Tomorrow, I’m giving a presentation on “The Theology of Death Note” in one of my classes. I was reluctant to choose Death Note, because a lot of people have already written about its connections to Christianity (including Casey here at BtT, just a couple weeks ago). I wanted to write about something new… but I also wanted to wrestle with some themes from Death Note, and I knew my classmates could benefit from wrestling with them, too. So here I am, fresh from re-watching the show. Hopefully I’ll be able to stir a few new thoughts.
There are many Christian themes and symbols throughout Death Note. But as I watch, these things seem secondary. I just keep comparing Kira, or Light, to the true God. To me, it is clear that Kira is not worthy of worship. So he gives a great opportunity to remember why God is worthy of all power, all glory, and all worship.
First, a quick summary of Death Note, in case you’re new to the anime world:
A bored teenage genius, Yagami Light, picks up a notebook that a bored shinigami (Japanese death spirit/god) dropped. He learns that he can kill anyone just by writing their name in the notebook. At first, he’s not sure what to think. But before long, he decides he could do a lot of good by killing off the evil people in the world. He sets out to create the perfect world, free of evil people. People dub him “Kira,” apparently from the English word “killer.” The world’s greatest detective, L, spearheads the investigation into Kira’s powers and identity.
Yagami Light tries to become God…
When Light first picks up the Death Note that Ryuk—a shinigami—dropped, he’s skeptical. “The human whose name is written in this notebook shall die”? That sounds about as real as those annoying chain emails. But he’s curious… so he tests it on a criminal who is holding a school hostage, and the criminal dies. Later, he tests it on another man, one who is assaulting a woman. That man dies as well.
Light struggles with the fact that he just killed two men… or at least, he struggles with it for a few minutes Read the rest of this entry
Noragami Aragoto isn’t a graphically violent anime, but in episodes five and six, gruesome events are occurring (though off screen). In episode five, these horrible deaths are affecting Bishamon; in episode six, they affect us.
While one of Kugaha’s phantoms is being fought off by Yato after the god of calamity attacks the doctor, the other phantom continues to run amok among Bishamon’s regalias, devouring them and chasing a band of survivors into a holy spring, where they seek refuge.Two young female regalias are the last to arrive in the safe haven, but before getting there, they have a conversation that felt very real to the moment. The younger girl has lost all hope as the carnage continues, knowing that her friends have been torn apart and feeling that her master, her god, is about to die. She is brought back to her senses by the older regalia, who reminds the other that Bishamon gave them a name.
Their god loves them – she’s shown it through her words and deeds. And for her, they must carry on.
Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.
– John 12:27
Violent scenes are commonplace in anime – in fact, they’re much of what anime is known for among the general public. But for some reason, the scenes tonight, though cast in shadow and covered with screams rather than blood and guts, stood out to me. I think it’s because the episode hammered home the relationship between the humans and the gods of Noragami – they each were suffering seeing the other in pain and near (or in) death. Bishamon’s suffering we’ve known of since she’s gone through this before, and it reminds me a bit of how God might feel in his love and patience, “not wishing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9).
But in episode six, continuing from the scene with the two regalia, we see see the opposite more clearly – the humans’ relationship toward their god.
So your name’s Chihiro? What a pretty name…and it belongs to me now.
– Yubaba (Spirited Away)
In the west, we’ve largely destroyed the art of naming children. Parents scramble to discover a name that’s unique (but maybe not too unique), memorable, beautiful, and timeless, but in searching for an aesthetically pleasing name, most will forget something perhaps far more important – the meaning of their child’s name. In other parts of the world, including Japan, these meanings are more expressed and significant, adding a layer of beauty to naming that’s lacking here. Maybe this’s why in anime we often see a focus on characters’ names – not just what on they mean, but also in plot lines revolving around such.
In Spirited Away, Chihiro, our heroine, signs away her name; from henceforth, she’s known in the bathhouse as Sen. As soon as she becomes “Sen,” Chihiro comes under a spell that threatens to make her forget everything she’s known; the connection to her name is vital in helping her remember. Yubaba knows this, which is why she takes the name from her (and earlier, from Haku).
