Still Around

Well, it has only been eight days.  (I have disappeared for much longer periods of time.)  But, I wish to assure you that I have a proper connection to the internet now and will hopefully come out with new articles in the near future.  I’ve been too busy of late.  Well, wish me a pleasant sleep tonight, and an industrious disposition tomorrow.

For now, you may look at this beautiful image of Sesshoumaru.  I hope it doesn’t inspire too many Inuyasha marathons. 🙂

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Finally! The Adventures of Captain Hatteras Reviewed

How long has it been since I promised to review this work?  Well, it’s better to be late than never, and I find myself motivated by my move to college tomorrow.  Who knows how long it may take to set up the internet service or how much time I’ll have to write these little articles?  So, I’ll try to post one more article up today after this one, and may that, my dear readers, tide you over until the next one.

The Adventures of Captain Hatteras has been relegated to obscurity among Jules Verne’s works.  After reading this page-turner again, I find myself at a loss as to why this novel has been ignored by so many.  According to the introduction, Verne had a great love for northern climes, which comes out in the exquisite detail and liveliness with which Verne describes the towering mountains of ice and the snowy vasts of the Arctic.  In addition to the beautiful setting, the characters suffer through a never ending torrent of conflicts, which prevents the reader from becoming bored.  Rather, if the reader does begin to tire from the tale, it is through having his empathetic soul infected with the exhaustion constantly plaguing our heroes.  Verne also keeps the reader in his chair by filling the story with mysteries and the ever present doubt that our heroes will ever succeed in their venture of reaching the North Pole.

The first of these mysteries lies in the Captain’s refusal to reveal himself.  No one doubts that the captain is also funding the voyage, but he allows Richard Shandon, his second in command, to be in charge of building the ship and assembling the crew.  Yet, Richard does not know either the captain or the destination towards which the captain intends to sail!  In focusing on a few gossiping sailors, they confirm for us the arctic destination of this vessel, the Forward,  and describe how the design would help in navigating those waters–such as the reinforced steel bow, the fact that it runs on both sail and coal, the extraneous wooden deck and other structures which may be cannibalized in a pinch, and that it can carry enough food for five or six years.  The choice of crewmen is also precisely gears to those men of sanguine humor who could more easily weather cold climes.  Meanwhile, Shandon received instructions for a mysterious dog to remain on the ship, which the crewmen take to referring to as the captain.

The most interesting members of this crew consist in the ship’s doctor, Dr. Clawbonny, and the bosun, Johnson.  The former is a simple doctor with a thirst for all forms of knowledge, and the latter is a middle aged mariner with a wealth of experience including polar expeditions.  The two become fast friends.  Dr. Clawbonny’s wisdom and cheerfulness make him the life of the crew, especially in bad situations.  Verne seems to delight in having likeable polymaths in his works, and Dr. Clawbonny makes an excellent mouthpiece for imparting many pieces of scientific knowledge and information pertaining to other expeditions–though, most of the crewmen are conversant with the latter.  Johnson makes for an interesting character due to his aforementioned experience, his loyalty to the captain, and hardihood.

Kind of how I envision Johnson, except that Johnson’s a bit thinner.

Captain Hatteras refuses to reveal himself until the crew is about to mutiny against Richard Shandon, who had brought the expedition all the way through Lancaster Strait and passed the Devil’s Thumb before this.  Somehow the captain had managed to direct the entire expedition by letter thus far, and Shandon was beginning to fancy himself the captain.  The abruptness of the Captain’s appearance, the force of his authority, and the dog recognizing Hatteras as his master bring the crew back to order.  He also adds an enticing bonus for each line of latitude closer to the pole.  Captain Hatteras may be described as very nationalistic–a flaw which Jules Verne exploits to create more conflict when they discover an American expedition, very resolute, rather silent, and usually impassive.  But his stony countenance conceals strong emotions within that reveal themselves through the extremes of violent fits of anger (he almost buries an ax in someone’s brain at one point) and even tears on a few occasions.  All this makes for a multifaceted character who must stand as one of Verne’s most memorable.

Verne very aptly employs conflict among the crew, danger from the elements, mystery, and suspense to keep the reader’s full attention.  One finds it difficult to put the work down.  Very few pages have the characters not facing some kind of danger or suffering in some manner.  During this second reading of the work, I was struck by how good of a movie it would make.  Though, this work has not been adapted into a movie since Georges Méliès’s Conquest of the Pole, which was filmed in 1912.  As a piece of trivia, that’s the same Georges Méliès featured in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  As you can see from the picture below, it must have been a truly amazing spectacle, which modern audiences and people of good taste would not be able to stand.  If someone doesn’t do a modern adaptation soon, I’ll write that screenplay–but I don’t mind someone beating me to it.

