Between the Panels: A Reason to Live (Ch. 1)

Imagine a re-telling of Death Note where Light has a conscience, Ryuk is cute, and those “lucky” few with Shinigami angels over their shoulders participate in the Holy Grail War, a la Fate Stay Night.

Imagine no further. It’s a thing.

Platinum End, dream duo Tsugumi Ohba’s and Takeshi Obata’s latest brainchild, hit the Jump SQ magazine last November, surpassing the typical Shonen Jump stomping grounds. There’s two good reasons for that: (1) Platinum End is a monthly manga (the impatience is real), and (2) it’s much more mature than SJ would likely allow. There’s a rather scandalous scene in the second chapter, and while I hope there won’t be more where that came from, I encourage readers to exercise caution before deciding to pick it up. This certainly isn’t the “same” Death Note you may affectionately remember from your teen years, though whether that ends up being a disappointment or not remains to be seen.

One thing I’m certainly not disappointed about is Ohba’s continued tradition of including Christian imagery in his stories. This time we’re dealing with angels, afterlives, becoming (and playing) god, and a good handful of biblical themes—love, hope, happiness, and life. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill, include-it-for-some-warm-fuzzies themes either, as they’re dissected with a level of candor that implies eternity hangs in their balance, and the story wastes no time stating the obvious.

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Within the first ten pages, the protagonist attempts suicide. Spared by an angel to participate in the “Holy God Wars” (I jest, but the Fate Stay Night similarities are real) as a God Candidate, our hero finds himself asking serious questions about happiness and hope and whether he wants to risk living for them again.

Mirai, the protagonist, comes from an abusive, adopted home. Think Cinderella meets Harry Potter… on steroids. He’s forced to go to work in his non-existent spare time, only to have his aunt and uncle confiscate all his paychecks. He’s forced to keep house like a slave all day and then be locked away to sleep on a cold floor all night. He’s not fed because why waste money?—the school cafeteria can feed him, and once a day is nourishment enough. (And, you know, his adoptees may or may not have killed off the rest of his family for inheritance money.)

You get the picture. It’s not pretty.

Understandably, Mirai feels that life isn’t worth living. As a reader it’s painful to watch him, sitting alone and unnoticed amidst the excited chatter of his clueless classmates. Unable to see any other way out, Mirai climbs a skyscraper and jumps. Fortunately, he’s spared by an act of god… or an angel, to be specific, and given a chance of hope.

019Nasse, Mirai’s guardian angel, grants him two powers which she claims will remedy his need for freedom (a pair of wings) and happiness (special arrows that force others to love and admire him). Mirai accepts the gifts and decides maybe he’ll give living another chance.

Growing up, Mirai held to the mantra that, “everyone is born because they want happiness, everyone lives because they want more happiness.” Essentially, that life is an endless quest for pleasure and affirmation—a hedonistic viewpoint, but one that speaks volumes about the reality of the Christian God.

Within us all is an instinct to worship. We’re made to be creatures of servitude, and struggle to find happiness and meaning otherwise. Often, in our desperation, we pledge our services to things that cannot return our investment, leaving us feeling empty and in need of something more. And the driving force behind that instinct is a desire for happiness, and thus fulfillment and meaning.

Strange though it may sound, hedonism and Christianity go hand-in-hand to an extent. Christianity is about seeking and finding joy but acknowledges that this quest is ultimately about desiring God, rather than simply pursuing pleasure for its own sake. We put our hope in God because we trust that He has the power to make good on His promises to sustain our joy. Nothing else, no matter how well-meaning, has that ability: people will disappoint us and/or eventually leave our lives, memories will fade, bodies will atrophy, and possessions will deteriorate. Only eternal things endure, and those things are few and far between—human souls and God, among them.

The Bible is clear on the subject of joy, stating that, through God, our joy will reach capacity (1 John 1:4). I don’t take this to mean that I’ll be on a constant “happy-high” for the rest of my life, but rather that I will be given the “special ability” to feel an “abnormal” joy where I otherwise might not. In Mirai’s situation, I might be able to look beyond my present circumstances and find consolation in eternal things, for example. Through my communion with God, I would have a lifeline to cling to, even if I felt I were about to break. That doesn’t mean that life would be easy. In Mirai’s situation, I might fall into heavy depression and severely question God’s goodness. Moments of weakness are not exempt from the Christian walk. In fact, they characterize it.

054Mirai’s situation brings to mind two biblical figures who struggled with intense feelings of depression and hopelessness. The first is the psalmist David, the man “after God’s own heart.” (Acts 13:22) The book of Psalms is practically a journal of an individual struggling with depression. David talks about crying so strongly that his bed becomes soaked with tears, as well as details the fear and hopelessness he feels while being hunted like wild game.

