For those who still don’t realize, I will reiterate as much as necessary that I am a huge Nana Mizuki fan. I love, adore, and respect this woman more than anyone else (except Jesus, of course… whew, that was a dangerous line). So much so, that people have pointed out more than once that my feelings lie closer to obsession and idolization. I addressed my defense of that in my very first post here, but while I explained why I feel spiritually secure about my position, there were a number of things I left out in terms of why I love her as much as I do. Being such a big Nana fan, I can’t help but tell others why I think she’s so great, almost exactly like how Christians can’t help but share Jesus, a phenomenon that I think occurs for anyone passionate about something. In fact, I have converted more people to Nana than I have to Jesus. Is that a bad thing? I’d like to believe that’s only because I have concrete proof of Nana being amazing, making it easier to convert people, but I’ll move on now before incriminating myself any further.
Contrary to what some Western anime fans like to believe or envision, anime is not very popular in Japan, although it is hard to classify its entire culture in a few sentences. For example, Shingeki no Kyojin was easily one of the most popular anime in Japan in recent times, and people who liked that were hardly uncommon. However, the more anime one consumes, the more otaku one becomes, and consequently, the more one carries a burden of social stigma, which has far stronger effects in Japan than in most Western countries. Similarly, in the music industry, seiyuu singers (voice actors who also sing) are also looked down upon, and honestly, in this case, for good reason. People whose job is voice acting are not strictly trained singers, and as a result, their singing is far from impressive. It’s a logical conclusion, even a statement of fact, but what eventually developed was a social stigma that all anime singers were poor singers. As you can imagine, the entertainment industry is hardly a kind one to begin with. Granted, this is in part due to the anime industry employing more seiyuu to sing, leading to an increase of poor talent into the music industry. Ironically, it was not unheard of for “real” singers to use anime to promote themselves, but such details are beginning to go off topic. Case in point is that all seiyuu carried with them a stigma of being poor singers.
Enter Nana Mizuki. Although an aspiring singer, she failed to get any jobs (ironically leading to perfect attendance at a school designed to allow their students to take time off for entertainment-related work) and decided to pick up voice acting on the side (granted, she was already enough of an otaku and had interest in doing it). Becoming a voice actor naturally led into character songs, allowing her singing career to finally get started. However, what resulted was the anime fandom criticizing her for using anime to advance her singing career while, eventually, she would still be viewed with the stigma of an anime singer. It took her several years of being a nobody with a relatively small fan base and only a small growth in popularity before she finally got her big break in 2004. Even so, her popularity boost with the Nanoha series only served to mark her as popular as an anime singer, one who still carried social stigma as far as the “real” music industry was concerned. And yet she continued to grow in popularity. In 2009, she became the first seiyuu to ever rank #1 on the weekly Oricon charts with her album Ultimate Diamond. Later that same year, she became the first seiyuu in history to be invited to the incredibly prestigious Kohaku music event. I couldn’t help but snicker with pride when she was introduced on national television as the Queen of Anison. In 2011, she, once again, as the first seiyuu ever, performed at the largest venue in Japan Tokyo Dome. In 2014, she was even acknowledged by the Japanese government itself as a “revolutionary presence in the history of anime.” Such words of praise are hardly hyperbole; Nana has completely and single-handedly redefined how the public perceives her as a seiyuu and singer.
And now, here we are once again in 2016, where Nana is performing at Tokyo Dome after four and a half years. This weekend, April 9th and 10th, Nana is having her 2-day concert, Live Galaxy, proving that her previous success at Tokyo Dome was no fluke. As always, I’m so proud to be one of her fans, and the amount of excitement among fans for this repeat performance at the largest venue in Japan is beautiful. Even if I haven’t followed her from her far early days, I’ve still watched her make astounding accomplishment after accomplishment in the latter half of her career. I love listening to her claims like performing until she’s 77 or having a 7-day concert event – how much she’s joking I can’t even tell; she’s the type of woman who would actually do those things. I could go on and on, but the point is Nana has come a very long way in her career. Over 15 years since her singing debut and really, over 30 years since she first started singing. But to get to where she is today, she had to overcome numerous obstacles, prove her worth, and not let the stigma of being a seiyuu stop her.
