With the recent episode of Charlotte, a point was brought to my attention that reminded me just how much Westerners miss out on things related to Japanese culture. While I have a different post I wanted to write, it in fact connects to this. When I previously described things lost in translation, I also mentioned cultural differences. My guess is that these cultural differences usually do not play a significant role in the plot or story. A lot of them often go over our heads as we don’t even realize we missed something. But sometimes we notice them; we notice them and interpret them according to our culture rather than Japan’s.
Episode 7 of Charlotte focuses on Yuu’s descent into madness as he is overcome with grief at the death of Ayumi. He starts off simply holed up in his apartment, eating nothing but delicious cup ramen. He escapes the school, takes an unhealthy amount of joy in a videogame, and then begins abusing his powers to win street fights. Finally, just as he is about to turn to drugs, Nao kicks some sense into him, literally. There are a lot of ways to interpret this scene but most likely there are no Westerners who reacted the way it was written to be. How bad are drugs, really? Conservatives might view the scene in agreement: drugs are very dangerous and cross a line which should not be crossed. Others don’t see it as that bad: drugs are not inherently such an evil depending on the circumstances and what kind of drug, so maybe this was a circumstantial implication. Still others don’t see how it’s so much worse than his previous state: Yuu was already stabbing people, causing serious bodily harm and enjoying it; didn’t he already cross a big line? But it’s hard to remember when thinking about this scene that you are painting the scene with your idea on drugs. And it’s harder to realize that a culture exists with a completely different view because even if your ideas are based on facts, they aren’t based on relevant facts – the relevancy here being Japanese culture.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on how drugs work in Japan, but I feel I am knowledgeable enough to shed some light and make people rethink this scene from a different viewpoint. Basically, drugs are a huge taboo in Japan. No one wants anything to do with drugs, the yakuza wouldn’t touch drugs with a ten kilometer pole, and if anyone found out you used drugs, they would probably turn you in and never want to speak to you again. You can very realistically lose your job and place in society once people find out you use drugs; they are simply viewed as that horrible. It is probably nothing like how it is in your country and culture. When Yuu is about to take drugs, it is a very clear depiction that he is about to cross a line that should never be crossed. This is understood and felt by the Japanese audience because it’s a real reflection of their culture and upbringing. Even if you agree with or accept this depiction, it will fail to invoke the same level of feelings or reactions as it would from a Japanese viewer.
There are weeks on Something More where I need to dig and prod to find articles for linking. This is not, however, one of those weeks, as the blogosphere has produced almost a dozen wonderful articles about anime and religion/spirituality.
Eugene Woodbury discusses Japanese Buddhism from a pop cultural perspective, referencing Gingitsune among other anime series. [Eugene Woodbury]
He does the same with Shinto, mentioning Noragami, Kamichu!, and other shows. 
It is any surprise that the actions of one of most known and best priest characters in anime, Nicholas D. Wolfwood (Trigun), would teach us theology? [Cajun Samurai]
Owari no Seraph speaks to the value of the family, ironic in a series that looks at family unconventionally and perhaps at sex in a faulty way. [Medieval Otaku]
Dragonball Z’s Vegeta may be the poster child for ego, but his actions often speak to the opposite: humility. [Geeks Under Grace]
One piece of proverbial wisdom is to seek advice from many advisers; but if your advisers are unwise, well, you get the absurd consequences of episode 3 of Plastic Memories. 
Dig a little into Gurren Lagann, and you might find an interpretation of Plato’s allegory of the cave and a case for divine illogic. [Taylor Ramage’s Blog]
Is God fair? Yuki of Angel Beats! doesn’t think so, but perhaps her backstory (and the story of Job) can teach us a little about the concept of fairness. [Old Line Elephant]
The vital importance of forgiveness – both to give and receive – is a heavy theme in Koe no Katachi. [Famous Rose]
More wisdom from Proverbs this week, as Rob tells us Hikigaya’s methods in OreGairu are ungodly and unwise. [Christian Anime Review]
As part of the Something More series of posts, 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 to be included.
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
In the modern world, the term “contentment” feels so old-fashioned and out of place. Why strive for contentment when we can have more? And indeed, that’s what it seems our lives are often about – becoming better, richer, stronger. But in attaining the things that make us happy, we often don’t feel the satisfaction we think we might – there’s no contentment when we seek things that won’t fulfill us.
In OreGairu, the service club has a near-perfect track record. They help all their clients, but they can’t seem to help themselves. All three, but especially the original two members – Hachiman and Yukino – are sure of their ways, and find success in them (as they each define success), but have no peace. Perhaps it’s because each is seeking something that can never be fulfilling:
Yui and Approval
The first client of the club, and the third member to join, Yui has trouble establishing effective relationships because she’s afraid of showing her true self. Yui has lived a life that basically says that she’d rather have shallow friendships than dig into something deeper that might damage them. Yui wants the approval of others and is afraid of rejection at the start of the series; even now, she continues to battle this struggle, though Hachiman and Yukino helped her move past a significant hurdle in not worrying so much about what others think.
It’s easy to get bogged down in what others think of us. Our relationships often drive our actions – for some more than others. When we live that way, though, we try to take our lives into our own hands by presenting an image of ourselves in others’ eyes that isn’t real. Living life in this manner can’t bring contentment because it will collapse – others will let go of their superficial relationships with us and we’ll fail to keep up perfect appearances. Dwelling instead in the perfect, unchanging nature of God is what brings contentment, for He alone never fails us. Read the rest of this entry
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
The idea of “control” is a funny thing – we strive for it, we arrange our lives to own it, but when we feel we have it, that’s often when it falls out of our grasp. In episode one of Yuri Kuma Arashi, the latest series from Kunihiko Ikuhara, we’re introduced to the actors, many of whom are struggling with or struggling for control.
The setting for Yuri Kuma Arashi is unique – a self-contained community surrounded by a wall to keep man-eating bears outside and humans safe within. Right from the beginning, then, we see this idea of control as the humans erect the wall in an attempt to keep the bears out. Two of these “bears,” Ginko and Lulu, also attempt to wrestle control of their fates by sneaking into the city to satiate their appetites. Finally, a student, Kureha, decides she will be able to keep her love, Sumika, safe by her determination and skill with a rifle.
Of course, all this control quickly breaks down – the bears penetrate the walls, Ginko and Lulu must leave their fates to the hands of the Judgemens, and Kureha is unable to protect Sumika (or even herself).
This theme is nothing new for Ikuhara – it was emphasized in Mawaru Penguindrum as well. Several characters from that series sought to change fate, but found themselves ultimately unable to. Each was humbled and by being brought low, were taken to an unexpected (and better) place than they had anticipated.
We, too, try to wrestle control over our lives – after all, they are our lives, and we should be masters of our destinies, right? Of course, even in the most optimal conditions, we never fully have control. As with the humans and their wall, unforeseen events take place. As with the bears, unknowable forces, players, and beings affect our plans. And as with Kureha, our own imperfect selves cannot be fully counted upon.
In the Christian life, we’re called to do the opposite of these characters – we’re told that we must surrender. It goes against our instinct, but it also breaks that illusion that we are our own gods, an idea almost all of us follow either consciously, like some mad anime character, or practically as we live for ourselves.
And when see that a life we “control” is rather a life in chains, we discover one of Christianity’s most peculiar truths – that in giving up our freedom, in surrendering our lives, that is when we become free. That is when we truly begin to live.
Celestial Method (Sora no Method) has a lot going for it – cute characters, emotional storylines, and a nice OP and ED (speaking of which, see and hear our own Japes sax up the show’s end theme). But I can’t say that the series is unique in any sense. It revisits a lot of motifs, themes, plot lines, and characterizations from other similar works, and episode nine is no different. With Shione realizing that Noel is going to disappear after the group’s wish is granted, she does what might be expected of such a character – she sacrifices her own needs for the group, and she does so by trying to chase Nonoka away by speaking more harsh words.
Still, that’s all within the bounds of Shione’s character. For being such a cool cat, in a lot of ways, she’s the least mature member of the group. She has trouble making friends; she can’t let go of grudges; she internalizes all her pain; and she’s unable to take a leap forward for fear of what it might mean.
