Greetings to our dear readers! Having accepted TWWK’s invitation to write for Beneath the Tangles, we decided that blogging about old school anime (anime produced in the 80’s and in prior decades) would make for an interesting addition to the blog and introduce fans to some great old series. This column shall point out and discuss themes in old school anime from a Catholic viewpoint. Hopefully, the articles will both encourage you to explore older anime and provide ideas which will enrich your meditations on the Faith.
I skipped writing this column a fortnight ago because a break from blogging and anime felt necessary. I thought that I would need two months, but two weeks proved more than enough of a refrigerium. I am taking this opportunity to write my last article on Ashita no Joe before I turn my attention to Space Pirate Captain Harlock. (The famous Crispin Freeman referred to this show in an interview as his favorite anime when he grew up.) Your humble blogger is unsure whether this show will generate as many ideas as Ashita no Joe, but two episodes have already started the gears turning in my head, which is a promising start.
But, let me proceed to the present article. In Ashita no Joe, one notices that all the women in Joe Yabuki’s life look the same. One wonders why the the world the mangaka would do such a thing: can he draw beautiful young women no other way or does he mean to make a point by it? He even goes out of his way to highlight this similarity by Joe thinking that he sees Yoko in each one of them.
The craftsmanship with which this classic anime is constructed argues for deliberation on the author’s part. The realization that Yoko Shiraki tries to imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary was the key to unlocking the purpose behind this choice. The audience realizes Yoko’s admiration of St. Mary when Yoko sends Joe Yabuki a postcard portraying Mary the Queen of Heaven while he’s imprisoned. But, Yoko does not properly imitate St. Mary until she realizes that St. Mary’s glory is built on her humility: “For [the Lord] hath looked upon the low estate of his handmaid: For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed,” (Luke 1:48). The viewer, along with Joe Yabuki, does not like Yoko despite her concern for the poor, because her charity appears self-interested.
This starts to change when she supplies boxing equipment to Joe and his fellow prisoners. She notices that they become more disciplined, cheerful, and motivated through seeing what they themselves are capable of accomplishing. She only provided the means, as she confesses herself. This flicks on a light bulb in Yoko: she does not, as it were, convert people but provides the means for positive change. How much is this like St. Mary, who stands as the Mediatrix of all the graces but gives all the glory to God, the Fountain of Grace and Savior of Souls. This we see in the next lines of the Magnificat: “For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; And holy is his name. And his mercy is unto generations and generations On them that fear him,” (Luke 1:49-50). Likewise, when we praise Our Lady, we cannot but praise the Father who sent His Only Begotten Son into the world through being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary.
If we have missed Yoko’s devotion to St. Mary beforehand, we cannot but remark it after the series’s Christ figure, Rikiishi, begins his arduous weight loss program. Yoko grows in the imitation of St. Mary in two ways: 1) by staying with Rikiishi and trying to participate as much as possible in his pains (Yoko also fasts); and 2) by encouraging Joe Yabuki to continue boxing and providing the means of him entering the ring again after his fall from grace. Essentially, Yoko acts similarly to Our Lady of Sorrows in the first instance and like Our Mother of Mercy in the second. Yoko not only engineers Joe Yabuki’s return to the ring in the face of sharp opposition, but does this for Rikiishi’s sake rather than her own. I remark this series is about Joe’s conversion, but Yoko also converts from someone seeking her own glory to utter forgetfulness of self. This transformation is almost as beautiful as Joe’s metamorphosis from a punk to–for all intents and purposes–a knight.
But, what about the physical similarity between the three women? Two possible reasons come to mind. I have described Joe Yabuki as a kind of ascetic. The only women allowed in the most austere ascetics’ lives are the Blessed Virgin Mary and other saintly women. Yabuki’s eschewing of romantic relationships while being particularly preoccupied with Yoko further paint him as symbolizing a man with a religious vocation. On the other hand, his friend Nishi flourishes much better in the world, indicating him as the type with the ordinary vocation to marriage. Noriko is actually interested in Joe for most of the series, but marriage is not for him. One of Joe’s parting shots to Nishi and Noriko is that they should get married, as they are far more suited for each other than Joe and Noriko.
The second point behind this similarity–important for you young ladies out there–is that Christian men essentially want to see St. Mary in the women they love: whether it be the contemplative and self-effacing Yoko, the hospitable and faithful Noriko, or the cheerful and compassionate Yuri. It might seem unfair of men to demand their beloved to imitate God’s highest creature, but do not Christian women wish to see Christ in their lovers? After all, what attracted Noriko to Joe were his likenesses to Rikiishi rather than his predilection for violence and stupidity–qualities which he overcomes during the course of the series. Both sorts of emulation are impossible by nature, but we may indeed become like Jesus and Mary by grace.