Kageki Shojo, the excellent anime about young women attending school to become part of a famed all-female acting troupe, spread the love around during its airing, giving significant screen time for each of its supporting girls in addition to the leading ones, Sarasa and Ai, and right through the final episode which aired this past weekend (spoilers ahead). In it, the results of the auditions for a short Romeo and Juliet scene were revealed, and class president Sawa discovered that she lost out on the role of Tybalt to Sarasa.
When conferring with her teacher, Andou, about the audition, Sawa mentions the famous play (and later Oscar-winning film), Amadeus, comparing herself unfavorably to its lead character, Salieri.
For those who haven’t seen the movie—and it’s worth the watch as a study of what ungrace can do to a man—Salieri is both the lead and antagonist. A semi-biographical film, it follows the court composer as he becomes maddened with jealousy at the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, an improper and immature genius whose talent naturally and far exceeds his own. Sawa sees herself as the diligent Salieri who nonetheless comes up short, while Sarasa is the talented Mozart who replaces her with ease.
Although Sawa emphasizes her own shortcomings while making the comparison, something unkind is still inferred, which is that she believes Sarasa doesn’t deserve the role, laid out especially as Sawa explains that Amadeus is about talent versus hard work. In her mind, Sarasa is all or mostly talent, lacking the work ethic and other attributes that Sawa has. Unfortunately, for a young woman with a good and noble heart, this interpretation demonstrates that she’s headed in the wrong direction, more closely toward Salieri’s heart than she realizes, for a more accurate take on Amadeus is that it’s about what happens when one lives by legalism and pride, leaving no room for grace.
Much the same occurs in the parable of “The Prodigal Son.” This beautiful passage is always worth rereading, but I’ll summarize to get near its end, where Sawa’s story begins to align with it.
A son asks his father for his share of the family estate, takes the money, and wastes it on “wild living.” Now destitute and living without even his culture and religion, he decides to return home to beg to become his father’s servant. However, his father surprises him by running to his son, embracing and kissing him, and throwing a feast. The son’s elder sibling, though, is not amused by the forgiveness and festivities:
The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
It’s interesting to note that Sawa isn’t so upset as the older brother in this tale, but she, too, is stubborn and unforgiving. She knows that while on the surface, she’s proclaiming that Sarasa deserved to win the audition, inside she doesn’t feel that’s so. It’s she who deserves the acclaim.
Likewise, the brother lays out his qualifications: “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.” Sawa is just as obedient, guiding her class throughout an eventful first year at Kouka. She studied hard, rehearsed frequently, and delivered a glittering performance—for all this, both the excellent audition and her character, she deserved to be cast as Tybalt.
There’s much more to be said here that your pastor likely already has, and which I can do no better expressing. Instead, I want to focus on one line that I haven’t heard preached much on before, and which applies more directly to Sawa. While the father says two things in response to his elder son, the latter is much more famous, ending in “… this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” But he precedes those words with these:
“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
When I read the parable, I usually get the feeling that the elder brother kind of gets it, but remains upset after the discussion with his father. Forgiveness probably took a long time, and resentment may have existed throughout the rest of his life toward his sibling. But then again, maybe it wasn’t so. Maybe that one line meant everything to him: “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
What a beautiful thing to hear. There’s intimacy there. There’s true fatherhood there. There’s such love and generosity, a “Remember, you are everything to me,” as well as, perhaps, an understanding that the father and son are much the same in character and integrity.
In Kageki Shojo, as Sawa struggles with her feelings about herself and toward Sarasa, she’s met by someone similar, too, her senpai, Tomomi, one who has guided her through the year. The conversation they have is significant.
Tomomi gives an example to explain to Sawa that she, too, is more the diligent type. And perhaps more importantly, she demonstrates that she sees Sawa. She sees all the hard work, all the effort. Much like the father sees the elder son, the senpai sees her kohai, and it brings Sawa to tears.
Sawa has been understood, and in that moment, it doesn’t matter whether she lost the role or won it. In that sense she’s given grace: Sawa is not an utter failure because she didn’t win the role over the more talented Sarasa. The end product doesn’t matter. Her heart does.
That’s where the focus must be, at least if Sawa is to do what’s right. Her tendency toward justification by the pride she has in her hard work has started to turn her into something she doesn’t want to be. She likes Sarasa, and doesn’t want to feel toward her as Salieri felt toward Mozart. Thankfully, the words from her senpai, along with those from her teachers, helps push her toward toward forgiveness and humility.
Salieri doesn’t choose such a path. He has his moments in Amadeus where the power of Mozart’s music seems to be transforming him, but his poisoned heart, built on decades of a legalistic and proud foundation, is ultimately unable to erase the bitterness and envy; in the end, he literally goes mad. He tries to commit suicide. And he curses all those around him. Salieri’s pride and ungrace is his undoing.
Sawa could go down that path, too. In a school as competitive as Kouka, it wouldn’t be surprising for a student of her intensity and caliber to be changed by the lack of results, the lack of celebration for who she’s determined to be. If not for a sensitive teacher like Andou and a caring senpai like Tomomi, she could have turned the other way and become full of rage, like the Salieri she has always feared she is.
Of all the character stories in Kageki Shojo, I related most to Sawa’s. I, too, see Salieri within me. I’ve been that someone who “does things right,” who may not have talent but makes up for it in other ways. Can you relate to that? Have you ever felt like Sawa, Salieri, and myself, that you’re “deserving,” especially compared to others who gain recognition and reward but whom you feel aren’t worthy of such glory?
Thankfully, we don’t have to find an end like Salieri’s. Like Sawa and the brothers, we have a senpai, a teacher, a father who shows us that everyone is worthy of love, even the Mozarts, prodigals, and Sarasas. And just as profoundly, that we—the Sawas, Salieris, and elder brothers—are worthy of that love, too, not because of what we do, measured in success or failure, but because of who we are to him:
“You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
We are forgiven. We are loved. We are seen.
And because of that, we can be transformed into an image of love more like the father, away from resentment, pride, and our own strength of will, and toward grace and rest—toward becoming the artist, the masterpiece, which we were always meant to be.
Kageki Shojo can be streamed on Funimation.