EF: A Tale of Theology

Japes, our Anime Today columnist, has written a number of articles about the intersection of Christianity and anime for his other blog, Japesland.  He is editing and resposting a number of these entries, including the one below, to Beneath the Tangles.

As I watched through the Ef series (particularly A Tale of Melodies, the sequel to A Tale of Memories), I was immediately struck by how astoundingly deep it was. Whether looking at it from a pure artistic standpoint, a written standpoint, or a theological standpoint, Ef provides quite a lot of interesting material to chew on, especially for me. Because of this, Ef: A Tale of Melodies (the stronger of the two seasons of the series in my opinion) has easily become one of my favorite anime.

Now, because of my Christian faith and the emphasis on religion (particularly with the inclusion of the oft-seen church setting), I felt compelled to put together a short piece detailing my thoughts on the theology present through A Tale of Melodies (since it provides more of an emphasis on the spiritual and religious aspects of the drama).

CAUTION: There will be spoilers below.

Simply to introduce how I come at anime (or any medium) when I am pondering its take on theology, I must stress that I am of the opinion that one must absolutely view, read, converse with, or listen to pieces of media that contradict your own beliefs. Whether you are a Christian or an atheist (or something of another breed altogether), expanding your horizons forces you to challenge not necessarily what you believe, but why you believe it (although often if an answer for the latter cannot be found then you are forced to resort to the former). I say all of this because the Ef series expresses a rather straight-forward view of absolute atheism (debatably), yet despite the fact that such views contradict my personal beliefs entirely it remains one of my all-time favorite anime.

Although the underlying atheism of the series can be found throughout, one express moment of this that struck me was in episode six of A Tale of Melodies.

Amamiya: Do you believe in God?
Himura: Even if there really was a presence like God once, he’s probably not here anymore.
Amamiya: Huh?
Himura: The world is full of people who detest fate. People like that probably killed Him long ago.
Amamiya: You’re probably right. If He really did exist, I might have a complaint or two for Him.
Himura: Even you get angry?
Amamiya: I don’t always wear a nice face, you know. Everyone has multiple faces.
Himura: Faces?
Amamiya: Yes. It might be better to call them masks.
Himura: Are you hiding something with that mask as well?
Amamiya: Yes. Of course. Girls are full of secrets, you know. Would you like to know my secret?
Himura: Just as I thought, you’re hiding something, aren’t you?
Amamiya: If it’s just you, I’ll show you, Himura-senpai. No. I want you to see it. The true me.
Amamiya: I agree with you too, Senpai. Something like God doesn’t exist anywhere. Because there is no God, many sad and painful things occur. If there really was a God, then I’d want Him to make this world more beautiful. A world where there’s no hardship, where everyone is kind, and no one is left alone.
Himura: A fairytale world like that doesn’t exist anywhere.
Amamiya: I know. Which is why I want a world like that.

This dialogue is an absolute gold mine for theological analysis and interpretation. First, I was struck by the writing for Amamiya. One interesting piece of the atmosphere created for the Ef series is the extremely small cast, and the lonely feel of the city that results from them being the only human beings present. As such, Amamiya is seemingly cast as the representative “Christian” of the series (although her actual religious affiliation is not quite spelled out, as shown in the above conversation). This representation is accomplished through her polite mannerisms (the Japanese staple of Christianity), her garb (which, in flash-forwards, comes across abstractly as a nun’s habit), her affiliation with the church building (where she often appears and was raised as a child), and other characters speaking of her as a Christian. The incongruity between her beliefs and words, as in the above conversation, and her superficial appearances remind me greatly of many other “Christians” in anime, from those that are barely explored to those that have their beliefs dissected (as in Narcissu: Side 2nd, as mentioned in a previous post here). I find this character development to be quite captivating (though, as a Christian, also disappointing). Any time an anime (or any media) explores not simply a religious affiliation, but true beliefs on a spiritual level, I feel as though intellectual growth is being stimulated. This case is the same, and for this reason I enjoyed hearing about her character, despite her character representing the unfortunately more common view of Christianity in Japan and Japanese anime (which I have also written on here).

Second, I was struck by the dialogue present here on the existence of God, represented by two major arguments: (A) The onset of naturalism, and (B) the “Problem of Evil”.

The first section of the above conversation, after some minor reflection, easily brought me to Friedrich Nietzsche‘s The Gay Science. More specifically, it reminded me of the famous line, “God is dead“. When Himura states, “The world is full of people who detest fate. People like that probably killed Him long ago,” he appears to be reflecting the state of the world’s spiritual beliefs as affected by naturalism. Essentially (and in my own words), “Science, and the people thereof, have no desire nor need for the supernatural, thus no need for God, thus destroying the very concept of God itself”. The God of theism cannot be literally killed, no matter your perspective on the matter. However, as naturalists realize there never was a God nor is there a need for God, they begin to “kill” the very concept (the core). On the other hand, Christians take note as naturalists attempt to ignore the true existence of said God. Whether or not God actually exists, I cannot attempt to prove (although I can hold my own views on the matter), but the fact remains that the naturalistic view of the world does, indeed, “kill” (the concept of) God.

