Our short series on Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai has demonstrated the sort of love / hate relationship sleepminusminus and I have with anime, and particularly with the lead character, Sakuta. Sometimes, he says and does things that are good; sometimes, he’s not so good; and most often, he’s giving both good and bad advice and encouragement.
But as we conclude the series for now, I want to pull our perspectives upward a bit. Instead of zoning in on Sakuta (or any of the girls), I want to look at the ones who caused the mess in the fourth arc (Rascal Does Not Dream of Siscon Idol for the light novel readers)—Mai and Nodoka’s parents.
In these episodes, Adolescent Syndrome strikes again, this time causing Mai to switch bodies with her half-sister Nodoka, an aspiring idol who looks up to her older sister. However, the siblings’ relationship is complicated by how their mothers use them in a “proxy war.” Both Mai and Nodoka as embittered by this, and struggle with their feelings toward each other.
We don’t get to see the girls’ shared father, who seems to be the top culprit, at all in this arc; he’s barely mentioned. Instead, Mai’s mother and Nodoka’s take a more primary role and are presented as tiger parents, pushing their children to succeed at almost any cost and guiding with the hand of a taskmaster. The exaggeration here that presents these ladies as caring 100% for their own selves and not at all for their daughters well being nonetheless presents a shard of the truth that resembles the experience for many during their own childhoods.
In fact, Mai and Nodoka seem to be unrealistically well-adapted for having such awful moms. To me, they seem to act like girls with “regular” tiger moms, at least toward the better end of what can result from that kind of parenting. I’ve seen this in many friends and acquaintances, running the spectrum from literal runaways who became drug addicts (a best childhood friend of mine among them) to those more like Mai and Nodoka, high achievers who are good-hearted though they still struggle with the repercussions of that style of parenting—namely that their relationship with one another is tied up in knots.
In the world of Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, fantasy, (pseudo)science, and Sakuta’s determination resolves each case of Adolescent Syndrome. But when someone is harmed by an authority figure in real life, the road towards resolution is far more complex. Many of us have been in challenging relationship situations like those facing Mai and Nadoka—but as the readers of this blog age, there’s an opposite concern as well, that we will grow up to be like Mai’s mom and Nadoka’s, those with authority who harm others under our care.
Parenting is probably the most intimate way we can alter someone’s path in a harmful way, but we needn’t be in that position to still be like Mai’s mother in someone’s life. We can be managers in the workplace who treats employees flippantly or teachers who sanctimoniously manage a classroom without considering how each student’s needs are different. We don’t even have to be as intentionally cruel as she is.
Here’s another situation in which we can harm in a similar way—we could do it by serving at a church.
Last year, I started attending a new church, and the transition into it has also been a transition away from the hurt I went through at a previous one. Almost two years gone, I still struggle with processing that pain and loving the church as an institution. Likewise, working through these issues has lead to me to reflect on my own sin and the hurt I’ve caused others—intentional or not, known or not—by participating in and promulgating in a culture that led to my own hurt, not to mention the very direct things I’ve said and done that led to painful results.
I’m not alone being on either or both sides of such pain. Many are suffering from their experiences in church culture, and far more than I have. There’s a movement happening right now of individuals who have left the church and / or faith entirely because of experiences that once started with love and passion but ended with bitterness and regret. A recent, public example is the anger thrown Joshua Harris’ way by those roughly my age who grew up under his proposed system of “Christian courtship” rather than more traditional dating, and how it impacted their relationships and lives. Harris apologized for the harm and he himself, once a very famous author and megachurch pastor, left the pulpit, divorced his wife, and renounced his faith.
It’s such a strange thing that service to God can we warped into that “bad parent” type of mentality through leadership. But it’s actually pretty easy to let a subtle sort of pride, often disguised as Christian humility, invade a church, with leadership imparting advice as if it’s the gospel, and interacting with others and leading small groups and programs with a human-inpinged authority rather than a Christ-centered one, justifying themselves when things don’t seem go right and taking it as a reward for godliness when it does. And I’m not even talking about a megachurch pastor here—I’m speaking just of my own actions as a lay leader!
And James lays it out really well, explaining that we should be wary when instructing others: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”
When I was younger, I took that verse more leniently than I should have. I led so many small groups, discipleships, bible studies, and church classes (including one about Haibane Renmei!) without proper wisdom and humility. Looking back, I see how inadequate I was, not only with wisdom but in a lack of sincerity and love with which I approached the position. If those who participated were not drawn off the narrow path, it’s only by God’s grace.
Perhaps like I was in, you’re in a position of authority now—in church, at work or school, as a parent—or if not, you may be there one day soon. I implore you that as you do, you would take God’s word seriously and understand that as an authority figure, the person under you could follow your words into a fire that harms them, and much like those who have burned in church, it could unwittingly be something that doesn’t light aflame immediately, but which over time and even eternally profoundly impacts them.
In Rascal, Mai and Nodoka are able to work out their problems with Sakuta’s intervention, and many who have likewise been impacted in such a way, including those harmed by the church, are able to also. But it can be a long road back. It’s difficult to underestimate how deep our hurts can run and how powerful the words and actions of authority figures can be. Though we’re not likely to undergo an actual physical transformation as a manifestation of our pain, like Mai and Nodoka do, we’re also not likely to undergo a healing that’s magically instantaneous either. The Holy Spirit can and will work (and will other avenues, including good counseling), but at the end of the day, we remain frail humans and may only recover slowly, or in the worst case, not at all.
With wisdom, fear, humility, and kindness, though, those in leadership can still do good work. We can still accomplish much, and love and help others, even though we all are bound to stumble along the way. But if you’re unprepared to be a teacher, a leader, a pastor, a shepherd, an elder, a manager, a director, or a parent, you must either prayerfully and with godly council accept and do your best to be ready, or maybe pass on the duty until you’re able.
For there are worst things a harmful authority can do to others than make them switch bodies with a sibling. Fantasy is fantasy, and reality? Well, in reality, the endings aren’t always happy.
Thank you for joining us for this series of posts on Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai. If you’re just finding us now, please check back and read the other posts we’ve written: