Welcome back JeskaiAngel, one of our regular guest contributors here on Beneath the Tangles. Today, he takes a deep dive into a light novel series we recommend—Invaders of the Rokujouma!?
I didn’t expect to encounter deep, encouraging thoughts about the nature and origin of true strength in a light novel, but… I recently started reading the light novel series Invaders of the Rokujouma!?. It’s partly Stardf29’s fault for a post about it on Twitter, and partly the fault of J-novel Club for making the first NINETEEN volumes of the series available for free (seriously, why are you reading me instead of them?). I quickly devoured, well, all nineteen of them and now eagerly wait for more to be translated into English.
In the course of my madcap novel-devouring spree, I was impressed by how insightfully the series explored the concept of strength. If you’re not familiar with the series, hmm, let’s say it starts out being about a high school kid living on his own and trying to defend his apartment from a ghost, alien invasion, mole people, and cosplayers, and gets more awesome from there. The protagonist ends up facing and defeating all manner of threats to the well-being of his friends and apartment. While the topic of strength comes up several times, there’s an especially deep conversation about it in vol. 14.
Protagonist Koutarou’s landlord, Shizuka, mostly seemed to be a normal human for the first thirteen volumes, albeit one highly skilled in martial arts. Then *spoilers* it turns out she is host to the astral projection of a giant magic dragon and receives said dragon’s strength. Shizuka discovers this when she tries to save a child from a fire similar to the one in which her parents died. She finds herself unable to pull off the rescue, only for Uncle Dragon to reveal himself to her and empower her to save both her own life and that of the kid.
Afterward, Shizuka is grateful for Uncle Dragon’s help, but also suffers a crisis of confidence. After years and years of training her body to be as strong as possible so that she could protect others, she still wasn’t strong enough to deal with the problem on her own and had to rely on someone else. “In the end, I still couldn’t save anyone, just like when dad and mom died. So I’m disappointed that I haven’t grown at all…” Landlord-san laments. Feeling that all her training was meaningless, she expresses envy of Koutarou (who, among other achievements, accidentally became the most famous knight in the entire history of an alien civilization). Shizuka says, “I’d like to learn the secret behind being a legendary hero.”
Koutarou’s response shocks his landlord: “According to your way of thinking, I’ve never saved anyone with just my own strength before.” As she starts to object, Koutarou declares that he’s “Always borrowing everyone else’s power to fight.” The only strength Koutarou can claim as his own is moderate skill with a sword. But someone else gave him his regular sword and his high-tech armor. Another character gave him his magic sword. A third person gave him what is basically a magic gauntlet. A fourth gave him some psychic abilities… You get the idea. In every one of his battles, Koutarou owed his success to weapons, skills, and powers that others provided.
Koutarou points out that in terms of basic physical strength Landlord-san is already stronger than he is, and says he can only offer one piece of advice: “What you need right now is to be able to honestly rely on others.” He confesses that he used to think it was “disgraceful” to need others and not be independent, but learned by experience that only by borrowing others’ power could he accomplish anything. “I have people I have to protect no matter how. And I need power to be able to do that. I don’t care whose power that is, because I don’t have room to be picky.” Self-reliance might salve his ego, but it would leave him incapable of making any difference in the lives of those he cared about. Koutarou could receive and fully use the strength of others only because he first accepted his own weakness. As the narrator puts it, “He had something he wanted to protect more than his pride.”
As Shizuka ponders Koutarou’s words, she realizes that her tenant wasn’t strong because of his weapons and powers, “He was strong because he acknowledged that he was weak.” And nothing before this did, that quote especially is reminiscent of a Bible verse or three. Faced with some unspecified problem, the apostle Paul prayed repeatedly that God would remove it. In response, Jesus told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Thus, Paul said he determined to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me…For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12.9-10). Paul’s personal weakness provided the perfect venue for God to display far greater power.
In John 9, we find the hilarious story of Jesus healing a man who was born blind (seriously, I dare you to read this story and then tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor). Jesus uses the physical blindness of the man he healed as a metaphor for spiritual blindness. When some of his opponents, the Pharisees, scoff that they aren’t blind, “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains’” (Jn. 9.41). Elsewhere, Jesus observes that those who think they are well don’t visit a doctor. And in Rev. 3.17, addressing the believers in Laodicea, Jesus says, “You say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” We can’t accept the help we need while clinging to pride and self-righteousness. We can’t enjoy the strength God offers if we insist on relying on ourselves for everything. A sense of arrogant independence that denies our true weakness will keeping us from trusting others – God above all – the way we need to.