And so, instead of doing what Nonoka might, and explaining to the rest what is going to occur and sharing the pain with them, Shione takes all the burden upon herself. Feeling guilty because it was originally her wish that set these events in motion, fearful of establishing trust with her friends, and retreating into her self-imposed isolation, reflected through her constant shuttering of the outside world through her headphones and also containing a tinge of pride that says “I know how to handle this best,” Shione pushes everyone away once again.
It’s this action that shows how much Shione still has to grow.
Of the last few episodes, I liked this one the most, but I’m not sure if that’s really just because I quite enjoyed Sachi’s route over the previous two. The anime honestly did an okay job (again, given the constraint of doing an entire route in 1 episode which makes my statement fairly meaningless). They changed how Sachi’s problem was “solved,” which was mandatory, and I will admit it was a good choice but once again any emotional and even logical buildup is forfeited because there was only 1 episode.
The episode begins with a short conversation between Michiru and Sachi. Sachi thinks about how Michiru and Yumiko have changed since Yuuji came. She also notes that even Amane and Makina have become attached to him, but she doesn’t feel about it. While watching TV, Makina tells Sachi they should become women who can count to 10,000 in the bath. Sachi attempts it but ends up fainting from the heat. While asleep, she calls out “Yuu-kun.”
The next day, Sachi is fine but Yuji has taken the day off. He visits a small park and recalls a young girl who is no doubt Sachi (the actual way he remembered was infinitely more emotionally appealing). Meanwhile, Michiru is complaining about the upcoming exams and asks Sachi to get rid of it. Although Amane scolds her for it, Sachi insists that she will take care of it. Yuuji returns to find Sachi locked up in her room. Yuuji says he’ll take care of the issue. Yumiko mentions how there was a girl who set fire to a school to stop an exam from happening in the past. Sachi, on the other hand, is incessantly repeating “I have to be a good girl.” Read the rest of this entry
I’ve watched just three minutes and 15 seconds of When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace (Inō-Batoru wa Nichijō-kei no Naka de) this season, but those three minutes and 15 seconds, from episode seven, were awfully good. Found via a Tumblr post, it was of Hatoko absolutely going off on Jurai. I don’t have much context for the rant or for the series in general, but it was enough for me to make a connection. Hatoko, I feel, could be speaking to (or yelling at) a whole lot of us in how we treat religion.
The other day, I exchanged emails with David, a frequenter commenter on this site, among other things he mentioned was the purpose that mangaka and anime creators have when using religious imagery in their work. We all know that the Japanese often toss around religion for their own purposes without giving much thought to the source material. But that doesn’t mean these illustrators don’t have good head knowledge about the religion which they’re tackling – I imagine Hideaki Anno and Kazuma Kamachi, for instance, know quite a lot about Christianity, even if their stories are far from biblical.
The creators of such anime that deal with religious themes, ideas, symbols, and terminology have some head knowledge about religion – they often just don’t have the heart for it.
The more I watch Blue Spring Ride (Ao Haru Ride), the more I see myself in Futaba. And that’s unsettling, not because of her faults, but lately because of her strengths, which are more on display in episode ten than in any of the others to date.
This episode begins where the last left off, with the group of five new friends continuing to study at Kou’s residence, though now, Futuba is unable to concentrate as the envy bug has bitten her. In the last episode, it was Yuri who felt envy at the special relationship between Kou and Futuba, but now it’s the other girl’s turn to feel the same as she wonders what the “nothing” is that the her friend and ex share. It eats her up inside and, as is her character, Futaba is so consumed with it that she goes back to Kou’s house, after everyone has left, to confront him. And there she discovers the secret that Yuri had stepped into – Kou’s mother is deceased, and this is the reason for his change in personality.
This sequence of events is probably something most of us can relate to. We think one thing of a person and later find out that we failed to realize something else. For instance, we might honk at a car in front of us who’s driving far below the speed limit, only to pass it and find an elderly person behind the wheel (though to be honest, we might’ve honked even knowing that). Or we might get mad at a friend who’s late for dinner, only to later discover it wasn’t her fault.
In my life, this episode was timely, as I had just finished having an episode of my own with my wife. Our fights sometimes work along these lines – one person gets mad at the other for being inconsiderate or not supportive enough, only to find that the other person has a burden of his or her own and just didn’t have enough left to give. And per usual, once this comes out, understanding abounds and both sides pour out love and forgiveness.