The final section of the conversation I found to be incredibly interesting, mostly due to my interest in “The Problem of Evil”. I have already written on this topic in two separate posts concerning A Certain Magical Index, linked here, so I will not bore you with a rehash of the same information, but what got me thinking the most here was the presentation of the argument. Generally speaking, atheists claim “The Problem of Evil” disproves God in the following form:

If God exists, He is completely good.
If God is completely good, there can be no evil.
Therefore, if God exists, there can be no evil.
There is evil, therefore God does not exist.
(By way of Modus Tollens)

In this conversation, however, they have already assumed that there is no God (noted in the first section), thus the argument they are presenting is:

If God exists, there can be no evil. (Adopted from the above argument)
God does not exist, therefore there is evil (“many sad and painful things occur”).

Now this is a fallacious argument, assuming the evidence from above, due to denying the antecedent, but considering the characters already assumed the absence of a God entirely it is useless to question the methods they used to obtain this conclusion. The fact is, Amamiya claims that due to God’s non-existence, the world is a sad place, but if He did exist, it would be a paradise, which Himura goes on to affirm as being impossible.

I love this part of the discussion, I really do, as it has caused me to move systematically through my theological beliefs. I believe that the world was created to be the “fantasy” that Himura rejected, but due to human error (read: sin) it was plunged into the evil state that it is in today (though the exact nature of this I cannot say for sure). I believe that said “fantasy” will be a reality once again in the future (though, once again, the exact nature of this I cannot say for sure). And I also agree with Amamiya’s sentiment that without God, the world would be/is a sad, sad place (the nihilistic perspective that I believe prevails without the existence of God; just look into Friedrich Nietzsche).

Another moment in the series that caused me to get back on my theological horse came as a passing comment in episode eight, when Himura and Amamiya stayed in the old shrine.

*Amamiya goes to pray at the shrine*
Himura: Weren’t you a Christian?
Amamiya: Well, they’re all gods too.

I find this to be a revealing moment for Amamiya because it further expounds on her “Christian, but not really” character. She has some culturally Christian tendencies, but doesn’t really hold the same foundational beliefs. She seems to equate the theistic God with polytheistic deities, which mixes a number of different religious beliefs into something that ultimately means little. In effect, she is using what she calls the “spiritual” as nothing but good luck charms, at which point praying is simply “making a wish”. For better or worse (I would say for worse, but who am I to say that I am absolutely correct), Japan seems to follow this same tendency in that it embraces a number of religious customs (namely Shintoism and Buddhism, and even Catholicism to an extent), but merely for cultural reasons. When it comes to a tangible belief in the spiritual, atheism seems to dominate where Buddhism does not (which is one reason why I appreciate Ef‘s more realistic interpretation of actual religious practice versus thought).

Moving on, we reach episode 10, which is another conversation between Himura and Amamiya, after meeting Miki (Mizuki) for the first time.

Amamiya: I wonder if there really is no God anywhere. Because there is no God, many sad and painful things occur. If there really was a God, then I’d want Him to make this world more beautiful. A world where there’s no hardship, where everyone is kind, and no one is left alone.
Himura: Yeah.

It likely seems obvious here, after having just read the conversation from episode six, but when watching through the series (with a four-episode gap), it becomes less obvious that Amamiya’s statement is a verbatim restatement of a portion of the conversation covered earlier. The two of them, Amamiya in particular, are so disheartened at the evil in the world. This is further compounded by their meeting with Miki and her depressing story. When one meets someone who has gone through as much hardship as someone like Miki, who was nearly forced into a family suicide as a child, a belief in a benevolent God becomes difficult. However, we begin to move into the idea of true freedom of choice versus restricted automata, and then existence with a possibility of evil versus no existence at all, all of which was covered in my earlier posts on “The Problem of Evil”, which were linked earlier. Regardless of the outcome of this argument, Himura and Amamiya have accepted a worldview in which Miki’s circumstances are nothing but depressing reality. In light of all this doom and gloom, however, I must say that I greatly appreciate the writing from this point in respect to the relationship between Amamiya and Miki. Though the atmosphere tends towards nihilism, an effort is still made to form a bond, and it makes me extremely happy to see a reassurance that, despite worldview, humanity still has a tendency to act with great “human-ness”.

This brings us to episode twelve and my final major theological point (I still have something more to add at the end). This is a short snippet of the dialogue between Himura and Amamiya in their “miraculous” reunion (I put miraculous in quotes because it is difficult to tell how much is real, how much is a vision, and how much is simply symbolic in the scheme of the series).

