Nagi no Asukara is easily one of the most beautiful and simultaneously unassuming anime this season. Masquerading as a generic slice-of-life drama, Nagi no Asukara presents a wonderfully crafted world that is similar enough to our own to be relatable, yet different enough to present an intriguing mystery. And while it’s doing all of this, it teaches valuable lessons on how to treat others who are different from yourself!
Much like Gingitsune this season, Nagi no Asukara has continued to reinforce to me that Shinto-inspired settings and stories can often have extremely practical and applicable Christian values throughout (in many cases, even more so than anime that actually feature Christianity as a key plot builder). The Shinto inspiration in this case comes in the form of Uroko-sama, the “lord of the village” (who is also referred to as a god by Manaka). In another comparison to Gingitsune, particularly Gin as a herald, Urok0-sama seems to serve as a sort of deified representative for some greater god (who has yet to be fully explained as of episode seven, or the time of writing). Uroko-sama’s relationship with the villagers of Shioshishio as herald or god opens up quite a number of possibilities for Christian application.
In terms of application, as I mentioned, the end of episode seven affected me particularly (warning: minor spoilers).
At the end of this episode, Hikari and his older sister Akari are abandoning their home of Shioshishio in retaliation to the village’s rule of outcasting those who seek a relationship with a land dweller. The offender in this case is Akari, who finally decided that being with her love and acting as a mother to Miuna is worth the cost of being ostracized. Being fed up with it all, Hikari and Akari confront Uroko-sama and their father in Uroko’s shrine just before making their ascent to land. However, not content with allowing them to leave so easily (in addition to there existing some not yet revealed importance to their family in relation to the village), Uroko-sama sends a sort of underwater blizzard to freeze their surroundings (and them) and to halt their progress, keeping them within the confines of the village. All of this is done under watchful eye of their father.
That is, until he finally breaks down and pleads with Uroko-sama to let them go.
All of this results in a rather impactful and emotional scene of a father’s love for his children, but more importantly (or at least from my perspective), of a man pleading to his god.
Now, over the past semester I have had the privilege to volunteer my time through a program in my university called the Prayer Center. Here I have spent several hours a week reading through prayer requests collected through email, text, phone calls, Facebook, and in-person communication, and then interacting them. Sometimes this has come in the form of emailing the requestor with words of encouragement, writing them a card, or simply praying for them silently regarding whatever struggles they are going through. This, honestly, was quite a struggle for me, as I have always tended to be a skeptic of the tangible effects of prayer. However, I came to realize over the course of the last several months that prayer matters. The Bible exhorts us to pray and promises us that God hears our prayers and acts upon them (Mark 11:24, Philippians 4:6-7, John 14:13-14, and so, so many others). Although we ourselves are powerless compared to the omnipotent God of Christianity, the Bible teaches us that through our prayers, God will make a difference.
Getting back to my main point, Hikari’s exemplifies the desperate believer pleading, praying to God. At the end of the episode, when Hikari and Akari seem to be at the point of no return, their father requests Uroko’s mercy on his children. And he gives it.
Sadly, all analogies break down. Uroko-sama is obviously not an accurate picture of God, as he is simply a representative for some greater power, does not seem to show any semblance of omniscience or omnipotence, and is quite volatile in his position*. Also, it is unclear if Uroko’s answer to this “prayer” is actually in the best interest of all those involved. However, I still could not help but be struck by this comparison.
If you are to gain one thing from this message conveyed via Nagi no Asukara, it is that praying for others is a serious matter. It is not pointless and it is also not a sort of superpower. It is us genuinely connecting with God on a personal level and asking for mercy for those we care about, and through that, making all the difference.**
And if you are not watching Nagi no Asukara yet, I pray*** that you change that right now.
*Some people argue that praying is attempting to change God’s mind, while numerous passages point out that God is unchanging. In response to this, C.S. Lewis presents the idea in Mere Christianity that, existing outside of time, God is already aware of the prayers that people are going to make. His decision has always been made, but our prayers do actually make a difference!
**I particularly like Nagi no Asukara’s inadvertent picture of prayer in this episode as it shows prayer as a direct communication between the believer and his god, as well as the direct impact it has. While I often rest on beliefs that sit on the more liberal end of the Christian spectrum, believing prayer to be some indirect, cosmic communication ultimately undermines its importance and its effectiveness. While we don’t always see results as quickly as the “magic” shows in Nagi no Asukara, and sometimes don’t see results at all, believing that prayer probably won’t work makes it utterly pointless.
***Heh, see what I did there?
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