As a Christian, I’ve found that one of the hardest things to explain to non-Christians is about the seriousness of sin. Without comprehending this, the gospel story makes little sense and thus there’s little to compel one to be open to the religion. One of the roadblocks in trying to help others understand the gravity of sin is that we’ve grown up with varied definitions of the phrase, and it’s become perhaps defined best in our culture as “doing something bad,” rather than as rebelling against God. Add to that other cultures’ and religions’ uses of the word, as expressed in Noragami and other anime, and it becomes a word that’s loaded with meaning that isn’t necessarily Christian, and becomes a confusing path to explore.
Another roadblock is in understanding that sin doesn’t have to be something we physically commit. This comes into play with Yukine and Yato in Noragami. Even though Yato warns his shinki that even when Yukine simply thinks sinful thoughts, Yato suffers, Yukine continues to do so. Perhaps he just wants to cause Yato displeasure – no surprise for an adolescent with a holder as annoying as Yato. Or maybe Yukine just can’t accept the fact that he could sin by simply coveting. After all, Yukine resists stealing items on a couple of occasions, as if trying to stop himself from crossing that boundary. Moving from thinking to doing is, apparently to Yukine, the bridge between sin and not.
For Yato, there is no difference. Coveting and giving into mindful temptation is the same as physically giving in – they both cause Yato harm in the form of a blight that eventually consumes most of the kami’s body, particularly taking over once Yukine indulges completely in sinful desire. And so, not only is thinking sinfully considered a sin, but it becomes a root desire that helps beget the physical detrimental actions.
These ideas are very much in line with Christianity. From the Old Testament, the Bible makes it clear that God is concerned with our heart and mind, even above physical actions:
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
- I Samuel 16:7
Wow, has the Spring 2014 anime season started off with a bang. I have already picked up 10 new shows that I plan to watch through to completion, in addition to the two I was already watching from last season (Nisekoi and Tonari no Seki-kun), and I have not been disappointed. While a number of what I have picked up so far will most likely be duds, the greatly hyped Mushi-shi sequel and Mekakucity Actors have both so far lived up to my expectations, and brand new ones like The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior and One Week Friends have thus far been quite promising.
The last of these mentions is the show I would like to focus on today, and while I would love to spend the rest of this article gushing about my feelings and opinions of what we are going to be seeing the next few months in the anime world, that is something to be left for another piece.
With that said, One Week Friends has really gotten me thinking over the past two weeks since it began airing. I’m always a bit nervous for this column, “Anime Today”, when a new season rolls around, lest I not have enough material within the first few episodes of each new series, but One Week Friends immediately struck me in terms of writing motivation.
If you are not yet familiar with it, One Week Friends (or Isshuukan Friends) is a middle school drama/romance that seems, in most ways, to play out akin to its many (many, many, many) slice of life brethren, with one major catch: the female interest, Kaori, of the male lead, Yuuki, has a memory problem that causes her to lose the memories of her close friends every Monday.
This is not a new concept. Simply looking at anime like Ef: A Tale of Memories, or even in the western world, a movie like 50 First Dates (something I think I saw at a friend’s house nearly a decade ago and have no intention of watching again), one will find many comparisons in existing media. However, the setup has not been out used. In fact, I would claim that it still comes across as something rather creative among its anime contemporaries, despite many past instances of this memory loss “trope”, mostly because it is being used as something less amnesiac, and more regular and constantly debilitating.
Even only two episodes in, the entire situation does a great job of pulling at your heart strings. I like to compare One Week Friends to a fantastic merging of two of my other favorite anime, Ef: A Tale of Memories (which I already mentioned) in its memory-loss driven romantic drama, and Usagi Drop in its general animation and writing style, as well as focus on wholesome relationships.
All of this culminates in a seriously captivating story of a boy and a girl trying to maintain a relationship that suffers strains unlike any other.
One thing that struck me immediately about Noragami is that there were so many connections that could made in the series to Christianity. Joseph of Medieval Otaku (who’s now on Twitter, by the way), thought the same:
The most surprising thing about Noragami is how many of its themes one can tie into Christianity despite its Shinto background. As a minor example, we have the fact that Yato only takes 5 yen coins for his services. Spiritual gifts are priceless. Since they cannot be equated in any way with material goods, money given to religious institutions are rather tokens of good will than amount tendered for particular services. All the money in the world would not be the equivalent of a single drop of holy water.
