Great Pretender, Human Love

As of this posting, the United States is just over three weeks from Election Day, and while every presidential election is significant, this one comes during a moment of particular crisis in the country. Divisions are deep and visible, and the country is moving further away from reconciliation than towards it. Social media posts are dripping with hate—and not just from paid pundits, but from your very own family members, friends, and neighbors.

Maybe from you, too.

I admit that I’ve been angry far more this the past half-year than I would like admit. Sometimes that anger is directed toward specific people, but often it’s more toward groups of individuals. And as much as I tend to immediately defend myself, I know that my unkind words, emotional outbursts, and critical thoughts reveal this truth: What I feel toward some of these groups (and thus, too, the individuals of which the groups are comprised) isn’t a righteous indignation. It’s hate.

This sort of inner rage is a characteristic I share with Aby, the diminutive but athletic and determined member of Team Confidence in Great Pretender, an incredible series that went under the radar for many anime fans because it was exclusively streamed through Netflix. Young, ferocious, and full of hatred, Aby’s story is slowly revealed during the show’s second arc (or case), entitled “Singapore Sky,” which focuses on the team’s targeting of a pair of brothers who run a series of rigged airplane races. Whenever she takes to the sky as a novice pilot pretending to be an ace, Aby experiences PTSD, remembering her bitter, war torn past.

Despite a very American name (Abigail Jones), it appears that Aby is Iraqi and fought against the coalition that invaded her country early last decade. Her parents were killed by bombings and she became a child soldier, later injured during a fight with said forces while she watched her comrades die. Flashbacks during the arc reach back even further, to before her parents’ deaths, showing Aby to have been a happy young girl, as characterized by her smile then as he is by her scowl now; the inference is that the tragedy and ensuing course her life followed is what embittered her, and indeed, what causes her to even become suicidal.

By chance, during the operation to bring down the Ibrahim brothers, Aby discovers a connection between Lewis, a pilot the elder Ibrahim had sabotaged and who as a result is no longer able to walk, and her own past. He was involved in the bombings in Iraq, perhaps even the specific ones that caused her parents’ death. And armed with that information, she attempts to murder Lewis.

Murder. What a fearsome, filthy crime. I watch movies and anime that show murders all the time as entertainment, but the crime itself is grisly and unthinkable in real life. It’s somewhat peculiar then that Christ takes this awful act and brings it to a more personal place of understanding and intimacy, to an action and emotion that I’ve experienced many times, and as mentioned above, with much more frequency as of late:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. – Matthew 5:21-22

In these famous verses, part of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus equates murder with anger, name-calling, and hatred. It’s a harsh, challenging, and convicting teaching—and it makes complete sense, for when we hate someone, we are murdering them in our hearts; when we call them awful names, we are taking away their dignity; and when we treat them as something less than one crafted by God himself, we take away their humanity.

Though Aby barely knows Lewis, he represents everything she hates. So with murderous intentions building for decades within her heart, Aby attempted to murder him, with a fatal stabbing being the logical output of what’s been seething inside. She will do to him physically what she has already done in her mind to those involved in the bombings, the men who killed her comrades, and perhaps Americans in general: She will murder him outright as she has already murdered him within.

Aby doesn’t know Lewis well, but she doesn’t have to. He’s one of them, one of the people that she hates.

The United States right now, for all the talk of social justice, is crumbling into disparate groups that hate one another. Republicans are increasingly hating Democrats and visa-versa. Subtle messages of hostility are tossed from all sides like hand grenades, while outright messages of hate and racism have become increasingly commonplace, detonating society like larger bombs. It should be no coincidence, then, that violence is occurring as an outpouring of this all rhetoric, a vomitous spewing of action from people who have already murdered opposing groups within their hearts.

Thankfully, my assumption is that most of you, my dear readers, don’t drift to such violent and hateful extremes. But even for us, even for me, injurious words and angry thoughts occupy our minds. If given the chance, we may not stab our enemies like Aby attempted to do before being thwarted by a team member; instead, we’re fine sitting in what might be described as hypocrisy, content with killing others only within our wretched hearts.

