Welcome back to my corner, folks!
First, let me apologize for just disappearing. I even stopped replying to comments, something I feel a bit bad about. But I needed a break more than I realized.
In addition to aniblogging, I kind of abandoned anime itself—not completely, but mostly. Including the sports anime DAYS and All Out!!. They’d become work to focus on. It’s hard to pinpoint why. Maybe I’m not as dedicated a sports anime fan as I thought… or maybe I just miss my favorite sports anime protagonists. I expect new characters to lift my heart the way Hinata does, and that’s just unrealistic. So I’ve lowered my expectations.
My expectations are so low, in fact, that I’m surprised to find I enjoy the new soccer anime Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun (or Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun). This anime centers on Aoyama, an amazing soccer player who is neurotic clean freak. They don’t label it OCD, but his germaphobia and his obsessive need to clean are debilitating enough to be diagnosable as something in the real world. He’s turned his coping skills into his greatest strengths, both on the field and off the field, to the point of having an active fan club. In fact, he’s so perfect at so many things—and so admired for it—that he reminds me more of Sakamoto than a sports anime protagonist. The whole show is a cross between a true sports anime and Sakamoto desu ga?. Maybe that’s why I like it: it’s not trying to follow the same pattern as other, better sports anime, so it can’t mess it up.
But there’s something else I like about Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun: the characters. In particular, I like how characters make assumptions about each other that are quickly shown to be wrong. For example, Aoyama’s teammate, Zaizen, first thinks he doesn’t care much about soccer. Aoyama is often late because he’s obsessively cleaning himself, equipment, or facilities. He avoids throwing the soccer ball in (and refuses to touch balls at all without gloves on), can’t make any contact plays, and won’t move in a way that will get him dirty. At first glance, he doesn’t have his priorities straight as a soccer player.
There are three things Zaizen doesn’t understand. First, Aoyama’s germaphobia and compulsive cleaning are not completely in his control. He can sometimes overcome them, but not without great difficulty. Second, his fears and compulsions have resulted in very useful coping skills, which make him an asset, not a burden, on the field. And third, he loves soccer more than many people. So he pushes through his fears to play. He stays after practice to thoroughly clean the balls—not merely because of his compulsions, but because he so respects the game and his equipment.
Similar situations arise in later episodes. In episode 4, we see that Aoyama’s classmate, Narita, is also a clean freak. But unlike Aoyama, he hides this part of himself—which results in an almost disastrous misunderstanding. And in episode 5, we learn that Aoyama’s goofy teammate, Tsukamoto, is actually dealing with fears and trauma that propel him to take refuge in humor.
Again and again, Aoyama-kun introduces characters who are often misunderstood because people don’t understand or even guess at their internal struggles.
This topic is important to me. I’ve had my share of mental health struggles—depression, anxiety, ADHD. So have many of my dear family and friends. Thus, I understand better than many that what appears on the surface doesn’t always represent a person’s true feelings, intentions, and turmoil. Grins and goofiness can hide sadness, numbness, and fear. Annoying traits like lateness, distractedness, and unnecessarily loud speaking voices aren’t necessarily evidence of inconsiderateness—they may by signs that someone struggles with time management, focus, and self-awareness. That girl who can’t take the hint that her conversation partner is bored and wants to stop listening to her rabbit trail? She’s not necessarily self-obsessed. She may be incapable of noticing the hints. On a less drastic note, that grumpy customer? Who knows what kind of rotten day or week he’s had. That’s not an excuse for his behavior, but perhaps it will help you think about and treat him with more kindness and respect.
Basically, everyone has a story. Making assumptions about their values and personality based on our limited perspectives is shortsighted.
I struggle with this, particularly when I feel like someone is disrespecting the writing craft. I feel similarly about writing as Zaizen does about soccer. As a writer and editor, I get frustrated when I feel like an author cares more about spreading his message than about how well he says it. This happens more often than I care to admit. I start to think that the abundance of grammar mistakes and disjointed thoughts are evidence that they don’t respect the craft enough to do a proper revision on their own time. But then I actually hear back from the author. I find out that they do respect the craft, and that they’re eager to learn. They’re just not trained writers, or they have trouble organizing their thoughts. I, not they, am the one being disrespectful. Like Zaizen, I’ve projected my skillset onto others, assuming that if they truly respect the craft, they should find it as manageable as I do to get their thoughts in order (note I say “manageable,” not easy—good writing is often difficult, requiring multiple revisions, and I expect people to understand that).
When we make these kinds of assumptions about others, we’re under the mistaken impression that the problem stems from them. Really, it’s about us. It’s my self-centered perspective that expects every writer’s strengths and weaknesses to reflect mine. In fact, it’s my self-centered perspective that declares everyone should have at least the same respect for writing as I do—and the time and abilities to follow up on that respect. I’m measuring them against some standard in my head, one that I made up and that even I don’t measure up to. It’s prideful and unloving. Frankly, it’s sinful.
What might a God-centered view of these people look like? First, it recognizes that God is the standard-setter, not me. He also sets the priorities. And frankly, neither writing nor soccer are very high up in his value system. That’s not to say he doesn’t value excellence in these pursuits—I believe he does, for multiple reasons. Rather, he places other things in higher priority. Like love and humility—two things that many of the authors I interact with are much better at than I am.
Second, it recognizes that every person is made in God’s image and is precious. They might appear flippant, annoying, or downright mean. They’re often in the wrong. But they’re still due a certain level of respect and love. Jesus is pretty insistent about loving even those who don’t seem to deserve it. This love includes compassion, seeking to understand and forgive others as you would like to be understood and forgiven. Respect includes acknowledging that even very different sets of strengths are given by God, and can be pretty incredible.
Third, a God-centered perspective of others recognizes that we all fall short of God’s glory. Me included. I’m in no higher standing than even the most flippant, disrespectful writer. I have my fair share of spiritual, mental, physical, and literary shortcomings—including my often warped, self-centered perspective. Who am I to scorn someone because of their perceived shortcomings?
Perhaps most practically, this perspective recognizes that every person is beautifully made, complex, and precious, even if they are far from perfect. And that’s why I like Aoyama-kun‘s approach to a few of its characters: it lets you (and other characters) assume that they’re flatly disrespectful, cold, or crude, and then it shows that they’re not so easy to figure out—there are complexities, struggles, and delights below the surface. So Aoyama isn’t just a clean freak, and those who try to categorize him as such are repeatedly proven wrong.
Obviously, it’s possible to avoid making scornful assumptions about others without having a God-centered perspective. Anime like Aoyama-kun that never mention the Christian God demonstrate this well. But I know my motivation and ability to view others with respect comes largely from my relationship with and understanding of God. So as I go about my week, I pray he’ll help me strive to extend patience, respect, and love to those I interact with—even if they appear at first to have limited to no respect for the things I care about. I invite you to do the same.