Kuroko’s Basketball has been pretty exciting lately. We finally get to watch the Generation of Miracles go toe-to-toe with each other and with Seirin, and it is awesome. Egos inflate and deflate. Kise and Kagami greet each other with slam dunks before their much-anticipated rematch. Fans cheer, squeal, and gasp both on the bleachers and behind their screens while ships continue to sail. Sometimes, I forget why I’m so excited. And then I remember what sets this show apart: the basketball which Kuroko plays.
In season one, we learn that Kuroko isn’t happy with how the Teiko Middle School team turned out. Everyone else sees the Generation of Miracles, an unbeatable team of allstars. But Kuroko sees athletes who prize their individual abilities above teamwork, winning above friendship, or personal challenge above what’s best for the team. They are immensely talented, but they’ve lost their perspective. Kuroko seeks a team that loves basketball and works together, that knows winning isn’t everything—but will try their darndest to win, because they love the game. This is the kind of team he can support.
Maybe Kuroko can keep his perspective because of his own skill set. Unlike the rest of the Generation of Miracles and Kagami, Kuroko can’t score on his own. He doesn’t even learn to shoot until partway through his first year of high school. Instead, he specializes in passing. When his teammates pass a ball, he briefly touches it, sending the pass in a different direction than their opponents expect. Through middle school and the first part of the anime, he rarely, if ever, holds or dribbles the ball for more than a second—and that is part of the “Misdirection” foundational to his play. He already has almost no presence on the court. He appears too weak and small compared even to average players, so opponents naturally focus on the more “significant” members of the team. Add to that his calculated contact with the ball and the tricks with his eyes, and he can easily direct attention away from himself, becoming essentially invisible. By disappearing, he enhances both the individual skills and group coordination of his team. He plays as a shadow, but that only works if he can team with others.
Kuroko and Kagami join Seirin’s basketball club at the same time. Kagami is a tall, imposing athlete who has just come back to Japan after living and playing in America for several years. At first, he doesn’t understand why the pathetically-weak-looking Kuroko plays basketball. Kuroko, on the other hand, immediately recognizes Kagami’s strength and chooses to become a shadow to his light. In other words, while Kuroko does work with the entire team, he focuses on providing Kagami opportunities to shine even brighter than he could on his own.
Meanwhile, when people eventually notice Kuroko, they ask each other, “Wait a second… was number 11 on the court the entire time?”
In order to made Kagami shine and contribute to the team’s victories, Kuroko must forgo his own glory. Opponents forget he’s on the court, but they’re not the only ones. Journalists forget to interview him when they talk to the team. Fans of the Generation of Miracles forget about him… if they ever knew about him in the first place. Only people who have shared the court with him acknowledge his strength, and he’s okay with that.
Now, Kuroko’s gameplay has evolved a bit. He finally learned to shoot, and it’s a pretty incredible, unique shot, one that even Murasakibara couldn’t block. His Vanishing Drive starts to draw attention, too… and I haven’t forgotten Misdirection Overflow, in which he purposefully draws all attention to himself, away from his teammates. Kuroko isn’t just a shadow anymore. He’s spunky and competitive and not afraid to show it… If it’s also in the best interests of the team. In fact, in some matches—like the current one against Kise—it would be pointless to start with his normal disappearing act. Kise and the rest of Kaijo would see right through it. Thankfully, Kuroko’s new skills allow him to play on equal ground with the rest of the team, even when he’s not running his Misdirection. He’s still well aware of his limitations—he’s not dunking anytime soon!—and even when he gets competitive as an individual, it’s more a matter of personal challenge than attention seeking.
Kuroko’s humble approach to basketball has me thinking about my approach to writing and school. I like my abilities to be recognized. Read the rest of this entry
In December, I watched Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth for Anime Secret Santa. I was struck by the way the main character, Yune, reaches out to those around her. She feels free to love and serve others, while her guardian, Claude, is held back by fear and social convention. Freedom and love are strong themes in Croisée, and for good reason; freedom is connected to how people relate to each other. This just as true in reality as in anime, which leads me to thoughts about Christians. We, more than anyone else, are free to love. In fact, we are commanded to love. So what holds us back? Croisée highlights three of the biggest inhibitors: fear of betrayal and rejection, fear of loss, and fear of what others may think (social convention). I focus on the first two in this post.
Fear of Betrayal and Rejection
Claude, a blacksmith and Paris native, tells Yune to be wary of strangers, lest they take advantage of her. He disapproves of her friendliness toward a little street boy. She sees a hungry child; Claude sees a thief. She sees an opportunity to serve; he sees a threat. Both are technically correct. The boy does steal from them. Yet Yune remains compassionate. She gives him bread two episodes later, much to Claude’s dismay.
When Yune becomes ill, Claude is sure that the child gave her the disease. She still defends him, explaining that she wants to understand how the boy feels. She thinks he’s searching for a place to belong. Claude dismisses the idea… but then he finds flowers the boy left for her.
Claude isn’t exactly wrong to be suspicious. When we extend kindness, people won’t always respond in kind. Sometimes, they may take advantage of us. But defensive callousness is not the answer. We are called to be compassionate, the way Yune is. Compassion is the kind of empathy that moves you to understanding and action—it’s a part of active love.
