Easter is already halfway to Pentecost, and the myriad colors of a Your lie in April-style spring shine in the Northwest Spain countryside where I live. We have just received the announcement of the end of the first and stricter period of our national lockdown, and while most of the safety restrictions will likely keep in place, it is a sign that things are moving. When the time comes, we will have to learn to live a everyday life which will be familiar, but not quite the same. Likewise, may we let the Risen Christ teach us these days how to receive and keep receiving the Holy Spirit, Who, like Kaori Miyazono in that series, can heal us from the inside, bringing new, unsuspected colors to our worlds and teaching us how to live in Him—how to really live.
How will this new world look like? Like Arima Kousei, we only have hints, some words and visions from a world outside, the thirst (depicted, among other places, in good stories, including anime, which are true to the human heart), and a Person who is determined to create a bond with us and bring us a path. This is my third Easter article on anime and the Commandments from the perspective of Ezekiel´s prophecy about the Law (Ez, 11.17): that God would renew the thirsty heart of His people so they would walk in justice and finally triumph against the multiform evil within and outside us, a prophecy which is fulfilled in Christ, Who brings this fulfillment, this triumph, this pure love to us. The first one was concerned with the Tenth and the Ninth Commandments, the second with the Eight, the Seventh and the Sixth, and now it´s time for the Fifth, the Fourth and the Third.
I´m not really sure of how Your lie in April has ended up infiltrating this article, but while I´m an it, I will also say that at the center of that series is the conviction that where there is love, there is this crazy hope that two wills may be in perfect harmony, that one may submit to the other while keeping his initiative, while being more and more free and more and more himself. Kaori Miyazono knew this. We believe that Jesus Christ loved His Father, the Holy Spirit, and us with pure and unflinching Love, and therefore kept the Law of the Father in perfect obedience all His life, as He keeps it now, not in a fearful or legalistic way, but from the inside and with a spirit of freedom, as is fit to truth and the Holy Spirit. Not without pain (love is not without pain in this world), but not without joy either, and it is joy that will prevail. This means that the Ten Commandments tell us about Him, our own hearts, and the deeper order of the world.
“Thou shalt not kill.” You all know the story: Cain felt bitter and angry about his brother, and realized he had the power to destroy him, for man could die now. So he did. Even more, he denied his crime before God, declaring that he was not the guardian of his brother. But then he heard that the earth, where the blood had been spilled, would deny him its fruit, and had to walk away, in perpetual fear that he himself might be murdered. God put a sign on his forehead, which meant that even then, his life was still dear to Him and he was still to be respected. And from then, we are all both Cain and Abel; man often becomes worse than wolf to those who are just like him, we prey on each other, especially on the most vulnerable, and we destroy each other at many levels with cruel, murderous deeds and cruel, murderous words, and bear the consequences of that spilled blood that makes our world more and more of a wasteland, be it literally or worse.
The world of Now and then, here and there is a striking, evocative, bittersweet portrait of such a grim reality. In the far future, and due to the neverending cycle of violence, the whole world is an enormous wasteland, a desert under an enormous Sun. The few oasis of any kind that remain may be infected with violence at any moment, and come to burn in flames. Human life is worth nothing. Hellywood, an enormous city-fortress armed with weapons of mass destruction, is populated mostly by child soldiers, and not your usual anime teenage army, but child soldiers like those in the real world, who are robbed from the villages and treated as totally expendable by their superiors, under the absolute power of a paranoid, murderous, Hitleresque madman—and again, not mad as in the usual crazy supervillians, but as in a delirious schizophrenic without his medication, realistic, pathetic and dangerous.
From the top to the bottom, everyone crushes others, and everyone is crushed in turn, and the land, the cities, the people—everything is barren. Even those people who seem mostly decent routinely collaborate in massacres, kidnappings, and sacks in an effort to survive, and come to feel that they won´t come back to any other life, be it because they are marked or because they do not want that anymore. Even outside the dreadful doors of Hellywood, people and communities have internalized the logic of violence and eternal war, and if many of them do not resort to the same means, it is only because they cannot. And worse, we come to learn (minor spoilers) that Hellywood itself, in its current degradation, is only the last, degraded stage of a neverending cycle of similar tyrannies born from the purpose of getting the precious and scarce commodity of water.
