WorldEnd: How Reincarnation Ruins Romance

I just finished watching WorldEnd: Etc.  (Who would ever scribble out the entire title?)  This stood as my favorite anime of the last season.  (Though, my selection of anime series from the last season was quite small.)  The author of this series did a wonderful job of world-building.  Digressions on the world’s past did much to inform the current state of affairs with beast men and normal looking humans (the “disfeatured”) roaming about.  The final revelation about the Timere, biological weapons in human form, managed to be shocking and horrific at the same time.  I also loved the use of Latin in the anime: Timere is from the verb timeo, timere meaning “to fear,” the name of the airship Saxifraga is from saxa fraga “broken rocks,” and the sword Lapidem Sybilus is from lapis sibilus “Hissing/Whistling Rock.”  Would that Latin featured in more anime!

However, I must complain about the treatment of love in WorldEnd, even though this treatment naturally flows from the author’s worldview.  Now, romance is not the product of the West.  (Pace, Welcome to the NHK.)  You can find some very romantic tales in Japanese literature; but, Buddhist principles are not applied to them, and the romances end in marriage, not death.  If one applies Buddhist theology to a romance ending in death, the result is as cruel as if the universe were run by Moloch and Baal.

In the series, suffering renders the romance between Willem and Chtholly more beautiful.  Yet, after all the effort placed into stopping Chtholly’s and her memories’ demise, she dies defending Willem and a fellow Leprechaun–as the fighting girls are called.  During the final battle with the Timere, both recall how much joy each brought to the other’s life.  Chtholly calls herself the happiest girl alive.  The last episode also reveals that Chtholly is no more than the dream of a long departed goddess, and dreams must pass.

This ending would be great if it stopped there with Chtholly’s death.  Tragedy fills the world of this anime.  Despite all the death and destruction which imperil our heroes, Chtholly and Willem loved each other to the utmost.  Yet, the reincarnation clip after the credits ruins the effect of her sacrifice.  If the world is cruel, the universe is more so: Chtholly returns to the world with no memory of her past life–save for the pain apparent in her first cries.  The two women attending her birth note that this indicates how much attachment she had during her past life–and, we all know attachment leads to more need of reincarnation.

The overall effect of this imagery is to declare that love is not eternal.  (Perhaps, it is even wicked if it attaches one further to this world of pain and suffering.)  Buddhist marriages do not include presentation of rings as part of the ceremony–rings symbolize the eternity of love after all.  What will happen should Willem and Chtholly meet again, say, when Chtholly is once again in the bloom of youth at fifteen and Willem is thirty-three?  Chtholly will have a new name, perhaps a new personality, new memories, and not the same appearance.  They shall not recognize the other and have no feelings for each other either.

Love in the Christian worldview has eternal significance on the other hand.  We live but one life, and our personal loves live on in heaven.  God is love, and our love of family and friends partake of the nature of eternity.  Contrast this to the Buddhist and his cycle of death and rebirth: will his first love have any meaning after two thousand rebirths and two thousand marriages?  I doubt it.  Chtholly’s last words might as easily have been the all too common parting line “Tanoshikatta”–“It was fun.”

People believe Christianity cruel in saying some souls go to hell for all eternity.  But, is not the Buddhist conception of the cycle of death and rebirth until the final dissolution of one’s personality not more cruel?  Most of a human being’s choices, actions, loves, desires, and sufferings do not matter under the Buddhist conception.  In the Christian worldview, all of one’s choices and all of one’s life matters: they come to determine one’s eternal destiny.  God tells each soul that their loves and hates will be carried into eternity.  In the case of Willem and Chtholly, their love really only matters if they have but one life.

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5 thoughts on “WorldEnd: How Reincarnation Ruins Romance

  1. I posted about this show quite a bit in Reform Anime Hub. Needless to say, I was disappointed in the end. The series felt rather pointless. I find your though in Budhist plilosophy enlightening.

    1. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post! The ending was disappointing because it completely undermined all the characters’ struggles and growth during the series. Willem does not even remain at the orphanage to take care of the other Leprechauns! This is not the sort of thing a writer usually wants to do when he tells a story, but here it is!

      1. Yeah that’s Eastern theology for you. Incidentally have you ever heard of a series called 07 Ghost? It at first seems like a great premise, essentially it takes ideas from Christianity like Archangels and the fall of Satan and presents them using Japanese interpretations of what the spiritual entities would look like rather than using the western imagery. But then it tries to synthesize the Christian elements with eastern reincarnation and it just ruins what could have been a great way to draw eastern people to the faith by packaging it in a more familiar form.

        1. I’ve watched some of 07 Ghost when it came out but did not stick with it. It might be worth finishing the series to see how the religious syncretism falls apart.

  2. There are plenty of stories with a very Buddhist influence in Japan which actually posit that love *is* the only thing that’s really eternal. FFX-2’s entire plot could be interpreted as meaning this, Sailor Moon very *definitely* is going off the idea that love wins out over reincarnation, and in Madoka Magica love defies Self and even Death. So in truth, if William and Chtholly meet each other they may have a *different* relationship, but they will indeed feel close. Penguindrum is basically a long rant about love triumphing over Fate, reincarnation, and even the Devil.

    Whether our choices matter depends on what you mean by “matter.” Even supposing there were nothing after death, wouldn’t you say that the choices one made in life “mattered” to those still alive? To say that every choice in life is only relevant so far as it is acknowledged by the Powers That Be is to greatly devalue the impact we have on our world. By changing the thread of a billion timelines by our presence, by potentially bringing others to God, are we not beautifully and wonderfully made?

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