You don’t have to be an expert in anime to understand that a generation gap is developing between twenty and thirty-somethings and younger fans of the medium. Patrick W. Galbraith in his book, The Otaku Encyclopedia, calls the post-Evangelion fans the “fifth wave.” This is my wave – the time period in which I became hooked on anime. And just as with most people, I believe my wave to be best (or at least most enjoyable).
Because we’re entering a new wave, shows that aren’t too old, but are from a past generation, are now considered classics. Case in point: Cowboy Bebop. If any show can be called “universally acclaimed,” it’s this one. If you’re sixth generation and unfamiliar with the show, it follows a group of bounty hunters traveling throughout the solar system. That short summary hardly does the show justice, though. It explores a number of themes, including one of particular interest to me: the idea of letting people go to make their own decisions. And this idea is one that is vital to Christian spirituality.
By the way, spoilers abound below.
The show begins with just Spike and Jet, but soon, they’re joined by a data dog (Ein), a beautiful minor criminal with a tearjerking past (Faye), and a hyperactive superhacker teenager (Ed). There’s little sentimentality within the crew, but the group cares for one another, as evidenced in actions they take that often run counter to their harsh words. In fact, the Bebop (the name of their ship) is a house that holds a unique family, joined by bonds of difficult pasts, which are linked by loss.
As the series barrels toward it’s conclusion in the final episodes, the family begins to fall apart. “Hard Luck Woman,” two episodes away from the conclusion, finds Faye trying to break away, but discovering that she has no one else to run to. Meanwhile, Ed returns to her father, taking Ein with her and leaving a very Ed-esque goodbye (gotta love her smiley faces!). Spike’s lonely few seconds looking down at Ed’s artistic masterpiece shows a melancholy of one who has lost someone important to him, not to mention he and Jet sucking down eggs as if a ritual to help forget their loss.
Yet, Spike doesn’t stop Ed, and he wouldn’t have stopped Faye from leaving either, if she chose to. Even though the group is now family, they are still independent of one another and let each other make their own decisions. More than once, Jet and Spike choose to go different paths in regards to bounties. And the final episode, perhaps, demonstrates the idea of “together but independent” best when Faye confronts Spike with a gun, shooting in the air as a threat to keep him from facing Vicious. She breaks down, afraid that Spike won’t return. She doesn’t want to let him go, but Faye’s bluff is called by Spike, who shows his maturity and understanding that they each have their own lives. However, that doesn’t mean that they won’t care for each other. Just as Jet saved Spike in episode five despite the two having a falling out, the family is there for one another, even as the individuals make their own independent decisions and actions. They love each other enough to let go.
The Christian God does the same to us. We have the gift of free will, through which we make our own decisions, whether or not they come to hurt us in the end as they did with Spike. Because of our free will, humans often make decisions that lead to pain, suffering and even death. There’s a lot of good in the world done by people, but a lot of evil as well. God, however, rarely intervenes, placing the ball in our hands through our free will. He wants us to make the right decisions.
Do you know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? These two ancient towns were bastions of evil, and God planned to destroy them accordingly. Abraham, however, had relatives there and begged for the cities to be saved. He bargained with God, asking that if 50 righteous people were to be found, would God relent? God accepts the deal, and Abraham continues to bargain down over and over again, until he reaches ten. At this point, God still accepts Abraham’s request.
Why would God so easily allow man to change his plans? Philip Yancey suggests that perhaps He was looking for an advocate – a person who would stand up and appeal to God’s sense of mercy. A tantalizing fact is this: it is Abraham who quits asking before God quits accepting. How far would God have relented?
Today, He expects his people to be advocates among the horrors happening in the world. Believers should think of God’s just and merciful character and do things to change the state of the world. He doesn’t hold us hostage, as Faye attempted to do with Spike. Instead, he lets us make our own decisions as independent people, hoping that we’ll make decisions that are full of grace and love. He loves us enough to let us go with the hope of doing good for others.
What are other anime examples of characters loving enough to let go? And is this how you view the Christian God?
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
– James (brother of Jesus), James 2:17
All I know, I still got mountains to climb on my own
On my own
Do you love me enough to let me go?
Do you love me enough to let me go?
To let me follow through, to let me fall for you, my love
Do you love me enough to let me go?