It is truly a living hell, and the show doesn’t shy away from its harsher aspects, with themes of torture and war massacre, trauma and dehumanization, implied rape and pregnancy, kidnapping, and murder in cold blood. And yet, it is included in our Recommendations page. The protagonist Shu Matsuzani, who ends up there by virtue of time-travel. truly is, as we stated there, “one of the most inspiring main characters ever to grace anime from the Christian perspective, witnessed as he works through dozens of deplorable situations that would make any less committed person simply give up and give in.” I must add that he is my all-time favorite anime character. He is such a cool hero. Deku aspires to be like All Might, and for my part I would truly love to be like him.
Unlike most shonen protagonists, Shu has no special abilities or secret powers, not even good connections with some powerful mentor or father. He is not very attractive, mature, strong, or clever (almost Yuuko Aioi level of not-very-clever), but he upholds the sanctity of human life, of every life, with stubborn commitment and hope, and so he is still able to reject the logic of the violence as madness, and fight for the weak without turning into what he fights against. Though a kid, though kidnapped, though always failing to protect those he cares for, though crushed and battered, he will do what he can. Among the child soldiers, who deem him crazy, he will not carry other weapons, only his stick. No matter how many times he fails, no matter how little his chances, he won´t give up on saving everyone. But the thing is, that brings new life. Despite the insanity of this behavior in the eyes of the world, that is a sign of hope, and bears fruit.
At heart, Shu is the guardian of his brother, of all his brethren and sisters. Just because he happens to be there. He knows this to be true, and never doubts it. At heart, Now and then is a story about a guardian of his brother in a Cainite world, of the prophetic clash and its consequences. Like the Good Samaritan, Shu knows that the desire to be a “catcher in the rye” is not an illusion, but a vocation. That he truly is the custodian, the guardian, with a stick like that of St. Joseph (like him, he is the humble custodian of the woman threatened by the dragon, and of the unborn child), and remains humbly committed to this principle come rack, come rope. And so, with all his limitations, he becomes a rock, a sign. Others see in him a glimpse of a different world. They even become able to sacrifice themselves for others, to become martyrs, witnesses of love in the midst of madness, torture. and murder, who give us a hope not of this Earth.
There is a moment, in particular, which may be the single most moving scene I have watched in an anime series. It is very close to my heart, and it would probably deserve an entire post. In the following paragraph, there will be major spoilers for episode 11. Then, I will return to the minor spoilers policy.
When Sarah Ringwald, a young, traumatized American teenager that Shu has failed to protect, learns that she has conceived a child after being raped by the soldier she killed afterwards, she is terrified and desperate. The self-hate, trauma, and shame is just too much—so much that she goes to a deep cave to drown herself. But Shu, despite his guilt, despite not being romantically involved with her, despite she having hurt his friend, won´t let her, even if he has to stop her by force. And when she, screaming and shouting, tries to abort by crushing her womb with a rock, he protects the unborn child by receiving the hits until his entire hand is a bloody wound. Then, exhausted, she stops and cries. Sarah, named like the mother of Isaac, will choose to live, and her child will become the biggest sign of hope in the entire show. New life, because there will be water, and the earth will bear new fruit (End of the major spoilers).
Our Lord is also like that, from His childhood to the Cross and beyond. He came to give us life, and life in abundance, and was transported to a world as cruel and savage as that of Hellywood. Herod the Great was as paranoid, cruel, and murderous as Hamdo, and his sons, Caiaphas, Pilate, the zealots, the Pharisees, and the Roman Empire itself are revealed to us as killers, each in his way, in the Gospel. This was a brutal, threatening world. Yet, He wanted to protect us, to rescue us from being murdered and murderers, not using the sword, but fighting nevertheless. For Him, Who is God, we are all like children. The bruised reed He did not break, and the smoking flax He did not quench, not ever. Even when we were crushing Him, we could do it because He let us, and He remained committed to us, covering us with His body and receiving the hits to protect us.
