The eternal struggle between East and West, and its effect on anime.
…or at least that is the subtitle I would love to give this article if only WordPress would let me!
It’s been a while, but the holidays are over, the Christmas candy is gone (though the weight might not be), the schoolwork is piling anew, the 2015 winter anime season has kicked off, and Anime Today makes a
modest triumphant return!
I can hear it now… “But wait, JP, Shingeki no Bahamut aired last season… b-baka!” (I had no idea my readers were all tsundere!)
Why, yes, thank you for so kindly pointing that out. Thanks to an article by our good friend over at Medieval Otaku, I decided to reconsider my drop of the series early on last season and was able to just recently see it through to completion… and boy am I glad I did! What a wonderful gem, especially considering it’s an adaptation from a card game!
But enough of these trivialities. What is this article even about? What is with you (JP) and your stupid puns. I mean, really, “The Good, the Bad, and the Bahamut?” Really… b-baka…
Something I’ve often struggled with as a Christian, and particularly as a Christian writer, is differentiating between the Eastern and Western influences in my media of choice. Whether it is something profoundly philosophical as Mushishi or a fun epic like Shingeki no Bahamut, the marriage of these two world views is inescapable. And this being the case, what is a Christian to do?
Well first of all, I just recently realized that I was coming about this question completely the wrong way. The problem isn’t really determining what the Eastern and Western influences are and then pulling them apart, but determining the core message of the work and comparing it with my beliefs. Labeling East and West immediately puts an unnecessary strain on extrapolating edifying themes, as a shallow look into Christian history will quite blatantly inform the inquirer that Christianity is not intrinsically Western at all.
Judaism and Christianity have been labeled as strange, outcast religions from before the time of Christ up until centuries after Christ’s death and resurrection (ancient Rome treated the Jews with unique freedoms because of their “quaint” beliefs, even!). Thus, it was only the foundation of Roman Catholicism (and the Reformation centuries later) that brought Christianity to the current “Western” label it holds today, after years and years of being influenced by existing religious systems.
The reason I bring this up is one core component of many, many anime over the decades: the balance of good and
Good and evil requiring balance is something that I often automatically attribute to Eastern thought. Think “Yin and Yang.” While evil might be despised, its existence is a necessary foil to good.
The West doesn’t believe this, does it? Look at Greek and Roman mythology, and while it may not be spelled out as clearly as it is in Buddhism, the co-habitation of good and evil on the larger scale remains.
Christianity, on the other hand, says from the outset that God despises evil and cannot exist with it (this theme comes up often in the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms and the Prophets), hence sin’s separation. The ultimate goal of Christianity is not to find the happy medium between good and evil, God and Satan, but ultimately redeeming the Creation that has been marred by evil and bringing it to a final state of goodness (i.e. the New Heavens and the New Earth in Revelation).
Rewind to anime. The “balancing act” frame of mind not only applies to Shingeki no Bahamut, but even some of the anime airing this season.
Shingeki no Bahamut: The entire series revolves around the conflict between gods and demons.
Aldnoah Zero: Black and white motivations have been blurred, and now the “good” Terrans seem to be in a never-ending struggle with the “evil” Martians.
Parasyte: Rife with bio-centric themes, while the parasites act as the “evil” antagonists of the series, their motivations are given a gray tint so as to cancel the ambitions of “good” humanity.
However, as I reflected more on these themes, I realized these summaries weren’t necessarily completely accurate in describing the opposing forces of each respective series.
Shingeki no Bahamut: The Bahamut serves as an objective evil that is not to preserve a balance, but that all creatures seek to destroy or, at least, seal from existence entirely. While the dualism of the gods and demons still exists, they serve as a contrast to the Bahamut’s objective presence.
Aldnoah Zero: Characters are given individual motivations, such that, while different characters approach this problem in different ways, exploitative sentience serves as the “true” evil. Each character is seeking the outcome they believe to be of the most utility (at least subjectively), which the viewer can see, but the viewer also has the full reign to draw together the facts and see that there is a greater underlying “evil” beneath everything, and consequently a greater achievable “good.”
Parasyte: While bio-centrism pervades the writing, the viewer can sympathize with the main character such that, while the actions of the individual parasites might have some grayness in their perceived morality, the evil of human slaughter is apparent with perhaps a different viable solution for the parasites an option.
Ultimately, what my reflections have brought me to is that nothing is as simple as it appears. Everything draws inspiration from everything, in that no one cause can be identified for nearly anything at all. The schism between East and West is more than it seems, and the relation between West and Christianity is similarly difficult to define. Morality in one narrative might seem to greatly share likenesses with one belief system, while simultaneously, if one digs far enough, sharing other likenesses with another.
What I hope this fleshed out to you, the reader, is that, regardless of what you believe, you must consume with your full mind engaged. Something that seems to agree with you right away, might deviate upon further analysis, while something that seems appalling might not really be so if you look hard enough. This is not to say there is no objectivity to narrative analysis (it would be hard to be a Christian and not believe in some amount of objectivity), but someone who wants to truly gain something from their media consumption does so smartly.
Thus, perhaps this article would be more aptly entitled “The Good, the Bad, the Truly Bad, and Why It’s So Dang Difficult to Figure Out What They All Are And Stuff… B-Baka!”