presenting a third bomb (and third riddle) in as many weeks.  But action takes a backseat as director Shinichiro Watanabe spends much of the episode unfolding pasts and presenting some half-answers to building questions as the plot unfolds.

Perhaps the most identifiable character of the series, and the certainly the one whom the audience can most relate on a moral level, is Shibasaki.  We already knew that he was formerly a detective, and a clever one, having cracked the previous riddle, but now we get to know his background a bit as well.  Because he refused to back down from a politically charged investigation, and rather delved deeper and deeper into one, Shibasaki was removed from his post and relegated to no man’s land.  But according to his supervisor, Shibasaki has never let that go.

zankyou no terror

And here’s the moral compass for our tale…

But the episode seems to place more importance on another part of the detective’s past as a motivating factor: his childhood in Hiroshima.  He spent his summers there (at the very least), and remembers well a town populated by elderly atomic bomb survivors.  The summer was a lonely, quiet time for Shibasaki, and the residents refused to go outside, the insinuation being that they were still dealing with the painful memories of the bomb, which dropped in the summer of 1945.  Shibasaki takes this hurt and used it as fuel to help him stop Nine and Twelve.  His tirade at the end of his message to the terrorists suggest that the pain of the past and the moral fortitude rising from his memories are an utmost part his character.

Nine, too, is dealing with tragedy from the past.  Ironically, it’s the more impulsive 12 that tries to soothe 9 as he deals with flashbacks of the experiments conducted on the two and with even younger children (Emily makes an apt comparison of this, along with Lisa’s predicament, to the Child Broiler of Mawaru Penguindrum).  Most pressing on Nine’s mind is a white-haired boy who was unable to escape with them, seemingly perishing in the intense heat of self-immolation.  Nine can’t shake these images, and it’s these children and the abuse they suffered that drive him.

And so, two of the main components of the series – Sphinx and the police force – are rolling with an unstoppable momentum, both motivated by the same concepts – revenge and justice.

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Terror in Resonance, Episode 2: You Reap What You Sow

While the first episode of Terror in Resonance (Zankyou no Terror) introduced us to and focused on the terrorists, Nine and Twelve, along with their new accomplice, Lisa, episode two largely moves the focus toward the police.  It’s an interesting shift, especially with the terrorists playing good bad guys and the police playing the role of bad good guys.

Little by littke, Shinichiro Watanabe begins to unravel a story while burdening the audience with evermore questions, particularly as they have to do with Nine and Twelve’s pasts – who are they?  What was done to them?  Why?  Who were all involved?

And whatever “VON” is, it’s quite shady, judging from the terrified looks on the faces of various characters in-the-know.  They’ve done something mightily wrong.  And this episode is all about showing that the police – and perhaps larger forces involved – have it coming to them.  The variation of the Riddle of the Sphinx emphasizes the judgment the guilty must pay, ultimately ending in judgement upon the police at the end of the episode.

Toji Hisami 12

I spy a favorite trope – awful things done to little kids. (Art by みずのえ@スタンプ, Pixiv ID 44726975)

These ideas of justice, revenge, and karma are found in heavy doses in Watanabe’s works (think of almost all the episodes involving Spike and Vicious in Cowboy Bebop).  In fact, they figure prominently in many anime – no surprise seeing how deeply ingrained these ideas are in Japanese culture, history, and religion.  Of course the bad guys must pay for their evil deeds at the hands (or on behalf) of those that suffer.  That’s justice.

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Witch Hunts and the Modern Day Mekaku City Monster

Mekaku City Actors is pretty much all I ask for from an anime – it’s engaging, stylish, fun, has a plethora of terrific characters, and features some connections to religion, too.  The story of the monster, which began as a bookended theatrical piece for early episodes and was later revealed to be a significant part of the plot, demonstrates these religious ideas most significantly.  But it’s the not the symbolism, overdone in anime, that stuck out to me – it was the projection of how people have historically gone on witch hunts in the name of religion.

In college, one of my history courses focused on the witch hunt in Europe.  They of course occurred in the U.S. as well.  Recent episodes of Mekaku City Actors made me wonder if they happened in Japan, too.  Certainly, they occurred there for individuals other than witches (persecution of Christians comes to minds), as they did in the U.S.