As Shu, Christ cried when his friend Lazarus died, and before that, when He met the dead son of a widow, and then did the unthinkable and commanded them to wake up again, and they did. He healed the people, and more than that, He forgave deadly sins, which kill forever, with a love which is literally life—more so than biological life—to that point that He physically resurrected in body and soul. Nobody could take His life, but He had power to give it, and power to recover it. And He will not give up on saving anyone, knocking on the door again and again, fighting, inventing new ways to carry out His plan, and making Himself vulnerable, all so He can reach us. He became our new fruit, to sustain us, to give food to our starving hearts which went after the fruit of Eden, so that we would live anew, truly live.
He knows the horrors of the world, and rejects them. He patiently works for our salvation, the salvation of each one of us, out of pure love, so we can become witnesses even in the midst of suffering, so that the horror has not the last word. He is an Abel who goes to Cain to embrace him and bring him back home, to make his barren land fruitful again. To keep us company making himself vulnerable and close to us, to suffer with us, to eventually wipe every tear from our eyes, and bring us the hope that there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Because, no matter what might we have done, He just doesn´t want anybody of His precious family to die. A love like that deserves to triumph. And it deserves the true glory. To prophecy that we may be able to love like that one day, too, to channel and reflect this love, to be heroes, too, is to prophesize something truly amazing.
As for the fourth Commandment, it is a very interesting and powerful one, and yet we moderns are in danger of feeling it is countercultural, even dated. Honor your father. Honor your mother. Honor your superiors, your ancestors, your teachers and masters, your community and its institutions and authorities, your senpais, your tradition. Well, that may have sounded good to the Patriarchs in the desert, or even to the Kingdom of Israel, we may think, but now? Aren’t we suppose to be innovative, rebellious, and independent, and question our prejudices and our legacy? Isn’t this time our own, as their time was theirs? After all, your country may very well be Amestris, your city may be Himinazawa, your father may be Hachiken´s, your mother may be Mrs. Yukinoshita, your senpais may be rascals, your master may be Roshi, and if your name is Shiraishi-kun, your teacher may even be our Sensei!
And what may “honoring someone” mean nowadays, anyway? Why revere (or respect, or whathaveyou) these people just because they happen to be connected to us, or even crazier, because they happen to have power over us? And further, do so despite the fact that they are obviously flawed and may even have hurt us immensely, and may even be in a position to do it again? Despite the fact that we need to go further and achieve different things, perhaps greater things? Despite the fact that we are not children anymore, that our hopes and dreams are unique, and we have to mature, walk on our own and go towards them? And that goes higher in the list than the Fifth Commandment? Lelouch vi Britannia would not be thrilled.
But perhaps Izuku Midoriya, the protagonist of our Anime March Madness champion show this year, Boku no Hero Academia (minor spoilers from here), would understand because this Commandment reflects a deep truth about the human heart (one than even Lelouch should come to acknowledge). Before we can act, we come to being. Before seekers of truth, workers, spouses, custodians, Samaritans or heroes, we were sons and daughters, and we never stop to be.
Before we loved, we were loved, by God at the very least. Before we were able to give, we did receive, and if we can give it is because we did receive. You can only become a hero because the power for goodness was handed to you in many ways through others who act as channels, and if you do not recognize this, you will be lying to yourself. And, despite appearances, you will be all the more weak for that, because paradoxically, this confession, this gratitude, is what makes us able to stand firm when everything trembles. Appropriately, the power that embodies this concept in BNHA is called One for All, and to use it at its fullest, you have to remember where you come from, your origin.
This, the first truth of the hero, should be obvious, but it tends to be in fact the first that we forget. Someone taught us how to talk. Someone taught us how to read, and someone wrote the books we read. We learnt through imitation because we had someone to imitate , and someone (or even many people) who inspired our dreams and helped them take shape in one way or another. Heroes, All Might especially, were this to Midoriya. If we do not acknowledge this, if we do not deal with it, we will never know who we are, or who the rest of the people are. In a sense, we will be always running, be it to the mirage at the top or far away.
