One of the things I love the most about anime is how is it able to focus on small but significant details. At its best, 2D animation allows every look, every gesture, every landscape, every interaction between characters to be full of intentional meaning in a way that is all the more difficult to achieve in live action. And thus, rewatching my favorite anime is even better than watching them for the first time, and I would choose my five favorite anime and renounce to “the field,” if it came to that.
After all, a complex story about courage, fear and love can be told in a glimpse of the eyes of TPN´s Norman; the extremely cruel world of Now and then, here and there manages to convey at the same time a compassionate, courageous look in every scene; and every every movement of Ricchan, Sentaro, or Kaoru from Sakamichi no Apollon or of the Haibane on Haibane Renmei teaches me something new about the human heart and its mysteries and after an episode of Nichijou (My Ordinary Life), feels more varied and interesting (and crazier, too!). There are also the riddles, the undercurrents, the Yuki Nagatos of the show, the things you don´t realize until the second time, or even the third.
Something like that happens with the Bible and the Gospel, as you become more and more familiar with them. And there is this small detail about the Ascension of Our Lord, His mysterious physical departure from our side and to the Father, which is celebrated these days in the context of Easter, that I’ve come to find very interesting: “And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Why? Even if they had just received the promise that He would be back, isn’t this kind of cold?
And there is also the loving but puzzling response He gives to St. Mary Magdalene in John 20:17, when she first sees Him resurrected: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Wouldn’t it be the opposite? When He is ascended, she wouldn’t be able to, isn’t that right? Our faith is an incarnated faith: We need personal contact, not just communion of minds or wills. Thinking in my own life and putting it in line with the Gospel, I think the answer lies in how they came to understand, to really feel, that Our Lord was still with them, that there was (and there is) true, personal contact, and not just in a symbolic way, like a memory or a good influence. He is here.
By faith, we know that He has truly started to live in them (and in us) by grace, because He promised that it would be so. He would be with us, He would be united to us, He would not leave us, He would live in us. I think they started to sense it too, the truth behind those words that they could cling to Him and ask, and could be answered and fostered into a real relationship, in a way, even, that they really couldn’t when He was in front of their eyes and (so they might have believed) unable to be with them if He was at the same time at Bethany with Lazarus, or praying alone on a mount, or visiting Nazareth.
Generation after generation, we Christians come to understand, and sometimes also feel, the same: We may not be able to express it properly, but we know Him, and He grows in us. He is present. We speak. This presence is very real, if mysterious, and changes us. And we can feel the growing intimacy, and see the first fruits of a world to come, a powerful sign of hope for us. And we come to know the Father and the Holy Spirit, too, bit by bit. There is nothing quite like it, but at the same time, parables are useful, and God does not disdain to tell us things through stories which portray some aspect of our familiar reality, the people, the contexts and the feelings we know, to lead us beyond.
As I have said in my first, second and third Easter articles about anime and the Ten Commandments, I find it very hopeful to see what I find to be the intimate, heroic Law of God in a prophetic way, to see the goodness and beauty they bring to the human heart when portrayed in stories, anime especially. I think it is a way to get to know Our Lord a little better, in His obedience and His freedom, and get a glimpse of how the new heart promised to us will love God and others. Of course, it is not as easy to find parallels to the last three Commandments, but let´s see if I think I can pull this off.
Among the stranger anime I have ever watched, there will always be a special place for the 2003 version of Kino´s Journey -The beautiful world-, which also features in our recommendations page for Christian viewers. As we said there, “The show is wonderful at expressing the human condition in all it’s sin and depravity, but it also reveals the beauty of the world and of people.” And so, in a terrible, vague and beautiful world which feels like an anachronistic fairy tale, a girl who goes by the name Kino rides a talking motorcycle called Hermes while traveling from country to country, where she never stays more than three days. The self-contained nature of the episodes, the dialogues, the calm pace of the show, and the variety of human situations presented make this anime a truly unique experience, for me in a very good way.
The three-days rule, as odd as it is at first, comes to feel kind of appropriate as you watch more of the show. Kino would not be able to be “a traveler,” “the traveler,” our guide, this strange yet kind presence that looks each world with clean eyes, and could not introduce us to these varying realities if she did not adhere to it. And yet, isn’t the whole point of traveling to reach some destination? She wonders herself. But I think the reason behind it resonates with the deep meaning of the Third Commandment: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work,” a precept that is extended then to Easter, to the Temple and to a number of memorials of the action of God. Spoilers ahead for episode 4 of Kino’s Journey.
