Belldandy, Nagisa, and What it Means to Be Pure

Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, 2000
Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, 2000 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was dusting out blog drafts, and found this completed entry among them.  I don’t know if I would’ve written it today…but nonetheless, here it is!

Several years ago, while I was still in college and unmarried, a group of close guy friends and I had a conversation about “animated women.”  My friend blogged about our tastes, and so I so reminiscently looked through his old entries and found our selections.  One for Belle (Beauty and the Beast), one for Jasmine (Aladdin), one for Ariel (The Little Mermaid)and one for Belldandy (Oh! My Goddess!).

Belldandy.  She of the great divide – loved by many and hated by others.  One of the most popular anime/manga characters of all time, Belldandy exudes grace, innocence and quiet strength to some, and backwards subservience to others.  I would gather all of her positive attributes into one word: purity.  What sets Belldandy apart for many and what is attractive about her (her much-discussed sexuality aside) is purity.

The word pure is an easy-enough term to define, but it’s also one that is full of connotations.  And when placed in the context of anime, it becomes even more hard to pin down.  What exactly is purity?  Is it naïveté, innocence, and general goodness?  There are definitely a lot of innocent characters which we can peg as pure.  Sakura (Cardcaptor Sakura) is one of the first that comes to mind.  Her mission is pure; her look is pure; her costumes are pure; and her speech is pure.

Another Clamp character in the same mold is Misaki (Angelic Layer), who still oozes out this concept of purity, even though she has reason to be jaded, even at her young age.

Note: I could have also used each of those characters to help define purity as relentlessly optimistic/persevering.

Notice that each of these examples is for a child, or at least a tween.  Innocence is expected, to a great extend, for children.  As Sarah McLachlan sang, “we are born innocent.”  We all have this innocence somewhere inside.

But Belldandy is older than each of these characters.  Yet, she retains this purity.  While she has some semblance of innocence, that characteristic in itself doesn’t define the word pure.  After all, we all outgrow childlike innocence (some later than others) as we come to understand the nature of people and of this world.  And yet, purity can still exist.

Maybe purity has more to do with being…boring.  You know – avoiding drink, sin and merrrymaking in general.  Is purity a restraint from outside items and actions?  I automatically think of Nagisa (Clannad) when I think of this point.  She’s gotten a reputation as being quite dull, and though many (most?) believe she’s the appropriate choice for Tomoya, Nagisa is still considered bland and uninteresting.  She’s quiet, timid, and unable to join in the fun that many others have.  Going back to my mention of alcohol, she’s also never had a drink until a point in the series when she has just a little (with more than a little result), even though she’s of adult age.

Another Key production, Angel Beats!, has a similar character.  This one, however, is more popular.  But to me, Tenshi is just as dull as Nagisa.  Actually…I find Nagisa tons more interesting that Tenshi, personality-wise.  Nonetheless, she fits into this same representation of purity.  Tenshi wants things as she’s molded them.  She doesn’t join in the fun (she’s still an outsider even after the events in the middle of the series) and isn’t seen participating in anything unpure (except perhaps her attacks on Yuri and the gang…er, let’s just put that aside for the moment).

Although I might be giving the idea that being a party-pooper is a quality for this definition of purity, that’s not my intent.  Kanada Jinguuji, the student council president from Best Student Council, doesn’t give off an air of elitism (no more than any of the other super rich students on the show), even though she, too, doesn’t get her hands dirty.

But though being boring may be a characteristic of purity, it certainly isn’t the definition.  Strip away the connotation gathered through seeing patterns in characters, purity is simply defined as being unstained and clean.  In the context of people, it’s doing what is morally right (whatever that means – we’ll visit that briefly in a little bit), choosing that over what is wrong and what is “in between.”  Revisiting Belldandy and Nagisa – these are characters we trust; we know they’ll choose the right way over the fun but wrong way, the easy but wrong way, and the seems like it could be right but might not be way.

In entertainment, our focus is on the less-than-pure characters.  Setting aside characters who commit “righteous violence,” like Major Kusanagi and Teresa of the Faint Smile, we also adore characters who are tsundere or otherwise imperfect, like Haruhi and Kirino (OreImo).  I’m not making a judgment about whether or not these characters are bad; however, their personalities and actions are such that we know they aren’t always making “right choices.”  How right is it, after all, to treat your brother like trash when he took a fist for you?  Kirino is no example of purity.

There is a definite schism in anime (and other entertainment) between what is popular and what is good for us.  A protagonist male character often ends up with the pure female character, as with Keiichi and Tomoya, despite sometimes an abundance of less pure choices.  We as fans enjoy the less pure characters best (by all accounts, Kyou seems to be much more popular than Nagisa), but it’s typically the pure characters we root for.  Maybe that’s because we’re more like Kyou, but want to be more like Nagisa.

When we’re growing up, we like to be around fun people, even when they sometimes do things we find unsavory or say things that are hurtful.  We’re attracted to magnetic personalities, pure or not.  But while it’s fun to be around fun people (and fun to be that type of person), there’s a time to grow up.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t keep your personality.  As I stressed above, purity is not blandness.  For instance, I love joking around with people. This has been the case for years.  I remember a line in my high school yearbook – a friend wrote something to the effect that she loved me, even though I’m a “saracastic a**.”  Even though I’m “all growed up,” my stinging sense of humor remains.  But my actions and my thoughts strive for something more (even if I consistently fall short).