This movie must have caused Jules Verne to roll in his grave.

 

The other reason this book would make for a great movie is how beautiful and fantastic Verne renders the Arctic.  (Though, not as fantastic as what you just saw.  There were no man-eating frost giants in the novel!  Just man-eating polar bears.)  Verne really outdoes himself in describing the flora, fauna, landscape, and other characteristics; yet, he spreads these facts so evenly throughout the work and makes them so varied that not only does he not bore the reader, but the reader is eager to know more.  The most amusing thing he writes about is how the refraction of the light in this area constantly messes with the sailors.  One sailor shoots and kills a polar bear, only to discover upon closer inspection that the animal was an arctic fox!  Dr. Clawbonny, in stepping over what he thinks is a small hole one foot wide, finds himself falling into a large ditch over ten feet wide!

Well, I hope that you enjoyed my little review of The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, and it will find itself on your shelves, kindle, or iPhone sometime in the future.  (Project Gutenberg is a wonderful thing!)

 

 

 

 

I rather enjoy reading this gentleman’s articles, and his rant on fanservice struck me as particularly apt. Basically, he makes a strong case that true anime fans actually are those least into so-called fanservice.

Anime September

No, this won’t be about how “fanservice”  used to have a broader definition before it got limited to ecchi scenes. I have no reason to hate it because of that, words change their meanings all the time. My problem is with the “fan-” part, and it applies to both definitions.

When did we, as a fandom, decide that what fans what is the shallowest, most pavlovian, most inconsequential elements of a story? You certainly wouldn’t get that picture just from listening to us. When was the last time you heard a fan declaring that they want more fanservice? Not just “tolerating it in moderation”,  or “not particularly minding it”, but actively demanding that a certain show needs more fanservice?

And when was the last time when you heard a fan complaining about too much fanservice? Or rather, how many times did you hear it today?

Even in our day and…

View original post 395 more words

A Medieval Interrogation

Having read several articles based on this series of chain posts, the thought that someone would select me as part of it never crossed my mind.  But, Marlin-sama of the blog Ashita no Anime has tagged me, so I will do my best to answer his questions and find people to tag.  Here are the rules:

Introduction

  • Each person is supposed to follow the rule of fives. You are allowed to ask 5 questions, after which you can tag up to 5 bloggers by hyper-linking to their blog; 5 questions because it’s not too many to flood another blogger and occupy too much of his/her time, but yet a large enough number to ask your most important questions, and 5 bloggers to avoid spamming. Hence, prioritize your questions, and who you wish to ask!
  • Those tagged are obliged to answer the questions in a blog post, and after which, they are entitled to create their own 5 questions and tag 5 other bloggers, so on and so fourth. You should answer your own 5 questions as well. You are allowed to tag the person that tagged you in the first place. Also, copy and paste this section on your blog so others can understand how the game goes.
  • In the case where a blogger strongly refuses to answer a question, he/she must instead post a nice anime image, wallpaper or cosplay picture, et cetera in response to that question.
  • To make things interesting, a blogger can include wildcards in his/her 5 questions by placing an asterisk, (*), after which those tagged are obliged to reveal something interesting about themselves that others did not previously know. There is no limit to the number of asterisks one can place (which means there can be up to 5 wildcard questions).
  • Anyone can feel free to start the game; you don’t necessarily need someone to tag you. Just create your 5 questions and tag your 5 people of choice. However, the catch is that you must answer your own 5 questions as well.
  • To potentially prevent an endless game, this round of games will end on the 8th September 2012, 12pm JST (GMT +9). After which, no more bloggers can tag others to answer their questions.

Here follows the questions and my answers to them:

Q1. What is your favorite anime of all time?  Then, objectively speaking, what do you think is the best anime of all time?  Explain why you chose these anime (especially if you chose the same anime for both questions).

For me, Rurouni Kenshin stands as my favorite anime.  This is the show which propelled me into anime, so I might be a little biased; but I’ve yet to find an anime which has better characterization or discusses its themes better.  This series does have drawbacks: overlong speeches, too many flashbacks, the first and last seasons are rather episodic, and the final season was badly done and not based on the manga.  (I consider that season as unworthy of being accounted with the first two seasons.)  But the first two of these drawbacks help the viewer to benefit from the technique of parallelism, which Nobuhiro Watsuki employs to great effect in delineating his characters and highlighting the themes.  I especially enjoy how similar the villains are to the heroes; but the villains deviate slightly from the right path, often having high ideals which are slightly twisted.  This makes the difference between the heroes less black and white and the characters more interesting to examine.

The fights of Rurouni Kenshin and the animation are also very beautifully done.  Kenshin vs. Saito is considered by many otaku to have been one of the greatest fights ever animated.  The tension between the two combatants is palpable, and the whole fight comes across as very realistic.  Qualities which bring the audience to the ends of their seats and makes them feel every blow.  The overall animation for the show is top notch, and the audience is treated to the bonus of seeing characters which look more Japanese than one finds in the usual anime.  May I add that this show weaves in historical detail better than any other anime?  So much so that many people (your humble blogger included) have passed Japanese history tests from what they learned on this show.

You’re going to think me very provincial; but, for my objective best, I’m choosing Samurai X: Trust and BetrayalSamurai X has more focus than the TV show, thus eliminating many of the drawbacks found in the TV show.  Also, the atmosphere is much darker and more tragic: Rurouni Kenshin makes one wish they were born a samurai and could participate in duels; Samurai X makes one frightened even to pick up a katana.  When people get cut down, the viewer feels their agony.  The swords even seem to emanate cruelty.  This atmosphere is very fitting for the dark days of the Meiji Revolution.  By the way, let me also say that AnimeNfo agrees with me in ranking this OVA as the best anime.

Q2. Same as question 1, but for your least favorite anime and what in your objective opinion is the worst anime of all time (for this question try to choose an anime for which you’ve actually watched a respectable number of episodes and try to avoid small titles that nobody has ever heard of).

My least favorite anime is Cat Soup.  My dear readers might have even been able to guess my response.  I remember reading a review that claimed anyone’s who’s not a religious nut would love it.  Though that puts it a little harshly, the term aptly fits me.  It contains a rather reprehensible depiction of God, I didn’t care for the animation, and it consists of a series of scenes rather than a story.  Fortunately, most of the details have long since been forgotten.

My first choice for objective worst would have been Ghost Hound had it not been for the stipulation that the show be well known.  That show entices the viewer by its weirdness, gives him enough interesting details to inspire hope that the show will become good, and makes one suffer through one dull episode after another before one is forced to throw in the towel.

If four episodes may be considered respectable, I choose Dragonaut: the Resonance for objective worst, which tries to lure the viewer into continuing to watch through having well-endowed women all over the place and a modicum of action.  Nothing else to it.

Q3. What initially led you to anime and what keeps you interested in anime?  Do you think it will continue to be a lifetime passion?  Why or why not?*

As an avid lover of pre-modern pagan cultures, such as Rome, Athens, the Vikings, and Japan, it was only a matter of time until I discovered anime.  My father used to be an avid practitioner of Karate, has a great interest in Eastern philosophies and religions, and was dubbed an honorary Asian in college.  Naturally, some of his tastes, especially for martial arts and its philosophy, were impressed on me.  In addition to martial arts, I loved watching samurai movies.  These cultures all seemed to have a strong moral bent, which especially attracted me to them.

Then, I discovered that certain shows belonged to a genre called anime.  I saw Rurouni Kenshin on Toonami, discovered the manga Inuyasha, and found myself hooked.  As for whether it will remain a lifelong hobby, I must confess to having an aversion to clinging to anything–no matter how pleasant.  Despite the fact that I do very much enjoy anime, several of my other hobbies have been pushed aside for anime, and I want to make more time for those.  So, while I can see myself remaining an otaku for several more years, I hesitate to say that it will be a lifetime passion.

Q4. Do you think it’s possible to integrate or use ecchi content or themes to enhance a story rather than simply as fanservice that detracts from the overall work?

Easily, but it’s not advisable.  For me, the best example of nudity put to good effect was in Elfen Lied, where it highlighted Lucy’s deep-set desire for innocence.  In the Garden of Eden, the nudity of Adam and Eve symbolized innocence.  Here, the fact that so many terrible things happen around nude people stresses that innocence is nowhere to be found in this world.  But, many people cannot see through the characters’ bare bodies to perceive this theme.  For them, nudity turns them away from the show.

Such a pleasant face.

Freezing is a perfect example of ecchi elements ruining a show.  Frankly, this is a spectacular show.  The only drawbacks to it lie in that the plot was rushed and not enough details about the setting were given to the audience.  It has strong, likeable characters, stunning fights, outstanding animation, a touching relationship between the hero and the heroine, and several gut-wrenching situations.  Despite all of this, several people absolutely despise this show.  They become totally oblivious to this show’s good points in the face of all that fanservice.  Amusingly, I remember one reviewer who claimed to have been enticed by the fanservice before becoming so wrapped up in the show’s action that he ceased to notice it.  How much more popular would this show have been if only they had toned down or even eliminated the fanservice?