Well, it turns out that Kino was not always an enigmatic traveler. In episode four, “Land of Adults —Natural Right—”, we learn that she was once a joyful, normal child waiting for a rite of passage in a small country not unlike those she visits now, called the Land of Adults. And her name was not Kino: That was the name of a male traveler who lives by the three-day rule, and who came there one day in the hope of repairing a mute Hermes, and kindly spoke to her about the world beyond. And this, you see, made her come to realize that the rite of passage was actually a kind of moral lobotomy so one would do with satisfaction any kind of work afterwards. So that to be lost in your work would be the only way to happiness, so that the joy of work would be the only joy: That was the underlying philosophy of the so-called land of responsible adults. In fact, if you go deeper, every episode tells a story about a society or a person trapped in its inner logic, prisoner of itself in some aspect (as I realized reading this). And this was the case here.
The way the traveler viewed things trascended this approach. It saw the good of it, it saw the bad of it, and it called to go deeper, to go beyond. And this caused this child to doubt the vision of the world that her community was trapped in, and to eventually reject the rite of passage, the moral lobotomy which would have left her trapped too. The questioning of the idol led her lobotomized relatives to instantly try to get her executed (in a horrific matter-of-factly way, too), and Kino sacrificed his life for her in a Christlike way. Their “natural right” turned out to be contrary to the actual law at the heart of Creation, for the idolization of a certain good things of life had come, as it always does, at the expense of deeper values, the deeper, transcendent calling of the human heart. Work, while good, had usurped here the role of the highest principle of life.
And so, the killers simply shrug: No “responsible adult” would jump in front of a knife, so this traveler was mad and this was an unfortunate accident. But the fugitive girl had been changed, and she adopted the name and the attire of Kino, and also his way of life, and started traveling. For her, symbolically, this is a new, different rite of passage. It allows her to live a new, different life: She is not bound by the law of the Land of Adults, because she has received a powerful sign of something which transcended its frontiers, and the memory of the sacrifice enables her to live as a traveler too, transcending the frontiers in which the rest of characters live their lives.
This concept of memorial is at the center of the peculiar rhythm of the Beautiful World, and also of the Third Commandment, because the sabbath was primarily a way to imitate God, Who, as Genesis says, created everything, saw that the world and the human being were “very good,” a beautiful world, and rested. Not because He was tired, but because there was something beyond work, a further glory He wanted to celebrate.
Because, much more than the traveler in relation with the lands, God is Transcendent, even Transcendent to His own good, beautiful work: Works are the sign of a further glory, of a further joy, of a feast beyond. God is forever open, God is greater, God is love, and the world, even when it is painful, has a deep goodness and beauty as a result, like the seal of the artist. Living under this sign, we are free. And thus, we shouldn’t become trapped in the works of our hands, even the good works. Our meaning is beyond, in God´s love, that would die for us just because he loves us. Love is always beyond, and the sacrifice of Kino the traveler was a sign of love.
Easter, the Passover, was also a sign of this kind. It was a living memorial of the miraculous liberation of Israel from Egypt, where they were slaves, considered resources for work, and how they were headed to the Promised Land as a free people. But for us Christians, both the sign of the sabbath and of Easter needed to be completed, and they were when Christ, Man and God, gave us our own liberating sacrifice by obeying the Father with perfect and diligent love.
He rested in Him, offered everything to Him, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.” And in His resurrection, He gave us the greater glory, the reason for joy and celebration that was beyond the reach of the work of our hands, but that we can participate in. And thus, a Sunday of freedom both fulfilled and replaced the sabbath we could not really celebrate (to the point that we turned it into another kind of over-regulated work, another trap). Everything in Kino’s journey shows us the beautiful world she came to see by virtue of the beautiful sacrifice of the previous Kino. Christ opened the possibility of such a path in our own lives.
Celebrating Sunday and Easter, and in general, putting every time and every work under the loving transcendence of God and living under the seven-days rule, is a mysterious path to ensure that we remain open to it. It is going to a feast we have been invited to, without letting important, but ultimately limited and self-made realities to usurp its place and thus its hope and joy. To live a living memorial of the loving sacrifice that is the actual meaning of the world, the source of all its goodness and beauty, and also of the goodness and beauty of whatever work we may do, be we children or adults.