Yet Psalms also records David’s hope in God. There are entire chapters dedicated to praise, odes of faith and fulfillment, and reassurance that God will protect him from his enemies, even while he sleeps at night. (Spoiler alert: God does.)

The other biblical figure is the Philippian jailer who, fearing that Paul and the other prisoners had escaped on his watch, planned to commit suicide (back in the day, letting prisoners escape on duty was punishable by death).

Like Mirai, the jailer’s attempt at suicide was driven by “supposing”—supposing that things would not get better, that there was no way out, that he would be better off this way—however, his “supposing” was misdirected by the blinding desire to escape his current circumstance. The prisoners, despite having been loosed from their cells, did not escape, and when Paul called attention to this fact, the jailer saw his grave error, stayed his hand, and was able to find a new life through Paul’s witnessing. (This last point is integral—we’ll come back to it in a bit!)

As Valentine’s Day comes around the corner, I’m reminded of the thousands of individuals who feel they are not loved and that they will never find enough happiness to warrant living out their lifespan. I’ve been on the receiving end of a crisis or two, convincing the other person that suicide is not the answer, reciting the oft-said mantras and hoping they’d be taken to heart: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” and “You are loved (by God and others).” But I think the most important one is: “Don’t suppose.”

Don’t suppose that you have nothing left to live for. Don’t suppose that things won’t get better. Don’t suppose that you can’t beat this. You don’t know what tomorrow holds (Matthew 6:34). With God, all things are possible (Matthew 16:26). We can do all things through Christ who strengths us (Philippians 4:13). We are conquerors and overcomers—soldiers in His spiritual army (Romans 8:37). It’s not an easy fight. We’re not told to put on togas or monkish habits, but to put on armor (Ephesians 6:10-18). That doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to stumble, fall, bleed, cry, and question God. David did all five, on an almost daily basis, yet God considered him a man after His own heart.

Don’t give up. God’s not giving up on you.

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As I await the next chapter in Platinum End, I hope Mirai is keen enough to realize that just as suicide is ultimately an unsatisfying quick-fix to his problems, so too are the special gifts he has been given—his angel wings and magical arrows, guaranteed to grant him instant freedom and happiness. As Nesse warns him, the effects of the arrows will eventually wear off, returning the entranced individual to their former self and making them once more disenchanted with Mirai. What Mirai seeks most isn’t this artificial affection, transforming those around him into fawning robots, but real, genuine love. Mirai wants his family back—or to create one of his own—and live a normal life with a career, education, home, and purpose. He seeks something so much deeper than the superficial powers can grant him.

Given Ohba’s walk-the-line approach between spirituality and humanism, I’m curious as to the ultimate truth Mirai will realize for remedying the hole in his heart. I doubt we’ll see the Jehovah we know show up on the climatic pages, but at the very least I hope to see something allusive—something beyond the physical and immediate that indicates the heart’s need for a God who can make good on vested faith in Him by extending genuine love and fulfillment in return.

At the very least, I hope Mirai won’t end his days like Light Yagami. Surely, once is enough, Ohba.

6 thoughts on “Between the Panels: A Reason to Live (Ch. 1)

  1. Ooh, this looks interesting. You had my attention at “Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata.” I don’t recognize many mangaka’s names, but between Death Note and Bakuman, they’ve secured a place in my memory.

    Anyway, great article! I enjoyed reading about Platinum End, and I appreciated the Biblical examples. I was going to respond with a thought about God’s love (and how He draws us to love Him—not through force or magical arrows, but through revealing who He is and inviting us to love Him), but I got distracted before I could finish writing it down, and it was a little off topic anyway.

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    1. I’m with you there! Much to my chagrin, I’ve yet to read/watch Bakuman, though it’s on my to-do list. Maybe I’ll tackle reading it once I get through Trigun MAXIMUM… Platinum End seems much more similar to Death Note thematically, which easily snagged my attention. Looks like this dynamic duo are going back to their roots.

      I’m glad you brought that up! I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to focus on with this piece, and sort of ended up splurging all my thoughts onto the page in a giant conglomerate. But I also noticed the interesting tie-in to forced love VS invited love, and how that idea especially resonates with the Christian Faith. I’m hoping that our hero doesn’t take the Light Yagami route and turn into an “I-am-god-and-I-will-make-you-love-me” character, just because Ohba’s been-there-done-that already, though it would certainly make for a new angle–no doubt one that would lend itself well to discussion here at Tangles. Coming from the humanistic standpoint that the series will no doubt take, I’m curious to see what Ohba presents as the “solution” to Mirai’s need for fulfillment.

