The End of Samurai Deeper Kyo: All About Heart

The extent to which the Samurai Deeeper Kyo manga has captivated me is well known to my dear readers from my last article on the subject.  I must say that no manga ending in recent memory has quite satisfied me as much for all the time and effort that went into reading it–I’ll likely take up this 308 chapter manga again!  Unlike so many series, one can see that the author had a clear ending in mind.  This prevented the series from wandering due to a lack of focus prevalent in so many manga.  (One Piece, Bleach, Naruto, I’m pointing at you!)  The ending in particular, for all its catering to the fans, possessed many interesting themes running through it: so much so, that I doubt having completely understood it.

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Anyway, let me begin my only slighly spoilerific discussion of the manga–with the exception of the last paragraph, anyway, which contains the biggest spoiler in the work.  One of the most interesting facets of the manga is the clever use of Christian imagery–the cross in particular.  The use of such symbols tends to make the Christian otaku/anime junkie (whichever you prefer) a little nervous considering  the Japanese inclination to scatter random Christian symbols throughout their works.  However, one perceives a purpose to the use of this symbol throughout SDK.  The fanservice and downright roguish characters rather obscure this, but one see how the themes of love, self-sacrifice, and suffering out of love run through this manga–more so as one approaches the end.  (This is not apparent in the anime and must be considered the reason for its lackluster performance.)  I almost wish to label Demon Eyes Kyo a Christ figure, but his lack of decency causes me to hesitate–someone else may make the connection if they like.  Interestingly, this manga is one of those which refuses to paint black black or white white: one must carefully consider the person or matter at hand before labeling anything.

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The ways Kyo approximates Christ lies in his strong loyalty toward his “servants.”  Kyo himself tends to take up the lion’s share of combat unless one of his friends absolutely insists or he finds himself too weak for fighting.  At which point, he refuses to lend his companion a helping hand–no matter how poorly the fight turns out for that guy.  In order to refer this quality to Christ, let us remind ourselves that, although we cannot do anything without God’s grace, He sometimes wishes us to triumph in situations where He appears absent and in agonies which require all our effort–though, it is not really we who conquer, but Christ in us.  This affords an opportunity for growth–if Christ pulled us out of all our difficulties by overwhelming force, we could neither develop the virtues of fortitude, faith, hope, and love, nor nor understand how weak we are in ourselves.

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Then, one is struck by how much mercy and compassion the protagonists show toward their fallen foes: by the end, only one enemy, who appears to lack any kind of empathy or compassion, is willfully killed–nevermind, one other person of a similar caste met the same fate.  Often, our heroes will mourn over the deaths of certain foes or convert their foes into allies in their quest to bring down the infamous Mibu clan–thus, showing the triumph of charity and a good-will.

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The main villain, the Aka no Ou or Crimson King, is deluded rather than truly evil.  He wishes to create a paradise free from suffering through the means of a violent conflict.  But suffering, at least in the current version of reality, is inseparable from love.  On the more humanist side, Schopenhauer claimed that compassion derives from us suffering and therefore being able to understand the sufferings of others.  And indeed, people who have kept themselves from suffering are often those least able to empathize with others.  Our Lord, the Man of Sorrows, revealed the fullness of his love during His Sacred Passion.  We even see an essential transformation in Kyo: as the manga progresses and Kyo suffers more with the other characters, his love increases toward them, and he risks himself more for them.

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But, the very end contains a striking symbol of love (the whopping spoiler to which I refer): the treasure which the Mibu had been closely guarding was the Crimson King’s heart, which he had removed from his body.  Kyo’s final victory over the Crimson King convinced the king to place his heart back in his chest.  Not only is his treasure a heart, but it has a cross engraved upon it.  This displays the truth that some things cannot be understood save through the heart, especially a heart that has suffered.  So, the Crimson King is persuaded to abandon his idea of a painless Utopia, since a Utopia as he envisions would be a loveless place–perhaps, even because people would not be able to suffer.  And the cross upon the Crimson King’s heart cannot but recall the Sorrowful and Sacred Heart of Jesus, which comprehends all things.

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So, do you know of any Christ figure in anime or any anime which uses Christian figures well, my dear readers?

