Last week, while I was at Megacon, I met Vic Mignogna for the first time. People started lining up an hour in advance for his panel, and by the time the doors opened that line had snaked down the entire hall. The moment he bounced on-stage, I understood why: Vic is certainly famous for his memorable roles in popular anime dubs, but more importantly he’s loved by his fans because of how he carries himself. He’s funny, doting, and down-to-earth. After an hour of comedic personal stories involving sharks and hair dyeing disasters, Vic got real with us. He set aside the last ten minutes of his panel to impart a message that, I believe, doubles as his life mantra: “Be a voice for good.”
If you read Tangles’ recent interview with Mignogna, you’ll understand the importance he places on personal testimony as a catalyst to witnessing. As a fellow Christian, I realize what Vic ultimately intends with his words on a spiritual level, but I also grasp the purely moral meaning. In speaking of the not-so-fictional people behind fandoms, Vic warned that saying nothing in their defense is as immoral as tearing them down. Certainly, as someone who has been attacked for his faith (and his dubbing) in the midst of his profession, Vic understands the damage that words and rumors can do. As though to punctuate the point, in that very panel, he had to debunk a fan’s reddit-fueled theory that he was literally drunk while playing the role of Qrow in RWBY.
“I’ve never been drunk a day in my life,” he said. “Did I sound drunk? That’s called acting.”
As a writer, I’m perhaps more aware of the pen’s power than most. In less than one minute, I could challenge or ruin someone’s reputation with something as inconspicuous as a Facebook status. Worst of all, I might not truly intend to. I might be seeking ten seconds of fame, or a handful of “likes” to justify my perspective. But, in the process, I could hurt the real person on the other end of my comment.
The human subconscious seems more aware of this concept than it probably realizes. Stories of ordinary people toppling overpowering evils, and the unlikely hero trope, are found everywhere from myth to contemporary fiction. The Bible advocates the power of small acts to do great things; look at the feeding of the 5,000, the widow’s mite, or the felling of a giant with a simple stone. Many apostles, prophets, and warriors whom God empowered were low-class, cowardly, or incompetent individuals who were none-the-less used to huge ends.
In the realm of fantasy (and, surprisingly, in reality, too), evil tends to overlook the small heroes because it perceives that only a much bigger, much stronger hero could do serious damage. But while Gilgamesh is focused on Archer, the titans on Erwin, and Cinder on Pyrrha; it’s Shirou, Armin, and Ruby who actually overthrow the baddies and save the day.
It’s easy to separate ourselves from exaggerated, gaudy, and insane villainy and point to its own evil as the precursor to its downfall. We know the villain is destined for defeat the moment they appear on-screen, even though the villain is clueless of their ultimate end; that’s due to their limited perspective and lack of narrative awareness. We, on the other hand, have the bigger picture in mind, as conditioned by our understanding of general storytelling.
But subtly works both ways, and evil can as easily use this tactic to overthrow good. Beginning with the Garden of Eden and the temptation of man, we see that ultimate ruin can be disguised as a simple, innocuous choice—eat a piece of fruit, cut your hair, strike a rock. In our pride and self-piety, we laugh at the foolishness of overt evil without realizing we’re as likely to be toppled by something equally unassuming.
Which, finally, brings me to a manga I read last month. Without giving too much away, Onkei is the story of a listless student named Kenji who stumbles upon a gathering of spirits and accidentally absorbs the “blessing of Japan.” Now the human embodiment of that blessing, Kenji must live up to its expectations by saving Japan and loving its people.
The transition from ordinary to extraordinary has obvious repercussions on Kenji, but, interestingly enough, Onkei doesn’t thrust its protagonist into a predictable “struggle with glorious purpose” or “training routine that takes students years to master” in an effort to help him fulfill his destiny. Rather, the “blessing” opens Kenji’s eyes to small things around him that he’s overlooking—his mom’s struggles with daily housekeeping, for example. When he uses a “white lie” to hide his powers from his best friend, Kenji feels especially guilty. The blessing reveals to Kenji not-so-much superhuman power and an overbearing evil he must defeat, but rather the inherent power within himself—and every other human—to make or break others with the smallest word or action.
While Kenji is an “everyman” character meant to resonate with the human need for love, purpose, and fulfillment, I don’t resonate with him the way I do more visionary characters. I tend to think ahead to the endgame and take steps toward it on a daily basis, rather than view each day as an end in itself. It can be an overwhelming way to think and live at times, but it is also empowering to think that I am steadily climbing toward my goals. Perhaps that comes from being part of the INTJ family, or perhaps from my continuous desire to learn and improve. Regardless, I have to remind myself to be especially mindful of the people and events in my immediate life, because I’m often so focused on the future—my “big glorious purpose”—that I miss out on them. Sometimes, I forget that leaving a legacy and fulfilling my dreams are a natural byproduct of living a selfless life.
It is through small acts of goodness—being the “voice for good,” as Vic would say—that Kenji finds the girl of his dreams, discovers his passions, and—most dramatically—finds his ultimate purpose, which climaxes in a self-sacrificial finale. In the midst of contemporary stories caught up in intellectual arguments and pretentious philosophy, Onkei dares to take a step back to the basics and ask: what power can the smallest act of goodness have? The answers might seem formulated at first blush, but Onkei goes beyond exploring the effects of kindness on others and reveals how offering kindness to others actually empowers and emboldens us as well.
Christians are called the salt of the earth—what Onkei would call the “blessing” to the world around us. Unlike Kenji though, we shouldn’t keep our “blessing” secret, because telling others about the source of the power backing our attitudes, values, and actions allows them to partake in it, too.
That’s because, on the surface, there’s nothing inherently unique about “being a voice for good.” Yes, it can be a catalyst to more spiritual conversations, but even the secular world values and advocates goodness (though, like people of faith, doesn’t always practice it). Good deeds apart from God are nothing more than that. God’s existence gives meaning to goodness because He has the power to use it towards an ultimate, perfect end, just as Kenji’s acts of goodness are truly effective when he is empowered by the “blessing of Japan.”
I think that the reason God loves the simple things and uses them to tell His grand story is because simplicity is not defined by power. In that sense, whether used for good or evil, simple words, actions, and attitudes are the great levelers of society, with one person as likely as the next to be “destined for greatness,” for no other reason than because they exist.
If the old saying is true, and the pen is mightier than the sword, then “being a voice for good” transforms us all into conquerors the moment we open our mouths or rattle off on our keyboards. When we use that power under God’s instruction, recognizing him as the source of all good things, then we also become more in-tune to the significance of small things in our lives because we see them through His lens.
In that sense, you might say the power of onkei lives in every one of us.