When I was a kid, I always imagined that as an adult I would go to holiday parties with lots of food, dancing, and so forth. But in my twenties, I never really lived that kind of lifestyle, and now that I’m married with children, I find myself attending a different kind of Christmas party every year, one with other parents and people around my age – one not too different from the party in episode 39 of Naruto: Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals.
In this episode of the series, Rock Lee, Naruto, and the others compete to pick from the stash of presents, the picking of which is the culmination of the party. They face some interesting obstacles on the way, including doting dads, lonely bachelors, and cruel senseis. Ultimately, the final two competitors – Rock Lee and Naruto – decide to end their competition and finish the race peacefully, together.
At my annual party, we have a present exchange, too – a white elephant one. Most years, I don’t participate, because I absolutely hate it. This is why: someone always ends up getting hurt. The exaggerated groans that people give when receiving a present they don’t want makes me cringe, because somewhere the giver is displeased, and sometimes, hurt. What’s supposed to be a fun, joyous event can lead to bitterness or sadness.
I often think that, like Naruto and Rock Lee, my group of friends has missed the point.
I hope that this season, you’ll think upon the reason that words like peace, hope, and joy displayed all around us. Those feelings aren’t manufactured by us through holiday events or gift giving – they are presents to us: a hope for the future, a peace that comes with knowing we’ll weather storms, and a joy that arises even when there’s no reason for it. And it’s all because of the humble birth of a baby some 2,000 years ago.
In my household this year, we’ve had so much conversation about how to really emphasize Christ in the season. As I mentioned yesterday, we do the whole Santa thing with our kids (I actually feel like I’m the only parent at my church that does!), but in spite of that, I think we keep a worshipful focus on the holidays – at least I hope we do.
More this Christmastime than ever, I’ve been reflecting on the humility of Christ’s birth: what it means, why it had to be the way, and how we should respond to it. The answers become intensely personal, as I ponder on God’s grace on me, and remarkably unconstrained, as I think about my role in a larger worldview. And I begin, too, to realize how countercultural the Bible’s message of Christmas really is – both against the popular culture in the west and the “War Against Christmas” crusaders’ culture as well.
Tommy, our friend at Anime Bowl, wrote a nice reflection on some similar themes yesterday on his post about a seasonal anime, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. In his usual way, Tommy doesn’t mince words, and the connections he makes and conclusions he draws are very aptly done.
I highly recommend you check out his article:
When did you stop believing in Santa Claus? Did you ever believe in Santa?
Among many other things, episode 12 of the first season of Minami-Ke explores Chiaki’s belief in Santa. She’s doubted in his existence since the previous year, but Kana’s plan this year restores her belief in him. It’s an almost-sweet story in an episode that is as silly as any other in the series, also featuring Toma’s brothers arguing about what gift to get her, Fujioka bestowing a gift of ham upon the girls, and a stuffed bear having his way with a Grizzly before being called upon by Santa.
But it’s that first story about Chiaki that gave me thought. I’ve reared my kids to believe in Santa, and I spent some time this season thinking about whether that was the right thing and how my son is going to feel when he finds out the truth.
I was kind of old, I think, when I discovered there was no Santa. In fourth grade, my teacher read us what became my favorite book of childhood, Superfudge by Judy Blume. There’s a chapter in the story in which Fudge, a five-year-old, tells how he knows there’s no Santa Claus. I came home to ask my mom if it was true, and she admitted as much. The final nail in the coffin was when I found all my presents before Christmas.
Ultimately, Santa is a fairy tale – a nice one, with some basis on a real man, but still, a fairy tale. Many say the same about that other Christmas figure, Jesus Christ, which leads me to ask the same questions I did at the beginning of the post, but in relation to Him:
When did you stop believing in Jesus? Did you ever believe in Jesus?
Christmas is a good time – maybe the perfect time – to contemplate Christ, to consider His claims and His life, to test scripture and measure the veracity of Jesus’ words. You may feel that church has pulled a fast one – as with parents and Santa, they’ve spread a fairy tail that just isn’t true.
But then again, you might find otherwise. And if Christ is real…that changes everything.
Have you ever seen Big O? Once part of Toonami’s animation block, I feel like it’s a series that’s largely become forgotten. In fact, I’ve even forgotten much of it, but I do remember the Christmas episode. It’s a unique one in anime, not only because it features tentacled Christmas trees (oh, Japan) and an evil scientist Santa, but also because it largely gets the meaning of Christmas right.
In episode 11 of Big O, the citizens of Paradigm City of readying for December 25th, when they celebrate Heaven’s Day, which they think is in commemoration of the founding of their domed city. However, the evil Santa I mentioned has something different in mind, and he uses a desperate musician named Oliver to help carry out his plan in which a Christmas tree creates massive havoc as it grows out of control and destroys everything around it.
This particular Christmas episode is interesting because it continually points to the significance of the holiday, even as Roger insists that “Heaven’s Day” has no real meaning. It remains in the fuzzy memories of the people, as reflected in a group of citizens who sing praises at a church because it’s part of what they remember. There’s also a lot of Christian symbolism – the mention of bread and wine, discussion of the Book of Revelation, and even the saxophonist’s jewelry – he wears a cross.
