I know you are probably thinking, “Oh boy, he’s talking about another cute-girls-doing-cute-things show,” but hold on a second, as there is one specific aspect of Urara Meirocho that I want to focus on, that has nothing to do with the cast of moe girls (you could replace them all with boys and the following would still apply just fine).
Urara Meirocho is, indeed, the latest cute-girls-doing-cute-things manga from the Manga Time Kirara family to be adapted into anime. The premise this time involves a girl, Chiya, who was raised in the wilderness and is told to visit the titular town of Meirocho, where she can find her mother. Meirocho is a town where female diviners called Urara can read the fortunes of visitors and help them find their way in life. Chiya’s invitation into Meirocho is also an invitation to become an Urara herself, and while there she meets three other Urara-in-training, Kon, Koume, and Nono. They start out at the bottom as Rank 10 Urara, and their Urara rank not only determines what jobs they can take but also what parts of town they can go into. If they want to access the entire town to find Chiya’s mom (or at least consult the most powerful Urara in town), they will have to work their way up to Rank 1 somehow.
Unlike most cute-girls-doing-cute-things shows, something about this show’s premise seems rather problematic from a Christian perspective. If you have been a Christian for some time, or are aware of some of the controversies Christian groups have been involved with, you probably know that Christianity looks down on fortune-telling as a form of witchcraft. The Bible has many verses that speak against fortune-telling, divination, and seeking out mediums. Of course, this taboo against divination is not present in the general Japanese culture, so many anime will feature people doing fortune telling in various ways, and a discerning Christian could possibly watch such scenes and understand their place in the anime setting without feeling morally conscious about it. However, maybe an entire show dedicated to fortune-telling is too much?
What really makes Urara Meirocho stand out is how it portrays its fortune-telling, which has intrigued me enough that I have decided to blog about it. For some Christians, these scenes might be too much for them and what ultimately put this show in the “cannot watch in good conscience” pile. For others, though, they can provide a perspective on fortune-telling that sheds light not only on how it fits within the show’s own setting, but also on how it does not fit within Christian life. If you could not tell, I belong in the latter camp, and I will use the show’s portrayals of fortune-telling to talk about divination and Christianity in more depth.
The show does provide clear context for how divination works, which is very helpful for any show that relies on some form of magic. According to the show’s setting, the world is watched over by a myriad of gods (a concept taken straight from Shinto), and divination works by contacting those gods and allowing them to provide answers based on their knowledge. In a way, it is basically this setting’s version of prayer.
However, even within the show’s setting, divination is not something to be taken lightly. This is shown very well in the first scene, in which the girls use kokkuri on a whim to try and find a clue for what Chiya’s divination method should be. Traditionally, kokkuri is the Japanese version of an Ouija board, where you place a coin on a paper with a bunch of letters (or Japanese syllables), move it about, and see what letters you stop on and what that spells out. In-show, this method specifically calls for help from a fox god (something commonly seen with other shows that use kokkuri). However, as they start actually performing the divination, the atmosphere changes and they start to feel like they really are calling on a power far greater than they can fathom.
The tone of this scene completely contrasts with the silliness of the rest of the show, and makes it clear that, given the actual divine source of this show’s divination, fortune-telling is not something to be taken lightly. This is further emphasized in the second episode, when the girls’ instructor explains more about how divination works. She even mentions how the one big rule of divination is to never attempt to divine the true nature of the gods, or the Urara will completely lose her power. All this leads into one more fortune-telling scene, in which they burn lanterns with holes; the scene is similarly haunting in atmosphere and one of the gods even seems to speak to Chiya, before the whole thing gets ruined when Chiya’s hair catches on fire.
What I appreciate most about Urara Meirocho’s fortune-telling scenes is how they show that fortune-telling is a serious matter. Many shows that use fortune-telling, especially slice-of-life shows, show it off as just a fun little thing that is generally harmless. Real-life fortune-telling, however, is not always so innocuous. Many people seriously rely on fortunes to guide their way in life, and even when people do seek out fortunes just out of curiosity, it is all too easy to subconsciously base our actions on those fortunes or otherwise place some faith in them. As such, Urara Meirocho’s scenes are a good reminder of how much weight fortune-telling can actually have.
Of course, the real issue is still why God forbids fortune-telling for His people, and for that we look at the source of the information about the future that divination provides. Within the setting of Urara Meirocho, it is made absolutely clear that the myriad of gods are the source of divination, and fortune-telling is approached with that in mind. However, in the real world, that source is much more questionable. Some fortune-tellers specifically claim to communicate with pagan gods or the dead, while others just leave it all up to some mystic unknown power. The Bible, however, points to a far more sinister possibility. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas meet up with a slave girl that supposedly has great fortune-telling skills and who has made a lot of money for her master using those skills. As it turns out, though, she was possessed by a demon, who had been providing her with her divinations until Paul forced the evil spirit out of her. Fortune-telling is a wide-open door for Satan to enter and cause trouble; after all, he knows how easily people will believe in fortunes, even subconsciously. If he can make it seem like some mystical power is at work by giving accurate predictions, that only makes it easier for him to control people. Even something as innocent as a Magic 8 Ball or a fortune cookie can potentially hide demonic influences.
This is why it is important that we do not take fortune-telling lightly. The more aware we are of the power of fortune-telling, the better we can guard against the demons that may be lurking within. In the first place, Christians should trust in God with regards to the future, so trying to figure out the future through other sources is a break in that trust. We do not need fancy rituals to communicate with God, either, as simple prayer works perfectly well. That fortune telling leaves us open to Satan’s manipulation should be good extra motivation to avoid seeking it out. That said, even if we do not actively seek out divination, it can be all too easy to get caught up in smaller, seemingly harmless superstitions like fortune cookies, and it is in those moments when we need to remember the true weight of divination and put our guard back up.
Hopefully, with this post, I have shown why Christianity and fortune-telling are incompatible, and how Urara Meirocho can still possibly be okay to watch as long as one understands the context divination has within its setting. It still definitely is not a show for everyone; the fortune-telling scenes might still be too much of a turn-off for some viewers, and if that does not bother you, the usual yuri-teasing and the light fanservice (Chiya thinks apologizing requires exposing her belly) might. Even then, all it is is yet another cute-girls-doing-cute-things show. But as I have said before, such shows are a nice way to unwind every week, and that this show got me thinking more about the role of fortune-telling in the real world is a nice bonus.
Oh yeah, and it is currently only streaming on The Anime Network, with a premium membership needed to watch past the first episode, and it is the only series this season streaming exclusively there, which will probably keep even more people from watching it… ah well.