Anime Today: An Ode to Surprisingly Good Anime

If I had to describe the Spring 2015 season of anime in one word, it’d be “surprises”. A number of shows I knew I would love from the start—the sequels to Kinmoza, Oregairu, and Baby Steps, plus Sound! Euphonium and My Love Story—but what I was surprised by was how many other shows I followed this season surpassed my expectations. I will inevitably talk about some of those shows in more detail in the Spring 2015 reviews, but for now I would like to pay a little tribute to the pleasant surprises of Spring 2015, and of anime in general.

I would categorize “surprise” anime into two general types. The first type is the “breakout hit”, in which a show has a premise that sounds dumb or unappealing, but once you start it up, you find that the show is actually really good. For me, the best example of a breakout hit is Show by Rock. As a tie-in anime to a mobile game developed by Sanrio (of Hello Kitty fame), I was not expecting much more than cute girls playing music, but the opening episode was a rollercoaster of insanity with some hard rock to it, and it completely drew me in. Some past shows that fall into this category include Humanity Has Declined, AKB0048, Kotoura-san, and Inari Kon Kon.

The second type is the “late bloomer hit”, referring to shows improve significantly over time. A lot of shows this season have been like this to some degree, and there’s quite a lot of variation with the specifics. Some shows start out only okay but end up being rather enjoyable, while others start out already very solid but grow into amazing, top-tier shows. Some shows improve gradually, while others improve drastically thanks to one incredible episode. And, of course, some shows bloom earlier rather than later, and for some shows like this, the quality of the show still varies from episode to episode, but my overall opinion of the show has gone up over time.

For late bloomer shows from this season: Re-kan! already started off as a solid slice-of-life comedy about the spirit world, with some good emotional moments, and as it developed those emotional moments more, it has since become one of my favorites this season, with episode 6 being the real blooming point. Likewise, I had always enjoyed The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan for its alternative exploration of characters from the Haruhi franchise, but episode 10 brought the show to a whole new level of awesomeness. On the other hand, Wish Upon the Pleiades and Mikagura School Suite are both more gradual bloomers, slowly winning me over with their charm over time. As for some past shows in this category, there’s Outbreak Company, The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, Log Horizon, and Invaders of the Rokujyouma.

Whose lap is she in? You'll have to watch the show to find out, of course.
Not gonna lie; I nearly teared up during this scene. (From Re-kan!, episode 11)

So what do pleasantly surprising anime have to do with Christianity? As humans, we often judge other humans much like we judge anime. Just like we are quick to write off an anime based on pre-airing promotional material and premises, so we often make snap judgments on people based on cultural stereotypes before we ever get to know them. Other times, we do get to know them for a little bit, but we make judgments based on those first impressions like we judge an anime based on its first episode. These snap judgments are a natural part of how the brain works; it would take too much brainpower to give a fair, complete evaluation for everything we encounter in our lives, so we use stereotypes and impressions as mental shortcuts to quickly organize information so we can go on with our lives.

Of course, making snap judgments on anime is usually not a big deal, and can even be helpful if you can only afford the time to watch a limited number of shows. The worst thing that can happen is that you miss out on a show you would have loved, but that is far from a life-crippling thing (and a good post-airing review can help convince you to check it out later). But when dealing with actual people, these snap judgments can be very problematic. When we decide a certain person is “unsavable” because of snap judgments and do not reach out to them because of it, or when bad first impressions make us treat someone unlovingly, not only do we underestimate the power of God’s grace, but we also fail to show God’s love to the world.

God does not make snap judgments; He knows we are all sinful and need His grace, so He extends it to all of us, ready to bring out the good in all of us. You need to look no further than Paul for a great example of a “breakout” Christian: the idea of one of Christianity’s most vicious persecutors becoming the author of much of the Bible sounds about as crazy as a moe harem show becoming the next Cowboy Bebop in popularity and critical acclaim, but God made it happen. And if you want an example of a “late bloomer” Christian, Peter is a perfect example, as the guy who denied Christ three times in the first episode book of the New Testament would go on to become the very rock of the Church.

So the next time you want to write off a show because of a stupid premise or a bad first episode… well, feel free to do so; that is not a spiritually dangerous practice. But if you catch yourself making snap judgments on people to decide who is worth discipling or evangelizing to, maybe try thinking how you can show God’s love to those people instead. This is not easy, as it goes against how our brain normally works. But with God’s help to see people through His eyes rather than ours, we can fill the Church with all sorts of pleasant surprises as the world sees how even the last person they expect to be saved can be a faithful follower of Christ.

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