I recommend you check out Joe’s article, as he goes on to make more interesting connections, particularly to Catholicism.
Of course, I’ve charged into this week seeing many links as well, mostly New Testament in nature, but episode nine added an even more ancient flavor through a pivotal plot point that played like an allegory.
Leading up to this episode, Yukine has slowly been turning toward sin, almost right from the start. Fed by fear and sadness, he continues down this path, turning fully toward it in episode eight. And as he sins more and more, Yato pays the price through a growing blight – one that grows out of control, to the point where only an ablution, a dangerous ceremony, can heal him.
As Yato lays dying because of Yukine’s sinful actions, three shinki must come together for the ablution to take place. Two are found, but a third is hard to come by. Desperate, Hiyori turns to a very threatening place – the Temple of Bishamon, the home of the god who most wants to see Yato destroyed, for assistance. But here also dwells Kazuma, a shiki of Bishamon who admires Yato and owes him for some unknown event in the past.
With much trepidation, and understanding that her life is at stake, Hiyori screams and yells as the temple entrance to plead for Kazuma to come along, knowing that if Bishamon would come out instead, she, Yato, and Yukine would all perish.
In the Bible, a similar set of circumstances occurs in one of my favorite books, Esther. Read the rest of this entry
I mentioned yesterday that at first, even our (generally) level-headed heroine in Noragami, Hiyori Iki, treats Yato with little respect. Further, she looks to him to fulfill her own needs. This is no surprise, of course, as she’s in a very unusual and confusing situation, and Yato has agreed to take her case, even taking payment from her. Thus her communication with Yato early in the series is mostly focused on her desire for him to fix her troubling situation. Hiyori’s focus is on her needs.
When we communicate with God, through prayer, we also often focus on our needs. I imagine that many of us spend the bulk of, or all of prayer time, on our own concerns. Instead of spending time in adoration, confession, and thanksgiving, we may put 80% of our prayer time (and an even higher percentage of our heart and desire) toward supplication.
How should we pray then? While the answer to that question is multi-faceted, there’s one simple change that many of us can make, and one that I think we can see through how Hiyori changes as Noragami progresses. She progresses her relationship with Yato, changing how she interacts with him. Surely, some of this comes from learning a bit more about his fearsome past actions, but a lot of it comes with Hiyori learning more about Yato and his heart. There’s fear there, but concern as well. She begins to think more about Yato, forgetting her own needs and attending to the kami because she cares for him.
Instead of the static, person-to-object type relationship I mentioned yesterday, Hiyori’s relationship with Yato becomes dynamic and moving. And that’s what we should aim for as well. Even if we don’t have God speaking to us audibly, we do have responses from Him in His words, actions, and through circumstances, other people, and a variety of other conduits. He is responding to us, but we have to have enough faith to trust Him as being there and listening to us. If we have that, we perhaps wouldn’t speak to God as if reciting off a to-do list – after all, we’d never do that with the friends we see physically before us.
I encourage you during this week, especially, to try to focus on having a relationship with God that’s similar to Hiyori’s with Yato’s – moving, real, and developing. And there’s no better place to start than by opening communication – and that, by prayer.
Near the end of the Noragami series, an anime-only antagonist is introduced. Like Yato, Rabo is a god of calamity, and the series does it’s best to make him seem a match for our laid-back (but occasionally awesome) hero.
Apparently, Rabo has returned after centuries of absence, but in just a short time, he has made his presence felt among the general populace. One of Hiyori’s friends, Yamashita, mentions that invoking his name in attempt to off somebody is a fad, I guess akin to writing down someone’s name in a Death Note notebook you purchased on eBay.
In this same discussion, the girls have a quick, but meaningful discussion characterizing the gods. Yamashita tells of all her wishes to the kami, to which Hiyori chastises that she shouldn’t burden the gods with too many wishes. Yamashita responds, “But that’s what gods are for!”