In a similar manner, Christians carry social stigma that is not easily overcome. These ideas include Christians being crazy or stupid or bigots or hypocrites, and most of the time, the complaints aren’t all that unjustified. It is unfortunate that the Christian faith is associated with so many negative things, but that is a result of the actions and words of many poor representations of what it really means to be a Christian. Much like the criticism of seiyuu singers, there is a lot of merit in these complaints, if only based on anecdotal examples rather than fact, but other criticism sometimes stems from pure hatred for no good reason. Indeed, being a Christian is rife with social stigma, and in reality, that’s exactly how the Bible says it will be. There may be many ways to deal with that stigma; however, I will of course be using Nana as an example. Nana is a woman who may not be a Christian, but knows full well what it’s like to live your life being viewed as inferior to others. (Also note that she was bullied throughout her early years of schooling, so she has experienced social stigma for the majority of her life.)
What she did to overcome this social stigma pretty much comes down to one very seemingly simple thing: She proved them wrong. She didn’t waste time arguing with words but instead used actions through hard work. This work took years, literally two decades, before it finally bore fruit. While there is always a time and place to engage in civil arguments about your faith, what is most important is to go out and actually do the things you claim Christianity is about. Anyone can speak words that sound compassionate and loving, but putting those words into actions is far more uncommon. Unfortunately, even the most benevolent of actions may fail to convince unbelievers about the truth of Christianity. That is perfectly fine, however, because as long as there are Christians misrepresenting the love of Jesus, we cannot expect others to always see things the same way we do. Even so, by living out a truly Christian life, we can begin to erase the social stigma surrounding us. People will respond to you as an individual and realize that at the very least, you are not like what they first imagined. But remember that it will take time. If Nana had quit singing after 5, 10, or even 15 years after starting, she never would have become popular or an accepted singer.
That sort of long term commitment can be disheartening. We shouldn’t have to put in so much work to clear up misunderstandings with people who have unfair preconceptions about Christians. Our frustration is deserved because there are so many others misrepresenting how we actually are. These are some example thoughts that we might think in regards to being stigmatized by others. Justified or not, this line of thinking misses the point. We shouldn’t be concerned about proving ourselves in the first place. While possibly a form of motivation, Nana did not sing primarily to prove people wrong; rather, she sang because that’s what she loves to do. She sings because it was her dream to be a singer. She sings for the sake of her fans, not to show off to those who don’t support her. In a similar way, when we show others God’s love, it should be because that’s already something we want to do. It should be a part of our character as Christians. There shouldn’t be an ulterior motive; instead, any reduction of social stigma that happens is a simple side effect of living out a life you would regardless of what people say about you. We shower others with love not because of who they are or what they say but because that’s what Christianity is all about.
Finally, I think there’s something even more important than overcoming social stigma, and that is what happens afterwards. One of the things I love most about Nana is how humble she is. Even after becoming the diva that she is today, she never ceases to thank her fans and has drilled in the point that her happiest moments are giving back to her fans. She often asks what she can do to repay us, and always wants to come up with new, unique surprises to express her feelings of gratitude. I think staying humble and remembering that we are no better than others is more important than overcoming any social stigma that may be attached to us. Just because there are others who might truly deserve the stigma, that is not a good reason to think any less of such individuals. If we start to take pride in ourselves, then we risk becoming the very thing we sought to differentiate from ourselves. Perhaps in some ways, the social stigma of being a Christian helps to keep ourselves in check.
In the end, social stigma can be frustrating as it is not something that is easily dealt with. However, we can take some comfort when we remember that the path towards ending the stigma is the same path we would walk with or without it. We must continue to love as Jesus as commanded us to do and do so out of a righteous and humble attitude. Social stigma is so hard to deal with, especially for those who are surrounded by it on a daily basis, but there are people like Nana who have dealt with it for years and years before overcoming it. If Nana, as a teenage girl who didn’t even hold religious beliefs, could continue pressing on despite being more or less alone and relied only on her own willpower, then how much more can you as a Christian handle when you have God and other believers with you? This is just one reason why Nana is so inspirational to me. It’s not really a matter of overcoming social stigma but of persevering, and thinking about how she did so at such a young age for so long without becoming negative toward her doubters is just amazing to me. This weekend, Nana once again will perform at the biggest stage in all of Japan. As she does, I recall all of the work she had to put in and the obstacles she had to overcome to reach this day, and I think, yeah, I can persevere just a little more.