It’s been awhile since my last post, and that is largely because I have moved to Japan to study at none other than Tokyo University. It’s an exciting new start in my life, and I definitely feel God put me here for more than just studying, or indulging myself in otaku culture motherland. I look forward to see what sort of plans He has for me but for now it’s still a chore trying not to get lost. As such, I wanted to write something to reflect a new beginning and nothing comes to mind more than Nanoha.
Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, as one might be able to guess from the title, is a magical girl anime, and it’s one of the best in the genre. While its first season debuted in 2004, the series still maintains enormous popularity in Japan 9 years later, with 3 seasons, 2 movies, plus three different ongoing manga stories, and more on the way, along with plenty of other merchandise. It’s definitely one of the stranger works in that an anime so popular in Japan is relatively unknown to Western anime fans despite being fairly recent. While the series begins with a very clichéd magical girl story, it is highlighted by Seven Arcs’ impressive animated battles and heartwarming stories of friendship. What distinguishes the main heroine Nanoha from so many other protagonists is her perfect middle ground between the hot-headed fighter and the reluctant pacifist. While she will always prefer to settle things peacefully through talking and mutual understanding, she does not hesitate to pick up her magical staff and ruthlessly blast her opponents with her full strength. It is lucky then, that the official description of Nanoha-universe magic includes being non-lethal despite destroying everything else.
One of the major themes in Nanoha is the idea of starting your life over. With every encounter, Nanoha engages her opponents with the desire to understand them. As the story progresses, the antagonists’ circumstances come to light, and they reach an understanding with Nanoha despite the various battles and crimes they have committed. By the end, they find themselves an ally of Nanoha with the desire to start over again on the right path. This closely parallels how it is to start a new life as a Christian. The series emphasizes the ability to have a fresh start on a more correct path. When we accept Jesus into our hearts, it is described as being born again. We start our lives over again as followers of Christ instead of followers of the world.
Furthermore, what allows these characters to start over is not their choice alone; it is because Nanoha was there for them. Even among the battles, Nanoha repeatedly reaches out to them with a voice of selfless honesty and kindness. Although she is ignored many times, she slowly makes her way into their hearts with her straightforwardness and persistence. It is because she is there for them that these characters can choose to make a fresh start. In the same way, Christians should reach out to others with straightforward honesty and first and foremost, the desire to understand, not to convert. Nanoha says many times that she wants to know why they do what they do as opposed to simply being against their actions. Too often Christians forget to think of others as individuals with their own problems and circumstances and instead generalize them as simply non-Christians to be “corrected.” I think we can learn a lot from Nanoha’s approach to her enemies with her simple earnest, outstretched hand.
Yet perhaps the most unique thing about Nanoha’s befriending of her enemies is that, in the end, she uses brute force. With powerful enough magical blasts that should logically kill anyone, she beats down her opponents without holding back. While it sounds counter-intuitive to a kind and understanding approach, she does so because she understands that words are useless to those who refuse to listen and insist on fighting. While Nanoha’s hopeful approach is something Christians can learn to imitate, her realistic approach is also an insight into how God can operate. Sometimes God uses the harshness of reality as a wake-up call that we (it is certainly not limited to atheists) need a big change in our lives. Oftentimes, the immediate reaction is to blame God for it or question His love for allowing such things to happen. However, sometimes it is actually a case of tough love as we will only respond to serious consequences rather than quiet words. When we refuse to listen to words of reason, God will take more serious actions to get our attention which more often than not is interpreted the wrong way. Be it Nanoha or God, both are willing to take on a seemingly antagonistic role if it means getting a point across.
However, Nanoha represents more kinds of beginnings than just those of its fictional characters. The opening theme song of its first series is titled Innocent Starter, a truly befitting name. When the song was released in 2004, the relatively unknown singer Nana Mizuki made the top 10 charts for the first time since her debut 4 years prior. For Nana, this marked the real beginning of her fame as her popularity spiked both thanks to her music and her voicing of the incredibly popular Fate Testarossa in the series. The following year she would reach rank 2 on the charts with her most iconic song Eternal Blaze and since then, every single release has charted top 10, and she has become by far the most accomplished voice actress singer in the history of anime. But regardless of how popular she has become, Innocent Starter remains very special to her which she recognizes as a song which marks the beginning of her current fame and success, and she often reminisces about how she cannot believe just how big Nanoha has become compared to its beginning.
While sometimes Christians start off with a passion for their new relationship with God, there are those who start off uncertain with only a small curiosity and motivation, and still others are somewhere in between. Many of these people may decide religion is not for them while others struggle with their relationship with God and a few go on to become pastors and missionaries. However, regardless of how one became a Christian or where one stands in his or her spiritual life, there are still new beginnings to be experienced. Even after being born again in Christ, God will continue to work in lives to bring about changes and new beginnings such as sending you to become a missionary, or on a smaller scale, an inspirational sermon. We don’t know when these things will happen or how big they will be at the time; no one could have predicted the effects Nanoha would have on Nana’s career. But in retrospect, it is obvious that it was the start of something amazing. In the same way, we may not always recognize new beginnings. They can be subtle and seem insignificant at the time, and it is only years later that we can look back and recognize just how much of a role it played in our lives.
As exciting as it is, a new beginning is only the start, not the end goal, and the path can be long and difficult. At times, the beginning may seem like the best part as things don’t quite go as you imagine. However, without choosing to start, nothing will happen. There is always the option to deny a new start when the choice is presented. You don’t have to accept to Jesus, and nobody should force you to. That is, after all, a fundamental idea of Christianity: the free will to make the choice to follow God, and subsequently, the beginning of a new life. And even afterwards, there are still new opportunities God will present you with which you can choose to accept or decline. When those times come, remember that although you may feel uncertain about starting something new, God knows exactly what will happen and His plans are often far beyond our imaginations.