The Japanese know well the power in names. In an effort to assimilate Koreans under it’s banner, the Japanese government enforced a variety of decrees, one of which was soshi-kaimei, pressuring Koreans to take Japanese names. This policy deeply affected Koreans*:
For generations, a destitute Korean father above the slave caste had at least been able to bestow his name on his child. Now even that was taken away. Many Koreans submitted their new names for registration wearing black armbands and went afterwards to pray at their ancestral tombs. Parents begged their bewildered children to forgive them, and a new generation of nationalists discovered themselves in the crucible of their parents’ misery.
Modern anime continues to emphasize how integral names are to our identities. I once described the significance of names in a series we think very highly of here on Beneath the Tangles, Haibane Renmei:
The haibane are given them as they are born into their new world. These names reflect their dreams – it is a significant part of their identities. The main characters have the names of Rakka (falling) and Reki (pebble). As time passes, the mysterious beings known as the haibane renmei can present the haibane with new names, reflecting their growth or failure to grow past obstacles that seem fated to them.
The highly emotional conclusion of the series revolves around the Rakka’s and Reki’s name, which each prove to be both telling and life-changing.
In Noragami, which has returned for another season this fall, Shinto gods and goddesses are armed through regalia, spirits who are given names by the gods who oversee them. The regalias’ names tie them to their masters and give them an identity. On the other hand, “nora” are those that have multiple names and are looked down upon by the spirit community – they devalue the importance of names, which thus devalues the importance of relationship.
Anime is full of references to religion, which presents a great opportunity to discuss matters of spirituality. And that’s the idea behind this column, Fact Check, in which I’ll investigate some of the claims of anime and manga characters and weigh them against the truth of scripture.
One of the things that makes Fate/stay night so compelling is that most of the servants embody two characteristics simultaneously – they’re so awesomely powerful that it seems nothing or no one could defeat them, and at the same time seem just vulnerable enough that they may get killed (and most of them, of course, are destroyed).
Gilgamesh, the final villain in Unlimited Blade Works, tends more toward the former and less toward the latter, though. And that’s part of the reason he’s such a compelling baddie – it doesn’t seem like he can lose. If he does win the grail, humanity is in peril, as Gilgamesh intends to use the grail as a weapon to destroy mankind. The reason for his goal is demonstrated through the quote below, which is the claim we’ll examine today:
This world is enjoyable, but also beyond redemption. A plentitude of mongrels enjoying life is an affront to the king.
Gendo Ikari is one of anime’s great villains. Some 15 years after Evangelion originally aired, he remains hated, the very picture of a vile father willing to sacrifice his son (and the entire world, even) for his obsession.
But even Gendo has a tender side. Even Gendo was once in love.
In the following portion of the Evangelion manga, Gendo makes some interesting statements about love and about God. He claims that God gave him Yui, and then after she is absorbed, questions why God gives and takes away.
The question Gendo poses is one that countless others have asked, and that Christians frequently posit as well, even if we might “know” the answers to it in our heads.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
– Job 1:21
Gendo doesn’t explain what he believes the answer was to his question, “If he was going to take her away, why did he give Yui to me?” But he does make a decision – like so many villains before and after him, Gendo determines to become God.
The answer to Gendo’s question, though, is quite contrary to what he resolves to do. Near the ending of Job, throughout which the title character has struggled with the loss of all he held dear, God lets him and his “friends” know that, well, He is God. We can’t always know the answers, for we are not.
And in that seeming insecurity we peculiarly can find hope. For in all the pain and loss in this world, God holds true. His love is true. His promises are true. And when those people and things dear to us disappear, we can cling onto God, for He’s proven that He when all is gone, He will remain. And there’s nothing more assured than that.
I love playing video games, and I’m sure my readers know this about me by now :) I think one of the most alluring reasons people enjoy them is being able to be in the shoes of the main character. There are many more aspects of the game itself of course, but if the protagonist isn’t interesting or appealing, the game won’t leave as great a legacy as others.
Freedom And Choices
When I think about the greatest games of all time, I first imagine the character. Sonic, Link, Mario, Master Chief, Cloud, Lara Croft, Kirby, Pac Man and many more (most of the roster on Smash Bros. consists of these legends). That’s why I play them and that’s why they are still releasing games till this day for most of these franchises. Whether it’s their gender, sense of adventure, attitude, or emotions, I want to get into their shoes and experience the journey with them.
I want to be them every time I turn on my console. I look forward to interacting with their world, and living in an imaginary world that seems real (especially nowadays!).
