Fact Check: Mikasa’s Cruel World

Anime is full of references to religion, which presents a great opportunity to discuss matters of spirituality.  And that’s the idea behind this column, Fact Check, in which I’ll investigate some of the claims of anime and manga characters and weigh them against the truth of scripture.

The Claim

Today’s claim comes from Mikasa Ackerman during a flashback scene in episode six of Attack on Titan, “The World She Saw.”  Perhaps the most famous quote from the popular series (well, except for Levi’s interesting remark about trees), these words arise during Mikasa’s fight for survival against a band of bandits when she was young:

The world is cruel, but also very beautiful.

The claim is very straightforward: this world is both painful and stunning.

snk 2a

Fact Check

Attack on Titan is sometimes difficult to follow, partially because we’re introduced to so many significant characters early on and are encouraged to root for them without getting to know them.  Among the main characters, the Shiganshina trio – Eren, Mikasa, and Armin – it’s Mikasa that we know least about in the first half of season one.  Not until episode six do we learn her back story.

The phrase we’re investigating is almost an understatement; the words are uttered while young Mikasa and Eren struggle for their lives, trying to fight back and kill the robbers who murdered Mikasa’s parents and who plan to sell her.  In a moment of clarity, just before she somehow transforms into the superhero-strong character we later know, Mikasa thinks back upon some scenes from her childhood, including the death of an insect and her father bringing home fowl after hunting.  Death, in all it’s unfairness, cruelty, and pain, was set before her then and is again before her now.

But even so, the world is beautiful.  Life is worth fighting for.

In a series not particularly known for deep affirmations, Mikasa’s words ring with surprising truth and clarity.  On the surface, without context, the statement is truthful – “mother nature” is breathtaking both in it’s beauty and cruelty, in life and death.

The Christian, too, would say the same, and maybe have special insight to the meaning behind the quote.  Mikasa, of course, is thinking about life and death – the amazing joys that life has to offer, and the sadness in how it can be robbed without meaning and with impudence.  Mikasa and her family were innocent, and now her parents were dead and she, too, was about to die.  How unfair!  But such is life – and still, it remains something worth grasping.

Christians understand the imperfections of the world – natural and of the human heart – as having to do with sin.  Because of mankind’s wrong, the world was infected.  For now, the world is not holy and perfect – the Bible, in fact, tells us that the earth is the devil’s domain, where he reigns.

Even so, we still see glimpses of beauty on earth – they are all around us.  Nature sings out the holiness of God, the beauty of a creator who designed a world that presents us with sights that are feasts for our eyes and, within humans, a capacity to love that outshines anything else.  And in this we can see our creator’s love for us and know also that there is something else, something remarkable and perfect awaiting once we pass from this world.

The Grade

Mikasa’s assertion receives a 10 out of 10.  Simple and concise, her words reflect the condition of our world, both at it’s best and it’s worst.

Check out other Fact Check columns!


13 thoughts on “Fact Check: Mikasa’s Cruel World

    1. Thank you – it’s certainly not what the mangaka meant, but still I think it brings to light more significant truths than were intended.

  1. I instantly thought of eschatology and how this whole already/not yet tension plays out in everything. Even Christ’s death and resurrection embodies that (and is likely the starting point for more general observations).

  2. The ED for Attack on Titan is called A Beautiful Cruel World (Utsukushiki Zankoku No Sekai) (or 美しき残酷な世界 if you prefer) by Hikasa Youko and that is a truly excellent piece of music.

    1. Oh yes, I’d forgotten about the ED! I should go back and dig into the lyrics, which might lead to even futher discussion.

  3. I am reminded instantly of one Christian song that actually had a very emotionally potent impact on me:

    “We are tragic, we are sacred, We are Us.”

    Humans, by their very nature, reflect the cruelty and the beauty of the world. Quite often cruelty and beauty exist side-by-side in the same entity or human being. The moral absolutism so often displayed by Christianity tends to deny this in favor of something simpler, more black and white. But to someone who “lives with” a demon, befriends human monsters (sociopaths), and obsessively works to better the lives of the more unjustly disadvantaged…That conclusion is all but impossible not to draw.

    We exist in the continuum between wickedness and sacred goodness. We are saints and sinners, all of us. We are the most cruel thing and the most beautiful thing on Earth. Perhaps one day we will only be the most beautiful thing, but I personally think that would do us a disservice.

    Perhaps cruelty will be replaced with glory.

    1. Of course, we somewhat differ on our theology here, but I like your thoughts. As a Christian, of course, I see the cruelty as that which is inherent in us as sinful beings, and beauty reflecting some of God’s glory, like the moon reflecting the sun. But even though a line exists, I think there is something to be said of finding beauty in the ugly, grace in the cruel, and loveliness in the horrid. God’s love shine through so brightly when suffering, pain, and even ailment provides and opportunity for it.

  4. Wonderful insight, and a concise and thoughtfully-written article! The truths in this show are one of the reasons it’s among my favorites still, whether the mangaka intentionally wrote them in or not. I always find it shocking how God can smuggle truth into the most unlikely of places.

Leave a Reply