Happy Easter again! As most of us remain locked up tightly at home, like the Disciples at the first Easter, we may still hope that Our Lord will pass from time to time through the walls. Yes, and eat a good plate of fish with us to prove that He is not a phantom as we stare at Him with our Nichijou faces.
A new kind of life, as Nicodemus learnt, means to be with Christ in entirely new ways, to let us be guided by Him through circumstances one could never have anticipated. After all, He is the One who makes everything new. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Life becomes kind of like baseball, or perhaps kind of like Haruhi Suzumiya´s brand of baseball.
Anyway, in my last Easter article, I commented on that promise of Ezekiel concerning the Law being solidly written in the heart of the People of God, which will be then a heart of flesh and, by the obedience of the Son, defeat evil and darkness, participating in the victory of Christ. It is a prophecy which brings me great joy, perhaps because at heart I cannot help being a Izuku Midoriya, a fan of the triumph of the superhero. One of the consequences of this newness of the Easter mystery is precisely that now Christ is living in us without destroying or denying us, for God has not come to Earth to destroy His Creation, but with a thrilling plan to save it.
And just as Boku no Hero Academia´s world needs a Symbol of Peace at its center, and a received gift in the heart of such a hero to carry him beyond his limits, so it is with Our Lord, Crucified, Resurrected and Alive, and us. Our union with Christ will not be completed in this life, requiring as it does to go through death and beyond when the time comes. But such is the wonderful, strange hope of the Christian. Back to the Ten Commandments, then, to that intimate, deep and heroic path at the heart of God´s creation, and at ours! A path that is both a prophecy and a spiritual portrait of sorts of our human and divine Messiah, and of which anime can offer some glimpses.
“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” implies the prohibition of a human reality as commonplace and everyday as is lying. It is a striking Commandment: after all, as quite a few of us are uninteresting jerks at least most of the time, wouldn’t that be a little dull, sometimes unsafe and even depressing? Yet, many of us recall the anguish, the burning feeling of being confronted with a world of lies, and have felt the thirst for truth, for authenticity, and the intuition that others can lead us to deeper dimensions of both themselves, us and the world. Only in time, we came to learn that others, even among our loved ones, deceived us intentionally or unintentionally, and that we ourselves were often deceivers even as we tried not to be. Oregairu, a very rich show we have commented on a number of times here at Beneath the Tangles, is just about that discovery, that path and that feeling, and something more. Lies, the difficulty of truth, no doubt, but also the world beyond, what may be at the other side. “Sagashi ni yukunda soko e”, “I’ll head over there to search…”
The protagonists, Hachiman Hikigaya, “Hikki,” and Yukino Yukinoshita, are clever teenagers who see the world, not without reason, as a playground of liars, and who try to cope with it while remaining true to their respective characters. After a rough middle school in which both experienced the injustice and the superficiality of their classmates in different ways and for different reasons, they have fortified themselves using their intellects as a defense, which provides viewers a ton of hilarious monologue and dialogue. But this starts to change, little by little. Quite appropriately, in the first season they live in a cartoonish world and are drawn like caricatures of themselves, while in the second season, under the direction of Studio Feel, the world has gained in beauty, human-like characters, and beautiful colors. And each of the characters has given the rest something valuable and difficult to put a spin on.
Hachiman, in particular, reminds me of my teenage self. He is just as self-satisfied, defensively analytical, socially awkward and comedically philosophical as I was, plus a reformed chuunibyou, all while harboring a deep thirst of real, meaningful human contact. After his experience during middle school, he surely thinks of youth and society as an elaborate setup, a game of phonies for power, and of himself as an uninteresting jerk. And yet (minor spoilers for the first and second seasons of Oregairu), he bears such a thirst, even if it is shameful, even if he knows it is out of the question, even if he honestly thinks that communicating with others and getting to know them is impossible in the real world. Recently I have come across the translation of the second opening, Harumodoki (“False Spring” or “Imitation Spring”). It is beautiful, and also well worth a read:
“I don’t want this replica
I’ll only be satisfied with something I can call the ‘real deal’
I’ll head over there to search…
“But that’s like a time-old fairy tale”
I gaze at the empty space where my answer has disappeared
It should have been filled in
But however hard I try, I can’t tell for sure”
Hikki has a good head, for sure, but that can be a disadvantage as much as an advantage in trying to find the truth (after all, it is easy to cleverly deceive ourselves for us intellectual types, and we should learn from the Gospel that the wise of the world are in danger of hiding the important things from themselves). But he also has the integrity of the people he admires, even if it is not always bulletproof; the good instinct of friends and relatives, even if they sometimes cannot really argue with him; the wisdom and advice of patient mentors, even if he is a hard student; and most of all, the flawed, extraordinary humility and hope of my favorite character (because, I´m sure, these are the two essential requisites for aspiring to truth), even if… I will let it at that. And so he comes to be able to do soul searching when he is trapped in his own lies.