Himura: Miracles don’t exist in the world. The only things that exist are coincidences and inevitabilities and the actions people take. I’ve always believed that.
Amamiya: That’s fine. Miracles don’t happen to people who just wish for them. A helping hand is only extended to people who are trying to cause a miracle themselves. It was my duty to always be kind to as many people as possible, and to give everything for the benefit of others. He told me to do it.
Himura: Who?
Amamiya: Who knows. Maybe it was God.
Himura: God?
Amamiya: You told me in the past that there is no God, right?
Himura: Yeah.
Amamiya: Do you still believe that?
Himura: I’ll continue living by believing in myself and in the people around me.

First I would like to take a look at the view they present on miracles. Although I would probably never word it this way myself, I like the words used by Amamiya to convey the starting point of miracles. Although I do believe in the possibility of direct, supernatural intervention via miracles, I believe that miracles are more often the result of natural means (with, perhaps, supernatural motivation, or a supernatural starting domino, if you will). I believe that the spontaneous overnight healing of a disease is just as much a miracle as a successful heart transplant. Thus, the idea of simply “wishing” (“praying”) for a miracle with no personal effort comes across to me as rather empty.

For Christians, prayer is an important part of the faith as it is a personal communion with God made only possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but it is often treated as Amamiya treated it in the shrine: a wish drop-off. Pray that Little Billy gets better. Pray that you can find the money to pay her bills. Those prayers are fine and dandy, but (and I’m sure my atheist friends will agree here), why not visit Little Billy. Why not look for part-time work to help pay the bills. The general theme much of Jesus’ ministry in the New Testament was being saved by faith. But this faith was not alone. This faith was so strong that it encouraged action. The friends of the paralyzed man in Mark 2 did not simply pray for Jesus to heal him and give up when the crowd was too large, they climbed to the roof, dug a hole, and lowered him to Jesus on a mat. In Luke 7, the woman who anointed Jesus did not have a simple faith in Jesus, her faith was so great that she was driven to kiss his feet (and anoint him).

This theme then connects to the second point I wanted to bring up in regard to this conversation. Although Amamiya continues to show no particular belief in anything spiritually, she still proves the motivation of her life to “do good”. Whether or not this inspiration came from God does not change the fact that she felt compelled to hold to it. This is what I would like to see more of in the world. The existence of God is an absolute truth: He either exists or He does not, He cannot do both. However, our view of this truth is not absolute, but entirely relative (I believe in God, but my friend does not. One of us is wrong, but until we die we cannot “prove” who). This does not change the human instinct to make moral choices. You might believe this instinct to be instilled in all humans by our creator, you might believe that it is a by-product of natural selection and evolution (or perhaps you are like me and you sit somewhere in the middle), but the fact that this instinct exists is significant. For this reason, I love Amamiya’s character, despite continuing the trend of not truly exemplify Christian theology in anime.

Here is where I originally planned to end this post, but as I went through my notes, I felt that most of what I had to write here was downright depressing, and I truly feel that Ef has some uplifting themes. Although I focused mostly on the relationship between Himura and Amamiya above, Mizuki (Miki) and Kuze also provided some rich theological thinking throughout the series. Thus, I have decided to tag a small bit concerning episode eleven.

“Because it will break, let’s cherish it. Let’s cherish it until that time.”

These are Mizuki’s words to Kuze in the face of certain death by disease. At this point in the series, Kuze had totally given up on life because he knew he would die soon. He severed all of his relationships, got rid of all of his belongings, and was simply waiting to die. However, after the course of the season, Mizuki managed to change his perspective.

“Because it will break, let’s cherish it.”

Because we will die, we must live. The words of an anti-nihilist. Now I must say that I believe life itself has an ultimate goal, but what I don’t believe is that believing it doesn’t have a goal means that one should simply throw it away. Even if you don’t believe that life is a gift from God, why should you waste it! If you buy a new car, you don’t leave it in the garage simply because it will depreciate if you drive it, you take it out and show it off to the world! I absolutely love the message that the Mizuki x Kuze arc conveyed, and I feel that it is something that is applicable to anyone in any situation. “Live life because you can.”

Everything in the Ef series culminates in an amazing story that forces people of faith to question (and hopefully strengthen) their beliefs in the context of an extremely different culture. However it does so intelligently and, despite many sad, heart-wrenching, and even questionable moments, lifts you up by the end.

3 thoughts on “EF: A Tale of Theology

  1. I really need to re-watch “Melodies”. My initial viewing of it did not endear it to me in the same way as “Memories” did (and that is my favourite animé you know 😀 ) but I am positive that it deserves another chance to move me.

    1. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it now, but I definitely remember liking it somewhat more than its prequel! Good anime always deserves a re-watch!

Leave a Reply