Annalyn’s Corner: Hollow Fulfillment in 2D and 3D Realities

I just re-watched the last couple episodes of The World God Only Knows, aka Kami nomi zo Shiru Sekai, most easily called KamiNomi (season 1). This time, I noticed the fulfillment Keima seems to find in his obsessive approach to dating sims, and the pride he takes in it. I think many otaku, including me, have felt similarly about our habits… sometimes to our detriment.

Quick Summary: This anime centers around Katsuragi Keima, a gamer who specializes in dating sims—in fact, he’s so good at these, he’s called the “Capturing God,” and otaku look up to him. Even the “demons” have heard of Keima’s expertise. One such demon, Elsie, misunderstands his reputation. She recruits him for a very important task: capturing Lost Souls. This task, much to Keima’s dismay, requires him to woo and rescue girls in real life, which takes a lot of time away from his gaming.

A Note on Religion: When I first heard of KamiNomi, I was suspicious. “The World God Only Knows“? Isn’t that a little… blasphemous? But God, as in the God, isn’t really talked about, and His power isn’t so much questioned as ignored, as in most anime. And the demons? We’re not talking about Satan’s crew, I assure you, though a couple elements of Christian tradition are incorporated. There’s some Buddhist imagery, too, when after-images of Keima’s arms make him look like a certain bodhisattva. In sequel seasons, Greek and Roman mythology is incorporated. This collection of religion and myth is not meant to be taken seriously—it’s a comedy.

Okay, housekeeping over. Let’s dive into the part of the post that makes me squirm:

Keima avoids interacting with the real world as much as possible. He proudly devotes every waking minute to dating sims—he’ll even play them while he’s running in gym class. Most people consider his lifestyle unhealthy, but he claims it’s fulfilling.

Keima’s obsession with his games is most fully shown in the last episode, when he finally gets a decent-length break from capturing Lost Souls. It’s not like he was completely cut off from gaming during the last eleven episodes, but he didn’t get enough. Apparently, like many long-time addicts, he needs higher doses of his drug for full effect.

Uh... "Kami onii-sama"? You're looking more like an addict than a kami right now.
Uh… “Kami onii-sama”? You’re looking more like an addict than a kami right now.

It’s natural to spend a lot of time doing something you love. Others don’t always understand it. As a result, many of us are used to waving off their concerned comments about our anime-watching, gaming, etc. How many eyebrows have raised when I talk about all the anime I’ve watched or my interactions online? They don’t understand the appeal of anime, let alone the accomplishment of finishing several series in a single day. And they certainly don’t know the fulfilling online discussions I’ve had about religion, Hunter x Hunter, and sports anime. How could these non-geek, business-minded go-getters know what is good for me? They may think I’m wasting time, but I know I’m just filling up on relaxation and good stories. Right?

Well, maybe. Kinda. Assuming I have my priorities straight, and I’m not acting like Keima, trying to find complete satisfaction in the 2D world.

I realized long ago that anime doesn’t fulfill my deepest needs. No matter how much anime I watch, no matter how many people read my blog posts about it, these accomplishments feel hollow. I know I’m called to something more.

Keima doesn’t realize it. He believes he has a legitimate, fulfilling way of living. And he certainly looks excited about it… but he also looks gaunt, isolated, and a little drugged as he plays first six, then twenty-four games at once. He might be happy in the moment and on the surface, but he’s not healthy. And even that surface happiness only lasts as long as he can grant his compulsion to play as many games as possible every moment possible. Then the happiness disappears. He says games are his food, water, etc., but they don’t seem to last him very long.

He can spent every minute of his life on a machine, choosing A, B, C, or D… but he’ll never be a machine. He’s a human, with both physical and spiritual needs, needs that even a hundred dating sims can’t meet. His body won’t hold up at this pace… and eventually, his spirit will cave as well.

Elsie expresses concern about Keima. The light from his game reflects in his glasses as he assure her of his sense of fulfillment.
Elsie expresses concern about Keima. The light from his game reflects in his glasses as he assures her of his sense of fulfillment.

When Keima says he’s “lived a very fruitful life, with plenty to enjoy,” he’s not talking about the girls he’s saved in the past couple weeks. Nope, he’s talking about his games. So… what fruit is he talking about? Unlocked routes? The feels that some sims give him? The advice he gives to the gamers who email him for help?