Many of you are about to or are in college.  This is the point in life where we have to choose between what are minds know is true, what we say we believe, and how we act.  It’s a time to strive toward purity in our lives.  It’s in the voice that tells us to stop watching anime illegally and go to Hulu or Crunchyroll.  It’s in the voice that tells us to stop raging at drivers and just let it go.  It’s in the voice that tells us to forgive people who hurt us, even if the pain lingers.

That said, I mention those ideas because I struggle with all of them.  There is no perfect person.  And you need to define what it means to morally right, which is the definition I gave for purity in regards to people.  I won’t push on you what is morally right, though I believe Jesus Christ is the model of what purity should be – full of character, unafraid to challenge hypocrisy, able to love the unloveables and following His convictions right up until death, all for God’s glory.

Adulthood means making a decision.  Do we leave behind our childish ways, or do we push forward toward purity?  It’s not easy to do (no such thing as perfect), but certainly there would be less violence, fewer broken families and more love if we did the right thing.  Purity doesn’t necessarily mean an innocence of youth we can’t recapture, and it doesn’t mean we have to bland and without personality; it means we can push ourselves to do what is right, even when we live in a society that values what is wrong.

In conclusion:

Nagisa > Kirino

Nagisa and Dango OreImo Kirino

Pictures courtesy of Raivu and Pixiv Member 941847


8 thoughts on “Belldandy, Nagisa, and What it Means to Be Pure

  1. We are always drawn to the fun (i.e. not boring, magnetic, exciting) characters because they are flawed just like us. We can relate to them on a level that we can’t with nice (i.e. bland, goody-goody, perfecton personified) characters.

    What it all boils down to is the nice characters point out our own flaws either conciously or unconscouisly.

    Nobody likes to be reminded of their imperfections, especially in their entertainment, so there is some resentment there — even if we do not admit it.

    We’ll use excuses that Belldandy is some out of date, pre-feminist, stereotype of the perfect girlfriend/wife/mother and completely gloss over the fact that there is a part of us that still likes and admires her for it. Belldandy has achieved a type of perfection that we will never attain because we have made choices and compromises that she did not.

    That being said, she’s a work of fiction so she will never have to make bad choices or compromises that we the reader or the fun characters by proxy have made, unless the mangaka decides otherwise.

    1. Good points. Ya know, that all makes sense, but…I dunno. I think it may have to do some with what we’re looking for in entertainment. If the goal is pure escapism, or just to simply be as entertained as possible, those more tawdry characters generally provide more fun.

      For me, I’m always looking at dynamics between characters and for development of strong relationships. Sometimes that involves a character who makes poor choices achieving some sort of redemption, or in the case of Nagisa and Belldandy, it involves a pure character becoming involved in a strong relationship. Perhaps the storyline, more than the characters, are what’s involving for me.

  2. I just want to say…of course Nagisa > Kirino! She was a greater character all-around, not just in the purity aspect. (Of course this could just be my inner Nagisa fangirl speaking here.)

    1. I think you’re a RARE Nagisa fangirl. Kirino is infinitely more popular than her. But I gotta say, you’re definitely right. 😛

  3. I was wondering about what makes “evil” fun and “good” boring and then it struck me. What if we lived in a world where doing good is actually breaking the law? Maybe, in such a world, “good” would be fun. Another point is the fact that the person committing the crime or even the one watching it (like on TV or movie) may find excitement in it but when the same person becomes the victim it no longer is exciting but rather disturbing and scary to say the least. Think of the bully who becomes the bullied. When I watch Ah My Goddess and the character Belldandy, although fictional, gives me a false sense of hope that a person like that may exist. This sense of hope, although a false one, is entertaining for me and provides me with a short period of an escape from the harsh reality we live in. When I watched for the first time how Belldandy treats Keiichi and other people with such kindness and care and her devotion to the well being of Keiichi in addition to all the other qualities she has, I was totally taken by the TV show. I almost cried because this was the first time I have ever seen someone like that, pure (as you very well put it) with no ulterior motive, in any fictional story let alone in real life. So to me it was fun to watch the show just to see how Belldandy will react in everyday situations. The more I watched, the more I liked her.
    Th point I am trying to make is that in my case, I found that discovering how a nice person like Belldandy behaves in different situations, how she resolves conflicts and how she maintains her purity was enough to keep me interested in the show because a person with her qualities is new to me whether fiction or real and I have seen a lot of Disney cartoons, movies and read a lot of comic books. If you know of any anime that have a character similar to Belldandy, then please let me know cause I loved every aspect of this character. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for the excellent thoughts, and for your viewpoint about Belldandy. Although I eschew her virtues, I’m not exactly her biggest fan. Your description of her character and what draws you to her really makes a lot of sense.

      I think there are a number of Disney characters like her (Snow White comes to mind), but with Disney films, you only get an hour and a half to develop a character, while Belldandy is developed over hours and hours and hours of episodes, and even more pages of manga. It would be hard to find a similar character, I think, though maybe some other reader out there that’s seen more anime than I could give a suggestion.

  4. Don’t start selling Mary Kay unless you have someone to sell it to.
    One in eight women are certain to get identified as having breast cancer throughout their lifetime.
    Almost every ‘guru’ I speak with feels the same way.

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