If we take the first path, we will be Katsuki Bakugo. If we take the second, we will be Shoto Todoroki. But either way, we will be Satoru Fujinuma, Rikka Takanashi, Kousei Arima, Nishimi Kaoru, Reki, Tomoya Okazaki, Aisaka Taiga, Lelouch himself, Yuki Sohma—errant souls in an unreal, fragile world, avoiding or imitating half-remembered things when we may not even want to, or may be hurting ourselves by betraying their inner meaning.
And what is more, we also did receive Christian life from God and through others, from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Peter, and down on. You cannot baptize yourself, a Catholic cannot give himself the Holy Orders, and the Catholic layman receives Christ in the Eucharist from the hands of a priest. Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke handed the Gospel down to us, from disciple to disciple. Someone taught us how to pray. Someone introduced God to us.
Even in secular life, every office needs training and some apprenticeship. And those are all debts we cannot repay, only acknowledge and perhaps even honor. Because whoever gave something good to us that is now part of us, acted (at least in that respect) on behalf of God. He has chosen to help humans through other humans, from parenthood to human society, Israel and the Church, in community—flawed, a community of broken sinners, sometimes hurtful, but needed nevertheless. The superhero society of Boku no Hero Academia is a wonderful portrait of this reality, and the show makes us see and acknowledge that by commenting again and again on the impact of heroes and villains in other people through the normal interactions of social life.
To honor something sounds slightly less bizarre thinking in a superhero world, doesn’t it? Following the adventures of Deku, the grateful, aspiring Number One Hero, we may come to see that it means simply to recognize with humble gratitude the good things that are part of us, beginning with life, as well as the people through whom God gave them to us, at least in that respect. To treat them with the special respect they deserve as a gift, and put them to good use, with humility, with devotion and responsibility, obedience when it´s due, and maybe also passing the torch someday. BNHA literalizes this concept with a society that seems our everyday world, but where abilities, gifts, and legacy are materialized in powerful signs, full of wonder and glory.
But there are villains among the superhero society, there will be those who also materialize the sins against the Fourth Commandment. We assert our power by attacking precisely those who made us feel in some way like we were vulnerable and incomplete, and they were not. We are ungrateful, and oblivious to the benefits we have received from them. We destroy, betray, and spill what we have received on the floor, as the Prodigal Son did. We have power for good, but we despise it and wish for a world in our image instead, and feel the thrill, and so become villains. As Shigaraki Tomura says, he simply wants to get rid of what he does not like.
Perhaps more frequently, we forget that everyone struggles, and that everyone is a sinner. As Hero Killer Stain and other harsh judges, we ignore all the good we have received and focus on the bad, accusing the entire world of hypocrisy, demanding from others what we ourselves could never achieve, and then we bitterly hand down the same evil, becoming what we hate, or worse. We betray ourselves and others. When we find a excuse, we become petty and arrogant, disobedient and destructive, ursurping roles and positions that are not our own and which entrap us, and in short, bring again and again another image of the original sin to the relationships between human beings, blind to the dreadful consequences.
Make no mistake, this is a flawed society just like our own, acknowledging the critique of Watchmen to the genre , where superheroes and institutions do many things unworthy of that name, like stealing the glory of other heroes or behaving like media stars (in their very first fight, the professional superheroine Mount Lady does this to another hero, Kamui Woods), and the non-heroes have become complacent to the point that they sometimes ignore those in need or take heroic sacrifices for granted. From the first episode, we see how those who have flashy and useful superpowers (called “quirks” or kosei) are valued while the Quirkless people are not. As Midoriya expresses it, “not all men are created equal.”
