Anime Today: Being Counter-Cultural

The last month or so has revealed something that I once knew, but had long since forgotten: Reading is awesome!

Honestly! As much as I love anime, there is nothing quite like sitting down and flipping through a good book. Visual novels and, to a lesser degree, light novels count, of course… but limiting your diet (your “otaku diet”?) to merely one avenue of media consumption serves only to, consequently, limit your perspective.

Recently I had the pleasure of reading through 893: A Daughter of the Yakuza, by Dr. Robert Cunningham; Silence, by Shusaku Endo; and Shiokari Pass, by Ayako Miura (yes, I know, I know, they’re all about Japan). While all three are great reads in their own rights, Shiokari Pass had a particularly unexpected impact upon my life and my perspective after completing it. I won’t get into detail, as you should go ahead and read the book if you’re interested, but one of the major themes I gathered from it was this: Christianity is at its most fundamental level, counter-cultural.

Particularly in the context of Japan, where else are you going to here themes that clearly drive against the “common sense” of self preservation? The world says, “Love your friends, but seek revenge against your enemies” (Donald Trump is famous for admonishing people to get pre-nuptial agreements and, more importantly, “Get even!”), but the Bible says to pray for your enemies (Matthew 5:44). The world says, “Everything ultimately boils down to self-interest, even philanthropy,” but the Bible says that the truest form of love is to die for another (John 15:13).

In the Western world, where Christian principles permeate every facet of everyday life, it is easy to forget that Christianity is, in all truth, extremely controversial in its lack of emphasis on self-preservation.

It is because of Shiokari Pass that I had this process of thought reignited within me, and thus, my frame of reference for everything I intake. So, speaking of intake, how does this fit into the anime I’m watching this season?

parasyte 2a

Parasyte: Both the humans and the parasites exude a most profound selfishness. Neither regards the other as particularly valuable, except as they relate to survival. Humans hate parasites for their murders, and parasites consume humans in order to live. The situation is complicated because the lifeforms are fundamentally different, but will the story address that? It seems like it may, but only time will tell…

Aldnoah Zero: The two male leads exude the most gross form of “selflessness” in their respective desires for Asseylum. Slaine resorts to anything that will keep her alive, regardless of its morality or her true will, and Inaho… well… he doesn’t really seem to know what he believes.

Your Lie in April: This show exhibits aspects of counter-cultural selflessness… but in the midst of middle school angst and immaturity. As it stands, it is difficult to pinpoint any truly counter-cultural actions or attitudes, with the closest being Kousei’s mother.

Death Parade: If any series on this list truly showcases the depraved nature of man this is it. Nearly every judged human in Death Parade exudes heaping piles of worldly selfishness in the will to survive. What is interesting, however, is the focus on those characters that deviate. It appears that those outlying characters that engage in self-sacrifice are those that gain the most positive attention of the writers. Now that is interesting, indeed…

Shirobako: Each character in this series seems to have some element of self-centered desire, but to a limited degree that shifts depending on the person. In great contrast to the other four series I am following, Shirobako seems to follow the studio as a larger entity, or a complex social organism, more so than each character. In a way, this reflects the biblical view of the Church. However, as interesting as this may be, the “counter-cultural” connections seem limited only to sacrifice in favor of the studio, as opposed to sacrifice in favor of all.

If Anime Today has, or is to develop, a common theme, it is that context matters… and that includes your own worldview! Even though I’ve been watching these same five shows for weeks now, it took a kick in the pants from a separate piece of literature to motivate me to examine them more deeply.

Christianity straddles an intriguing line between natural inclination to God (Romans 2:15), and the “natural” inclination to sin. It is natural to want to love God, but it is simultaneously “natural” to steer oneself toward self-love. Which one is correct? Obviously, Christianity claims the former, which puts it in a contentious point of counter-cultural disagreement with the latter.

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