Neko Ramen is a short-form anime series based on a gag manga of the same name. The anime and manga follow the story of Taishou, a cat who is also a ramen chef. Taishou runs the only ramen shop with a cat chef. He also generally only has one customer: Kouichi Tanaka. The series is actually animated by a number of different animators instead of one primary team. What this situation leads to is an erratic, imperfect series, yet one that is at times surprising and interesting.
Each episode still has the same overarching plot running through it. Taishou is constantly trying develop new ways to draw in customers. He’s also a bad chef. Kouichi is always stopping by despite the bad food and Taishou being kind of a jerk. Yet each episode is animated differently. In each episode the beats and the jokes are different. While there is some unity in purpose, there is division between each episode in form and function. While watching, I honestly could not stop thinking about this series as a surprisingly accurate picture of the modern Christian church.
Wait, what? What are you talking about? Well, please hear me out.
What many on the outside of the Christian church see is division. We see infighting and denominational differences. We see arguments about paedobaptism versus credobaptism, primarily led by baptists. We see arguments about Catholic versus Protestant versus Orthodox. We see arguments within denominations about Calvinism, Arminianism, and various “isms.” Seeing disunity within the Christian community can make those on the outside question what we believe. For some it may not paint a great picture of the church. This fact is also true of Neko Ramen.
Yet, in the end, when we are honest with ourselves, there is still a united church with unity of purpose and unity in Christ. While some will argue about the fundamental truths truly are and argue at length about secondary doctrines being critical, we all believe in one God who exists in three persons. We believe in the divinity of Christ. We believe the Bible to be the Word of God, even if we interpret it differently. We believe that God is, was, and always shall be. We also believe as Christ told us that the only way to the Father is through the Son. We will disagree on what Communion means or whether to baptize infants or adults, but we all agree on these Christian truths. On that, we are united.
That is not to say we will suddenly become one church. We all remain different. I grew up in the United Methodist Church. Growing up Methodist meant culturally there were no bingo nights, lots of rummage sales, and lots and lots of beautiful hymns. The Wesley boys wrote a lot of amazing music, including the Easter classic “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and the Christmas classic, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” It meant infant baptisms, Bishops in place over regions, and a formal top down organizational structure. I am currently a member church which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). This denomination provides me with credobaptism (baptism by emersion upon profession of faith), a bottom up organizational structure, and no use of formal titles like Bishop. It also comes with it a founding marked by racism, yet important steps in recent history toward racial reconciliation. It has been a shift being a former Methodist among Baptists, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It also serves as a constant reminder to me that our differences are not going away anytime soon.
Back to Neko Ramen. Each episode provides a different picture of the same characters. It provides a slightly different take on the same tale. While the form and functions are different, there is still that fundamental unity which makes it a united series. For the Christian church as a whole, there are form and function differences to go on for decades. Yet, in the end we still have unity in our primary purpose which is the Gospel of Christ.