Q5. I think many would agree that some otherwise respectable anime have been let down by lackluster endings.  What anime do you most want to change the ending—not because you disagreed with it, but for quality purposes.  Then how would you change it and why?  (I understand spoilers may be unavoidable when answering this question)

Well, the ending of Scrapped Princess seemed a little unnatural and ludicrous to me–the triangle of land and sea on which the remnant of humanity lived fitting back into the world and everything.  I would have had it end with a final showdown between the aliens who had imprisoned humanity and our heroes.  It seemed a little inconclusive in that we never meet the original foes of humanity.  Also, Leopold would get the girl and ditch the Mr. Soopy suit: the ending had me feeling too sorry for him.

Amusingly, I discovered that AngryJellyfish has also tagged me into the game with a set of five questions.  So, let me answer those five before going on to mine.

1. Which anime protagonists (if any) do you feel you’d be able to do a better job than if you were in their situation?

Well, there are plenty of wimpy heroes or harem protagonists I could do a better job than.  (I tend to be decisive and stubborn about things, which would come in handy in many situations.)  But among a slightly higher class of protagonists, I’ll select Kai Kudou of E’s Otherwise.  Basically, he lacks any kind of good sense.  Give me his power and place me in the same situations, I’d probably do better–except that I’d be a lot more boring to watch.

2. Which popular anime series do you not like, or find overrated?

Any of the Big Three.  Even if they are entertaining, how can one justify creating a series of several hundred episodes without any closure in sight?  Why would one give so much of their precious time to just one series?  It appears absurd to me.

3. What manga or anime series would you like to see fansubbed/scanlated in your language, or licensed in your country?

Americans have it too good.  It seems that everything is sooner or later available to us.  So, I’ll have to go with the classic Ashita no Joe as a series which I’d like to see licensed in this country.  It’s very highly regarded among the Japanese, seems to have really strong characters, and Hajime no Ippo, which I highly enjoy, was likely based on this–the main difference being that Ashita no Joe has an anti-hero, while Ippo’s your perfect hero.  So, if Funimation or another company were to license boxed sets of this, I’d be one of the first to buy it.

4. What series would you recommend to someone who has never watched any anime?

That series would be Fullmetal Panic Fumoffu.  I’ve successfully hooked several people on anime through this show.  You see, most people expect cartoons to be centered around comedy, which is why Fumoffu, a show which nearly makes the viewer die laughing, offers a great introduction.  From there, you can expand their perception of the stories a cartoon may convey.

5. Do you have any weird anime watching habits?

Well, I always have to be drinking something when watching anime.  This beverage is usually tea.  Sometimes, I see it as a good time to break out some hard liquor or port–even if the anime does not require it.  If I have friends around, I’ll offer some kind of alcoholic drink.  Though, this turned out to be a big mistake one night, when a friend of mine and I were watching the sequel to Geobreeders.  I’m not sure whether it was the two bottles of wine or the fact that we were talking too much, but we did not remember a single thing about the OVA the next day!  Which may mark the only time alcohol has caused me to forget things.

If I’m not drinking something, then I’m oiling go stones, which certainly counts as weird.  However, it’s not as much fun to play go if the stones aren’t shiny!

Now for my questions and answers:

1.  How else are you involved in Japanese culture?

In my case, I love martial arts philosophy and used to practice Judo and Aikido, the latter of which I’d like to return to someday.  I study the Japanese language, read light novels both in Japanese and English, and would love to graduate to more sophisticated Japanese literature.  I also enjoy Japanese teas and wish to study their tea culture more.

Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido

2.  What anime turned you into a fan?

In case, you forgot.

3.  Who are your two favorite Japanese VA’s (one male and one female) and two favorite English VA’s (also one male and one female)?  For the English VA’s, you can substitute actors in another non-Japanese language.

I used to be more into this facet of fandom than now.  But, here are my favorites:

Ken Narita, especially for his roles as Sesshoumaru of Inuyasha, Jeremiah Gottwald of Code Geass, and Durand of Le Chevalier D’Eon.  I particularly love deep and powerful voices.

Megumi Toyoguchi, especially for Revy of Black Lagoon, Yao Sakurakouji of Miami Guns, Layla Ashley of Avengers, Honoka of The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye, and Reni Vikuro of Innocent Venus.

Kirk Thornton for his roles as Hajime Saito of Rurouni Kenshin, Jin of Samurai Champloo, and Brandon Heat of Gungrave.

Laura Bailey for her roles as Michel Volban of Glass Fleet and Sylvia Ban of Solty Rei.

4.  Out of the shows you’re currently watching, which is your favorite?

For me, the answer’s Hunter X Hunter.  I love how much intellectual prowess the fights and the obstacles placed before our heroes require.  This makes is different from the run-of-the-mill shonen.