– Jon Foreman, “Enough to Let Me Go” (Hello Hurricane, Switchfoot)
Illustration by GB (reprinted w/permission)
10 thoughts on “Do You Love Me Enough to Let Me Go?”
Reading this has made me want to watch Cowboy Bebop again. I truly feel like I missed a lot the first time around. Also, I love finding connections between Christianity and anime/pop culture in general. Great post.
Thanks for the comment! I love the depth of Cowboy Bebop and have been meaning to rewatch it also.
“They love each other enough to let go.
The Christian God does the same to us.”
Right. Except people are real. God is not.
In the same way as some egotistic psycho murderer who doesnt know you exist and doesnt care for you – loves you enough to let you go. Ridiculous, right ?
Thanks for the comment. 🙂
I don’t understand your connection, though. If God doesn’t exist, why the comparison to a psycho murderer? If God doesn’t exist, should his existence and character bring up such a angry comparison?
As for the quote you gave from my post – I like to think of the bumper sticker that says, “Guns don’t kill. People kill” (or something like that). Similarly, when people see the injustice in the world (or more painfully, in their own lives) and all sorts of horrible things happening, our gut reaction is to blame God. But God doesn’t commit these horrors – murder and other evil actions are committed by man.
God gives us free will to make our own decisions. Let me draw another comparison. One thing that connects all types of people involved in media and press, ranging from Pulitzer Prize winners to small-time bloggers, is the idea of freedom of expression. We may not agree on much, but we agree that people should express themselves, even if we disagree with their opinions (sometime vehemently). Without this freedom, our human value is taken away. In China, Christians are jailed if they practice their religion – but they still meet in underground churches, because they have a need to express their beliefs. Well, God allows this to exist to an even greater extent – He bestows the freedoms to think and to act on our own, despite this leading to evil things. Without it, we would be something less than human, a life form maybe akin to plants. God wants us to choose to love Him and to choose to do what is right. Forcing us is not in His plans.
I got into anime just in time to be around when Cowboy Bebop was getting popular. I can’t believe how many times it was repeated on Adult Swim! I think it was even more popular here in American than in Japan. My favorite eps are the mushroom one and “Brain Scratch.”
And I don’t want to get into any religious debate, just this…
“But God doesn’t commit these horrors – murder and other evil actions are committed by man.”
But God created man. Man didn’t ask to be born with the potential for all these evil actions. It’s debatable whether man has free will, but if he does, it still comprises everything that was given to him by God.
Again, don’t want to get into a big debate, just want to offer some more food for thought.
Thanks for the insightful comments. 🙂
I also really got into anime around the time Cowboy Bebop debuted on Adult Swim. This was the first show I looked forward to each week and the one that made me realize that anime could be REALLY good.
Letting go is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do in my opinion. Especially when you’re emotionally attached to whatever you’re supposed to let go.
Cowboy Behop just reminded me about something: in the world where space travel would be possible, family bonds would be stronger than ever, due to the great distance humans are away from each other. When that age of space travel really arrives at our doorsteps, I would really wonder how people would cope with the distance of their loved ones.
That’s definitely an interesting thought. I think that adds further weight to the character’s bonds with each and with others. Faye desperately wants to connect to her past, but she’s unable to, she holds desperately onto her new family. Ed’s situation is somewhat similar. She loves her new family, too, but would rather be with an abandoned father – no surprise, since she’s been as alone as anybody for a long time before joining the crew.
I love this post!
One thing to note – Shinichiro Watanabe is a huge fan of John Woo, a Christian. Woo included a lot of religious imagery and themes in his movies, and Watanabe has too, as homage.
Look at the repeated images of the cross near the end of Ballad of Fallen Angels. Also, if you’ve seen Samurai Champloo, Christians are treated sympathetically, even very well by Watanabe.
I’m a Christian too and yes, I think you’re right on the ‘letting go’ theme. I’ve been thinking along those lines myself lately.
Of course in Spike’s case, it wasn’t HIM that wasn’t letting go – his past wasn’t letting go of HIM. 😀 He dealt with it the way he was trained, otherwise they would have killed not only him but everyone he was with (and darned near did).
Thanks for the great comments! I didn’t know anything about the Woo/Watanabe connections, or that Woo is a Christian. And I didn’t think about Samurai Champloo at all…I forgot all about Fuu’s family. I think I’ll need to revisit that in a later post. 🙂