Examining Old School Anime: As the Tree Falls

Few anime possess the brilliance of Space Pirate Captain Harlock.  On the night when I became inspired to write this article, I watched no fewer than seven episodes in a row.  This viewing also happened to give me another, more happy topic, but the topic of death appeared more interesting.  To be more precise, Captain Harlock inspired me to write about a theme in Catholic eschatology.  Episode 17, “The Skeleton Hero,” was unique in focusing on the life of the Arcadia’s chief engineer, especially his relationship with his former captain, Yamanaka of the warship The Braves.  (Most of the crew have amazing backstories.)  What caused this reminiscence was the Arcadia receiving a distress message from Captain Yamanaka, whose ship has become stranded in the Horsehead Nebula.


Unfortunately, when our heroes find The Braves, all that ship’s crew are reduced to skull and bones.  To their surprise, the remains of Captain Yamanaka are discovered standing upright at the helm.  Captain Harlock comments: “Even in death, he holds the helm.  He was a true man of the sea.”  Though we may not be fortunate to have as epic of a death, our character may influence the posture people find us in when we die.  Dr. David Livingstone’s body was found kneeling in prayer at his bedside, Martin Luther’s hands naturally assumed the shape they took while writing upon his death, and St. Benedict asked two of his followers to hold up his arms as he expired in prayer before the altar.  We can see the way these people lived in the way they died.


This brings up this theme in Catholic eschatology: “…where the tree falls, there it will lie” (Ecclesiastes 11:3).  I first came across this concept in St. John Bosco’s Vision of Hell, which showed certain orphans under St. John Bosco’s care, who were the in a state of mortal sin, falling into hell and lying immobile in the flames.  As applied to death, it means that as we are at death, so we shall be for eternity.  Those who hate God and refuse to repent, shall hate God forever.  Those who loved God and fully repented shall immediately go to love God in His Kingdom.  Those who repented imperfectly shall be purified slowly or quickly before arriving in the Heavenly Kingdom, depending on their debt to God’s justice and their love of God.  In what state shall we find ourselves at the moment of death?


The answer to the above question is determined each day of our lives.  People little realize the importance of the day.  We say, “Tomorrow, I shall do penance.  Today, I’ll enjoy myself.”  But, the roots of tomorrow are in today, and procrastination in conversion may lead to endless backsliding.  God often expresses His Mercy by giving us more time, but it remains with us to use this time to get closer to God or closer to hell.  St. Anthony the Great would start each day by saying to himself that he had done nothing yet for God.


What is even more surprising about St. Anthony is that he lived for one hundred and five years (251 – 356 A.D.) with about eighty-five of these lived according to ascetic discipline.  How easy it would be to backslide over such a long time!  St. Thomas a Kempis remarks in his The  Imitation of Christ that it is considered a great thing if a monk merely maintains the same fervor with which he began his vocation.   This situation reminds me of the parable in Luke 12:42-46, where Our Lord commends us to be always diligent “…for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not” (Luke 12:40).  Perseverance in faith and good works is a grace for which we should always pray.  Let us imitate St. Anthony of Egypt and Captain Yamanaka so that God finds us at our posts when that final hour dawns on us.

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8 thoughts on “Examining Old School Anime: As the Tree Falls

  1. Reblogged this on Medieval Otaku and commented:

    Here’s my latest article on Captain Harlock under the Examining Old School Anime column. Soon, I’ll start writing articles for another old school series, since I’ve blogged the daylights out of this classic. Maybe just one or two more articles on it.

  2. Of all the provisions and theological elements of Christian belief there are, this is the one I most hope is literally true. Because I suppose, “dying holding the helm of the ship” could be a metaphor for exactly how I’d want to die in some parallel ideal universe. (Or considering the circumstances that would have to lead up to it, maybe not ideal at all! XD) Dying asserting what I believe in for the whole world. Dying as myself.

    But most of us never get deaths like that. So in a strange way, we have to hope that when we do die, God sees our lives. And God listens. And God lets us reap what we sowed.

    There’s a line from a rather non-Christian anime that explains it perfectly, the last line of the season:

    “I will try to be gentle.” “No. Make it hurt as badly as you can possibly make it hurt. Make it burn, so that I know that what I did mattered.”

    1. Wouldn’t we all love an epic death? Or at least some great last words? I imagine myself saying something great and edifying in my last moments only to have death delayed long enough for me to say something very mundane. 🙂

      I’m going to take a guess on which anime those lines come from and say that it’s Gantz. A few people have told me that I should watch it.

        1. That’s what I’ve thought for a long time. What people have told me about the series is very interesting. At any rate, I’m too interested in old school anime to give Gantz a chance for now.

      1. Actually, it’s from Black Butler, and for that reason had a kind of personal relevance to me. Sebastian, the actual Demon from that show, is about to consume his own “master’s” soul. And that is what his “master” said to him in response.


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