Bungaku Shoujo: A Barrier to Outreach

It has been a long time, but many months ago, someone requested I write a post on Bungaku Shoujo. I have a rather unique relationship with this series, as although it only has a movie and a few OVAs, those were enough to spur me to buy and read the officially translated novels, and I’ve become quite the fan of the series (note that as someone who was already tired of hearing Hanakana’s voice by 2010, Touko is the one role I absolutely adore from her). Aside from Zaregoto (which Del Rey dropped, arguably a good thing), Bungaku Shoujo is the only series I have actually followed official light novel translations for, and its final volume was recently released this past January, unless they choose to translate the side stories too (I sure hope so), though I’d be equally thrilled if they picked up Mizuki Nomura’s latest work.

I’ve pondered a lot about how to tie this series to Christianity. Interestingly, the problem I had was there were just so many things that can be said. Bungaku Shoujo can be classified as a simple romance drama, and the movie shows just that. It is a well done adaptation of the 5th novel and manages to be simple enough that previous knowledge is not required but still maintains the drama of the novel itself. However, while I think the movie is as good as can be for a standalone, it does not do the story justice. In the previous four novels, we meet characters with dark secrets and heavy burdens that are simply not detailed in the movie, making the characters seem far more bland and simple than they really are. The novels are great at detailing such serious topics while balancing with happy moments and comedic relief, slowly developing the characters, all mixed together with classic literature references. So although at first glance the series may appear to be nothing more than a nice romantic drama, the themes and topics it explores have all sorts of serious and potential religious discussion. In the end, I decided to address only one aspect of the climax of the series, which the movie does not cover. Who knows, maybe I’ll write on other aspects later.

A Fateful Meeting

Konoha Inoue is a seemingly ordinary high school student who carries a big secret. He once published a bestselling novel under the penname Miu Inoue through a story he submitted to an amateur contest on a whim. Unable to handle the expectations the world had for the genius middle school “girl” and rumors spreading about the mysterious author, as well as a certain incident, he suffered greatly and entered high school with no desire to ever write again. And yet, he finds himself caught and dragged around by his upperclassman Amano Touko, a book girl who loves books so much she eats them (and nothing else). Together, they are the only members of the literature club and every day, she requires him to write her “snacks.” As much as he proclaims to hate writing, he finds his life is more enjoyable than he thought possible.

However, his happy days spending time with Touko are not fated to last. Eventually, Touko tries to get him to write a real novel one more time. He refuses as the gap from short stories for his senpai to publishing a novel is too great and his emotional wounds have not healed. Touko does not back down, and it is revealed that she has known all along about his identity and best selling work. In reality, Konoha’s story had been tossed into the rejection pile during the initial screening. However, by chance, Touko, who was visiting her uncle, a staff member, had read the story and fell in love with it. She urged the story be looked at a second time, and the result was it became the winner. She was truly his first fan who had always looked forward to his next work. Unfortunately, but perhaps understandably, Konoha interprets this as a great betrayal. From the very beginning, Touko had approached him with the intent to raise him into an author. Every day he wrote her a short story, it was for the sake of honing his writing skills. She had helped him get over a key traumatic event (which the movie covers) that had caused him to quit writing, and had been someone he could go to for comfort and help. And now that he was finally emotionally and mentally stable, living a normal and somewhat happy life, Konoha finds that his entire relationship with Touko had been based on a lie. Everything she did for him was with the hope that he would write once again. It is a truth he can only interpret as a great betrayal. He rejects Touko, unsure how to react to his emotions, and proclaims he will certainly never write again.

"I was Konoha's very first fan."
“I was Konoha’s very first fan.”

This parallels a barrier to Christian outreach. No matter what we do or how we do things to help and befriend others, in the end, we do want them to convert to Christianity. While it may not be the sole reason or motivation, there is certainly a part of us that hopes for that result. Eventually, we approach the topic, bring up some questions, and we show our desire that others will accept Jesus. And at times, people might see this as a betrayal. That everything we’ve done for them and our entire relationship was based on converting them to a religion they have no interest in. In a worst case scenario, it might lead to a complete breakdown of trust and relations. Or perhaps that is their view from the very beginning. It can be so difficult to reach out to people who have negative views of religion and Christianity. Konoha was not just adverse to writing, but it was something that completely traumatized his life. And surely there are people with equally negative experiences with Christianity (a very sad truth). To bring up the topic again and ask them to try it one more time can be quite the insult. I imagine it can be so difficult to reach out to others who don’t exactly have a good opinion of Christianity without it looking like all we want are religious converts. However, while we may ultimately be unable to assuage the worst reactions, we can still learn a bit about approaching others from Touko and Konoha.

Touko later reveals that at some point she mixed up Konoha the author and Konoha the boy and wasn’t sure whether to keep her distance for the sake of her wish or not. It is true that she approached him with the sole motive of getting him to write again, and that is certainly dishonest. However, her feelings of friendship, and subtly, romance, grew over time and eventually outweighed her original plan. Konoha, too, realizes that even if she had an ulterior motive, the friendship she gave him was genuine and his recovery from his life of depression was definitely thanks to her. In the end, he admits that Touko truly understands him the best, and that she was always the one to help him in difficult situations. We should approach non-believers in the same way. It cannot be helped if we retain the motive for conversion because that is one of the things Christ calls us to do. However, Christ also calls us to love, and that is the important part because it is through such love that we can change people’s views.

from official Bungaku Shoujo Fantasy Artbook
from official Bungaku Shoujo Fantasy Artbook

We cannot stop people from interpreting our desire for conversion as betrayal. However, I think if we build enough trust and spend enough time with others, they will understand that some things cannot be faked so easily for so long. Even if we have a desire to spread Christianity, the conversations and discussions we make or relationships we build are true. I think – I hope – that this is enough to prove that we are not engaging others with only the desire for conversion. That even if our attempts to share Jesus are not well received, it will not be interpreted the wrong way. In the end, the love itself that we share with others is what people should recognize the most. Konoha eventually chooses to write again, but this is not out of obligation or gratitude. What compels him is simply an overflowing emotion that cannot be expressed any other way. In the same way, when we reach out to others, it should not be a matter of convincing others. The more we push for it, the more we really are just betraying the trust and relationship we’ve built. Rather, our actions and love should be what inspires interest in our faith because they cannot help but be interested in our faith. If we build relationships like Touko and Konoha (without the romance), then surely the love will overshadow suspicions or worries of betrayal, for both sides.

4 thoughts on “Bungaku Shoujo: A Barrier to Outreach

  1. I have been looking forward to this post! Thank you for writing more on Bungaku Shoujo. I, too, love the comparison of getting Konoha to write to bringing up our faith with others. Very apt indeed.

    I always saw Touka as an angelic figure – a protective guardian messenger sent to guide Konoha through his desert place. It did not help that Touka was wonderfully portrayed in the movie, no matter how much everyone seems to hate it.

    And yes, late as always.

    1. Yes, I did consider comparing Touko in a similar manner. She’s such a great character as someone who always appears before Konoha when he needs her most, but the comparison fell through when I remembered just how broken of a character she is too (i.e. human). In fact, I can’t think of any character that doesn’t have some deep wound or burden to carry. In this sense, she is less of an angelic figure and more of a Christian figure – someone who knows firsthand the painfulness of life but strives to bring light and hope to not just Konoha but many others too.

      1. Excellent point. The brokenness, though, is what made the work so engaging. An old pastor of mine love to say that it is the same brokenness that brings up together and to God.

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