This is something that the show acknowledges, and that many villains recognize and use to justify the actions. Likewise, one would imagine that Midoriya is bitter and resentful, but he is not. He has a different approach. He does not uncritically absorb the flaws or approaches of parents, mentors, heroes, and society. Neither he does judge and impugn those around him, or tries to destroy or reject his world. Instead, he looks for a way to honor all he has received while going beyond. That is, he looks for a path which includes both where he comes from and his unique vocation, and hopes that there will be a crossroad between his unique herocity and the legacy that he wants to honor. He hopes that there will be a place for him being both fully himself and a godsend, in the world of men.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the respect and devotion he professes to his father figure and mentor, the heroic and glorious All Might (for reasons we don´t know yet, Midoriya is fatherless, which explains quite a lot), and to his mother, the not so glorious but not less heroic Inko Midoriya.
His first costume is a very clumsy homage to both, and while it changes and evolves (thankfully), it never loses the homage elements. He changes his definition of heroism to take into account what both of them teach him. He deals with their respective shortcomings (I have a hunch that we are going to hear more about All Might´s at some point in the future) and unflinchingly follows what he believes to be his vocation, which both of them deny at first, but he takes into account their definitions of heroism into his own. He wants to honor as much as possible their dreams and wishes, even as the path he follows is distinctly his own (for a man so obsessed with the imitation of the external aspects of All Might that he cannot see the future with hope just because it is different, look to Sir Nighteye).
Nowhere is this principle more clear than in his relationship with his friend-turned-bully Katsuki Bakugou. It is truly astonishing how he takes what is good in him with gratitude and reverence, and learns from it, while firmly rejecting the bad. It drives Bakugou crazy, and it is no wonder. The thing is, Midoriya reminds him of where they both came from, of his limitations and his shortcomings. But that is precisely his only hope of avoiding falling into heroic hubris, the destructive, tragic pride.
Izuku Midoriya wants to become a great hero, honoring everything that is good and useful in his parents, the people around him, and the current superhero society, and going beyond. And, as one of his teachers notes, Midoriya’s attitude begins to influence the rest of his class, bringing them along and in many cases, giving them a new attitude towards their friends, parents, classmates, teachers, or mentors. This is a force, we come to see, that may come to save, redeem, and purify this society which is secretly on the verge of doom (and it is always like that, from the times of Noah, always the impeding threat of corruption, loss and death), bringing the legacy of wonders, opportunities, and gifts from God and men to another generation.
While it is surprising to see so much humility and loyalty in the future Symbol of Peace, this humility is greater and all the more astonishing in the Prince of Peace, Our Lord. He always honored and obeyed His adoptive father and His mother, while showing them clearly at twelve that His vocation before God came first. While He never bowed to injustice or stopped giving testimony of the Truth, He always refused to violently transform his sinning world and get rid of what he disliked, like His disciples expected Him too, be it with the sword or with fire from heaven.
Instead, He obeyed the Law of Israel even if He wasn’t subject to it, refused to take kingship and power at His society. He criticized the hypocrisy of Scribes and Pharisees, but affirmed the authority of the cathedra of Moses, and waited His turn to talk in the Synagogue. He ultimately abolished the Sanhedrin and transferred its powers to St. Peter and the Apostles, who gave cult in the new Temple, but before that He let them judge Him, and gave testimony of truth to the High Priest, even if he was a murderer. He likewise recognized Pilate as having received a power from Heaven when He could have sent him much farther than All Might with a legion of angels. And, though this sounds like a joke, He even paid His taxes.
And Jesus wept over Jerusalem, the city that was going to kill Him, lamenting its future tragedy and disgrace. He was the cornerstone of Israel and the Church, but He respected their rhythms and chose humble sinners to exercise authority and pass His gifts, from bread and fish to His Words to Baptism and the Eucharist, from one sinner to the next. And we have a place there. But, even more, He spoke of His Father with the most beautiful words of the Gospel, and truly honored Him while remaining totally free, in perfect obedience and loyalty, in perfect love and fire. Thus, He could really be One for all, the Savior always and everywhere, who does not just destroy, but fulfill, and carry us further.
I know that I said at the beginning that I would cover the Third Commandment too, but this was longer than I thought, so perhaps it is better to let it for next time. So, this is it for now. Stay safe, celebrate Easter, and Plus Ultra!