And, as he fights his inner shame, his lack of hope, the lies of the world and his own carelessness, he will try to say what he really wants to say. To express this desire: the hope of truth, even bearing with the unavoidable ugliness of something genuine. He wants to deepen the conversation, to go on. And this, in itself, opens the door to this whole new world where anything may happen, hard and difficult, for sure, but also increasingly authentic, and truly helpful. Because every word, when spoken with deep sincerity, has true power, and is a true vehicle of communion between the speaker and the one who hears. Not immediately, perhaps, but it will be. We are starting to see the fruits, and I hope that the third season may show us more of them. After all, “Tooi tooi haru wa/ yuki no shita,” “The distant, distant spring is/ Underneath this snow”.
If we go on and on with this part of vulnerability, openness and wisdom, it will ultimately lead us to God. Because Christ is the Truth, and every particular truth, every intimate truth, every ray of meaning we may discover on this Earth, is connected in some way to Him, to the truth of the Bible, and is some kind of sign of the Kingdom of Heaven. And God is truthful. He is truly in His Word. When Christ speaks, His words transcend time and place, and bring us to Him and to others, more solid that the heavens and the Earth, each of them a prophecy, each of them a sign of hope, a step closer. Harumodoki expresses our character´s fear that “However hard we try, things that can’t be seen/ Will end up fading from our memories.” But only He can assure us that “The heaven and the earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away”.
Hikki, Yukino and Yui are starting to struggle for to learn to express our reality and the reality of the world; to be increasingly informed by it; and to help others towards the meaningful, ever-expanding, personal but solid truth. In the Bible, we translate the word “jada” as “to know,” and that´s what it means, but jada also implies “to deeply experience the truth of something,” as in “and they shall know that I am God,” “if you knew the gift of God,” “and no man knows the Son, but the Father; neither knows any man the Father, save the Son.” We cannot imagine yet what knowing this means, but hopefully we will. Our Lord is the Word of God, always sharing the truth with us, with every action, every conversation—always in conversation.
Hachiman invents new ways to get to the truth of the matter, overcoming this lie or that lie the others will not acknowledge. Christ does it better: He may be pretending to walk away in disguise so the disciples of Emmaus invite Him to dinner, letting Bartimaeus scream a little more before turning to him, rebuking a Pharisee, and laughing with Lazarus or chatting with His Mother, but He will be entirely in every single word, freely communicating Himself, the saving Truth of God, and searching for a way into our defenses. He is the True Witness. Through Him, we will get to know one another and the Father, and to communicate the living truth, ours and His at once. He finds our personal truths interesting and wants to speak with us. He wants to go deeper. And He has many things to tell us, things that will bring us closer and closer to whom we really are. “Arigatou chiisa na me mitsuketekureta koto/ kimi wa tsubuyaita,” “Thank you, for finding this tiny sprout/ You whispered.”
For the Seventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”, I have chosen instead One´s Mob Psycho 100. The art is quite ugly, the main character is overpowered, the humor is somewhat hysterical, but in this particular show, these are not flaws. Imagine having supreme psychic powers (of a non-realistic kind), from telekinesis and super strength to levitation, and living in what seems to be a cramped world of screaming, vulgar nobodies. With such an insane range of abilities, so different from those of the rest of mortals, you can get what you want with a snap of your fingers, full of power and beauty they will never experience. You may feel that you don´t have to work to earn your part. You may ever think that this is the natural balance of things, and that the rest of the people work because they are either not so gifted, or maybe stupid, unimaginative or not strong enough to do otherwise. So you, the powerful one, the clever one, take what you want.
