Today’s post is from a former staff member, Kaze, who you’ll remember playing a vital role on Beneath the Tangles for a number of years. We’re blessed to have him still drop by from time to time, while also contributing to his own blog, Nanaca Sakura.
I once explained how Madoka was the gateway anime for me into the world of Christian aniblogging. And certainly, that was the first anime that got me to write something about the intersection of religion and anime. But when I think about some older anime that stuck with me, I realize that the first anime that really flipped the switch for me was an anime by the name of H2O -Footprints in the Sand-. As a visual novel adaptation, it was hardly an impressive anime, but it was memorable. Most notably was how it was clearly inspired by the poem Footprints in the Sand. I was quite intrigued to see an anime based off a Christian poem (at the time, I didn’t know it was originally a VN), but I didn’t think much of it beyond amusement. Fast forward 8 years when I discovered not only was it a VN, but it was a VN written by my newest favorite author SCA-DI. And then the pieces all fell into place, for the commonality between them which attracted me so was the exploration of Christianity and the question of God.
SCA-DI is perhaps the most intelligent, talented, and philosophical writer in the entire industry. Some fans have claimed he would be a Pulitzer Prize winner if he didn’t spend all his efforts writing for a niche genre with lots of porn. It’s a really strange dichotomy to see a medium so steeped in immorality also portray some of the most thought-provoking philosophy on life and happiness, integrated into intriguing, engrossing stories that make for truly amazing literature. More so than anything, however, is how his stories resonate so strongly with his audience because of their brutally honest depictions of suffering in a broken world and the seemingly hopeless (but not completely hopeless) struggle to find happiness. And like most people who question why the world is the way it is, SCA-DI also poses questions about the nature of God who allows such tragedies to occur.
My favorite thing about SCA-DI’s incorporation of theology is that it is truly an honest, straightforward questioning of God. It is not for or against the existence of God, nor is there some innate bias in painting a certain picture of God. It is instead a pure curiosity where the author hypothesizes traits about a god and lets the characters and story explore what might happen in a world where such a god is reality. Without a doubt, he has a deep understanding of Christian theology firstly because he is one of the few authors who can actually quote the Bible in proper context (better than most Christians, at that) and second because when I asked him about it, he said this:
I think it is difficult to understand Western philosophy without understanding Christianity.
SCA-DI describes himself as heavily influenced by Wittgenstein’s philosophy and by extension, the problem of God. For him to be informed of Western philosophy, he must also be informed of Christianity. I do not interpret his works as philosophy which he believes in but rather philosophy which he himself is still in the process of exploring. Thus, to look at the theological aspects of his works is to join him, a Japanese native with a Japanese perspective on religion, on his journey into the question of God’s existence. With each work, he explores a story where a god might operate with humans in a different way, and with each story, the influence of god on the characters and how they perceive the suffering around them can be observed.
Case 1: God as a Miracle Worker
I have the least to say about this case, simply because I did not read the VN and my memories of the anime are hazy at best. However, the existence of a “god” in this story is the most direct of my examples. In H2O -Footprints in the Sand-, a deity performs a blatant miracle for the protagonist. In doing so, he is cured of his blindness and is able to live a happy, fulfilling life, or so he thinks. With sight comes the ability to observe the suffering and evils of those around him. Try as he might, he is unable to win against the powers of society with only the miracle of sight. Although he was blessed with the miracle he desired, he was unable to achieve the outcome he thought he could. In other words, even when God bestows the miracles we ask upon us, maybe it is not for the best. Maybe there is a reason we do not receive miracles, reasons that we could not imagine existed because of our blindness.
During your times of trials and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.
Sometime miracles do not go the way we think, and sometimes we take them for granted. When the suffering of the protagonist reaches its peak, he wonders why he was given such a miracle in the first place and questions whether he has been abandoned. Yet it is the Christian poem which provides an answer: when there was only one set of footprints, it was because God was carrying you. Sometimes the greatest miracle is not the one where we can literally see a new world, but the one that looks like we traveled the path alone.
Perhaps miracles as we imagine them cannot truly exist. In a world where God hands out miracles according to our whims, we will lose the ability to appreciate their very existence, for then miracles would be the expected way of life. It is only through suffering and struggling that we can appreciate the happiness that we find at the end of the tunnel.
Case 2: God as an Observer
If God works not with blatant miracles but instead as someone who is silently carrying you on his back, what would God look like as a quiet observer to our suffering? In what has become one of the most critically acclaimed visual novels, Subarashiki Hibi explores this question. I remember when people would talk about how the porn scenes in this VN were absolutely vital to understanding what was going on. Before I was into VNs, I scoffed at that claim, thinking such a thing couldn’t possibly be true. How wrong I was.