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Hidden Gems of Anime: Crest/Banner of the Stars series

At this moment, I’m watching Banner of the Stars II, which is the third part of one of anime’s most brilliant sci-fi series.  It used to be more popular, but so few young fans know about it that it merits resurrecting the title “Hidden Gems of Anime.”  This work began when Hiroyuki Morioka wrote the first novel of the Crest of the Stars series, which is told in three installments.  Morioka created quite a sensation with this series, consisting of three volumes for Crest of the Stars and four for Banner of the Stars.  He even introduced a new language for the Abh empire called Baronh, with which each season begins and the prologue is narrated.  (Being ignorant of this, I began to worry that I had suddenly lost my ability to understand Japanese when I started watching it!)  Some people have fallen for it to such an extent that they have learned this language, and the Japanese editions are written in both Baronh and Japanese–so one can even enjoy the novels that way!

Banner of the Stars II reminds me of what makes this series so fresh and enjoyable.  Each season starts slowly, and they never rush the pace.  One remarks on the abundant use of dialogue, the subjects of which range from mundane palaver to philosophical or cultural discussions to war room meetings.  These conversations are often drawn out and evolve to include a spectrum of topics.  Only the author’s great skill at conversation allows him to get away with it: these conversations always intrigue me.  One almost wishes that one could be locked in a room with them for several hours just listening.  No character lacks the wits for entertaining speech.  In Banner of the Stars II, the conversation which started as a negotiation between Jinto and the leaders on a certain planet concerning plans for evacuation morphing into one on whether Lafiel and Jinto were homosexual was particularly amusing.

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The way the series delineates the high level of civilization and the curious cultural practices of the Abh are another highlight.  All the cultures are presented in a rather non-judgmental fashion.  Technophilia pervades Abh culture so much that they have developed a sixth sense (a kind of sonar which allows them to fly space ships better) and have all their children designed for them in laboratories.  They are all beautiful, tend toward being quite intelligent, and live for about 200 years.  (I like thinking of them as space elves.)  All are atheists and rule their dominion with great tolerance toward each planet’s practices.

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The battles are intense, especially when they occur in “plane space,” a dimension which allows for swift intergalactic travel.  Overall, the ships fight as if fleets of submarines, which lends a uniqueness to these battles: the ships rely mostly on mines and missiles (which resemble torpedoes), and certain compartments need to be sealed off as battle damage occurs.  Also, the bridge tends to be dark and small–like a submarine’s conning tower.

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The characters themselves rate high in likeability and diversity of character–another reason for the conversations being enjoyable.  Jinto and Lafiel have been rated as the best anime couple by the defunct and greatly missed Anime Insider magazine.  The battle-thirsty and coolheaded Beneej Spoor, who suffers from long bouts of ennui, also makes for one of my favorite characters.

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Well, dear readers, those are the highlights for this series.  I enjoy watching it in both English and Japanese, though the sub is superior.  Hope this article has piqued your interest!  Any other sci-fi series which you find enjoyable?

Mirai Nikki: The Heretic Successor of Elfen Lied

Well, dear readers, I finally broke down and decided to watch Mirai Nikki due to my sister’s insistence.  I have seen about thirteen episodes of this well known series thus far, and find it rather enjoyable.  The first thing to strike me was how similar it seemed to Elfen Lied: the insane, pink-haired, crazed killer, many violent, bloody deaths, and the abnormal fighting abilities of the contestants.  Despite these similarities, there is a difference in mood between the two shows, which boils down to the variance with which they treat the concept of evil.  (I can see it all now: people who consider Elfen Lied a vacuous show are going to hate this article.)

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Haven’t you noticed this yourselves?  The plot of Mirai Nikki is centered around a game prepared by “the god of time and space” in which the contestants annihilate each other in order to gain the god’s title.  Creating the setting of a game does much to minimize the effect of the atrocious crimes committed therein.  All the casualties become pawns in a chess game.  This takes away from the impact of say killing scores of school children, taking invalids hostage, wretchedly treating prisoners, and even creating a twisted young child to be killed for the purposes of the game–I’m referring to a diary holder.