      Thank you for the comment and the read 🙂

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  2. Fantastic post! I really appreciate the distinction you make between earthly and divine joy. I would even argue that there’s a substantive difference between the two beyond the fact that one is temporary and the other eternal: we all instinctively seek happiness and pleasure, but only our enjoyment of God actually fulfills the purpose for which we were created.

    This manga definitely looks intriguing – like a weird blend of Death Note and It’s a Wonderful Life. For the record, I only discovered Death Note in the past year (and only the anime version), but I was very impressed with what I saw; I’ll have to check this one out as well, if I can. It looks like it’ll be full of great discussion fodder.

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    1. The fact that Christ’s joy is eternal is definitely a bonus, but you’re absolutely right: it’s more important that it is fulfilling. I see a lot of media–especially video games–where a perfect, eternal world is mocked, and even opposed, by the characters (Final Fantasy XIII, Sonic and the Black Knight). That’s because, from our human standpoint, we can’t imagine a world or thing that goes on forever without seeing it as unnatural or dull (read: unfulfilling). It’s always the villains that seek “eternal life,” and most heroes who at some point go after eternal life eventually realize that it’s not something they want any part in. It’s sad, because on one hand stories such as these speak of the reality of man’s fallen nature and need for an eternal, perfect God, while on the other hand are grossly misunderstanding of the true eternal nature of God’s perfect love and holiness.

      I rambled a bit there, but I guess what I’m saying is that fulfilling joy is vital to eternal joy; otherwise, the eternity becomes all about “existing” and has nothing to do with “living.” We “live” in Christ. He doesn’t give us joy and life so that we can “survive,” but so we can begin “living” as we were meant to. Deep down, it’s instinct that humans feel driven to seek this ultimate joy–we were created this way; outside of Christ, we try to find it in a myriad of things (people, achievements, hobbies, dreams, self, etc.), but these ultimately leave us empty. I wrote a bit more extensively on this in a piece I did on Kenny Ackerman from Attack on Titan: http://www.beneaththetangles.com/2015/06/18/kenny-ackerman-the-pursuit-of-fulfillment-and-the-power-of-testimony/

      It IS a lot like A Wonderful Life, now that you mention it! I didn’t even think about it that way. Reading it, I almost got the feeling that Platinum End was meant to be a re-write of Death Note. Almost like Ohba was saying, “Here’s how I would have re-done Death Note if I’d given it a bit more thought.” It’s very similar. There are stand-in characters for Light, Ryuk, Misa, and Rem so far, as well as a character who takes to TV screens to make public announcements for the purposes of tracking down other God Candidates (like L). Chances are, if you loved Death Note, you’ll really enjoy this one too. It is definitely more mature than Death Note, however, so be sure you brace yourself for that before diving in (some sexual content, undetailed but with very little left to the imagination–it’s not a long scene, and hopefully it’s not a sign of things to come–and some bloody violence).

      I’m sure it’ll get an anime adaptation. Given Ohba and Obata’s track record, that would only make sense. Perhaps the anime will be a tad tamer for the kiddos watching. Lots of fabulous discussion fodder so far. It’s only on chapter #4 and publishes monthly. No telling how long it will run, though once the number of God Candidates in the Hunger Games/Holy War begins to dwindle it’s likely we’ll be close to the end.

      Thank you for reading 😀

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  3. As apparently one of the few around who never got around to Death Note, I find this intriguing. It’s funny you mention hedonism in a Christian context, as that’s one of the terms (Christian Hedonism) which Pastor John Piper coined regarding finding true, complete satisfaction in God above all things. While other things may bring us temporary joy (games, friends, anime, family, money), true joy as you noted comes from the Lord Himself. Well said.

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    1. Hey there Newman of the Nook! I’m sure you’ve heard this countless times, but if you’re a fan of darker, spiritually challenging anime, Death Note would do you proud. If you’re more of a manga person, the second half is much stronger in manga form. I recommend both reading and watching for the full experience. In the anime, some interesting Christian symbolism is added and some integral developments are left out in exchange. It’s a bit of a give-and-take.

      John Piper is actually who I had in mind when I wrote that portion of this article! Charles did a great little piece on Fate/Zero and Christian hedonism (which I linked to in the article)–be sure to give that a read! Annalyn’s recent post is a great follow-up, too. She brings up some hit-home points about temporary joy and entertainment, so be sure to head over there next: http://www.beneaththetangles.com/2016/02/15/annalyns-corner-starved-for-entertainment/

      Thank you for reading 😀

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