Even though I have my own life to live, sometimes I feel that it isn’t very interesting…I mean, there’s only so many times you can go grocery shopping, clock in at work, do the dishes, cook, watch Netflix or go to the gym over the years that you want something more. Aside from traveling (which isn’t cheap) I can at least engage in virtual worlds and play with other around the world, which isn’t that expensive.
Living in America, I have all the freedom I want, yet I serve the True and Living God who has certain commandments that I am to follow so I can be blessed, and obey Him. Often times, we think serving God takes away our freedom, when in fact He wants us to live a successful and amazing life, but He wants us to stay away from decisions that will damage us. Read the rest of this entry
I previously likened God to a yandere. This time I am likening Christians to a tsundere, a real tsundere, or at least an actually well-written tsundere. I previously alluded to “real” tsunderes being far better than the average achetype we get nowadays, but let’s go a bit more in depth as we explore this comparsion. While not a requirement to the archetype, many tsundere start off with a bad relationship. Like people who do not yet know God or have had bad experiences, they reject everything about their partner and refuse to acknowledge them as equals let alone as potential love interests. However, the comparison only begins once people become interested in Christianity and forming a relationship with God. It is here that people reach an unfamiliar territory and struggle with how to approach this new relationship. From a mixture of pride and embarrassment, tsundere find it hard to admit their true feelings. In a similar way, it is hard for us to acknowledge that we are not in control of our lives, and that we must follow God completely. It is important to remember here and throughout that this is a comparison of Christian believers. Non-Christians are not tsundere for God (though you could make an argument for that based on the “new definition” of tsundere), and thus it is important to keep this analogy in reference to yourself and not impose it on others.
A tsundere is most well known for her abuse of the person she actually likes. It is repetitive to the point of annoyance and no matter how much she apologizes for it, she always seems to fall back into the same habits. While the abuse can vary from simply ignoring the person to something as absurd as violent rampaging that you would only ever see in anime, this repetition can grow to be quite annoying to viewers and is no doubt a reason for the archetype’s negative image. But as you might have already guessed by now, this repetition of hurting the one you claim to love is very reminiscent of how Christians treat God. Even though we have chosen to follow God, there is no one who ceases to sin. We continue to sin again and again; no matter how much time passes, we seem to only be able to stumble yet again. It’s a very repetitive and tiresome process. This constant sinning against God despite claiming that we regret and don’t want to is very similar to the tsundere who always reacts so cruelly despite being in love.
One thing to understand, however, is that while a tsundere constantly hurts the target of her affection, a tsundere also constantly hates herself for this. This is so important and one of the most misunderstood aspects (or rather, most skipped over aspects in writing) of a tsundere because a true tsundere is able to acknowledge her true feelings but is unable to act in accordance with it. More than a cycle of repetitive actions as a result of bad writing, a well written tsundere expresses frustration at herself for this very characteristic. She seeks to overcome her own selfishness and harshness and act according to her true feelings, but for some reason it never goes right and the cycle repeats. The frustration at herself for harming the person she likes is indeed just like how we treat God. This is the same repetitive and sometimes frustrating cycle of the life of a tsundere.
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. – Romans 7:15
“If I was born to die, then what was my reason for existing in this world?” —Konno Yuuki, SAO II.
Sword Art Online II has many faults, and some folks can’t take it seriously as a result. That’s a shame, because SAO deals with big issues that warrant serious discussion. The characters’ conversations in the last episode, especially, demanded my attention, though I decided to wait until it aired on Toonami to write about it.
First, some background (and spoilers):
Konno Yuuki and her mother contracted HIV in the events surrounded her traumatic birth, thanks to an infected blood transfusion. Before they realized what had happened, her father and sister were infected, too. She was able to live normally at first, but in fourth grade, her immune system began to fail. By the time we meet her in SAO, she has lost her entire family to AIDS, and she herself has been hospitalized for years. Virtual reality equipment allows her to escape from her pain and her hospital bed, into ALfheim Online. She is the best swordsman around—partially because she pretty much lives in ALO, and she gets plenty of practice. She appears to be a cheerful, happy girl.
Asuna befriends Yuuki in the game, and they become close, although Yuuki tries to push her away at first. Eventually, Asuna helps Yuuki experience as much of the outside world as possible from her hospital bed. In return, Yuuki encourages her to have a candid talk with her mother.
