Anime Today: Not a Sequel

After being on hiatus for a week, your favorite column, Anime Today, has made a triumphant return! (Kudos to those of you who even noticed that I was gone…). And with this come back, I bring a slew of new anime, courtesy of the Summer 2014 season!

It seems like this season, and perhaps even this year, has been the season of (notable) sequels. Between Free!, Sword Art Online, Sailor Moon, and, broadening our range, the nine-year, long-awaited return of Mushishi, it seems that most of the heavy hitters are returning all at once. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Sailor Moon Crystal
Art by とらお (Pixiv ID 44225402)

With time being such a valuable commodity in my life now, when I pick up a slew of anime each season for both my personal interest and reviewing purposes, having such a large amount of titles with such high production values and established premises makes my viewing experience so much more enjoyable (if you read Kaze and my recent season review, you’ll know that we are both rather harsh graders and also watch shows to completion in spite of poor quality, making this even more important for me).

As an unabashed, though somewhat late-coming fan of the first season of Free!, the first episode of season two was a pleasure, albeit a bit underwhelming. Although I wasn’t a particularly large fan of the first season of Sword Art Online, the first episode of season two seems to promise much better pacing and cohesion for this second season, which particularly excites me. Although I never got around to watching Sailor Moon so many “moons” ago (har har), the reboot has been an… interesting experience. And finally, I don’t think I need to say much about Mushishi, considering if you have followed any of my recent writing at Beneath the Tangles, you likely know how highly I regard it.

Needless to say, I am by no means a critic of sequels. Sometimes they can disappoint, and sometimes they do exactly as they promise: provide more of a type of content that people already loved.

As I pondered this new season, and reflected on how connected to my life and beliefs, I remembered several conversations I had had with a friend of mine about storytelling, both ancient and modern (thanks, Sean!). The reuse of archetypes throughout history and the origin of those archetypes. Symbolic and poetic literature versus literal and historical storytelling. Character development and world building.

And one thing seemed to draw all these topics back together, regardless of personal beliefs: the Bible.

Though I have not intellectually equipped myself to tackle these topics myself (you would have to direct yourselves to my friend for that), this onslaught of sequels reminded me of a common sentiment regarding the division of the Bible into the Old Testament and the New Testament. Is the New Testament merely a “sequel” to the Old Testament? Disappointing as it may be, by the end of this article I will likely not be able to provide you a solid answer to that, at least without resorting to arbitrary semantics (meaning transcends mere words). However, I hope that you will still feel compelled to think on it.

First let us look at two types of sequels based on our four anime examples: The creation of a brand new story based on a previous story, and the retelling of a second pre-planned story. Now while the line between these two definitions can get rather fuzzy (which we will explore), Free! and Sword Art Online (with a large asterisk) fit in the former, while Mushishi and Sailor Moon fit in the latter.

Free! is the most obvious example of the first category, considering its light novel source material began the same year the first season aired, and thus is continuing alongside it. Now, regardless of how far ahead the light novels are now, or how closely the anime if following them, relatively speaking the second season of the anime is new material written to continue the story. The first season was rather tidy, with few to no loose ends by the final episode, meaning a second season is completely unnecessary in terms of storytelling. In this way, although SAO‘s source light novels were begun in 2009, and thus have a large buffer between them and the anime, SAO fits in this same category. The television anime adaptations ends rather conclusively, with no absolute need for a sequel (in fact, only creating the ability for a sequel in the final episode).

Tl;dr (Too long; Didn’t read): Some sequels are not created as part of a single story, but as brand new, not completely necessary additions.

When it comes to Mushishi and Sailor Moon, however, it is a completely different story. Coincidentally, while both of the previous anime were based on light novels of the same name, these two were based on manga. Additionally, neither are additions to completed stories. In the case of Mushishi, the first season (nine years ago) covered roughly the first half of the manga, which had begun six years prior to beginning the anime and only two years after the first season concluded. Thus, this second season merely finished what had been begun, intended to be a single  long-running piece of material (episode nature notwithstanding). Sailor Moon is a different beast entirely, since it is not a sequel at all, but a reboot meant to pay homage to the original anime, but more importantly, update it to follow the source material more accurately and improve the production’s overall quality. The differences between these two examples could spawn two additional sub-categories, but for the sake of time, we will mostly focus on Mushishi as the prime example of this since Sailor Moon does not fit into the upcoming analogy.

Tl;dr: Some sequels are intended as part of a single story, or re-imaginings of the same story.

So where does the Bible, a collection of written works written over the course of thousands of years, fit into this?

Some people will tell you that it fits into the former category. “The God of the New Testament is not the same God as the God of the Old Testament!” Or perhaps an entirely different group of people might say that if fits into this same category because “God abandons the Law, and Israel by extension, in the New Testament”.

Other people would fit it into the latter category, saying that “Jesus was always in the plan as the promised Messiah,” or that “the Old Testament is mostly a symbolic work, with very little literal history, meant entirely to serve the purpose of the New Testament”.

So what is the truth of all this? Who is right? First and foremost, what did Jesus say on topics such as this?

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I am,” said Jesus.
Mark 14:61b-62a (NIV)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Matthew 5:17 (NIV)

This, in conjunction with numerous messianic prophecies through the Old Testament, seems to indicate a sense of continuity that transcends time (namely, the gap of several thousand years among the Old and New Testaments, as well as between all individual books).

However, we must consider the dichotomy between where humanity stands now in comparison to where humanity used to stand. Romans 6:23 states that humanity has sinned, and the natural consequence for that is death (eternal separation from God), but that we are saved through Jesus Christ. This is usually interpreted as being an option only now available to those of us living after his resurrection, which is clearly a departure from carrying out the ancient Levitical law (which I must point out did not guarantee salvation).

This just seems to confuse matters, doesn’t it?! Well perhaps when trying to pin down and define the written nature of the Bible, it does. However, I like to look at the big picture, and at the risk of oversimplifying things, that is what I am going to lay out here. God is recorded as to having made many covenants throughout the Bible. One of the most, if not the most, important of these is the covenant He made with Abraham. In Genesis 12:1-3, God promises to bless “all peoples on earth” through him. If the Bible is true, then this was made possible over the course of millennia through  saving grace via Jesus Christ, which extends to people beyond the Jewish nation (past the non-Jewish exceptions that dot the Old Testament).

In this light, the big picture of the Bible surely appears to all have been a single, continuous plan. Mushishi-esque if you will (this analogy is both hole-ridden and potentially blasphemous!). However, that does not change the fact that different books were written by different writers for different purposes. Thus, while the big picture is this way, some New Testament letters were written with the express purpose of being replies (or “sequels”) to specific situations or other books! This means that perhaps the Bible also shares much with Free! (yes, I just compared the Bible to an anime based on male-dominated fan service via speedos).

In the end, these sorts of debates end up being nothing more than, as I mentioned earlier, semantics. Whether the New Testament is truly a “sequel”, in the strictest sense, to the Old Testament is rarely a hot topic, nor one investing in. However, it does bring up some intriguing questions and comparisons that can lead to a greater thirst for knowledge, which can lead to so much more. In that sense, I suppose it is not a waste, but merely… an investment.

Also, you should watch Mushishi. It’s great.

Oh, Free! is pretty good, too.

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