Although it’s played for comedy, Yamashita’s words reveal how many of us treat God in deeds, if not also in words. Our head knowledge might know God to be a living spirit who is dynamic and loving and full of life. But our words indicate that he’s static and idol-like, something to go to when we’re in need.
The Holy Week, the days leading up Easter beginning with Palm Sunday, is upon us. On Beneath the Tangles, each year we go topical during this week, discussing one character, series, or theme. This year, we’ll be posting an article a day leading up to Easter Sunday about last season’s popular anime series, Noragami. As rich in Christian spiritual truths as it was in Shinto imagery, Noragami was a favorite series for a number of us on staff, including myself.
So please join with us during the upcoming days as we dig into the show and glean out tidbits of Christian principles.
D.M. Dutcher reviews Wolf Children and finds a parallel to the idea of Christians being “in the world, but not of it.” [Speculative Faith]
Medieval Otaku gives his thoughts on Witch Craft Works and Noragami, including some Catholic connections in each. [Medieval Otaku]
Additionally, Medieval Otaku, who has guested here and whom we frequently feature in this column, is celebrating the two-year anniversary of his blog. Go congratulate him! [Medieval Otaku]
Unfortunately, on the other end of the spectrum, animekritik is closing his blog [Kritik der Animationskraft].
We’ve included links to a number of his excellent articles in the past – including some of the following favorites:
Who says this season won’t be any good?
After a lackluster winter season (though Japes and Goldy found some bright spots in it), the spring is offering some really enjoyable series of it’s own. Usually, I’m able to cull out all but 3-4 series immediately, focusing on just those, but this season promises to make it hard on me to decide which shows to watch!
Well, I have to say – my curiosity is definitely piqued. The first episode of this sci-fi series from BONES (and the creators of Star Driver) was thick with content, so much so that I swore I was watching something an hour long. And yet, the episode never lost me. I was almost beside myself with how much this series seemed to rely on excellent ones from the past, like Eureka 7 and RahXephon, but by the time it ended, Captain Earth had taken a host of familiar elements and offered something compelling – the feelings of adventure, which I find so rare in anime.
Verdict: I’m in!
Boy tries to make friends with girl. Girl says no. Boy works hard to become friends. Girl befriends boy. Girl forgets boy. On Mondays, repeat.
With a storyline similar to 50 First Dates, Isshuukan Friends looks like it’s going to be a very emotional series. It’s the only one I was really looking forward to this semester, and based on the first episode, I don’t expect to be disappointed. I really enjoyed the art style, the characters, and the way the series is already hitting the right emotional notes. I can’t wait to see episode two!
Verdict: I’m in!
Sports anime. Check. Romantic element. Check. Relateable protagonist. Check.
Baby Steps starts us a year after the events of the series, showing our hero playing well in a tennis match. Then the episodes moves back in time to show him as the overachiever who does his best at school without passion or meaning, only with discipline. But meeting a beautiful girl and trying out her passion, tennis, is seemingly going to change him. The first episode was a lot of fun – it hit all the right strokes (har har) without going overboard in any of the ways that would turn me off (see my discussion of the steely bodies in Haikyuu!!).
Verdict: Will be watching episode 2
The opening episode of this futuristic action-thriller was almost jarring as it jumped between an almost epic story to a silly romcom. But it all kind of worked together well, matching the demeanor of the main character, who seems to be trying to develop in his own right, out of bitterness toward a more normal life. That normal life, of course, includes an underage girl whom he protects (and who is in love with him). This is anime, after all…
Verdict: Will be watching episode 2
I did not expect a whole lot lot from this series, but found myself really enjoying the opening episode. I haven’t watched more than maybe half a dozen sports series, so I don’t have a great feel for the conventions of such shows, but it looks like they’re in full force here, with volleyball taking the place of baseball. The twist at the end of the episode feels Cross Game-ish (not to worry – it’s not that twist), and the main character is similar to Mihashi, but with far more confidence (and a little more gas). Also, there was a really lovely montage showing our protagonist training and gaining his teammates. I don’t like how the characters go crashing all over the court and rise like they’re DBZ characters, but otherwise, color me intrigued.
