Last week, I accidentally posted the bio for Medieval Otaku, a wonderful blogger and friend to our site, in anticipation of his post this week. Rather than an error on my part, please consider it tease for this guest post! 😀
Medieval Otaku is run by a bookworm inflamed with a desire for learning and for God. The study of foreign cultures, literature, and history eventually led to him discovering anime, which hooked him with the remarkable richness and beauty of its stories and is likely to remain a strong hobby of his for decades to come.
This morning, I took a rather pleasant break from Japanimation and a stroll down memory lane in watching The Swan Princess and The Secret of NIMH. Anime stands as my favorite medium for cartoons, but Americans have produced some truly wonderful full length feature films. The different ethos presented by the above movies was refreshing to see—in the similar way that I found serious anime refreshing in that they channeled an ethos reminiscent of ancient Rome. Watching these two films caused me to realize that I missed seeing this ethos played out in story and that I had perhaps recently started to lavish the most praise on anime bearing a more Western character.
At any rate, I should like to point out what The Swan Princess has to say about the nature of evil and ask a few questions about what the Japanese reveal about the topic. The Swan Princess saliently brings home the point that evil is built upon lies. We see this most clearly in the character of Rothbart, the evil enchanter and shape-shifter who attempted to usurp Odette’s kingdom while she was still a baby. Rothbart fails in his attempt, Odette’s father banishes him, and, when Odette turns 20, kills her father and abducts her.
His idea revolves around marrying Odette so as to legally assume the throne. Interestingly, he claims that he realized that usurpation was not the correct way to gain a kingdom, because people will contest his claim on a throne gained through unlawful means; but, he fails to make the connection that neither should he insidiously gain the hand of a woman! To do so would supplant love with lies as the basis of their relationship. Bitter enemies cannot share the same bed! His magic itself becomes symbolic of lies. For example, he constantly changes the scenery when visiting Odette, as she remains spellbound to a lake, by changing a dreary forest and ruins into a bright, beautiful garden as he comes bearing a bouquet in golden armor and finery. He does not understand how Odette can keep refusing him each time and thinks that simple persistence and false promises should win out.
Yet, though Rothbart has little character to recommend him, he does not strike one as utterly vile. (Perhaps, I’ve read too many histories of usurpers, and animus toward the class has weakened.) St. Augustine wrote that evil has no substance: it cannot exist separately from that which is essentially good—everything in being, simply by being created by a purely and infinitely good God incapable of evil, is good. Those beings whom we call evil, whether they be men or demons, are evil in that they will evil, not that they were evil in their creation; hence, St. Augustine refers to them at one point in his Enchiridion as “evil goods.”
And so, one feels a bit of pity for Rothbart: despite his ambition and arrogance, he might have been a great man if only he acknowledged the truth and allowed the truth to lead him to doing the right. Certainly, he has an entertaining personality when not crushing Odette’s hopes. It seems like he had at least two chances to repent: 1) when banished, he ought to have realized that he was in debt to Odette’s father for sparing his life and not sought to do him any more harm; and 2) when he called Odette out for her trying to deceive him into believing that she wanted to marry him, he ought to have realized the falsity of his own position. Instead, he reverts to his former model of usurpation.
Rothbart does not even seem upset that Odette lied to him, as if falsehoods were so part of his universe that moral outrage concerning them is impossible. Enmeshed in lies, Rothbart can only go from bad to worse. But, this elicits pity rather than hatred. We might wish that Rothbart could only see the heinousness of his crimes and thoroughly repent of them. Surely, it was pity for the world hurtling itself into the darkness and delusion that brought the Light of the World from heaven to deliver us from our vices and sins.
Conversely, we do not see the same connection between lies and evil in anime—at least, to my knowledge of it. This might lie in the Japanese having a more dualistic understanding of the universe, i.e. the view evil as a competing force rather than a perversion of the good. If a substantial force, then the connection between evil and falsity is harder to draw.
But, what do you guys think? Does any anime display the idea that evil has roots in lies and non-existence? What do you think is the general consensus of anime on the nature of evil?
Read more by Medieval Otaku on his self-titled blog.