Of course, I’m not advocating that we “go through with it” and become like Aby. What I encourage instead is that we trend the other way. And to do that, we have to stop seeing people as nameless members of groups we dislike.

Instead, we must see them as people.

I think Aby still doesn’t see Lewis as a person, even after Edamura prevents her from committing murder. There’s still no resolution to her hurt and anger, while Lewis, too, has been gruff, unforgiving, and bitter. It’s not his fault, he explains: He was just following orders. So it’s surprising when, just before Team Confidence enters the final stage of its operation, Lewis approaches Aby to replace her as pilot in the final race. I can only assume that almost being killed made him reflect on pain that Aby carries, for what he whispers to Aby is most unexpected of all. He tells her, “I’m sorry.”

And just like that, that act of grace changes everything. Lewis is no longer an anonymous member of a group that Aby hates. He is, in fact, a person.

As mentioned earlier, I believe that when Christ explained the connection between anger and murder, he was pointing toward our humanity. When I tweet out vile words and think evil thoughts about others, I strip those individuals of their humanity. Every person is God’s craftsmanship, and as such, he or she is beloved; I should not and cannot take away the dignity given by God to man.

With eyes anew, Aby sees the same. Lewis is capable of love and kindness, and its especially captivating because through the entire arc, he’s only uttered words as similarly angry as Aby’s. But to be capable of such grace, to offer words of apology to one who just recently attempted to murder him, he is immediately set apart as more than a cog in the enemy military’s machine. Just as how Clark Ibrahim shows that he’s a good man and unlike his scheming, money-hungry brother, Lewis demonstrates that he, too, can show kindness and love, and in fact, in this moment, he is a better person than Aby. The persecutor and terrorist (in her mind) has become the giver and breaker of chains. His flight above the clouds is hers, too, even as she remains physically grounded; Aby is now free from feelings that only destroy, able to rest in the quiet skies of a gracious love.

The following arc of the series features Aby as a more supporting character, but even in limited screen time, her transformation is visible. The scowl remains, but she’s a bit softer. Aby is still bold and tough, but is just a bit more open and trusting. And she sees her companions not as means to an end, but by spending time with them in quiet confidence, as friends. Like Lewis, they, too, are human after all: different in so many ways, and deeply flawed, but human still.

It’s convicting to consider that Aby’s transformation started through the kindness of an enemy, while I lie here under a canopy of unforgiveness against people who haven’t wronged me in any measurable way. Instead, may I become like Lewis, letting go of my pride and reaching out to my enemy in love. May I be like Aby, able to let go of such hate and see those around me in truth and through gentle eyes.

And may we all fly above the evil that lurks in our hearts and see humanity as God sees it, even—and especially—in times such as these.

Great Pretender can be streamed on Netflix.


4 thoughts on “Great Pretender, Human Love

  1. One reason why I really love your articles is that you never write in a judgemental or paternalistic way, but when an anime lets you reflect upon something, you always apply that to yourself first and show us the way it affects you. I think this makes it a lot more convincing and real, and you rarely fail to make me also reflect upon myself, even when you talk about anime I haven’t seen (I sometimes read the articles anyway because the faith content interests me).

    That said, I don’t know if there’s any Catholics in the staff, but have you heard of Carlo Acutis? He was a boy who died very young and has recently been proclaimed Blessed by the Catholic Church. He used the internet to spread the Faith, was a huge computer nerd and also loved videogames like Halo, Mario and Pokémon. Here’s an article about him:

    When I read of him, you guys immediately came to mind, both because of the nerdy side, and because he used the internet in a creative way to share his Faith, which I think is what you guys also do. If you wanted to, it would be nice if some if you could do an article about him!

    1. Thank you for the kind words! And thank you for sharing the article—it was lovely reading about Carlo, and also challenging and encouraging.

      By the way, we do have Catholics on staff—several!

Leave a Reply