5.  What is your favorite era for anime and why?

My answer combines two time periods usually separated, but I feel that the earlier one still strongly influenced the latter: the late 90’s through the early 2000’s.  Some of my favorite shows were produced during this period.  Also, computers played less of a role in the animation of these days than now, and I particularly like the human touch one sees in these shows.
Of course, the anime of prior eras relied even less or not at all on computers, but the character designs were not as elegant.

Well, that’s enough writing for one post.  I’m trying to think of people who haven’t been tagged yet.  Here it is:

ChibiOtaku010

Naru of What is this “Culture” you speak of?

John Samuel of Pirates of the Burley Griffin

SnippetTee of Lemmas and Submodalities

Exiled2Oblivion

I hope that you enjoy this little game!

The Timeliness of Books and the Insidiousness of Vanity

My TR Quote App came up with a great passage today.  Here it is along with some thoughts of mine about it:

“A book must be interesting to the particular reader at that particular time.  But there are tens of thousands of interesting books, and some of them are sealed to some men and some are sealed to others, and some stir the soul at some given point of a man’s life and yet convey no message at another time.  The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be.  He must not hypocritically pretend to like what he does not like.  Yet, at the same time he must avoid that most unpleasant of all the indications of puffed-up vanity which consists in treating mere individual, and perhaps unfortunate, idiosyncrasy as a matter of pride.”  – from Teddy Roosevelt’s autobiography

This quote brings up a couple of points on which I’d like to remark: 1) The importance of timing in a book’s effectiveness and 2) how easily people become infected with various forms of vanity.  Concerning the first point, a novel called Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov comes to mind.  Among the classics, this work rates so low that I cannot in good conscience recommend it; but, it aided me a great deal in changing my attitude toward friendship and socializing with others, which rather approximated that of Squall from Final Fantasy VIII, Allanon of The Sword of Shanara, Raskolnikov of Crime and Punishment, or–to use a current reference from pop culture–Twilight Sparkle in the first episode of My Little Pony.  (And my readership suddenly plummets. 🙂  Let me just say that this is an amusing little show, and I’ve only watched four or five episodes.)

Squall’s the guy looking at his shoes in the lower left.

Ivan Goncharov’s only successful work spawned the term Oblomovism, which is defined as indolent apathy or benign self-neglect.  (Apparently, the Russian form of this word is still often used in that country.)  Oblomov, the main character of this story is said to have answered the question “To be or not to be?” by saying “No!”   This story contains a sagging middle and may be summed up as follows:

A young nobleman with a large inheritance spends his days collecting dust on his bed and only gets up to eat.  He also passes the time by complaining to his only valet–often about certain pests, to which his valet responds “Did I invent them?”  One day, a friend from his university days comes to see him.  Seeing his horrid state of indolence, he cajoles him to reenter society and read books, which Oblomov dutifully accomplishes until his friend leaves him for a time in order to do business.  Oblomov relapses into his indolence and cements this state by marrying a homely German woman who cooks good food.  His friend and his friend’s fiancee find Oblomov thus and lament that there is no longer any hope for him.  Oblomov vegetates in obscurity to his last days.

This rather lame sounding work moved me to tears!  Finishing this work the day before I left for college, I resolved not to end my days in a similar manner, and went on to form many friendships at college, being much more active than I would have been otherwise.  Unfortunately, I slipped back into a form of Oblomovism in my last two years of college which continued until May last year.  But, fear not, dear readers, my life has turned much more interesting since then and promises to become even more so in ten days.  And ironically, if my next steps in education turn out successful, I will not have to worry about slipping back into Oblomovism until retirement.

So, even though this work stands as one of the most influential in my life, I do not want to read it now and will not recommend it to anyone–unless you’re an Oblomov.

On to the second point: how easily people may be moved to vanity, especially concerning their tastes.  Concerning this kind of vanity, your writer happens to be rather guilty.  I can only console myself by remembering how G. K. Chesterton remarked that most men are made of petty vanities and, fortunately, most are harmless.  To use myself as an example again, I tend to prefer subs to dubs, but I pride myself at being willing to watch a good dub.  So, I consider myself a discriminating individual who doesn’t blindly prefer one or the other.  I particularly enjoy it when someone who refused to listen to my advice is forced to change the audio track after listening to what is usually an awful dub–though, there are times when the dub is really better.  In any event, this vanity leads to me being annoyed with the other viewer or viewers, silently grumbling against them, and maintaining an unchristian attitude of superiority.  But, I must confess that I don’t see an easy way out of this vanity besides refusing to watch foreign films with other people.  Any ideas?