And Christ, time after time in all His predication, passionately invited us to this feast, remarking that He was the Lord of the Sabbath against those who would have robbed it of its openess to trascendence, told us about the sinner who is welcomed by the Father and the brother who insists on staying outside, celebrated His last Easter with His disciples with great intensity and joy and told us to always come back to it. He pointed to the beauty of the world, of birds and flowers, beyond the worries and the work, and invited us to live open to the Father, and not as if we were to build our own reality and put all our hopes in it, which will eventually lead to become trapped. If we do that, we will come to see things as He sees them, be hopeful travelers at heart and in time, reach the destination of this long journey that is life on Earth.
Let´s go to the Second Commandment now, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”. There is another quite strange show on which we have written quite a lot and that, oddly enough, happens to have this precise question at its center after dealing (a là Paranoia Agent or Everything becomes F, but much deeper, and much weirder) with isolation and the relationship family/society/psyche and the Internet and identity vs cults and humanity and Humanity and power/friendship and evolution and metaphysical truth to alienation through a maze-like narrative based on the mechanisms of the Internet. This is the cyberpunk masterpiece that I would contend is the highest point of that genre, Ryutaro Nakamura´s 1998 Serial Experiments Lain. Spoilers ahead, and this time, major spoilers.
Lain is, explicitly, a story about the search of godhood beyond humanity, purportedly achieved by the use of the name and the known tributes of God, the supposed “mechanisms” through which He would have come to occupy His place in our lives, heart and culture, from being the source of Truth to giving us the hope eternal life. Happening here and now, “present day, present time,” and arguably, happening in every place and every time in more explicit and more veiled ways, from the Eden to Babel to the Pharaohs to Israel itself to the Apocalypse and to our lives. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil” (remember, the Hebrew for “know”, jada, is a strong term suggesting deep, intimate experience, not only intellectual knowledge): That was the first time that the name of God was “used in vain” on this Earth—as a tool. The most powerful of all.
Eiri Masami, a scientist, makes an important discovery about the web, “the Wired,” and the collective unconscious of the human race, and begins the project of its transformation by using the name and attributes of God. And while Eiri´s discovery may be fiction, to achieve it by means of using science and technological power is a real thing, and it is arguably close to the heart of the whole project of Modernity and its variants (as Marxism, among others). Some recent authors have called it the Homo Deus, and I will refer to it as such. Long story sort, the Homo Sapiens, or some of them, conquering the world and turning themselves somehow into the only source of meaning, and thus turning themselves into something different, without the restrictions limited beings are subjected to.
Although this is not clear at first, Serial Experiments Lain is in fact illustrating the process by which, “layer” after “layer,” experiment after experiment, Eiri tries to occupy the place of God in the mind and heart of the powerful Lain, the embodiment of the Wired as the collective conscious of Humanity (yeah, I know), and through her, of the entire society. And thus, he builds a cult for himself, the Knights, and as he speaks to her about her deepest feelings and longings, he arranges a world and a family for her, and he builds a path of discovery, meaning and vocation which ends in his own kind of “transcendence.” After all their thoughts and desires have an immediate echo on reality, the planners believe that humans (or some of them) will “naturally” or innocently understand themselves not as dependent beings, but as the source of all which is real.
This is his own tower aspiring to reach Heaven, his own forbidden fruit of knowledge. Humanity becoming the Homo Deus by reaching the supreme level of control of its environment through advanced technology. And it works. Lain becomes what he hopes she would.
But what happens when you take the name of God and use it as a tool? Well, it carries you further. You may have started the quest by realizing that you could operate some things and they changed, but the more you know and achieve, the more stubborn reality is. Lain’s family cannot be much of a family, because if it were, many aspects would escape your control. Instead, a distorted world of isolated individuals which carry a great burden is the ideal scenario for your plan. The Wired, suicide culture, mind-altering drugs, the disco, video games or cults can be the basis of this subjectivistic parallel reality, but in the end, you won´t win except if you annihilate every trace of the real, exterior world which has written in it that you are not God. And that requires sacrifices.