I suppose porn, by definition, exists to give sexual gratification. In that case, SubaHibi does not really have porn because the sex scenes are, by and large, sexual violence with many disturbing and disgusting details. While there are other plot reasons for their inclusion, they also exist to fully immerse the reader in what suffering may look like in its rawest form. It is one thing to say a character has been violated; it is another to show you the gritty details of it from the victim’s perspective. What follows then is the same question as before: does God really exist in a world with such suffering? Even if He does, surely He has abandoned us.
But a god certainly exists within the world of SubaHibi, as one who is observing the suffering of those around him. Quietly and calmly, he pushes the characters toward the right direction, even when they still choose the wrong one. The characters, seemingly alone in a world of pain and fear, struggle with all their might to find happiness, and the beauty of SubaHibi is that some of them definitively do not. Such is the reality of life. In this imperfect world, there are people who die without ever knowing the thing called happiness. Life does not always get better as many would claim.
Lies and falsehoods, shams, vulgarity and uncleanness…god is something who allows all. No matter what absurdity is tossed into our lives, god shall say to us: ‘Live happily!’
It is only through countless struggles, hopeless suffering, and encouraging words from an observer that some of the characters can arrive at the place known as happiness. Most importantly, that place is never a place where you are by yourself. Indeed, one of the messages here is that people cannot live on their own, and they most certainly cannot escape suffering by themselves. It is the relationships we form with others that allows us to overcome struggles, perhaps including the relationship we form with God. And should we ever miraculously reach a place to call happiness, how easy is it to forget about the one who gave a small and quiet push away from the path of death and carried you on his back when you thought you couldn’t go on?
If God does exist as an observer, maybe even He cannot stop Himself from intervening from time to time. And if so, would that not be a mark of how overwhelming love His love for us is? In other words, even if God is not a flashy miracle worker, He is not a simple observer either. He is not always actively participating in our lives, and maybe that inconsistency feels like betrayal. However, by watching the characters struggle onward, we see that even if God is not actively helping you, that doesn’t mean He isn’t watching over you, ready to step in should the need arise. Even if God only intervenes at the most critical of times, He can still lead us out of the spiral of suffering and to a place of happiness, even when we ourselves do not realize what happened. With a single line, he encourages us to continue struggling onward in this broken world: “Live happily!”
Case 3: God as Beauty
If you have been paying any amount of attention to me, you would know that SCA-DI’s latest VN has become one of my favorite stories of all time. It’s been almost 2 years since I read it, and I’m still raving about its perfection; this has never happened to me before. Sakura no Uta is a masterpiece unlike anything I’ve experienced before, and I have made the absurdly bold claim that every Christian missionary to Japan must read this. I welcome anyone to disagree with me, but you’ll have to read it in Japanese because there’s no translation. Sakura no Uta has resonated with eroge fans across Japan (admittedly, a niche population) and I believe it is because Sakura no Uta is clearly a philosophical masterpiece that taps into the subconscious of Japanese society, or even human society itself, as it explores the meaning of life and happiness.
There is not such a defined existence called “god” unlike the previous two stories, so arguably I am grasping for straws here. However, as a Christian, there were a handful of key conversations that stuck out to me and made me think about the overall story this way. What if God was not merely something that interacted with us from the greater cosmos, but something that actually resided in us? Indeed, Christianity talks about accepting Jesus into your heart and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Sakura no Uta explores this possibility, albeit in a very indirect and arguably unintentional manner.
A work of art is a corpse. But a corpse that never rots, like a beautiful specimen.
What is beauty and how do we define it? When we see beauty, we just know “that’s beautiful.” What if that sense of beauty was tied to the sense of God? What if the things we viewed as beautiful were because we were subconsciously seeing God’s beauty in it? And what if the beauty that humans created, through works of art, music, writing, etc. were all but a reflection of the beauty of God inside of us? Perhaps we can only recognize the beauty of God because we can contrast it to the darkness of a sinful world; what if the things we recognize as beautiful are our souls reacting to something beyond the mere physical? Sakura no Uta is a story of art and beauty, the people who create art, and the ones who are moved by that beauty. And so, a certain character that is able to create a beauty which seems to be of the heavens is called “the child who houses god.”
