Anime Today: The Good, the Bad, and the Bahamut

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!

TWWK: Huh? Isn't this supposed to be "Anime TODAY?"
TWWK: Huh? Isn’t this supposed to be “Anime TODAY?”

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…

…Ahem…

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 bad evil.

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!”

12 thoughts on “Anime Today: The Good, the Bad, and the Bahamut

  1. Reblogged this on Japesland and commented:

    My most recent article in my column Anime Today. This time around I focus on inconsistencies in the East vs. West mindset, coupled with the confusion of vacuum-styled thinking.

  2. The relationship between the Romans and the Jews is pretty interesting. That the Romans allowed the Jews to practice their religion without interference because it was “quaint” is about right. The Romans respected anything having antiquity, and Judaism definitely counts! If you want to read something amusing, read Philo’s Embassy to Gaius (aka Caligula). Philo and the Jews accompanying that great philosopher explain why they can’t worship Caligula as a God, and Caligula basically says at the end of their rather weird audience, “Well, I think it’s a shame that you cannot worship me, but do as you please.”

    Your article reminds me of that quote from the Tao Te Ching that we know evil because there is good and good because there is evil. One really understands how inspired the Bible is when is emphasizes that God created everything good, which means that evil is a participation in non-being or a lack of being–a complete contrast from the dualistic religions of the pagans!

    But, I am really glad that you’re enjoying Shingeki no Bahamut. It is a great show and there are some more surprises for you before the end.

    1. Thanks for reading! I look forward to your comments because they are also so informative and insightful. I wish I was more well-read, but being a business student (as well as involved in volunteering, Japanese study, and other things) makes it difficult to make room.

      I was vaguely aware of some of your points, thanks to reading some work by Koester (can’t remember his first name at the moment!) and NT Wright. Thank you for elucidating!

      1. You give this bookworm too much credit! I also should apply myself more to Japanese studies. That language never fails to offer an interesting perspective on things, and the knowledge of it does lend more enjoyment to listening to the voice actors in anime.

        NT Wright sounds like an important scholar. Any book recommendations for an introduction to him?

        1. Well I’m only now getting into his work. I’ve referenced his views frequently, and really like what he’s said in interviews and the like, but the only book of his that I’ve actually finished is Simply Jesus. It is a pretty basic overview of the historical importance of Jesus and the events surrounding his time on earth in several hundred years each direction. You are likely familiar with what it entails, but from what I’m told, it is a good starting point.

          He is incredible in his ability to switch between producing work for the layman and the scholar. Simply Jesus is definitely the former, but he has plenty out there for the latter!

          I will be starting his “For Everyone” series at some point on the New Testament, though I have several books to get through before that.

    2. “Your article reminds me of that quote from the Tao Te Ching that we know evil because there is good and good because there is evil.”

      Ah, but technically this is true even from a Christian standpoint. Not “Good cannot exist without evil,” because it does in Christianity. God Himself is all things good. However we know “good” AS “good” because there’s a “not good” to compare it to and an “evil” to willingly choose. If there’s no choice at all, generic goodness falls flat and has no meaning. It is innocence and not Glory. Not “One cannot exist without the other,” but “We cannot make a choice to be good without evil.”

      God seems to understand this Himself because He deliberately wrote a villain into His Story. Satan may have chosen himself to do what he did, but nonetheless that means that God created a character knowing what he would do before it happened. He did not Himself do evil, but He allowed it to happen.

      Thus…I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that the way to solve the Problem of Evil is to interpret God as a writer and us as His characters. This is virtually the only way God can be omnipotent and all things good at the same time. He ultimately means to write for His glory, and in a sense ours as His characters. His servants, reflecting His image. We make the choice whether we want to go along with that grand Plan ourselves.

      “which means that evil is a participation in non-being or a lack of being”

      In the sense that the writer controls the story, yes. It is essentially acquiescing to one’s own End.

      1. I’m not sure if we need evil to understand and appreciate good. Perhaps, in the fallen world where we live and often fall into the sin of ingratitude. But, if there were no evil, we should have a perfect appreciation for everything good, even as we saw that certain goods were inferior to others. After all, Aristotle defines the good as “what is desired,” and good things are desirable in themselves without reference to evil things. Though, certain good things (e.g. boxed wine) may be undesirable when compared to better things (e.g. Premier Cru Bordeaux). So, goodness has its own hierarchy which helps us to make choices.

        Nevertheless, it is true that in this fallen world we can often only be truly grateful for good things when we compare ourselves to people worse off or perceive how good certain virtues are by comparing them to vices.

        That is a way to solve the Problem of Evil. When we do good, we follow God’s script and God’s grace aids the good deeds He has placed before us to accomplish. When we do evil, God involves himself in no way with the evil of our actions. But, He also has the power to bring us back to the true plot line.

        1. Ah, but that doesn’t really explain then why God allowed and even predicted the existence of evil. Satan himself is a walking evil paradox. He is a being that God created that God knew would turn evil and thus would in turn corrupt us. God must have predicted and allowed the Fall of His own creations or He cannot be omnipotent. He is not responsible for it because Satan himself (And us) caused it, but He knew that providing free will would create evil and STILL considered free will a greater good. A greater good than everything that has happened to us all….and happened to my own God.

          So Evil itself must exist for a reason having to do with free will and choice, and will presumably (As villains always do) die at the end of the story.

          1. Definitely, if God did not create creatures with the power to choose freely, then moral evil could not exist–and I suppose moral goodness could not exist either. Though, I don’t think that God created the free will as a faculty for choosing between good or evil, but for choosing among various goods. And if God created no evil, then how could the devil choose evil? It must have begun in his reason, which evaluated things wrongly. He created a false good: placing himself above God–an impossibility! The devil told himself the first lie ever and fell for it; in essence, creating an idea without existence.

            So, God foreknew that the devil would lie to himself enough to produce his own demise. But, I do suppose that if the devil would have turned just once toward God, he would have seen the truth and chosen to recognize his Creator as Lord.

            At least, that’s how I see it: the devil warping his own reason in order to create evil choices in a Universe which had not yet any evil in it. Even now, most of our sins begin with lying to ourselves and the rest are committed out of ignorance.

  3. I appreciate what you’re saying here, especially this part: “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.”

    I thought about this recently, actually. I think learning about the various influences—religion, culture etc.—in media helps me understand and identify themes. But ultimately, it’s not so much a matter of labeling the influence as weighing the messages against what I believe. It’s easy to lose sight of that goal if I’m too caught up in cultural differences.

    1. Thanks Annalyn!

      I think the main influence of this article is that I’ve realized in my studies that core Christianity doesn’t actually line up with the popular presentation of it. I don’t understand it all, but looking back at the 1st and 2nd Century contexts of Christianity is so incredibly enlightening, and often in contrast with “Westernism.”

      Christianity is fundamentally counter-cultural!

      Thanks for reading, and thanks for your kinds words! 😀

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