Yes, Hina, it’s Okay if You Don’t Forgive

As the bullying arc of March Comes in Like a Lion comes to a close, Hina, both the heroine and a victim in these episodes, seeks closure as well. Much of that comes in the form of a letter from Chiho, letting Hina know that things will be alright. The letter, even tinged as it is with melancholy, is much needed—Hina has been marching forward because she’s convicted that standing up is right, but the letter provides that something that shows it was all worth it.

But besides the letter, Hina must find a measure of closure regarding the bullies and how she feels toward them, at least in this moment in time. After the perpetrating girls apologize in front of the classroom (with Megumi’s “sorry” being most insincere), Hina chats with her teacher and asks if it’s okay if she doesn’t forgive them.

Hina Kawamoto forgiveness

It’s a good question. Hina has demonstrated such character to this point, such a willingness to be an upstander when everyone else stands aside. Her sense of justice is high—why should she forgive someone who isn’t worthy of forgiveness? Who isn’t even seeking it?

We live in a culture that prizes how Hina thinks (even if we aren’t always willing to stand up like she does). But it also prizes forgiveness—how many stories do we see about people forgiving others for the cruel, sometimes violent things they’ve done, and then praise them for doing so? It’s even more impressed upon us if we’re Christians, since our faith rises and falls on the idea of forgiveness.

In the context of this conversation, though, I think Hina is questioning whether she needs to outwardly forgive Megumi, as Megumi has verbally offered her apology. Hina doesn’t want to do that. She refuses to be a hypocrite, offering her forgiveness for one who hasn’t really asked for it, whose heart doesn’t feel any sense of guilt.

No, Hina, you do not have to give your forgiveness to Megumi, who hasn’t asked for it. Not in the way that might be expected of you. But in your own, solid gold Hina way, you may want to give it anyway.

Toward the end of the episode, Hina tells Rei about how she found closure with classmates—not with the bullies, but with the bystanders, one of which tearfully apologies for not supporting her during the torment. She asks Hina to join them in baking cookies. Hina accepts and they have a nice time. Hina has forgiven those girls—she never had to say so, but the girls could see it in her actions, and it gave all those involved a sense of relief, a sense of closure.

If I know Hina—and maybe the show will never address this—she will forgive Megumi one day soon, and not because she’s expected to, but on her own terms. She’ll forgive Megumi because she’ll see her as someone flawed, someone in need of forgiveness, which is what I think we as the audience are slowly discovering as she’s being unraveled in all her adolescent apathy.

Once Hina gets through the anger, I believe she’ll offer that forgiveness, and as with the other girls, it may not be in words, but Megumi will be able to see it by how Hina acts, and as with the bystander girls, as with you and me and people we know all around us, grace offers something amazing to the giver and the receiver—Hina will be even freer and Megumi…well, Megumi might reject this offering and keep living life in the darkness, or she can experience something wonderful and be set free herself.

So no, Hina, you don’t have to forgive Megumi. But I think you will…and I think you and she will become all the better for it.

March Comes in Like a Lion can be streamed through Crunchyroll.


9 thoughts on “Yes, Hina, it’s Okay if You Don’t Forgive

  1. I don’t watch this show, but it sounds like it’s very heavy-handed. Like many Hollywood shows/movies that beat you over the head with some sort of (left-wing) political view, this sounds like it’s trying to hammer home the fact that bullying is awful, and as a result it ends up painful to watch. I know all about bullying, I was bullied from day 1 in first grade, but I don’t think watching this would help me feel better about it. Probably never going to watch this.

    1. Yeah, it’s definitely not for everyone, and I can see someone who has been bullied extensively really maybe reliving the experience by watching these episodes. On the other hand, the show approaches it in a really sensitive manner, so I can see it being helpful for others who’ve undergone the same thing—it questions why people won’t stand up when others are hurting, the repercussions when you do stand up, and how adults can help and how at other times, they’re powerless. It’s a really powerful and subtle take on bullying that addresses it in all its complexities.

  2. Just a quick comment. I haven’t had the pleasure of watching season two of the anime but I can remember a bit from reading the manga.

    If I’m not mistaken, the one most hurt was not Hina but the friend who ultimately decided to leave to escape the bullying. Hina decided to be different. To stand up for justice, and more importantly, perhaps, mercy and grace. But sadly, justice is just in so short supply in our world. As is mercy and grace.