And the inability of escaping from many forms of vanity without drastic change stands as one of the worst things about them.  If one considers this quotation from the Imitation of Christ: “Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone,” this indicates that only lifestyles which are entirely focused on serving God can be entirely free of vanity.  Such lifestyles are characterized by poverty, self-sacrifice, charity, and self-effacement.  Any striving to gain one’s own comfort or to rejoice in one’s achievements or talents opens the door to vanity.  While the excellence of such a life is apparent to all, only a few achieve it perfectly, and these require special graces from God.  So, I suppose the most we weaklings can do is to recognize our vanity and not think too much of ourselves.

So, what books have come at opportune moments to change your life for the better?  Any vanities you want to share? 🙂

Prayer Maxims from a Novice

A sense of inadequacy comes over me each time I attempt to write the next article on prayer.  Either too many important things are left unsaid or I ramble about trifles.  My ineptitude has convinced me not to go forward with that series of articles lest I warp someone’s mind.  At least the article on prayer’s necessity was posted, because praying itself is the most important thing we can do.  Even if one is making every possible error, God can lead a person who prays to right these faults.  But, I do realize that some of my dear readers were waiting for the next three articles.  In lieu of them, please accept this little collection of unoriginal maxims and explanations of them from yours truly.

  • Begin in thanksgiving, proceed in contrition, lift your voice in praise, and end in humility.

One should always consider one’s littleness when approaching God, our utter reliance on Him, and how great He is.  By thanking Him, we acknowledge our reliance on Him.  By sorrowing over our sins, we recognize that all the grace He has given us was completely unearned, realize His unfathomable goodness and mercy in pardoning our sins, and understand that He treats us so much better than we deserve.  By praise, we offer a fitting, though by no means adequate, return for His goodness and meditate on God’s greatness.  By keeping mindful of everything above, we humble ourselves and please God through our efforts to be humble.

  • Worldliness chokes prayer.

We draw toward those things about which our minds contemplate.  Always thinking about one’s daily life or those good things which we desire cause these things to follow us into our prayers, making prayer difficult or impossible.  Striving to consider God as the last end of our work and leisure and avoiding excessive desire for pleasurable goods makes prayer easier.

  • A simple mind speaks many prayers.  A complex mind can pray but one word.

As noted in the prior maxim, always seeking God makes prayer easy.  Such a person may complete devotion after devotion with ease and recollection.  (Though, it is generally inadvisable for most people to engage themselves in many devotions.  Stick to a few for your daily regimen and perhaps celebrate feast days as they come.)  Often, someone who is very busy, bombarded with temptations, or immersing himself in pleasurable goods will find that he can barely pray.  In such a state, it is best to unite oneself with the groanings of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26) by repeating the word “God” or “Jesus.”  (The Catholic Catechism does say that the Holy Name of Jesus is the basis for all prayer.)  By constantly repeating this word, all our other concerns or desires fall from the mind until it becomes pure enough to pray at length.

  • Neglect not your mother

In giving St. John the care of His mother, Jesus also made her the Mother of all men, and she, after God Himself, is most solicitous for the salvation of all men.  Also, if God especially hears the prayers of good men, how much more will he hear prayers uttered from the Immaculate Heart of Mary which never knew sin?  How foolish we would be not to beseech her intercession before the throne of Jesus Christ!

  • The names of St. Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Michael are on the tongues of all.  After them follow those who bear our own names, and lastly those whom our personality and experience select.

Among the saints, everyone should seek the assistance of St. Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Michael.  Then, one will feel closely attached to those who bear their own name.  Afterwards, one makes acquaintances among the saints through their spiritual reading and experiences, choosing the ones which most appeal to them.  Each person may decide the degree to which they venerate these saints, but short prayers expressing one’s needs are sufficient–especially concerning the virtues one lacks or needs help in perfecting.

  • In spiritual darkness, the friends of God offer lamplight to the soul.

God sometimes withdraws his tangible presence from souls in order to purify them through suffering.  Even though we live, move, and have our being in Him, it sometimes happens that we find it difficult to perceive God, and our prayer time is completely arid.  God will not allow us to suffer beyond what we are capable; however, during this period of darkness, he allows the saints to offer us some consolation.  In the same way, the souls in Purgatory are deprived for a time of the vision of God, but consoled by St. Mary, St. Joseph, their guardian angel, and others.

  • Contemplatives may have a dozen devotions, but a few are sufficient for those leading an active life.

Most of us, leading very busy lives, do not have the same amount of time for prayer and contemplation which is available to religious.  However, many people are drawn by either love of God or the delight they find during prayer to continue adding devotions, the multitude of which will eventually cause them discouragement and loss of discipline in prayer once they hit a point of spiritual dryness.  Saying the rosary, often saying brief prayers to Our Lord throughout the day, praying short prayers to the saints mentioned above, and reading a few chapters of the Bible everyday should be sufficient for most.

Of course, if you’re not married and you find delight in prayer and little delight elsewhere, the religious life’s probably for you.

