TWWK: You’ve surely seen many of of the wonderful guest contributions by Jeskai Angel here in recent months—so many that he seems to be part of our regular staff! Well, we’ve remedied that inconsistently by bringing Jeskai Angel on as a member of our staff! He’ll be joining our light novel club and contributing other pieces as well, including today’s, which comes to you in a format quite unique for an anime blog—the Socratic dialogue.
Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve been struck by how some of the anime I’ve watched seemed almost to be talking to one another—specifically, regarding the nature and meaning of love. Using quotes from these anime plus the Bible, I have endeavored to recreate my experience, by constructing something of a Socratic dialogue (think Plato’s Republic, or, for a biblical example, the book of Job). My sources are as follows:
- Sword Art Online Alicization: episodes 19, 21, 22, 23, & 24
- SSSS.Gridman: episodes 8 & 12
- Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai: episodes 1, 2, & 3
- The Bible: John 3, Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 2, & 1 John 4
All of the sentences attributed to characters within the dialogue are quotes from of those sources, though obviously I’ve taken them out of context and reorganized the material. While I hope that even those who nothing about these shows can get something out of this piece, it’ll make more sense and be more meaningful if you are familiar with the characters and stories and I’m referencing. To that end, I’ll introduce the cast and summarize the storylines involved. Click here to skip the introduction and jump straight into the dialogue.
Sword Art Online Alicization
- Quinella: the villain, steals people’s memories and brainwashes them into being loyal to her
- Eugeo: one of the main heroes, who temporarily fell prey to Quinella’s temptations
- Kirito: the other main hero
- Young Alice: Eugeo’s mental image of the girl he loves, as a child back before she was kidnapped
- Alice: now grown up; taken away by Quinella years ago and memory erased
- Teise: a junior student of swordsmanship and friend to Eugeo
- Cardinal: long-time enemy of Quinella
- Charlotte: an artificial intelligence in the form of a spider; works for Cardinal and aids Kirito
Kirito is trapped in a virtual fantasy world full of artificially created human souls. Their virtual world is ruled by the evil Administrator Quinella, who relies on manipulating people’s memories to make them serve her.
- Shinjo Akane: first seems to be a high school girl, only to be revealed as the villainous demigod creator of the world in which the show is set, and only gets more complex from there
- Takarada Rikka: one of the protagonists, a high school girl and friend of Akane
- Alexis Kerib: ultimate villain of SSSS.Gridman; assists Akane but also exploits her for his own purposes
The protagonists discover their world is constantly being destroyed and rebuilt by kaiju controlled by Shinjo Akane.
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai
- Azusagawa Sakuta: protagonist, high school boy, eponymous rascal
- Sakurajima Mai: high school girl and child actress; slowly becoming invisible to / forgotten by other people, until Sakuta forces them to acknowledge her existence
- Futaba Rio: high school girl and science nerd friend of Sakuta
In the first arc of the show, Mai gradually disappears from everyone’s sight and memory until Sakuta, thanks to his love for Mai and some help from Rio, reverses the process.
And there you have it. That won’t completely make for having never seen these shows, but it should help. Without further ado, let’s begin. Or, as Socrates is made to say in The Republic, “Tally ho, Glaucon!”
As I was wandering the stoa of ancient Athens—because obviously that’s where to go if you’re looking for a Socratic dialogue—I happened upon a crowd of anime characters engaged in, well, animated discussion. As I listened, it became apparent that they were debating the nature of love. Two young women, Quinella and Shinjo Akane (#TeamGirlsWithLilacHair&GodlikePower), took the position love was all about power.
As I approached, Quinella was speaking: “If you love me, I’ll return that same amount of love. The deeper your love for me, the more I’ll bring you to the ultimate pleasure. First, you have to love me. If you gave all of yourself to me, I’d love you back the same amount. That eternal love you’ve been seeking all your life, that eternal control…you were so close to obtaining it!”
A young man nearby, named Eugeo, responded “Eternal…love? Eternal…control. Is that really what love is? Is it like money that you use to buy things of value? Is that all there is to it?”
A couple of other characters tried to chime in here.
“That’s not what it is, Eugeo-senpai!” a girl named Teise called out.
Young Alice piped up, “You’re wrong, Eugeo! Love isn’t something you can get as a reward!”