When such perfect beauty is born into the world, it must be a gift from god. That a god is housed in a person is the only explanation for how such beauty can be created by human hands. But through the story of these characters who seek the greatest heights of art, one wonders: what is art and what makes art beautiful? The inspiration for the creation of a piece of art and the feelings it inspires in others is intangible. One cannot simply define it as being that of the gods. Even in a world full of suffering and pain, we can appreciate the beauty of art and creation. No matter how much despair the characters feel at one point, it is the beauty of art in which they find their salvation. If but a single person deems something to be beautiful, if it can inspire an overflowing of positive emotions in someone else, does that make something a work of art? If by any chance such things deserve to be called beautiful, then the creators of such art must be recognized as talented enough to birth such beauty. At the end of this train of logic is this consideration: do we all house a god within ourselves?
A god who walks with man is weak, but where people believe, there shall he be. A god created by the people is weak, yet it is for that reason he can be with man.
(Even with a line like this, I can’t properly capture the beauty of the original prose)
If the beauty we create is from a god, then those who struggle to create must house weak gods compared to the geniuses who can pen a masterpiece with a single breath. But those who house weak gods struggle with all their might to create even a single piece of art that can be called beautiful; these are people who walk with their god. What stuck out to me the most is the idea that God is willing to become weak if it means He can walk by our sides because that is exactly what Jesus did when He came down as a human. A god who is not willing to become weak for us may be powerful, but he is not one I would want to be in a relationship with. The idea that God is willing to sacrifice to be with us is the hallmark of God’s love for us. Sakura no Uta manages to use the concept of art and beauty to point out the juxtaposition of what humans believe a powerful god to be and what God actually is like. Perhaps it is not that God does not exist but rather society’s interpretation of God that does not exist. Is true strength a god who can vanquish enemies in an instant or one who is willing to die for the sake of another?
But another side to the story is that the beauty humans create is not the direct work of God; it is the reflection of God as the ones who were made in the image of God. Our works of art can “create” God in the sense that our creations are a reflection of the God who resides in us. If God exists where there is beauty, then our creation of beauty is the expansion of God. In a world full of suffering, God leaves His mark not with spectacular miracles but through the beautiful art formed by human hands. With this perspective, God is all around because we are the images of God in the truest sense. Everything we see as beauty and good is God, and God is every good and beautiful aspect about us and the world we create. We want to imagine God’s goodness as a beauty beyond imagination but perhaps God’s beauty is something we are already surrounded by. When we are always exposed to His beauty, we begin to think of it as normal, as boring. Yet it is when we suffer and struggle most in life that we realize how beautiful the simplest of things can be and how God’s love can take the smallest of forms. What is beauty? Beauty is God.
Case 4/5: ???
If there is a case 4, it would be SCA-DI’s newly written LN Youjosama to Zerokyuu Shugoshasama, which I have bought but haven’t gotten around to reading yet. Given that it’s just a the first volume, I’m not convinced it actually has any heavy duty philosophy or theology yet. Case 5 though, would be Sakura no Toki, the sequel to the best VN ever written. I have the typical skepticism regarding sequels, especially with the way Sakura no Uta ended, but this is SCA-DI, so I have no choice but to remain as hyped as possible until it gets released and I can make an actual judgment on it. Still, I’m sure it will contain some amount of theology; whether it will be a mere continuation of the original or have some new ideas regarding the question of God is a different story. Even Wittgenstein changed his philosophies over time, and I look forward to see how SCA-DI’s ideas evolve as he continues to provide us with the greatest stories the VN medium has to offer.
SCA-DI explores many different aspects of how God could be in this world of suffering that we live in. He does not try to tell people “this is how God is,” but only that “this is how God might be.” It is an honest exploration of the nature of God and the theology surrounding pain and suffering. His works encourage the audience to continue this exploration on their own, and I think such encouragement is equally relevant to Christians. No human could have a complete understanding of God, and the continued exploration into God’s characteristics is something Christians should always be doing as we seek to know God more. It is doubly rewarding to experience SCA-DI’s opinions and try to reconcile his conclusions with our own comprehension of God’s nature in a broken world. While I recommend everyone try out some of his works for yourselves, I understand many readers are adverse to the pornographic content of the eroge medium, especially in the case of SubaHibi. I have tried to avoid spoilers as best as I could, and I want to point out that a spoiler-free analysis of these works would be far more interesting and expansive than this surface level introduction I provided. I hope everyone managed to read to the end of this long article, and for anyone who learned to appreciate the world of SCA-DI’s philosophy, I will leave you with a final quote:
Suffering is important. Frustration is important. All the crap in the world is important. By experiencing it all, you can have the greatest kind of life.
– Kusanagi Naoya, Sakura no Uta