Guiseppe Moscati. Doctor, University Professor, and Saint.

  • Prefer sorrow to joy in meditation.

As human beings, we often fall into sin.  Jesus had to pay for all of these sins in His Passion, so it behooves us out of gratitude to often meditate on His sufferings.  By considering the pain which our sins cause Him, we are less inclined to repeat them.  Also, Jesus looks with great mercy on all who meditate on His Passion with feeling and pours forth many graces on them.  It is a good thing to meditate on our goal, Heaven, but not as much as the Passion.

  • Fill the morning hours with prayer.

One mistake people make is that they reserve most of their prayers for the end of the day.  It is much more profitable to perform our devotions in the morning so that our minds are focused on serving God from the very beginning.  Of course, some people’s schedules do not admit that, but say at least an Our Father and a Hail Mary before preparing yourself for work.

  • Invoke God constantly throughout the day.

This practice prevents us forgetting that our purpose in life is to know, love, and serve God in this life and the next.  Using these brief invocations causes the thought of God to be constantly on our minds, which prevents us from falling into sin or missing opportunities for good works.  One can use any of these ejaculations or lines from certain litanies.  The author tends to use: “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” or “Heart of Jesus, King and Center of all hearts, have mercy on me!” or the one beginning “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.” or “Dearest of Mothers, pray for us!” or “Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

  • Do not neglect spiritual reading.

You are what you eat, and reading offers food for thought.  Only reading worldly books causes the soul to become worldly.  But reading spiritual books keeps us mindful of what is of true value.  The Bible ranks highest on the list of books to read followed by The Imitation of Christ, The Rule of St. Benedict, and various other works.

  • Do not vow to say prayers.

If one vows to do anything for God, He will expect us to fulfill it.  While a priest or religious vows to recite the Divine Office, I don’t think that a layman–since the business of the day may prevent him from praying or meditating to the extent which he would like–ought to vow anything, lest one sin through negligence.

Well, I hope that these maxims provide a little guidance for everyone.  Of course, the Philokalia in particular and several other devotional books, like St. Francis de Sales’ The Introduction to the Devout Life, have more thorough advice and proverbs for you to follow.

 

Tea Reviews

For a change of pace, I’ve decided to review those teas which I’ve recently enjoyed.  With the exception of the Yunnan Noir and Ooooh Darjeeling, these were all purchased from Upton Tea Imports, which–as I mentioned in this article–requires the buyer to be somewhat fluent in tea knowledge.  Otherwise, it stands as a great supplier of fine teas.  In any event, my next order will be from Adagio Teas, the company which supplied the two named above.  Not that it is a superior tea company, but they offer an interesting selection of high quality teas and a change of venue.  Variety is the spice of life!

Along with each review, I shall give some information regarding the type of tea and who would enjoy it.  Though, I must confess myself to be somewhat deficient as a tea taster, my descriptions should give you a general idea of what you’re going to experience from each tea.

1.  Special Grade Temple of Heaven Gunpowder Green Tea

I’ve always enjoyed Gunpowder for its earthiness, and this particular variety combines a nice earthiness with deep, slightly sweet vegetal flavors and a metallic hint.  (By the way, it’s named gunpowder because this tea is rolled to resemble pellets of black powder.)  People new to green tea often try this variety first because certain of its flavors are reminiscent of black tea.  Just be careful that you do not oversteep it or use too many leaves, because these errors will lead to it becoming too bitter.

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Kenshin as a Christ Figure

Recently, the desire to write about how Kenshin Himura of Rurouni Kenshin fulfills the role of a Christ Figure has been swirling in my mind.  I am unfamiliar with another article delving into the similarities between the two, though several forum goers and bloggers have touched on this idea.  The two published articles I have read which discussed Kenshin’s character, Brian Camp’s in Anime Classics Zettai (every otaku should own this book) and another one in Otaku USA, both remark on the extreme nobility of Kenshin’s character.  Here’s a quote from Brian Camp’s article: “In fact, Kenshin is so likeable and perfect that he runs the risk of being a little too abstract to be entirely plausible, but it’s the small human moments with the others that bring him down to earth and anchor the series in a kind of reality” (324).  In a similar way, Jesus Christ stands infinitely above everyone, but loves the company of little children and performed that most human of miracles at the wedding feast of Cana.  (Might as well point out here that Kenshin also loves children very much and often plays with Ayame and Suzume, Dr. Gensai’s granddaughters.)  The more I consider the similarities, the more I am convinced that Kenshin Himura was not based principally on Kawakami Gensai, despite Nobuhiro Watsuki’s claim that he based Kenshin on this assassin of the Meiji Era.  The physical design of Kenshin’s character may have been, but not his personality.

