A Short Musing on Grace and Catarina Claes

My social media feeds received news of a second season of My Next as a Villainess with near-universal praise. And why not? Season one was clever and funny, featuring a memorable, amusing, and sweet heroine (er, villainess). And after a ten episodes of a fairly predictable (if welcome) storyline, the season ended with a bang as the student council president, Sirius Deike, captured Maria and put Catarina into a coma. The surprisingly action-filled climax gave Catarina the opportunity to do what she does best (besides eating sweets, that is): offer a love to those who don’t seem to—or who at least don’t feel they should—deserve it, and in doing so, change the trajectory of their lives. For the rest of the characters, this is mostly accomplished when they are children and done without significant harm, but for Sirius, he’s older, more powerful, and twisted by adults and forces beyond his control.

But even after the damage he’s caused, Catarina approaches Sirius without anger or malice. She reaches out to him with love, and by doing so, rescues Sirius. The victim of a bizarre ritual in which his consciousness was intended to be switched with a dying boy, Sirius can once again embrace his true name, Raphael, accompanying a transformation in his life.

What happens in this episode (and the rest of the anime) is not particular to Villainess; the idea of a protagonist caring for an antagonist, and even helping that person repent, is a common trope in anime. It happens over and over in Dragon Ball, is significant part of the theme in Fullmetal Alchemist, and seems imminent in Fruits Basket. And of course, it’s central to Naruto, where the main struggle of the series is of Naruto attempting to redeem Sasuke, even after he has, by many measures, crossed the line into full villainhood.

This is not to say that we don’t desire to see justice done upon the evildoer. This is the stuff of Hollywood action flicks and many anime, too. But the villains in those films are usually unrepentant. Few are the series where an antagonist tries to mend his ways and we still cheer when he is punished for the awful things he’s done (Quite the opposite—see prison movies like Dead Man Walking and The Green Mile). Look at the first arc of Naruto for instance: Zabuza has cruelly killed others and abused Haku, but his turn toward mercy and integrity makes his death a sad one. We like earthly justice, but our hearts are bent even more toward forgiveness.

And yet we don’t extend grace well. We pridefully announce how others have failed with a tone that lacks any type of mercy—at least I do. I’m all too often quick to judge and slow to empathize. This despite an understanding of my own shortcomings and sin, despite a heart that loves stories about forgiveness and grace.

But there is hope to become more and more the person I want to be—some found by watching anime, which encourages me to become a more loving person by its depictions of grace and sacrifice. As these stories accompany my daily practices of reading the Bible and praying about self-righteousness, I am continually confronted by the duality of what I want and what I am. I want to see Vash the Stampede fight against reckless hatred and ignorance with love. I want to see Tanjirou release demons from their horrible existence with tears of understanding in his own eyes. And I want to see Catarina Claes hold the hand of one who is hurting her friends, an enemy if there ever was one.

These are the tales that speak to my soul. They help make me someone better. And that’s part of the magic of anime and stories in so many other forms: They feed the imagination, and they feed my heart, pointing me toward the the one I ultimate desire to imitate—to Christ himself.

My Next Life as a Villainess can be streamed on Crunchyroll.


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