Recently, I gave the Read or Die manga a chance. The OVA and TV series have been great favorites of mine from my first years as an anime junkie. And so, I hoped for good things from the manga, which derived from a light novel–back when light novels had no special stigma against them. If our dear readers, like me, have watched the anime versions, they’ll be happy to know that the plot in the manga bears no relation those anime. Volume one covers the kidnapping and rescue of Nenene Sumiregawa, who is a high school student and literary prodigy in the manga. Volumes two through four concern Ridley Van’s mission to avenge the slaying of his friend and Yomiko Readman’s first love, Donny Nakajima.
One cannot but remark that the manga is rich in ideas and symbolism. The plot appears to have been directly transferred from the light novels. The contrast between the law of the spirit and the flesh stood out to me as a common thread in both story arcs. Yomiko Readman opines that a fan’s greatest joy is simply to read the works of their favored author. Reading, for all various novelists’ attempts to breath sensuality into the page, is an intellectual endeavor. One can either read silently or aloud, which touch the two most intellectual senses: sight and hearing. The more fleshly senses of touch, taste, and smell–as much as we might relish the scent and texture of a familiar volume–do not strike one as germane to reading. For example, if we saw an adult licking the pages of a book and praising its flavor, we should think that person barbaric and depraved.
And so, in volume one, the villain’s stated purpose of committing an outrage upon Nenene atop a pile of her novels strikes us as more twisted than the crime committed through simple lust. There exist far better ways to show love for a favorite author! Sending fan mail or meeting the author at a book signing treat the author as an individual soul. As such, they are legitimate ways for a fan to express appreciation. On the other hand, the villain’s intention is as absurd as it is obscene: spiritual or intellectual things ought not be muddled with fleshly things.
Sadly, human beings often do muddle the fleshly and spiritual sides of life to their own hurt. This is understandable: human beings are a union of body and spirit: the condition of the flesh affects the spirit and vice versa. Yet, certain laws of action inform the existence of the body-soul composite which we are: the law of the spirit and the law of the flesh. We know from St. Paul that the law of the flesh works death (Romans 7:5) while the law of the Spirit gives life (Romans 8:2). People often fail to follow the law of the spirit because the desires of the flesh, our concupiscent passions, are more apparent than the spirit, which is hidden: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Much of the struggle in leading a Christian life or any truly human life lies in denying oneself the present and immediate satisfactions of the flesh or the world for the sake of those things which endure forever: charity, virtue, character, and good works.
In terms of the law of the flesh as pertains to sexual desire, a spiritual element of love often works itself in also. The spiritual element attached to it, C. S. Lewis aptly dubs Eros and notes that it can live apart from sex. Yet, Eros and sexual desire tend to intertwine. Frequently, people believe that they can fulfill their Erotic (yes, that’s deliberately capitalized) desire by fulfilling their lustful passions. That is the mistake the villain of volume one commits, and Yomiko makes the same mistake by allowing herself to be deceived by a facsimile of Donny Nakajima. Ridley Wan takes on the disguise of Donny and seduces a willing Yomiko despite her having both witnessed Donny’s slaying and held his lifeless body. This reminds one of how most sins are done for an apparent good, though the act itself is evil. Ridley Wan seduced Yomiko in order to drive her into despair–a despair which prevents her from using paper magic.
One rather illogical line in the manga struck me because of how often it was repeated. The line was that Yomiko was the woman most loved by paper. How can this be? Paper has no agency! I can only conclude that paper symbolizes life. Life, deriving from the Great Author of Life, has agency. The enemy of life is sin, to which the law of the flesh drives us. The natural consequence of sin is sorrow, which–after a great sin or a great many sins–can lead one to despair, as Yomiko does after her eyes are fully opened to Ridley Wan’s plot. In her despair, Yomiko not only loses her ability to use paper but even her love of books. Who will save her from this abyss of sin and despair and hatred for life itself?
The thing which restores Yomiko both her love and her powers is nothing less than a letter from Donny Nakajima written before his demise. He intended for her to have it after his death so that she would be assured of his love for her. In this regard, Donny acts like Christ. Donny’s love is made almost eternal by its expression being set down on paper. The Bible has often been called a love letter from God, and countless millions have been assured of God’s love through the Scriptures.
God’s love is the very ink used to write the law of the spirit. By the law of the spirit, we are given life and grace to separate ourselves from the law of the flesh and its illusions. “…Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body,” (1 Cor. 6:13). The passions, despite being the cause of sin due to of their contamination by concupiscence after the Fall, direct us towards good things. However, they must be moderated by the law of the spirit so that they can meet God’s desired end for them. God made all the pleasures, but they only bring lasting joy if we subordinate them to His will!