From Manslayer to Wanderer: Kenshin and the Spirit Fruit of Self-Control

I’ve had a lot of really bad moments in my life – times when I acted like a complete fool.  Maybe my very worst happened late one night, after a long evening of arguing on and off with my wife.  At it’s climax, I was so mad that I took her glass of water and threw it at the wall.

Except it wasn’t water – it was chocolate milk.

I literally spent days and weeks cleaning up that transgression, both literally and metaphorically.

It was a moment I’m deeply ashamed of, but it was not an action I couldn’t see coming.  Even as a kid, I would get frustrated and throw a remote across my bedroom or slam my fist into my 386 processor (so slow!).  My mom, with her broken English, would yell at me, “You need-a patience!”  But perhaps more accurately, I needed (and still need) self-control.

Himura Kenshin
A serene Kenshin - but the serenity didn't come easy (Art by たま)

Kenshin Himura is an excellent example of a character who battles similar struggles.  One of the charms for the first-time viewer of Rurouni Kenshin is in the juxtaposition of Kenshin’s silly side and his seriousness in battle.  But we as viewers don’t realize the side he’s actually hiding, until Hajime Saito comes to town, and we see what Kenshin has been trying to control all along, the Battousai – a cold-blooded, manslayer.

The wonderful Kyoto Arc then is not just a journey for Kenshin to defeat his physical enemy, Shishio, but also a personal journey into becoming a better man and keeping the manslayer side of himself in check.  We don’t get much of a sense of Kenshin’s internal thoughts, but he must have remembered again and again the story of Tomoe and himself, and this must have strengthened him and encouraged him to change.

Battousai the Manslayer
Losing control (Art by Gerbera)

We, too, can change, even if we have major difficulties in self-control – whether it’s with anger like me, or with overeating, drug-use, cutting, or whatever addiction or struggle we might be dealing with.  But we could be destined for failure if we try to find the answer within ourselves.  Like Kenshin, our motivation and strength must come from a different source.

“Self-Control” is a fruit of the Spirit, and it is this person of the triune God that does the work within us.  For me, as I love in response to God’s love, I find myself exhibiting more and more of the Spirit fruits, even one as difficult for me to show as self-control.

It’s in Jesus that we see a perfect image of this fruit.  A passionate figure, He wasn’t attuned to the idea of always staying on even keel.  Sometimes he expressed great anger, particular in the face of hypocrisy.  But at other times, he held his emotions back and calmly spoke to individuals that would frustrate even the most patient of us.  He had perfect self-control.

As usual, the answer begins and ends in Christ – as we remember his great love for us, we’ll open ourselves for the Spirit to do His work in changing us to be like Him.

Come back next Wednesday as I wrap up the “Fruits of the Spirit” series!

Other Posts in the Fruits of the Spirit Series:

Love: Honda Tohru (Fruits Basket)
Joy: Sasami Jurai (Tenchi Muyo!)
Peace: Ashitaka (Princess Mononoke)
: Alicia Florence (ARIA)
Kindness:  Vash the Stampede (Trigun)
Goodness:  Sawako Kuronuma (Kimi ni Todoke)
Faithfulness: Kamina (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann)
Gentleness:  Andromeda Shun (Saint Seiya)

Note: I think Kenshin’s struggle with his Battousai side is a wonderful metaphor for the explosive anger that many Asian (and Asian-American) men have.  When Saito claims that he will always be a manslayer, it’s reminiscent of this idea that Asian  men are just angry people who can never change – I’ve seen this resignation in home after home.  But raging and even violent men can change – it all begins with a response from the heart.

6 thoughts on “From Manslayer to Wanderer: Kenshin and the Spirit Fruit of Self-Control

  1. It’s very interesting point that you brought up Jesus. A number of people think He’s a perfect god being capable of only a few “positive” emotions, but He actually showed His humanity a fair amount. Which is not meant as a slight in the least, it’s just one of the interesting things I’ve noticed. My opinions on that matter aside though, definitely a good example of self-control.

    I always appreciate it when bloggers share a little bit of themselves in their posts. Though it’s not always easy (as I’m sure was the case with this post), it can really make a strong impact and connection with the readers. So thank you for that.

    Also, Kenshin vs. Saito may be my favorite fight in anime history. So so good, on multiple levels.

    Nice post.

    1. Definitely – the humanity of Jesus is demonstrated throughout the gospels, and it’s such an important part of His character. It’s precisely because of His humanity that we understand that He, too, went through the same struggles and temptations we did, but overcame without sinning.

      And thanks for the kudos – I definitely considered leaving out that story many times, but I thought it was worth sharing.

      Oh, and YES – Kenshin v. Saito! That is my FAVORITE FIGHT IN ANIME HISTORY as well! I remember first watching the fight and it literally taking my breath away. I watched it again not long ago and even though the Kenshin TV series hasn’t aged all too well, that fight still stands as an amazing scene.

  2. Nicely written post. We as humans are emotional creatures. Some of us handle our emotions in excessive and explosive ways. I haven’t thrown a glass of chocolate milk but I have thrown someone’s walkman (yeah, the 90s) into the toilet. They never forgave me for that, either. I do like the anime series in which the character is not only battling physical enemies but the enemy that resides inside. That enemy is usually the hardest to triumph over because they are always there. I have not watched Kenshin but I have been hearing a lot about it lately. This post made made me more interested in it.

    1. Ah, the walkman. I think I still have a walkman somewhere in my closet…

      But yeah, we’re definitely emotional. And I certainly think some of us are genetically predisposed to being more “explosive” than others, not to mention how our environment/upbringing effect us. That just makes it more of a challenge for some (me!) to check their emotions (when necessary) than for others.

      And I agree – I enjoy those series where you have to fight yourself and others. There’s something great that can happen when it’s done right. The second arc of Kenshin is quite well done, because right up until the very end, we’re never sure if Kenshin can actually defeat his enemy – can he conquer himself, and can his conquered self defeat this supreme opponent? That second arc remains my favorite shonen/beat-a-number-of-bad-guys-in-sucession storyline in anime.

      If you ever get to watch Kenshin, I think you’ll enjoy it (though the first season has aged more badly than I like to admit). The real treat, though, is seeing the first two OVAs after finishing the second arc of the TV show. I thought this when first seeing them 10 years ago and still think so – they are the perfect anime.

  3. I read some of the Manga, I don’t know if I got as far as Saito… I’ll have to look but I’ve always thought that Kenshin was in the same vein as a Paul, passionate “assassin/killer” who was reformed and changed. Jason Bourne and Wolverine kind of have the same vibe ( though I would say Wolverine and Bourne’s transformations weren’t quite as drastic as Kenshin’s) . anyways..

    Doestevesky called Jesus’ ability not to use his miraculous powers for violence, intimidation or coercion as the miracle of restraint. I bet there were a couple of times he was tempted like James and John to call down fire on people who stubbornly refused to acknowledge the truth.. He did show anger at the Temple* but it was mild compared to all the power he had on hand.

    Like you pointed out he was passionate, he got angry but he was angry in the right way, he rarely did it because he never felt anger because “his happiness was thwarted”. When he expressed anger he never allowed himself to start tornadoes or earthquakes but he did speak harsh words to hypocrites ( actors) who showed no compassion, which seemed to be his biggest beef with them… pride in their “right action” when they had no compassion.

    * ( also by tradition was a prominent Jewish leader’s way of declaring his dib on the Monarchy and an act of war against Rome)

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