Something More: Thanksgiving Kami, Psycho Pass Through the Fire, and Jesus of the Valley of the Wind
Happy holidays, everyone! Again, there are a slew of wonderful articles to share this week. I’m also didn’t have time to do this week’s column (thank goodness I made some time), so please link any other related articles I may have missed in the comments below!e ar
The shinto diety of Inari (animated in Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha) gives us reason to pause and give thanks. [Study of Anime]
There are a number of wonderful Christ figures in fiction, and a certain Studio Ghibli heroine stands tall among them. [Geeks Under Grace]
Who knew that Ulysses S. Grant, Akatsuki no Yona, and the materially poor all have something in common? [Medieval Otaku]
Akane of Psycho-Pass 2 demonstrates an ability to overcome difficult situations, and further, grow stronger through them. 
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.
After the events of last episode, Michiru apparently took an overdose of drugs in her depression. However, a few days later, she appears to be as active and normal as always. Unfortunately, the truth is that this is the “other” Michiru, and only Yuuji sees through her act. She claims that the original Michiru has fallen into a deep darkness in her heart, never to wake again.
Sachi then brings Yuuji a box that Michiru gave to her to hold onto forever. She is apparently troubled that she cannot clean the inside and there is no key available. In exchange, Yuuji “takes care” of the box for her by later “accidently” unlocking it and looking at its contents. He discovers that the other Michiru and the original Michiru had conversations via a diary in the past, and that the other Michiru surfaced as a result of a heart transplant. Michiru requested that the other her take over her body forever because she is unable to handle the sadness of the world when people die. The other her explains to Yuuji that she thinks Michiru deserves to live in the body and that she is not interested in the freedom of having a second life at the cost of Michiru. Yuuji takes this as that he can do whatever he wants to her body – by forcing her to swallow more medication to force the original Michiru’s personality to surface. He says he will do whatever she wants, and she answers that her one wish is to die. Yuuji obliges. Read the rest of this entry
Let’s go on a journey.
After this episode, I do believe I’m as out of breath as Kaori and Kousei are.
In episode four of Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso), our duo takes to the stage, and as expected, have troubles. Kousei again loses the ability to hear music as he overthinks, especially about his mother. But when Kaori decides to stop her performance and start again, Kousei is able to focus on her, and the two create a duel of sorts that brings the audience to it’s feet (before Kaori falls off of her’s).
Throughout the episode, the theme of a “journey” is brought forth time and time again. Kousei realizes that Kaori is bringing him somewhere. Although he was a prodigy, Kousei had never known the music he played with intimacy, instead focusing on perfecting it technically as ordered by his mom. Actually, that’s not quite true – a flashback shows that at one time, when Kousei was just beginning, he understood the beauty of music (as did his mother before her condition occurred or worsened), the magic of it – the kira kira in it. But along the way, he lost that, and music became something to master rather than to enjoy and know.
Kaori is leading Kousei on this journey as one who understands the nature of music. She has a relationship with it – something dynamic, as seen by how she approaches pieces. And though she points to music as the journey, Kaori actually functions as music itself. As Kousei comments, “This girl is the journey – [she’s] freedom itself.”
Note: This post continues directly from the end of Part Two
If we keep this meaningful juxtaposition of music and story fixed firmly in our minds and accept the Christian interpretation, the rest of the novel falls into place remarkably well. To begin with, consider the setting Planetarian takes place in. The entire world has been ravaged by a “Great War” instigated by “foolish and selfish human beings.” By the Junker’s own account, “People worked so hard to slaughter each other…even when there were no humans left to fight” because they had become bent on “the internecine creed of revenge and massacre.” In this way, “The purpose of life became merely to live,” and “There was nothing left in this world but dirt immersed in poison and unspeakable ruin.”
In light of the Christian interpretation, this terrible state of affairs represents the depravity of mankind when left to its own devices, in all of its fallen sinfulness. (Not even the institution of the Church is immune to this systemic corruption, as the mere existence of the sniper nun from “Jerusalem” sadly attests.) The grim world depicted here is captured all too well in Micah 7:2-3a, “The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well.” The fruit of mankind’s evil literally descends on people’s heads and destroys them in the form of the poisonous Rain. No one seems to have even an inkling of a better way of life, much less a means of attaining it. Indeed, in what must be the epitome of tragic absurdity, some people actively worship the very instruments of their own self-destruction (recall the Junker’s memory of the village idol made out of battle mechs). What delusion is this, that people would seek salvation from the works of their own hands, and artifacts of destruction to boot!
When the Junker, a product of this degenerate world, first meets Yumemi, her kindness, innocence, and unflagging devotion to serving others are initially dumbfounding to him, even repellent (note how at first he characterizes her smile as “childish” and her selfless behavior as “deranged”). As time goes on, however, he begins to describe her in much more generous terms—her smile becomes “pure,” “innocent,” “gentle,” “so gentle that even the angels would covet it,” and she herself is a “treasure.”