Verdict: Will be watching episode 2
One of my favorite parts of administering this blog is occasionally receiving emails from our readers. A week or two ago, we received a request from Michael. Here’s how he began:
Hi, I am so blessed to have found your blog, and here’s why. To keep it short, I am a Christian in Miami, FL and just went to my first anime con (Animate! Miami) in January and felt from Holy Spirit to bring Gods Kingdom to our otaku/video game culture[...]I submitted to do a panel at the biggest con in FL, Supercon. I want to do a panel about spirituality and anime but focusing totally on our Father God and Christ, and the impact God has on anime in general…
A lot of times, I don’t have a good answer for our readers. But thankfully, I now have a little insight into this request after recently conducting a panel at IKKiCON, the anime convention in my local Austin community.
Michael went on to write the following:
I am making my presentation and wanted to get your much needed advice. I want to connect with the Christian otaku community and get ideas as to how to make this presentation great and an opportunity to bring souls to Christ. Any advice or suggestions as to which amines I should focus on, or maybe just topics I should stick to? I have to present for an hour, and will throw in some games too to keep it interesting.
Michael, thanks for coming to us with your question – I’ll help you as best I can!
I think you first need to consider who your audience is, if you haven’t already. It seems like you may be wanting to focus on Christian otaku. In that case, you might consider that your audience will be unique – you may have a mix of those of different religious backgrounds who attend, not only within the Christian tradition, but possibly others who have an interest in religion. I also found that a number of young people, attending with parents, came to my panel.
If you intend to make the panel evangelistic in nature, aimed at non-Christians, I would definitely think about what it is I can offer my audience in terms of my topic. As with Paul and his teaching on being everything to everyone, your panel should appeal to anime fans, offering them something about anime that they can learn from and/or be entertained by. Otherwise, they may feel they’re getting the old bait and switch, which might accomplish the opposite of what you intend. Even if you carefully weave a gospel presentation into your panel, some will be offended and most may not be open to it. In that case, I might suggest passing them to another resource they could consult, whether it’s your own or another, when they get home from the con and think back on your panel.
And I’ll mention one more consideration – this one on a more general level. Others who visit our blog (and even a couple of other writers) have more to offer in the way of tips, but I’ll offer just this one – time flies when you’re doing your panel, so if you’ve packed your 60 minutes to the brim, you probably won’t be able to cover all that you’ve wanted. Adjust accordingly.
Good luck on your panel, and please let us know how it goes! And for all those reading this post, what advice might you also offer Michael?
If you have a question for us, please click on the “Ask the Staff” button on the top menu of our blog.
TWWK: Yesterday, Goldy and Japes started their review of Winter 2014’s anime. Today, our reviewing pair join together to judge shows that they both watched this past season.
Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren
Love, Chunibyou & Other Delusions – Heart Throb -
Goldy – [8/10]
In the past, I’ve praised Kyoto Animation for creating love stories without going all out shoujo drama, and while they did an excellent job with season one of Chuuni, I had my worries about the second season.
Where could they possibly go with this? Thankfully, my fears were unfounded and the second season delivered a brilliant performance, including all the familiar characters facing their weaknesses and even including some new ones. I like to see characters grow in stories, moving forward despite knowing their faults.
The main story, the relationship between Yuuta and Rika progressed rather well from last season, I thought. It grew at their own pace, which in itself was a beautiful and heart warming thing. I think the two still have a long way to go in understanding each other better, but sometimes baby steps are better than nothing.
I’m a sucker for an excellent love story, though.
Japesland – [7/10]
It took me quite a while to decide what to score Chuunibyou this time around (I rated season one an 8/10), but ended up landing on the 7/10 that you can see above. While I love this series, including this season, I found it hard to rate it anything higher than a 7 considering how little it had to offer beyond what was in the first season. With the exception of a fantastic new character, Shichimiya Satone, the vast majority of the emotional buildup found in this season was also found in the first season. Don’t get me wrong, I loved both, but I was hoping to see either something new, or perhaps something at least a bit more progressive than what KyoAni had to offer us this time around.
With all of that said, however, season two has left me eagerly awaiting a (perhaps more fulfilling) season three. Like Goldy indicated above, baby steps are better than nothing, and KyoAni definitely did not give us nothing.