But the thing is, if you fall into this temptation and start bending the world to your will, exploiting others, you are impoverishing your world and that of others. Precisely when you think of yourself as a powerful, terrible force of nature, you are in fact choosing to become a parasite, a nuisance, a burden on the shoulders of those you are abusing. And that, when you could be someone who helps in building the world, a valuable part of the team, with whatever talents you have, is sad. It is a waste. By commuting injustice, I rob the talents I have of their proper glory, their goodness and role in the world. The thing is, most valuable things in life and society take work and coordination, often a lot of work and coordination. And after the Fall, work became hard and tiresome, and feels a little like death. The path where, in deep alliance with the world, you come to master the ability you need and put it to good use, and learn its wisdom, has become hard. The temptation of taking shortcuts and simply getting what you want, measuring the world according to your desires, is strong. And almost every character in Mob Psycho 100 falls into this temptation, whatever their ability.
But Shigeo Takeyama, Mob, the protagonist of the series, insists on doing the opposite, again and again. He may be the most powerful of psychics, but he will not be blinded by this fact. He knows his limitations. He wants to be physically strong, so he will train to exhaustion with those who are strong. He wants to be popular, so he will try to learn social skills, talk to girls, and even try to be school council president. He may be immensely strong, but is wise and humble enough to understand that he depends on others, and also that he needs to put it to constructive use and follow the natural rhythms of things and people. And he does that, again and again. He does his work, or tries to. And he repeats this lesson to every rival, with humility and strength.
And we come to see it. Those who have built their lives on their own power and domination are ultimately childish and immature, even if they think of themselves as threatening, powerful, and imposing. To be truly strong, you train your body, and artificially inflated muscles will never be the same. Can you make glass? Grow food? Put it into a can? Distribute it through the country? That is a wonder, achieved by coordination and hard work. If not, when you break the showcase of a commerce to take it with your psychic powers (or whatever), when you try to get what you have not earned by shady means, when you slack off and bury the talent you could put to good use, when you take what is not yours without doing your part, the world is all the less rich for that, and what you are becoming is the work of those whose part is solving these kind of injustices, like Mob. But if you work, you will slowly come to grow, enrich the world, help others, and learn that you need the work of others as well. You will build and mature. And hey, maybe these people are not so ugly after all, and maybe they can help build the world, or they are already doing so in one way or another.
Mob knows this. It is like the definitive anti-Matrix: forget all the anti-social coolness, the black clothes, the disdain for the lives of the non-redpilled, learning to pilot a helicopter in a minute and the Chosen One distorting the everyday world, and think about the valuable things around you, and how they got there, and how you can contribute. And Our Lord knew that, too. He told the Apostles that the leaders among the nations behaved like tyrants, and the great became oppressors, but that it must not be so among them. Instead, the great must serve, and the greater they are, the more they must serve. We will only be happy, mature, and grow when we are able to do so. And He Himself, the Lord and the Master, washed their feet, the humblest of labors, to show them that He has come to our world to build, to serve, for He loves us, for He wants a world of justice. He was not a burglar or a mercenary. He worked in our salvation everyday, with effort and humility everyday. God´s unlimited power, infinitely more vast than Mob´s, was, and is, used to serve us.
When we come to be able to imitate Him, every power, every talent, every strength, every leadership is a blessing for the world, ourselves and others, and thus true to its deeper meaning. And He, knowing that we need one another, also gave us the Church and the communion of saints, in which we share the goods He gives us. By praying for others, receiving help, offering up our sufferings, and taking care of the materially and spiritually poor, we are doing the same things for Him, for he identifies with those in need, the hungry we can feed, and the thirsty we can satiate with our talents and riches, which will then be glorious, shining treasures of Heaven in this anodyne world.
And lastly (for now), there is the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” I have commented on the beauty of chastity before, but it is much harder to do so while maintaining the “minor spoilers” profile I have chosen for these articles. Unless, of course, I use the one romantic comedy series that starts with the protagonists going out in the very second chapter, and goes on from there: I´m referring, of course, to Ore Monogatari, literally “My love story.” This is a very wise show, one which I really wish I had watched before having a girlfriend for the first time, and whose solid Austenian ethics and character comedy have also been brilliantly commented here by our writer Annalyn a number of times, saying, among other things, “Also, everyone should watch Ore Monogatari.“ I concur.