    It is a hard saying to “forgive others”, especially when others have done us much wrong. More so, when we think to ourselves that we have done right and others have done even more wrong. Worse still, because we think we are in the right, our pride prevents us from giving and receiving forgiveness.

    But we need reminding that Hina’s not perfect. Neither are we. All of us need to be forgiven. All of us need to forgive. Even if it’s awkwardly saying sorry, 6 months, or maybe 10 years, after the conflict is done. It’s a symbolic gesture. But I feel, it’s an important one.

    (For Christians, we should remember that forgiveness is even in the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”)

    Thanks for the post.


    1. Thanks for the reply, Cloud! You’re absolutely right—we’re charged as Christians to forgive based on the model and direction of Christ. It’s God’s way, bringing peace to the enmity in our relationship with Him, and as we do the same with others.

      With Hina, in the context of the conversation with her teacher (and perhaps I didn’t spell this out well), she wonders if she should offer forgiveness in the same mechanical way in which the girls gave an apology. She doesn’t want to do that, to give an insincere “I forgive you” in response to an insincere “I’m sorry.” It’s not Hina, and I hope, it’s not us. While we should offer forgiveness, it becomes a lie if it happens in a perfunctory way, or happens because we’ve just grown out of the hurt that was given us, or if we do it out of guilt. The authentic forgiveness is grace-filled and it hurts. Hina’s forgiveness at this point would be dishonest—she struggles a bit even to forgive the other girls in her class who were bystanders rather than perpetrators—and she needs to wrestle with her feelings and knowing her, I bet she comes to the conclusion that forgiveness is the hard but right things to offer. It’s the same for all of us, after all.

  3. Thanks for covering this show so extensively. I recently started (a couple of weeks ago) and have made it to episode 16. I’m looking forward to this arc after all of the praise here and other places. I might put my feelings into words some time soon.

  4. I had been meaning to respond to this, Charles, as the subject of forgiveness is something that really touches my heart and causes me to wonder—if someone is clearly not repentant or is being insincere about their request for forgiveness, do we still have to forgive? (My personal belief is yes, we must forgive if we want our own sins forgiven [Matthew 6:15], even as that has no bearing on whether we can or should trust the wrongdoer or restore them to their previous position, especially if they hurt or wronged other people.)

    1. I’m absolutely with you. What I like about this arc is that Hina is portrayed with such raw authenticity. She doesn’t want to forgive. Megumi doesn’t want to be forgiven. And yet, forgiveness is something that can bind the two and provide healing, as only grace has the power to do. If Megumi doesn’t ask for forgiveness, how much more power in giving it to her! And I think God’s instructions carry that sincerity, too—we don’t forgive just because we’re told to or because the Lord’s prayer models it for us (though in our infant stage of faith, we have to do only because we’re told, as we don’t have the development yet to understand the meaning behind the instructions), but because it’s good for us and good for the receiver. And that’s what God wants for us—our good, even if we’re like Megumi and don’t know that forgiveness is really what we need.

      And so Hina, in a sense, is past that step of following just because she’s told; she’s wrestling with what forgiveness means, why she should give it, and what good it is. Should she give it, she would learn what Christians understand inherently and then learn later through practice—following the gracious model of Christ and forgiving those that don’t deserve it is a love that can move mountains (and change people).

  5. I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for your coverage of this series. I kept on putting off watching this show, but when I saw that in addition to your high praise, it was nominated for anime of the year, I decided to finally try it, and I’m so glad I did. I felt this was a beautifully composed part. The biggest issue I had was the idea that the bitterness was okay, or maybe even a good thing. I wish they would have promoted forgiveness, without the need for friendship or even trust.

    1. I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

      I think that this arc was challenging and that the show did as good of a job with it as possible. As a parent myself, I realize how complicated the whole subject of bullying is, and how there’s not one proper response when you go through it, and that forgiveness—not that silly “forgive and forget” mindset we get in where it’s more about us moving on rather than doing the hard work of forgiving—is really difficult to do. Hina is absolutely authentic with her feelings, no matter where they lead her, and I think that’s the important aspect, and one that many of us (myself especially) could learn from.

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