Sorry, but that’s not very fruitful. Or rather, it’s the kind of fruit you pick up in some games, a substance-less bundle of pixels that disappears into a virtual list or an imagined stomach the moment you touch it. Maybe if you gather enough fruit, you’ll get a tiny virtual trophy on your “achievements” screen.

I think that most people recognize that virtual reality can only offer so much. Instead, they pride themselves on 3D achievements and relationships. They date real people, work for college degrees and job promotions, and look down their noses at people like Keima, “poor little nerds who will go nowhere in life.” But if we are satisfied with material accomplishment, we are just as deluded as Keima—our delusion just happens to be more socially acceptable.

Material “fruitfulness” doesn’t last very long. Nor does it meet our deepest needs. It’s like eating food in Sword Art Online: it might help us get along in this world, but ultimately, it can’t give us the life we need.

We recognize that certain material accomplishments don’t satisfy. This shows in shoujo anime where the heroine realizes grades aren’t everything, and she finds new joy in relationships (My Little MonsterKare Kano).  Athletes like Kuroko realize that there’s more to life and basketball than winning (see also: Dear Boys). Several American movies address the obsession with monetary and career success, encouraging families to put their relationships first. The philosophies in these stories are, perhaps, a step closer to the truth. But only a step.

And now, we get to a new delusion. Newsflash: humans are imperfect, and so are our relationships. We let each other down. Sure, we can care for one another, and maybe our relationships will help with our social and mental needs. But even the best friendship, romantic relationship, or family can only be so much. Only God can give each person the salvation, purpose, and fulfillment they long for. If we try to find any of that in another person, 2D or 3D, we will be bitterly disappointed.

No problem, you might say. I’m an introvert, and I’m happy working toward my own goals! I don’t need no man (or woman)! In that case, I redirect you to the emptiness of virtual and material accomplishments. Also, I remind you that you are human, a social creature. I speak from experience when I say that, no matter how introverted you are, you need other people almost like you need food, and you’re headed for emotional destruction if you claim to be okay without healthy friendships. You can’t fulfill your own social needs, let alone your deepest spiritual needs.

Keima played 24 games at once in order to get through his backlog. He is no longer fully present; his mind his dancing through a field with dating sim characters while he assaults our ears with his terrible singing. Yep. His delusion has never been so clear. Look at those gaunt cheeks!
Keima played 24 games at once in order to get through his backlog. He is no longer fully present; his mind is dancing through a field with dating sim characters while he assaults our ears with his terrible singing. Yep. His delusion has never been so clear. Look at those gaunt cheeks!

So if 2D and 3D accomplishments and interpersonal relationships only give temporary sustenance, what’s left? What does it mean to live a a fruitful life? Many of you know what I’m about to say, but I think it’s worth hearing again.

Jesus used food and drink metaphors a lot when he talked about life. For example:

  • John 4:13-14, when talking to the Samaritan woman at the well: “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.'”
  • John 6:35, speaking to people who liked him because he gave them food (of the regular grainy kind): “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.'” (also, see entire chapter)

Obviously, people who believe in Jesus still get rumbling stomachs and dry mouths. And our bodies do time in the cemetery, just like everyone else’s. He’s talking about a different kind of “food,” and, in connection to it, a life that is eternal in both quality and length, that is spiritual as well as physical:

  • John 10:10b, speaking of himself as a “good shepherd”: “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.”
  • John 15:5, Jesus to his disciples, in the famous vine and branches passage: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
  • and verse 11, same chapter: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”

So, Jesus promises real fulfillment and an opportunity for abundant, fruitful life. There are two central parts to this: (1) He saves us from being trapped in sin, frees us from that control, forgives us, and justifies us in a long-term way that Jewish sacrifices never could. (2) He saves us to eternal life: not mere immortality or long-term existence, but a life in relationship with him, worshiping him, doing the work he’s set out for us to do and bearing fruit. It’s not easy, and it’s not always pleasant. It’s not a constant “spiritual high. But wow, it is good.

Keima says that his gaming fulfills him. I know many otaku feel similarly about some aspect(s) of their otakudom—games, VNs, anime, manga, shipping, figures. At times, I’ve tried to settle for a life of anime-binging myself, but it’s not enough. I’ve known God long enough to recognize that every temporary source of fulfillment is hollow without him. Anime and gaming aren’t bad, but they are best enjoyed as blessings from God, not as means and ends themselves. So when I see people settle for life without Jesus Christ, I’m a little sad—to some degree, I even feel bad for fictional characters like Keima. Stop trying to live on virtual fruit, I want to say. Jesus offers a more abundant life than you can imagine.

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