In order for this being possible, the “normal,” needy, dependent human with his or her flaws and oddities has to be destroyed, and Mika first and Alice (or “Arisu,” depending on the translation) afterwards fulfill that role here. The sacrificial aspect is very real for the planners of this deification: A dependent human being (what Nietzsche would call “flock”) will simply die or become insane in this new Assassin’s Creed world in which the truth doesn’t exist, and everything is permitted.
So, in a sense, for the Homo Deus they are already dead, and above everything else, they mustn’t be allowed to contaminate the “innocent” offspring of the Homo Deus with their logic of dependence. And it is the future, the only hope, everything that is associated to the name of God, which is at stake here for the planner.
And so violence, isolation, and erasure of those who become near the subject which is being prepared to assume this power, open or veiled, become necessary. Horrific acts are a stage of this plan, something of a turning point: They mark the point where the Homo Deus “goes beyond” conventional morality to dictate his or her own rules. The flawed one needs to die, so the omnipotent one can emerge. The original God cannot, as it were, be allowed to infiltrate the picture. God, at least His image in man and in the world, must be erased to give us space. Using the name of God in vain means in fact trying to kill and replace Him, as far as we can. The sin of Eden—and, at some level, every sin—entails this.
And this amounts, in the end, to have become a warped, satanic monster, and the world thus created is always a trap, a nightmare. The parable of the Prodigal Son, among other things, points us to this. To use what pertains to the Father as if He was dead turns one into a slave to swineherd, the most impure and horrifying of all transformations in the world of Israel. When Eiri tries to become embodied again, what he has done to himself is manifest. Just look.
The great thing about Lain is that the show understands this logic and portrays it from the inside while subtly then denies it: We´re seeing the experiment as spectators, discovering new riddles and connections, growing in understanding. And yet, the unseeming, flawed human friend, Alice, is able to reach Lain, and to destroy the supposed godhood of Eiri through a small act of love, even in the heart of the weirdest cyberpunk tale where everything has been deconstructed in numbers, reality is fading and the Homo Deus is rising. The smallest and humblest sign of hope to confound all the pride of any world and its powerful, deadly, seemingly omnipotent idols, and show their true form.
True love is meaningful, and if one accepts it as real, he or she will feel and know that there is a meaning to this world. And if the bodies and the Creation have meaning, then the emancipation of the “new divinity” and the purported new order must be monstrous. Being able to speak the name of God, to call Him, means that the God Who gave that meaning and Who defends it has put Himself at our reach, that the monster will not win. Whatever he does, he will be still in the old, true framework, no matter how mysterious that framework is: The experience of his limits as a creature, of his own self-destruction, is paradoxically the only way out. But in that way, we can count on God, the God Who has given us His name. That is the true power of the name of God, one that we cannot control or operate, that time after time, we call Him, and He responds.
And God responds to Lain. After she has rejected and defeated not only Masami, but also the temptation of godhood for herself, she has before her the dire path to undo what has been done, which amounts to deleting herself from every memory. This is the painful way back. She suffers, then decides to do it, to be faithful to this love she has learned of through her friend, because she loves everyone, and is left in the dark. The parallels with Christ, truly man and truly God, Who called the name of the Father with words of love and fire, Who continued calling Him in the Cross, Whom lived in perpetual conversation with Him, in deep alliance, in deep obedience, through the darkness and the Passion, through Gethsemane and the Calvary, are so clear that I may be forgiven if I suppose they are intentional.
But, in the darkness, God, the true God, calls Lain, who has called Him and remained faithful to Him. The darkness opens, the light descends. And that is the second surprise: though radiant, big, piercing the dark, dominating the horizon like the Sun, God looks like her father. Her real father (so to speak, he was an actor) had been cold and creepy, definitively a part of the experiment, but ultimately came to love her: “I wasn’t really given permission to tell you goodbye. But then I had to. Because, you see, I loved you.” Through this small sign, God can reach Lain now. Christ told us to pray saying, “Our Father,” to call God Our Father, and as He is God, His own Name became also the way in which we talk to God, even the way in which we say “Our Father.” Such is the world that is opened by living the Second Commandment. See:
Lain always wore those bear pajamas while being alone in her creepy room, with only the company of her Navi: Now she won’t have to anymore. Now, God smiled, and offered her a seat, and understood what she could not say, and offered to bring her that Proustian madeleines, which in Proust meant happy childhood memories, “next time.” She hasn’t had a happy childhood, or even a childhood. Her memories are all fakes, as was her dad, a paid actor. But they were also a sign of hope, for Lain had a Father for whom she was a dear child, and He indeed prepared a path so she would learn His name, and they would talk, and they would be together. For a short while now, but the Father promises a future encounter. As I said, with madeleines.