Jesus’ answer when Paul asked about his “thorn in the flesh” was hardly the first time God used weakness as an occasion for power. God brought about salvation fall mankind through a man being crucified, even though the world found that the cross disgraceful and foolish. In ancient times, crucifixion was considered an especially humiliating and degrading form of execution. This is part of what Paul was getting at when he wrote, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men…God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1.25, 27).
Unlike Koutarou, we have no friendly ghosts to grant us psychic abilities or alien princesses to provide us with powered armor, but we do have access to one even mightier who is willing to empower us. But just like Koutarou, we need humility in order to be able to trust someone else for our strength. Accepting our own weakness can challenging. In some ways, it’s more comfortable to cling to a delusion of self-sufficiency. I (and probably most of you, O readers mine) live in a society that prizes that personal independence, glories in so-called “rugged individualism,” and believes that reliance on anything outside ourselves should be considered a regrettable stopgap at best. Moreover, culture often cloaks its pride-promoting messages in pseudo-virtuous rationalizations, making it even trickier to recognize pride in ourselves.
Chronic illness, both physical and mental, has forced me to look at just how weak I really am. For God to aid me in my weakness today is merely a continuation of how he has worked many times before. The scriptures are full of stories in which people who trusted God rather than relying on themselves “were made strong out of weakness” (as Heb. 11.34 puts it). Nothing has changes since Yahweh, speaking of himself, declared:
“He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for Yahweh shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isa. 40.29-31)
I’m weak. That’s just how it is. But I don’t need to stay weak. I just need to trust my Almighty Creator and let go of my pretensions of independence.
The Afterword of vol. 19 further contributes to Invaders of the Rokujouma!?’s exploration of true strength. A character named Yurika has finally come into her own and proven herself extremely strong. Oh, and she’s not just strong, she’s also a prodigy, a genius when it comes to magic. Despite being incredibly powerful, she began the story as the most immature, lazy, whiny, cowardly member of the entire (rather large) cast. Her weakness of character made her what the author calls a “dysfunctional magician” despite having access to phenomenal cosmic power. (Hmm, is it coincidence that she also ends up with an itty-bitty living space inside a wardrobe?) Only after Yurika undergoes many volumes of character development and becomes more loving and courageous is she able to start using her magic to its full potential. The author explains that this was by design – he wanted Yurika to be extremely strong, but making her too capable at the outset would have disrupted the story. Instead of limiting how much power Yurika had, the author used her character flaws to limit on how she used her magic. A similar blending of assets and flaws happened for most of the story’s characters, the author adds. The only member of the main cast with no particular flaws or weaknesses is Kiriha – the one character with no supernatural abilities or overpowered weapons of her own. In different ways, she is both the weakest and the strongest.
Yurika’s character arc – and her contrast with the perceptive and insightful yet physically weak Kiriha – demonstrates of two more points about true strength. First, prideful self-sufficiency isn’t the only the flaw that can keep us from being powerful. Second, while some weaknesses of character can largely nullify other strengths we may possess (as in Yurika’s case), there are also forms of weakness that can coexist alongside great power. Yurika wielded powerful magic but for many volumes was still the weakest member of the cast. The strongest man who ever was or will be let himself be crucified, and you can be sure that while he hung there in pain, naked, bleeding, and gasping for breath, he didn’t look strong at all. But Jesus’ physical weakness in that moment only serves to highlight his incredible strength of character, trust, and love. Going to the cross was an act of weakness, in a sense, but also a display of unfathomable strength. Similarly (though to an infinitely lesser degree), Kiriha’s relative weakness in combat doesn’t prevent her from possessing inner strength.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle with letting my weaknesses define me. I look at my inability to do something, or my inability to do something well, or even my inaccurately perceived inability to something well, and conclude that I am, as a person, weak. I look at areas where I struggle spiritually and conclude I’m a horrendous sinner. I end up defining my self-image based on weakness. Invaders of the Rokujouma!? offered me, and I hope you as well, a helpful correction. These books serve as a reminder that strength comes from others and that a lack of inherent personal strength isn’t a problem. These books are a reminder that character flaws can get in the way of strength but don’t wholly negate it, and by growing in character, I can make greater use of strength I already possess. Finally, the stories of Koutarou, Shizuka, Yurika, and the others serve as a reminder that unlike weakness of character, one may be physically weak and still have access to undiminished strength.
“Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isa. 4
Interested in checking out Invaders of the Rokujouma!? Check out to the links below for Volume 14, referenced in the first half of this piece, and volume 19 from the second half, or if you haven’t started at all, volume 1!