The last few weeks have been rough for America. The country has taken hit after hit after hit, with these tragic events and high profile incidents only inflaming division in the country. As a historian, I’m especially aware that there were times in this country’s history that were more chaotic, times that were much worse. But on a personal level, the last few years have been the most troubling I’ve experienced as an American, and things continue to head downhill as enmity increases more and more. Lines are drawn in the sand, with leaders – politicians, media, celebrities – at the forefront and the American people lining up behind, unwilling to budge, unwilling to listen, unwilling to be open.
What does this have to do with anime? Nothing, but also everything.
Anime sometimes tackles social issues, though rarely does a series revolve around such themes. Usually we see transformation happening at character levels. I like it that way – I get to know characters and see myself in them. I often feel satisfaction in seeing a character get from point A to point B, not least of all because I feel a love for him or her, but also because I’m going on that journey in some measure as well.
In AnoHana, there are multiple, emotional journeys happening all at once. While the Super Peace Busters are trying to bring Menma peace, it’s easy to see right from the beginning, as we contrast the Jintan now with the Jintan back then, that each member of that group is also in need of the same. Ultimately, Menma is able to go when she pours out love onto the group that brings them the peace they all desperately need.
Inner peace is a difficult concept for me to wrap my mind around. I do know when it is I don’t feel peace: when I’ve had an argument with a loved one; in years past when I suffered with depression; when I was growing up and didn’t know who I was and what my place was in the world; right now, when I see people hurting because of violence, natural disasters, undue burdens, difficult upbringings. In a sense, it’s no wonder that there’s enmity between us when there’s such turmoil within.
In my household, we have a thing called a “family hug.” It’s like the refresh button on your browser, a do-over. And it works pretty well. The trick, though, is that one of us has to push that button; one of us has to initiate the hug. I’m a stubborn man, so it’s hard for me to do. I justify whatever I’ve said, whatever I’ve done, and it becomes very difficult to budge from my position, to cross that line and admit that I’m wrong, or partially wrong, or that it doesn’t really matter in the first place. But when I do make the effort, or when someone else starts the process, the result almost always ends the same – we pull down our walls, open up dialogue, and start caring for each other again.
Menma’s work is more difficult than that of most families. She works to bring together a group that has drifted apart and which has complicated and bitter feelings toward each other. The reunion of the squad and their messy rehashing of the past is like untying an impossibly knotted ball of yarn. It’s such an overwhelming proposition that I would likely just toss it away and start over with new thread. Such is the work of a peacemaker, because unlike in my family, making peace between two people without that bond is complicated by so much. Past history, one knot. Cultural background, another knot. Race, yet another.
Menma, of course, doesn’t leave well enough alone. Her final notes to the group work as a breakthrough, finally unraveling that last tight knot, bringing wholeness to the Super Peace Busters. She was never going to quit, because her love for the group was too strong. They meant more to her than the frustrations that would come with bringing peace. Being a peacemaker, ironically, is not peaceful. One of the Beatitudes points toward this:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)
Children do what their parents model for them. Christ was a peacemaker, but bringing peace resulted in his death. The outcome was good, but the process was painful.
Right now, we live in a day and age where those with opposing ideas to us are the enemy. The pride with which we declare ourselves righteous, even though we should be able to turn inward and see how our many faults demonstrate that we might not be, is astounding. To unravel ourselves will take a monstrous amount of work – lots of knots that must be loosened – but underneath it all, before any of it can start, has to come an understanding that the person opposite you is not a monster, not a number, not just another _______. She is, in all its simplicity and complexity, a person. But like the family member who starts the hugging, or like Menma who so forcibly loves her friends, someone has to step away from the battle line and be the peacemaker. In facts, lots and lots of someones need to. The question is, can you love the “enemy” enough to be that peacemaker?
Watch the peacemaker herself in action by streaming AnoHana on Crunchyroll.