For the first time in the series, someone other than Alice treated her not like a goddess, not like a threat, not like a weirdo, not like a specimen, but like a person, like a child, like a daughter. No wonder she cries. In Lain, our fragile love prevails over power, false transcendence, and chaos as the true meaning of the world. And it happens, when seated at the table with the true God, the invisible God, and after having received His message and His love in the distance, and defending His name, which is our Hope, we can let go of everything.
But, before we go back to Earth and the Kino-like way Lain will expend the rest of her life there, there is a moment in which we enter the world of the First Commandment. During this calm meal over the golden heavens, Lain is trying to explain which she has inside and that has guided her through the dark. She cannot quite do it. “I is that I… I…”
“You love everyone, don´t you?”, says God. It is not just Alice, as before. It is everyone. Eiri, even. And He knows because He himself loves everyone, and has communicated this gift to Lain, little by little, to bring her to happiness. That is enough for me: I´ll confess that every time I have fallen in love, it was because a little gesture of heroism or love for other that has impressed me. Loving God, opening to Him, loving Him above all, is not only the way for loving everyone, not only the way to grow and be better, but it is also just right, because such an heroic, kind, passionate, caring, strong, beautiful, glorious love is worthy of love.
There is a similar scene in my all-time favorite anime since last year, The Promised Neverland (spoilers for episode three). The sickly, intelligent Norman explains why is he in love with Emma—even more, why is he willing to support her plan even if the chances are much less than the three of them (with Ray) fleeing alone. It is because of the way she loves everyone, and won’t accept less than a plan of salvation for everyone (even if freedom remains intact, and some will not come). She has a generous, courageous heart whose love which inspires him, so that he would do anything to see her smile, and wants to live according to her vision.
Of course, Emma is only human, and it would be wrong to put the burden of adoring her, to place every hope of the heart on her, to require that love of hers to be always his guide, the only source of his own love. She has the right to have defects and shortcomings, too, and should be known and loved as she is. But that is precisely the point: Loving her brings Norman beyond herself, to everyone and to Christlike love, and thus he can help her too.
Ray, instead, illustrates what happens when you love someone excluding others, and put the foundation of your life there. Long story short, what you have excluded weighed you down, to the point that your original commitment blurs. But God will never stop loving, and His love is the foundation of the world. We see it in everything Christ does. Loving Him first makes you able to love everyone through Him, and in turn, truly loving anyone makes you closer to God. Christ loved his Father, and that also meant loving every one of us completely, to the point that He would have carried out the entire Redemption for just one of us. For you, for me.
From the moment I’m writing, there are a few days of Easter ahead yet, and then, Pentecost. The long feast is coming to an end, and the ordinary time (despite the not-so-ordinary circumstances) goes next. Lain had her moment with God, and then had to live on, with this joy and this hope, but also facing the lonely world she feared. There was no easy way out: A deep joy, but also a long fight. The first time I watched the series, I found that a bit disappointing, and I thought it was due to what I saw as the Buddhist overtones of the sacrifice. In rewatch, I think otherwise. We are not yet at Heaven, and on Earth, some things change, and some things are seemingly lost, and we have to carry on through, sometimes through hard circumstances, but not without hope, either. The Promised Neverland and Kino’s Journey instill in me the same feeling, too.
Like her, may we find the strength to live through various circumstances doing our best to cooperate with God’s designs. May we do our best to keep the Commandments with the strength Christ gives us, and when we do not, may we come back to God through the path Christ has opened for us, and which remains firm. And may the encounters and the signs of this Earth be a rest for us, and a reminder of God, and also of the hope of seeing the good things fulfilled. Lain received a loving heart, like that of God, and was able to keep the Commandments, one at a time, after struggling, suffering, and being lost. And if we keep returning to the path, one day, we hope, we will be heroes too, loving passionately with the heart of Christ: Fully ourselves, fully His. So the prophecy says.