Quinella glared and raised her voice to drown out the interruption: “If you entrust everything to me, the thirst that’s been making you suffer will be quenched instantly. All the fears and worries you’ve been carrying will be erased. Do that, and I shall forgive your heinous crime with my tremendous amount of love. To love is to control, and to be controlled.”
Another young woman with lilac-colored haired and pretensions of divinity, Shinjo Akane, had been nodding vigorously in agreement with Quinella and now spoke up in support. Akane’s words seemed both more subtle and less confident than Quinella’s, but they likewise portrayed love through a paradigm of power and control. To her, love was something she made people do.
Looking at another girl about the same age, Akane declared, “You should be close to me. Don’t you wanna get along with a god? No matter what I do, you’ll never be able to hate me. I made sure you were set up that way. Everyone that lives here loves everything about me. That’s why you and I are friends, Rikka.”
The other girl, Takarada Rikka, answered, “I was born already as your friend?”
“You were made to be my friend when you were made by my kaiju,” Akane declared.
At this moment a tall, dark, Darth Vader wannabe figure tapped Rikka on the shoulder.
“Um, who were you again?” asked the obviously villainous Alexis Kerib.
“I’m a friend of Akane’s,” Rikka affirmed.
Alexis wagged a finger at her. “You’re a counterfeit born from Akane’s kaiju. A fabricated human… A replica… You’re a creation that Akane made for her own benefit. A creation that thinks they are human. A creation that believes their god is a friend. How sad that is.”
Rikka shot back defiantly, “Whether it’s sad or not is up to us to decide.”
Noticing that the crowd seemed puzzled as to who Alexis was and why he was there, he explained that he helped Akane make kaiju. “Providing kaiju allowed Akane to build her ideal city. And destroy it again… She couldn’t control every irregular, nor all the lives that were born here. Which is exactly why she needed kaiju,” Alexis concluded. He seemed not to notice that his concession that Akane could not control everything or everyone indirectly bolstered Rikka’s stance that her love and friendship were voluntary.
Rikka ignored Alexis and turned back to Akane. “It’s okay,” she said, “You’re not alone, Akane. That’s why we want you to rely on us… To believe us… That’s what our relationship is.”
Amazement blossomed on Akane’s face, followed by understanding. “Our…relationship? You’re all my…friends.”
As Akane and Rikka hugged, Quinella scowled and made grumbling noises. Akane had effectively joined the enemy by conceding that Rikka and others were not mere puppets, and instead loved her of their own volition.
At this point of couple of older gentlemen spoke up. They looked completely out of place among a gathering of anime characters, and had been muttering to each other ever since Quinella’s comments about how her love was contingent on others loving her first and that love was a matter of control.
The apostle John spoke first. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. We love because he first loved us.”
The apostle Paul added, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”
Quinella seemed bemused by these comments, and in the intervening silence, an armored woman named Alice raised a question of her own. “You’ve forcefully taken us from our parents, from our wives and husbands, from our brothers and sisters, to plant false memories of being summoned from a non-existent heavenly realm! Why couldn’t you at least trust in our loyalty and respect for you? Why would you subject our souls to such a tainted ritual to force us to submit to your control?”
This sort of thing was easier for Quinella to process, and she answered with gusto: “The Piety Modules I gifted you are the proof of my love. They freed you from any trifling worries or pain, so you could remain beautiful dolls for all time. I’m going to erase the memories causing you such grief. I’m going to turn you back into a doll that has no need to think. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it. The only proof of my existence is the control I exert. That desire is the one thing that motivates and gives me life!”
Addressing Quinella, Eugeo spoke up again: “You’re the pitiful one, for having no other way to say it! I’m sure you were once the same way. Starved for love and sought it out, but you were never given any. Love isn’t about control. Nor is it something you can gain as a reward or in a transaction. Love isn’t something you seek. It’s something you give. The same way you water flowers, you give it continuously. I’m sure that that’s what love is!”
There was a bit of scuffle at this point that had an oddly relevant outcome. I guess Quinella got fed up with people not conceding to her, so she sicced a golem made of swords on her detractors. In the process, a large spider was fatally wounded.
Addressing Charlotte, the spider, Cardinal (one of Quinella’s opponents) lamented: “You’re so stubborn! Didn’t I release you from duty, thank you for your hard work, and order you to live as you pleased in the corner of your favorite bookshelf?
