In episode seventeen of Demon Slayer, I saw myself in the cowardly and sniveling Zenitsu.
And I hated it.
Up to this point, Zenitsu had been one of my least favorite characters because, in so many ways, I felt he was the complete opposite of Tanjiro. Brave, selfless, and with a personal drive to help those around him regardless of his own needs or wants, Tanjiro was who I wanted to be.
Zenitsu, on the other hand, cries too much, is weak, and runs away far too often. He’s not the hero that saves the day, nor do people associate him with becoming one.
Yet, episode seventeen. The episode that rocked my world on a Sunday night and had me holding back a sob because that’s who I was.
Indeed, more often than not, that’s who I am.
Suddenly it made sense why I really disliked Zenitsu. I saw too much of myself in him. I am the person who is, yes, like Tanjiro in that I have a heart to use my spiritual gift to encourage other people, but too often, I fall into the trap of fear like Zenitsu.
I’m the one who would cling to a tree and cry and beg God that if XYZ happens, then I will be brave and do things—but only if it feels safe and, at times, easy. And not only those “big things” (like becoming a missionary) I feel God has stirred in my heart to do or what I have dreamed of doing.
And with this in mind, when I heard Zenitsu’s backstory, my heart shattered. Zenitsu was no longer just a character on screen who annoyed me.
No, he became a character I could identify with on a heart level.
I wanted to reach through the screen and hug him while at the same time I was angry and wanted to run away. “This isn’t who I want to relate to!” I internally cried out. “I want to be like Tanjiro!”
And for that, my heart wept.
It’s so easy to dream, imagine, and aspire to be like the heroic anime characters I love, but it’s a whole experience when I see a part (or whole) of myself that I don’t want to see in characters I don’t admire, the lesser characters who open my eyes to those not so favorite parts of my heart that would be easier to not acknowledge.
The day prior to watching Demon Slayer, I stood in front of a display of button pins at the store BoxLunch. My goal was to find some cute Demon Slayer merch, and in hindsight, I realized I was looking for Inosuke (as I already owned Tanjiro and Nezuko), but guess who I found?
I felt slightly disappointed because “out of all the characters I found today, it had to be him?” I even considered putting him right back where I found him (because no way did I want this “weak man” as part of my pin collection), but reluctantly, I held on to it. If I could at least find Inosuke, then I would have the whole gang, and it would make having his pin worth it.
So, I searched and searched for Inosuke. In hindsight, it was almost like a desperation was driving me to find anyone but Zenitsu. I carefully flipped pins over and looked over the same display again and again as I continued my search for probably almost ten minutes before I realized I needed to make a choice.
They didn’t have Inosuke, and I either could keep the Zenitsu pin I found or I could put it back.
It was literally the only thing keeping me from heading to the checkout line. My kids were ready, my husband was ready, but still I wavered in making a final decision. Did I really want to spend the two dollars to own this pin? I looked down at Zenitsu’s face in my palm, and after a moment, made a fist over it. I closed my eyes, and determination filled me because I was going to get this pin and just hope I didn’t regret it.
It wasn’t until Zenitsu appeared to be dying that any lingering feelings of possible regret vanished.
After Zenitsu’s battle, he’s left drifting into unconsciousness and toward death, an almost dreamlike state—a nightmare, really. Sometimes I wish for my “bad dreams” to be over, that I could wake up and be this new transformed person who is everything I long to be.
Too bad that it’s not that easy. True growth never is. Having to come face-to-face with what we feel are our flaws and, as Zenitsu voices, where we hate ourselves more than anyone else is a painful challenge, one that can absolutely wreck you. But we must. We have to stand in front of an internal mirror only we (and Jesus) see, and to face that mirror can change us or break us.
Zenitsu made me face my mirror. His story made me really face it and not glance at it only to turn quickly away because I hated what I saw in that glimpse.
No, this was my mirror moment, and I was struck fierce and hard by what I was seeing in myself.
As of late, it felt like I was becoming this person who was filled with so much anxiety, fear, and worry. More and more, I felt as if these feelings were engulfing me and leading me to second guess all of my decisions. If the decision had already been made, I would play the results of that decision over and over in my head at night, imagining what could have been done differently if I had made a different choice. If I hadn’t made the decision yet but knew I would, I “reenacted” a variety of situations to try and “analyze” what would leave the other person most happy with me and the best overall outcome with the least amount of confrontation.
I slowly started to feel that as I laid in my bed with my thoughts racing and heart pumping each night, that I wished I could be anyone else but me in that moment, someone who was content with her decisions and someone who wasn’t afraid.
So one morning, after waking up and feeling like I really didn’t want to have the sensation of drowning in worry anymore, I prayed.
I prayed with my whole heart that Jesus would help me not to worry so much or be as fearful and anxious as I had grown to be.
And you know something?
While I confess I didn’t open my Bible in that moment, as I prayed, I had this overwhelming and strong realization that if anyone could help me change, it would be Jesus.
That there was indeed hope for my tomorrow because my prayers are not in vain. We know God hears our prayers (1 John 5:14), and we know He answers them (Mark 11:24), and if anyone could help me become an overcomer as 1 John 5:4-5 says, then there was and is hope for me.
I don’t yet know what happens in episode eighteen. Goodness, I don’t even know what happens at the end of episode seventeen despite the few minutes left because once my heart felt like it was wide open, I had to stop watching and breathe, reflect, and pray.
And…be thankful for this character who wrecked me in the best of ways.
Maybe you can relate, too.
Maybe you’ve watched an anime where there was a character you really couldn’t stand for whatever reason but then had this incredible moving moment where you realized you didn’t like them because you saw yourself In them.
As I shared here, you’re not alone, and we are not without hope.
Neither was Zenitsu. Gramps never left or abandoned him. No matter how many times Zenitsu had tried running away, he voiced that his gramps always went after him and still continued to reprimand and teach him.
How much more does God love us, children He created, children He gives a hope and future to? How much deeper is that beautiful truth captured in real life and not just in anime through a fictional father-like figure, which is powerful even in itself?
Gramps’s love for Zenitsu spoke to me and reminded me that no matter how many times I may try to run away from my own internal mirror, our Heavenly Father brings me back and points out what He sees.
While I may try and label myself with horrible adjectives that capture what I feel are my flaws and weaknesses, God reminds me who I am in truth and in love. Yes, He reprimands me as well, but His reprimands do not lead me or anyone to shame and fear that tear us down.
Whatever you may be be struggling with today, whatever is trying to overshadow your worth, those “weaknesses” do not define you. They are not who you are.
While I might have been worried I would regret getting a pin of a character who was too caught up in his own fears, that same pin had me tightening a fist around it once again but, this time, with a thankfulness for the reminder that my own weaknesses do not dictate who I am.
Maybe I will still sob, maybe I will still run away, but like Gramps told Zenitsu, with words that really struck me:
I want that single thing to be to always seek Jesus, and in doing so, become the person He has called me to be and not what my fears and worries say I am.
May we hone that to perfection.
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.”
—2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)