Today’s article is from Dr. Steve, who previously graced us with a wonderful piece about Interview with Monster Girls. We’re proud to post his latest, about one of this season’s series, Restaurant to Another World!
Watching anime has typically been a communal experience for me. My first real encounter with anime—the one that actually got me watching it regularly—came through a friend’s invitation to try out the local anime club. Later I watched episodes with my brother, and now I do so with my kids. Even now, when I do most of my watching alone after the rest of the family has gone to bed, I find I most enjoy it when I can enjoy it with others.
But while I would say that for me it is communal, anime isn’t necessarily always communion.
Most Christian denominations I’m aware of have some communion ritual. Since I’m Catholic, that’s the perspective I bring here; but I hope that most of what I say relates easily to non-Catholics as well.
In any case, there’s one show this season which seems to me to capture the meaning of communion particularly well: Restaurant to Another World.
Oh yeah, before I forget: Spoilers! You have been warned.
As might be expected in a show about a restaurant, a major theme here is how food brings people together, even to the point of overcoming violence. So for instance, our protagonist chef offers his food to anyone who comes through his door, including those like Sarah Gold and Captain Heinrich who enter with drawn weapons, expecting combat or at least resistance. He also forbids any strife within his restaurant (on pain of never cooking for violent customers again!). So far, this is quite communal. Be it good food or good anime, shared experiences draw people together as a community—literally ‘com + unity,’ or “unity-with [another].” (Thanks, Latin class!)
But what if you could extend that unity beyond that immediate place and time? What if an experience could extend to different locations, even different time periods, and somehow unify all those who share it however separated they might appear?
Now we’re approaching something like communion.
The Christian celebration of communion is certainly a memory of a past event—Our Lord did say, “Do this in memory of me”—but it is not merely a memory. By way of contrast, consider watching an anime episode: I can watch the same episode twice, but I cannot experience the same viewing of that episode twice. The best I can do is recall the experience of that viewing. In communion, however, things are different. The same act that Jesus performed in his humanity at the Last Supper, he performed in his Eternal divinity, simply because the human Jesus and the divine Second Person of the Trinity are one and the same, and exist both in time and eternity simultaneously. Hence the communion of the Last Supper was not limited by time or space. So St. Paul can say that the communion bread and cup that we share is a sharing in the Body and Blood of Our Lord—despite the fact that Jesus physically left this world nearly 2,000 years ago. (We may note by way of passing that God could have made watching an episode of anime a kind of communion! Mysteriously, he chose not to do so.)
So in what sense can RtAW be said to depict communion, not just the communal?
First of all, the “Western Restaurant Nekoya” does bring people together from many different places to the same location. Doors to the restaurant appear in quite a few spots in the fantasy world, not to mention the fact that the restaurant unites two entirely different worlds! One especially significant example can be found in the red dragon. In her human appearance, she comes to Nekoya when no other patrons are present because she expects her presence would disturb them. At first glance, this solitude might appear to contradict the principle of unity I’ve been describing.
Here we can see the difference between the communal and communion. The dragon avoids most company, and so is not very communal. However, the end of the first episode makes it clear that she has the restaurant and those who work there under her continual magical protection, even when she is physically absent. That magic is not limited to the restaurant: Even when the yokai waitress returns to her bed in the fantasy world, the dragon’s protection remains with her. In a similar way, Christ is present in communion even when his natural human body is not, and his grace protects us even when we are not physically present at the communion ritual.
Does the restaurant unite people across time as well? In a sense it does. Consider William Gold and his daughter, Sarah. In the series, we see the restaurant regulars habitually referring to each other by the names of their favorite dishes:
William Gold used to be a regular customer, but by the time the series begins he has not shown up for a long time. Sarah finds the restaurant and orders a minced meat cutlet. Only afterwards do she and we learn that William always ordered minced meat cutlet as well, and his fellow patrons thus referred to him as Minced Meat Cutlet. As Sarah returns to the fantasy world, the other patrons remember William and refer to Sarah as “Minced Meat Cutlet II.” The repetition of eating the MMC, and the revival of the name, serve to link the Golds across time (and even across the boundary of death).
So far, I have been emphasizing relationships among humans (and yokai, etc.). Communion also implies a particular unity between created beings like humans (and yokai, etc.)  with and through God. Can we find such examples in RtAW?
Actually, there are quite a few. Despite the fact that the Japanese do not traditionally pray before meals (at least, so far as I am aware), some of the visitors to Nekoya pray to God before eating:
Captain Heinrich also prays for aid in the desert, right before stumbling across Nekoya:
So far, at least, these are also the only instances of characters speaking directly to God: either in need of food, or in gratitude for receiving it. It’s worth remembering that thanksgiving is also integral to the Christian communion, as indicated by the fact that the Greek word for it, Eucharist, means “thanksgiving.”
While I don’t want to imply that the author of RaTW has communion in mind while writing, I am intrigued by additional parallels between the two. There are enough that I may write another article on them in the future; for now, I’ll just point out two more:
* The Day of Rest: Christians meet to pray once a week on Sundays, a practice borrowed from the Jews who meet on Saturdays. This practice, in the Bible, originates from the “day of rest” which God instituted after creating the world. In RtAW, the fantasy world’s doors also open only once a week (on the “Day of Satur,” the Jewish Sabbath, no less!).
* Manna in the Desert: The manna which God fed the Israelites during the Exodus through the desert later became used as a symbol of communion, since both are instances of God feeding his people. In RtAW, Captain Heinrich is starving in the desert when he runs across Nekoya and gets fed (as an answer to prayer, no less!).
I’ll be looking forward to seeing whether these themes and images continue through the series. Suffice it to say that, of all the new anime series this season, RtAW is the one I look forward to the most. It always provides, ahem, food for thought, and it always leaves me hungering for more.
 One might draw an analogy between the restaurant, the workers, and the dragon’s power on the one hand; and the church, its ministers, and God’s grace on the other; but that would be another article in its own right.
 As JRR Tolkien once wrote, “God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves.” I’m inclined to extend this further: God is the Lord of angels and men, of elves—and yokai!
Dr. Steve was introduced to anime while working on his Ph.D. in literary studies, when the local anime club showed Naruto’s fight against Zabuza and Haku on an auditorium big screen. His favorite anime series include FMA: Brotherhood, Erased, Snow White with Red Hair, and Gate, and he also enjoys computer programming, playing folk music, and unusual languages like Esperanto. Where he finds the time for these, after prayer, work, and raising several children, remains something of a mystery.