One might as well start with the most apparent connection: they’re both wanderers.  Kenshin wanders Japan, while Christ wandered Israel.  Of course, we run into the difference that the former traveled in order to learn and hide from his notoriety, while the latter, the source of all wisdom and knowledge, went about publicly in order to teach.  But, you can say that they were both impelled by humility: Christ humbly obeyed the will of His Father and imparted spiritual wisdom from his meek and humble heart; on the other hand, Kenshin, as a mere man who may be mistaken about his opinions, prefers to learn and encourages others to find their own way.  Interestingly, the main topic on which they preach is repentance.  Kenshin, a sinner like the rest of us (Few people will create a Christ figure who’s entirely flawless, after all), usually confines himself to elaborating on why he goes about repenting; but, to certain villains who are obviously in need of repentance, he’s quick to advise them to practice it themselves.  The Heart of Jesus, infinitely good and perfect and therefore having no need to repent himself, constantly advises others to repent so that they might find happiness.

Happiness itself is another theme about which both often speak.  One might say that the ultimate goal toward which the advice and teachings of these persons is happiness; however, the philosophy of Kenshin tends toward Epicureanism.  Oddly enough, this Epicurean form of happiness, at least shares a few features with Christian happiness, such as disinterest in wealth, hatred for the world, and a clear conscience.  The poverty of Rurouni Kenshin‘s heroes, the disdain shown by all toward the millionaire Takeda Kanryu, and Kenshin’s lecturing Misao about the wrongness of theft–even when one is in poor circumstances–stand as sufficient examples of idea of wealth’s unimportance.  Especially in Kanryu’s case, where his downfall makes it evident that “Wealth is useless on the day of wrath, but virtue saves from death” (Proverbs 11:4).  As for hatred for the world, the series has several examples of people who become corrupted through their desire for power, whether it be through physical strength or political power, and the time when Kenshin refuses General Yamagata’s offer to make him a government official show how much the characters wish to remain unstained by the world.  Most of the villains who disturb Kenshin’s idyllic life at Kamiya dojo have a lust for power, and desire for power always leads to a bad end.

The necessity for a good conscience is perhaps shown most clearly in the duel between Kenshin and Soujiro.  Soujiro becomes angry with Kenshin because he thinks that Kenshin is deluded in his desire not to kill.  Because delusion is a sort of disease, it truly ought to make Kenshin an inferior swordsman.  According to Zen Principles, any sort of delusion or anything which would disturb the purity of one’s mind should prevent the execution of good swordsmanship–especially the superior kind which Kenshin possesses!  But Soujiro’s frustration at the idea that he himself might be in the wrong prevent him from overcoming Kenshin, who believes himself to be in the right.  I suppose that it would be superfluous to provide examples of how Jesus advises us not to serve mammon, to avoid worldliness, and practice virtue in order to maintain a clear conscience, right?

Then, we have Kenshin’s vow not to kill which reminds me of this verse: “The Son of Man did not come to condemn the world, but to save it” (John 3:17).  In a similar way, none of Kenshin’s antagonists die by his hand, but rather by their own refusal to turn from their evil deeds.  The two best examples being Jin-e Udo’s suicide and how Shishio’s stubbornness works his own death.  As St. Faustina avers in her diary, whoever goes to hell, goes there by their own will, not because Jesus Christ wishes anyone to perish (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).

And in the second season, is not Kenshin’s journey to Kyoto reminiscent of Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem?  Even the true object of the journey is rather similar: just as Christ wished to put the old man to death in us so that we may have life in Christ, Kenshin wishes to put the man slayer side of himself to death.  Also, Shishio is pretty much Satan, whom Christ defeated by His passion and death.  Then again, Kenshin’s friends constantly remind us in this arc especially how he tries to carry everyone’s burdens on his shoulders, which–though it stands as manner he resembles Christ–is actually a fault in his case.  Only God can bear everyone’s burdens.

A picture of Kenshin from his days as an assassin in the Meiji Revolution.

But, this is my favorite line exhibiting the similarity between the two because many are apt to miss the connection, but it really slams the fact that Kenshin is a Christ figure on one’s head.  Sanosuke says: “Kenshin isn’t using the weak as food to feed his power like you [Shishio] are.  He’s willing to protect their happiness and become food for their power.”  This is about as inspired a line as one can find in anime.  (Surprisingly, it is not found in the manga.  I checked.)  Essentially, this is Eucharistic imagery!  Shishio, like evil, consumes those who fall prey to him; on the other hand, Kenshin is being described as food for the weak, and Christ feeds us weaklings with His body and blood each mass so that we remain in Him so “that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).  If not for Christ offering Himself as food for us, we should all fall to sin.

Well, I hope that this little discussion of how Kenshin’s character compares to Jesus Christ will deepen your experience of the show!