Charlotte addressed her last words to a boy whom she had protected from the unexpected sword golem attack. “I’m happy…that I got to fight with you at the…end…”
In a tone of stunned sadness, Kirito, the boy Charlotte defended, mused, “She saved me. She sacrificed herself for me. How…how can that be?”
Cardinal answered, “Even if her intelligence was nothing more than accumulated input and output data, it’s possible for a true heart to reside there. Yes, even love, in some cases.”
Quinella seemed quite pleased with her giant robot made of swords, but rather less pleased with this talk about self-sacrifice and love. Gesturing to her sword golem, she offered this rejoinder: “The knights’ simulated personas desire only one thing. To touch the one they recall, hold them tight, and make them their own. It’s that unseemly desire that moves this swordsman puppet. Right now, they sense that person is near. But they can’t touch them. They can’t be one. If they annihilate that enemy, the person they desire will be theirs. Well? Isn’t it a wonderful mechanism? The power of desire really is remarkable!”
“Don’t you dare taint that emotion by calling it desire! This is pure love!” Cardinal spat back.
“They’re the same thing, my foolish pipsqueak,” Quinella mocked. “Love is control. Love is desire. To love is to control. I love everything. I rule everything!”
I barely stifled a chuckle when she said this. According to her, for her to love others meant for her to control them, and for others to love her meant to be controlled by her. It was an impressively one-sided definition.
Seizing the pause, the apostle Paul spoke up again: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Quinella snorted contemptuously at this, but before she could say more, another voice rang out. It came from a high school boy who had been looking incensed ever since Quinella’s claims that love equaled control and that control was proof of existence. Her tyrannical outlook reminded him of the worst aspects of high school.
Azusagawa Sakuta began: “Once the class takes its shape, it doesn’t change easily. Others will talk behind your back if you stand out, calling you annoying or a show off. And once that happens, everyone knows that there’s no going back. That’s the kind of place a school is… Nobody can approach Sakurajima-senpai to talk to her. They don’t want to stand out, to be isolated. That’s why Sakurajima-senpai is also reading the situation, and pretending to act accordingly. Everyone says ‘I’m bored’ or ‘Isn’t there anything interesting out there?’ like pet phrases. But in reality, none of them are really looking for a change. The atmosphere is something you need to read. That ‘atmosphere’ that labels you as a bad person if you can’t read it.”
Sakurajima Mai, standing beside Sakuta observed, “Everyone really loves to take hints, don’t they?”
Nodding in agreement, Futaba Rio, a girl in a lab coat, addressed Sakuta: “The human brain doesn’t look at the things it doesn’t want to see. I, myself, took hints, and accepted the condition that everyone was unconsciously ignoring Sakurajima-senpai. If her disappearance is based on the unconscious ignorance of the students, all you need to do is create a reason for existence that overrides it. In other words, your love needs to override the ignorance of every student put together.”
Sakuta continued: “Love, huh? From here on, I must face the atmosphere. The atmosphere that won’t move, even if I push, pull, or slap it around. The atmosphere surrounding the school. It’s easy to ‘follow the leader’ as a lifestyle. Deciding if everything is good or bad on your own uses a ton of calories, and to have a will of your own, it can hurt to be denied. To that point, you stay safe and sound being the same as everyone else. You don’t have to see what you don’t want to. You don’t have to think about what you don’t want to. You can leave everything to someone else. But… There’s no reason to torment someone just because everyone else is doing it. Because everyone is doing it, because everyone says so… That doesn’t make it true! Who is this ‘everyone’ anyway? I won’t let people ignore her anymore. I won’t let people look and pretend not to. I’ll engrave her into everyone’s memory so much they won’t be able to! I’m not gonna take hints anymore. It’s so stupid! All right, guys! Listen up! Class 2-1, attendance number 1, Azusagawa Sakuta! To Sakurajima Mai-senpai, in class 3-1… I’m in love with you, Sakurajima-senpai! Mai-san, I love you! I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you! Mai-san, I love you!”
Rio concluded, “It could be that our world is so simple that a confession of love can change it.”
With that, the group dispersed, and we all went our separate ways.
“Love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of Yahweh.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.”
Song of Songs 8.6-7