If the first thing which makes Ore Monogatari different from your standard romantic comedy is how fast the protagonists come together, the second is undoubtedly the protagonist, Takeo Gouda. The guy is a beast! Seriously, he is huge! He is fiery, clumsy, loud—a teenager who looks like an adult, and is questioned by the police if he waits in front of the school, bigger than everybody else, compared by others (and by the opening) to a gorilla! And he is impulsive, too: He shouts, he cries, he laughs, he gets angry, and he falls in love every year. When he eats, he devours. And yet (minor spoilers ahead), his new girlfriend, Rinko Yamato, is small and delicate, timid and a good cook of small and delicious sweets. Her friends are absolutely flabbergasted, even worried. What is this red ogre going to do to her?
But Yamato´s friends are wrong. Because Takeo, for all his strength and threatening face, has the virtue of subordinating his strength, his fire, and his powerful body to his will, for taking care of others and to sacrificial love. He is very able to appreciate things, to be able to show delicacy. And we come to understand what Yamato has seen at first glance: That his enormous body can and does convey his kindness, his forbearance, and both his strength and his vulnerability as he opens to her. That, even if he looks scary, he would never harm her, and she is safe with him, no matter how strong his feelings for her. That, even if he is strongly attracted to her (or maybe precisely because of that, because she is a precious woman to him, and dear to his heart) he will only touch her, or take her hand, when he is convinced that she wishes him to do so, and will understand it as a sign of love and intimacy. That he is a true man, and for Yamato as a woman, also an attractive one.
Of course, the desire to love another person right does not automatically solve the complicated problems of relationships. From minute one, there is a misunderstanding when he thinks he is being pure and protecting her by avoiding physical contact, when she wishes that he would take her hand, and in time come to kiss her. But that is what allows them to enter this new adventure in such a way that every gesture, every look, every touch, every feeling (or so they intend and fight for) matures in the heart, sometimes refined with fire of passion and tenderness and, without losing any of its strength, to be personal, intentional, meaningful, directed to the specific person that they love. Takeo Gouda. Rinko Yamato.
So we will see them explore, in the midst of their everyday lives, with deep emotion and care, how to make this person happier and more of who they are: affectivity, corporeality, personal biography, defects, learning, the struggle to be better, social and family life, dreams and hopes. The deep, strange, personal realms of the heart, which have been waiting for “the man” or “the woman,” will open from the inside, one by one, and ignite in new light: That between them, who would let the other suffer alone if that was the best for him of her, there will be something new, complementary, shared, stronger because they are together, in increasingly deep communion. Maybe including, eventually, everlasting commitment, sexual union and new life, reflecting the always deeper, always more alive, always more intimate, always more rich love that God provides each of us, a generous, personal love which brings new life to us and the world.
And the body is important, as part of us as the soul. We are incarnated spirits, one being, as Serial Experiments Lain shows it in a powerful way. Our bodily reality was intended by God, and all of it is meaningful in some way, even if veiled by our scars, deformities, and wounds, for ourselves, and for others. God chose to take flesh, to Incarnate too, and he decided that His steps would be the steps of God, His eyes, the eyes of God, His hands, the hands of God. He gave us His body and blood at the Last Supper, and the communion he established with us that way goes even further than that of the husband and the wife, which while retaining its intrinsic goodness and its character of path to holiness, in a way is a prophecy for it, as St. Paul notes. And this is also hopeful, because He will save and complete the person we love in a way we cannot. As Ore Monogatari shows, when you truly love someone, this becomes a major issue: Some things are out of our reach, the loved one suffers in ways we cannot understand, we inadvertently hurt the other. But God can do what we cannot, and in Him, our communion will be greater. He truly gives us the hope of a pure bridge, and of a happily ever after.
And yet, Our Lord was and remains virginal. This has a powerful meaning, too. Chastity is not only for the married, but for us too, because our body is also a part of our relationship with God, who loves us in body and soul, and how we relate to our intimacy and our impulses is a part of learning to be gradually closer to Him. Impurity leads to blindness. As Annalyn brilliantly (and enlighteningly) pointed out, Suna, the friend, the third character on this trio, is an example of this celibate love. On Earth, the celibate keep company to the married, aid them in their struggles, struggle themselves to deepen their intimate relationship with the Lord, and remind others and themselves that there are other possibilities, and that our body ultimately points to Him, in whose image and likeness our full being was created. They are friends of the Spouse.
And this is it for now. Next time, I´ll go for the Fifth, the Fourth and the Third Commandments. Stay safe!