Yet Yuuki is still dying. In the end, surrounded by her friends in virtual reality, she says this:
“If I was born to die, then what was my reason for existing in this world? Without creating anything, or giving anything to anyone. Wasting so much machinery and medicine, causing the people around me trouble. Suffering, worrying… and if I were just going to disappear in the end, it would be better to die right now. I thought that so many times. “Why am I alive?” I wondered for so long, but… but I finally feel like I’ve found the answer. Even if there’s no reason, it’s okay for me to be alive. Because my last moments are of such fulfillment. I can end my journey surrounded by so many people, in the arms of the person I love.”
So, it’s okay to be alive because… you’re loved and feel fulfilled? Sorry, I’m not satisfied with that. Read the rest of this entry
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
– John 15:13 (KJV)
I recently heard a wonderful sermon on the value of friendship by Tim Keller. He spoke of how when it comes down to it, friendship is about a person choosing to be intimate with you. Christ called us friends, and took that love to the ultimate end point – death in place of us.
In the final episode of Charlotte, Yuu acts as that friend for all the children with the Charlotte disease, taking their illnesses upon himself and saving their lives. And yet, despite his noble act, Yuu isn’t the best of Christ figures – but maybe that’s because he’s not only an image of Christ, but also an image of us.
Yuu as Christ
As I mentioned before, Charlotte treats the mutations as a disease. Because of its origin, there’s no X-Men/Marvel style debate here – it’s something that needs to be cured. And as Christ took our sins upon himself at greatest personal cost, Yuu plunders the users’ and carriers’ abilities, knowing that it may destroy him.
Episode 13, though, gives us I think a unique insight into Christ, one that scripture only sparingly shows us – that of what Christ must have felt when he died in our place. No, he didn’t forget himself (or us), nor do I think he had to remind himself of why this was happening to him. But the physical and emotional toll upon Yuu might make us think about what Christ went through.
I’ve heard it said that Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t much of one at all, him being God. On the contrary, though, I say it was far more so because of who he is. Perfect and pure, like the purest lamb, he was butchered (physical pain) and taken for the first time ever out of his perfect loving relationship with the Father, the only perfect relationship and the only one ever justified (emotional pain). Christ’s agony was demonstrated by his cries on the cross, and the distress upon him pictured by Yuu’s weariness and loss of himself when taking in everyone’s diseases.
But unlike Yuu, Christ never forgot. Christ cried that “it is finished” when he was about to die, fully knowing that the tortured he endured was for reason and done as he had planned. Sin nailed Christ to the cross – but Christ always, fully and consciously, allowed it to happen.
*This is the Kingdom of Zeal theme from Chrono Trigger, it flows well while reading this article*
Today’s world is full of information, technology and wealth. Everyday people are coming out of poverty and gaining power over their own lives, instead of relying on others. Majority of people still live in extreme hardship though, but every year that number is getting smaller. With that, comes the belittling of God and not wanting to look to Him as our source, instead looking inside ourselves for answers.
This reminded me of an ancient kingdom called Zeal, in the famed RPG Chrono Trigger. This was the first game I wrote about here at Beneath The Tangles, and the main character Crono is even my avatar for my writings. If you’ve never played it, I will give you some background on the Kingdom of Zeal in particular. When you make it to this era in the game (you use a flying machine called an Epoch to time travel) you see nothing but a cold, barren wasteland. Upon using a teleporter, you are taken to a beautiful floating island in the sky, full of magnificent structures, magic, libraries and people who think they are the wisest beings on the Earth. Not only do they believe they are the most powerful, but they look down on anyone else that is not part of their elite country.
As you visit each room and talk to more people, you find out about the Mammon Machine. This contraption was created to gain the life force of Lavos, the main enemy of the game, and use it to conquer the world. Lavos is nothing but a parasitic life form that came from space and burrowed into the ground, slowly draining the planet of energy to one day emerge and destroy most of humanity. Queen Zeal, ruler of the Kingdom of Zeal, is the head of this plot and she will not allow anyone to stop her, even Crono and his party. Interestingly enough, there is even a mysterious Prophet who shows up with great power to assist her, when in fact he’s just waiting for the right moment to strike her down. Read the rest of this entry