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Conversely, Elfen Lied causes us to feel sorrow whenever someone is slain or even when they are merely struck.  The sinfulness of the action strikes us.  I believe this involves the fact that Lynn Okamoto was probably influenced by the religion of the Lutheran minister who wrote the eponymous poem.  So, we are struck by a sense of sin pervading the show.  Lives are lost; but, the wickedness of these acts are not lost on us, as they tend to be in Mirai Nikki.  So, the main divergence between the two shows appears to be religious: the Christian God in Elfen Lied–albeit, with the Lutheran conception of the depravity of man tainting the world–vs. the rather Assyrian god of Mirai Nikki, who enjoys playing with other people’s lives.

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The curious case of #9, Uryuu Minene, offers the most striking example of how Mirai Nikki‘s world misunderstands the problem of evil.  We are introduced to this character as a monster who’s willing to sacrifice school children in order to achieve her goals.  To speak plainly, she’s rather loathesome, right?  Then, she fails in her object due to Yukiteru taking out her eye, she suffers greatly in making her escape from the police, and endures humiliation, pain, and betrayal from the “justice” besotted contestant (the conception of justice held by this character makes one fear for how the manga-ka views justice himself), and goes on to become perhaps the most likeable character in the show–at least, in my case.  (Could it be a perceived resemblance to Revy of Black Lagoon?)

Then again, I might be reaching too hard or nostalgic for an old favorite.

Then again, I might be reaching too hard or nostalgic for an old favorite.

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How is it that we can so easily warm up to a character who’s first shown us committing heinous crimes?  The suffering which followed her debut might be said to partially atone for her wrongs, but can they really be enough?  Her character even undergoes a change as she becomes level-headed, and we only rarely glimpse her maniacal smile.  And so, evil seems to result from insanity rather than malice.  We cannot really hold an insane person guilty, therefore no need for atonement.

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By the deep seated guilt of many of the characters, Elfen Lied acknowledges that, no matter what evil influences have twisted a person’s personality, they still sin by their own free choice.  This visibly taints their souls and places a burden of judgment upon them.  We, the viewers, sense this and develop true antipathy toward certain characters.

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An exception to this rule in Elfen Lied is Lucy herself.  Her very guilt makes her sympathetic.  She would like to obtain forgiveness, and Kohta tries to give it to her.  However, Lucy knows in her heart of hearts that murder cannot be taken back, that the blood tainting her soul can’t be brushed aside or blamed on anyone else.  The only person who can erase such a thing is found in the lyrics of the opening song to that show: “O Lord, O Sacred Fire, have mercy!”  For God alone can forgive sins.  Excuses based on one’s mental state or tragic background don’t cut it.

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Ultimately, Elfen Lied‘s biggest failure in understanding human nature is the doctrine of total depravity which runs through the show.  But, it still knows human nature better than Mirai Nikki.  This makes it the better show of these rather similar works.  So, what do you think, my dear readers?  Which show really has a better perception of human nature and the mystery of evil?

General Endorsement of Humanity has Declined

I did promise a review of this show, didn’t I?  The only problem is that I feel quite unable to do justice to this rather amusing show which covers a diverse grouping of topics.  You see, my viewing of this show was rather sporadic with weeks passing in between certain episodes.  Then, the episodic nature of the show prevents me from latching on to a thread which I might delineate in the show.  As a matter of fact, the only two reasons to continue reading what I’m about to write are that 1) it’s short and 2) you will be directed to proper reviews of this show.

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The most omnipresent theme running through the show appears to be Watashi’s (watashi is the polite form for “I” in Japanese) cynicism, skepticism, and perfect contempt for any projects or ideas which moderns themselves devise or draw from the past.  This makes her a very droll character, whom bloggers across cyberspace have extolled.  She even takes on the topic of yaoi and manga in general through commenting on Y’s (a former school friend) efforts to spread the genre’s influence in the modern era.

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I thought that Marlin-sama had an article on the episode which commented on this show’s portrayal of religion, but I can’t find it.  Another great article on this show was Avvesione’s discussion of the effect of light on the animation.  Then, there were a couple on Beneath the Tangles which were also quite enjoyable: Lessons from the Decline of Humans and Possibility of a New Race.

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In the end, all I can say that this show was a lot of fun; although, GoodbyeNavi has a profoundly different opinion.  The strongest points for this show are the main character, her cynical commentary on just about everything, references to outside works like Gulliver’s Travels, and the humor and zaniness of certain scenes.  If you want more than that, you might be disappointed.  Though, I wouldn’t mind watching this fun little show again.

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