Azami Kagepro

Art by きらげら (Pixiv ID 44146031)

Although the Christian community in the U.S. thankfully doesn’t harangue and persecute individuals with the same religious historic religious fervor (barring a few notable exceptions), we do still attack others with words, dirty looks, and protests.  Who are the witches of today – the workers at Planned Parenthood?  Homosexual and transgender advocates?  Some other groups?

Whatever the group is, they all have this commonality – the individuals within these camps are often dehumanized by Christians and others.  As with those in Mekaku City Actors who physically hunted Azami, and later Shion and Marry, we have a tendency to categorize people and see them solely by characteristics that we use to define them.  We forget that each of us is unique – that we have different circumstances and experiences, and that people are more than a caricature.  They are not part of that group; they are real people with real stories. Read the rest of this entry

Fathers, Be Good to Your Daughters: Steins;Gate and Fatherly Love

Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters, too

In anime, an archetype of a distant and cold father has long been pervasive.  Gendo Ikari is foremost among them, but there are many other examples of dads whose lack of affection (or presence) have had a powerful impact on protagonists.  I wonder if this has something to do with the undeniable fact that many Asian fathers of previous generations were harsh toward their children.  But as we can see with Ed and Al’s dad in Fullmetal Alchemist and with Eren’s in Attack on Titan*, there’s a lot of love that dad’s carry toward their kids, even if they’ve caused their children hurt.  Perhaps that reflects another side (or a wished-for side) of Japanese fathers.

While these daddy issues are often limited to one character per anime, one series in which there are plenty to go around is Steins;Gate.  Between the future and past, there are several fathers that get emphasized in the series.  And on this Father’s Day, it seems to be an apt time to examine them.

Better yet, we can go a step further and see how these Steins;Gate father-child relationships compare to that of the Heavenly Father toward us.  As with character relationships between father and sons/daughters, many people have cold relationships with God, perhaps out of misunderstanding, lack of effort, or something else.  But like a father who proves that he loves his child to no ends, there’s far more than meets the eye.

Art by 鼬鼬 (Pixiv ID 36404085)

Art by 鼬鼬 (Pixiv ID 36404085)

Warning: Spoilers galore in the post below. Read the rest of this entry

KanColle: The Biggest Trend is Still a Trend

It’s been just over 1 year since the release of Kantai Collection, or Kancolle, a browser game centered on moe anthropomorphisms of historical World War II ships. For those who still aren’t aware, it’s a simple game based largely on rng and micromanagement, leveling cute ship girls as you progress through maps. At the time of release, this game planned for a small player base – no more than few ten thousand. It was just meant to be an addition to the website’s other games. However, it didn’t take long for the servers to over-flood with new players, quickly surpassing its expected maximum and beyond. Registration had to be controlled through lottery admissions as new servers were opened one at a time (in fact, after some 9 months, new players still must pass through a lottery to play). Fan art exploded, official merchandise began to be created; manga and anime were started. It invaded everything: events, crossovers, collaborations, and more, and is often compared to Touhou, a fanbase which took years to establish. In this short year, KanColle has proven to be the most explosive fandom in otaku culture history.

Art by 墨洲

Art by 墨洲

But the question is whether all this popularity is just a remarkably popular fad or actually the birth of a new fanbase here to stay. No one can really say either way, and the game developers are surely going to be playing a large role in that as one big mistake can ruin everything. Personally, I don’t see it ending for awhile, but I also don’t think it will have the longevity that Touhou has proven itself to have. As one of the many people trapped in its addictive gameplay, I must say one of its best features is the ability to play with constant breaks. Between waiting for your resources to naturally regenerate, ships being repaired from damage, or ships recovering from being “tired,” it makes breaks almost a requirement. Granted, if you are really hardcore, there are ways to get around it to still play 24/7, but you can still make significant progress without investing constant attention.

On a less technical side, its vast popularity no doubt truly stems from all the different ship girls. With over 100 girls, the art, personalities, and voices have enough variety that at least one will probably appeal to you. And with the marriage system in place, you can be sure all otaku are quite glad to marry their favorite girl(s) (yes, harem is possible too). Coupled with the fact the game is free for the most part, it is only going to get more popular for the time being. Regardless, in the end, it is a trend, and no matter how long or short it takes to die off, it will eventually lose popularity.

The idea of fads applies to religion, too.  Of the many things said against Christianity, one of them is that Christianity was just a trend. Read the rest of this entry