Arpeggio of Blue Steel: A Spy Anime?

If you have not watched Arpeggio of Blue Steel, I might advise you not to read any further.  Not only because this article is chock full of spoilers, but because I think that such shows are best enjoyed without one perceiving their purpose until the end or even upon another viewing.  But, if you have my own nonchalant attitude toward knowing all about a story before watching or reading it (in my case, an attitude fostered by the study of the Classics), read on by all means.

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Anyway, Arpeggio of Blue Steel stands as the latest “spy anime” if you will.  This has nothing to do with espionage of the Cold War sort.  Thompdjames, a close friend of mine and blogger of Dusty Thanes, once told me about term “spy novels,” which he defined as novels which were clandestinely Christian in order to be read by the general public.  Selling around 150 million copies, The Lord of the Rings stands as the most successful novel of this type.  Few on the first reading would realize that it is a Christian fairy tale.  I wish to argue that Arpeggio of Blue Steel is of the same class.

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Now, not everything in this series is explicable through the lens of the Bible.  In particular, I have no idea how to explain the initial scenario of intelligent robots coming down to earth and taking over the seas.  This scenario merely offers a field for Christian ideas to play out.  If anyone thinks the coming of the Fog refers to the fall of the angels, I wish instead to argue that the Fog represent the Jews.  This claim has neither to do with the origins of the Fog nor their being ships.

Maya never looks that cool in the anime.

Maya never looks that cool in the anime.

So, how do the Fog represent the Jews?  They run their careers according to a series of orders, which stopped coming at one point.  This is similar to how the Jews have 613 Mizvot, to which they have neither added or subtracted since the times of Moses if they are Orthodox.  And so, the Fog symbolizes humanity under the Old Covenant.

This is not a bad place to be; however, it cannot compare to the Law of Love found in the New Covenant: “This is my command: love each other” (John 15:17).  The New Testament requires love as the basis of our relationship toward God rather than strict justice, though love is both just and yet goes beyond justice so that our “righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law” (Matt. 5:20).  This is because under the Old Covenant people were slaves of God, but the New Covenant makes people friends of God: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). 

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Gunzou, the Christ figure of this anime, illustrates this concept that Christians are joined in friendship with their Lord.  Gunzou assembles a very diverse group of friends who are all one in his group: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  Whether playing at the beach or fighting against the Fog, one sees that friendship binds them together.  Also like Christ, Gunzou brings division: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).  But, is it Christ’s fault that He brings division?  That most amiable and lovable of persons who strove to reconcile all human beings with God?  Of course not!  One who seeks to reconcile people cannot be the cause of discord.  The enemies of Christ rage against the Cornerstone and are crushed (Luke 20:18).  In the same way, U-400 and U-402 strive to sink Gunzou’s ship and are lost themselves.  Gunzou’s near sacrifice of himself for Iona is reminiscent of Christ’s death on the Cross.  Lastly, the fact that Gunzou is the Captain of the U-401 mirrors the relationship of Christ to the Church, as Christ is the Head of the Church.

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Indeed, the amount of resistance among the Fog to Gunzou’s desire to reconcile them to humanity resembles the resistance of the Jews to the message of Christ.  In particular, Kongou’s resistance to Gunzou’s offer of friendship reminds one of the Pharisees’ refusal to accept Christ due to their hardness of heart (Mark 3:5)–if we take the mental model’s cores to symbolize their hearts, what else is Kongou’s leaving her core aboard ship but the refusal to give Gunzou her heart?  One almost imagines Kongou, after seeing how much Gunzou’s crew is enjoying themselves, asking: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?” (Matthew 9:14)  Like the Pharisees toward Jesus, Kongou finds herself attracted to Gunzou, but prefers the old wine of the law to the new wine of friendship (Luke 5:39).

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Shortly thereafter, we see the collusion of the Fog to kill Gunzou, which reminds one of the Sanhedrin’s plan to assassinate Jesus Christ.  Interestingly, Kongou ends up chained for her zeal in desiring U-401’s demise.  Who else is Kongou like except St. Paul, whose zeal for the traditions of his fathers and led him to “[breath] out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1).  The genius of having such a Pauline character makes the series.

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Unlike St. Paul though, Kongou breaks of the chains of the Fog’s directives but without accepting the friendship of Gunzou.  What has she done?  With neither the Law nor Love to steer her course, her own envy drives her quest to destroy U-401.  She even goes so far as to destroy her allies ships so that she can gain all the glory of destroying the U-401.  This reminds me of how the enemies of the Church are attracted to what the Church has and yet wish to destroy it at the same time.  As George MacDonald wrote in his Weighted and Wanting: “The world had given her the appearance of much of which Christ gives the reality.  For the world very oddly prizes the form whose informing reality it despises.”  Those outside the Church have no idea how happy the treasures of faith would make them.

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This event leads to the final confrontation between Kongou and Iona.  Iona gives her all to save Kongou from her envy.  The vast battery of firepower unleashed on Iona to prevent her approach imitates the way worldly people attempt to drive Christ away from them.  The frosty blades with which Kongou attempts to cut down Iona and the force field placed around the Fog’s place of meeting all show the hardness and coldness Christ is shown by the same people.  Yet, it is not Gunzou, whom I referred to as this series Christ figure, who approaches Kongou on this occasion, but Iona.  This refers to the fact that Christ acts through his members to bring people to salvation.  I am not sure whether it might be more appropriate to say that Iona is a Marian or apostolic figure.  She is certainly Gunzou’s most perfect follower.  Yet, we view St. Mary as being a more quiet and contemplative figure; yet, in the orthodox and medieval tradition of the Church contemplation and prayer considered far more active in bringing people to Christ than missionary work–though, we obviously need missionaries.  Why?  Because contemplatives have chosen the better part with another St. Mary (Luke 10:42): love purely focused on Christ.

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Be that as it may, Iona is sent as a lamb to a wolf (Matt. 10:16).  Kongou has become truly warped by her hatred of Gunzou, which leads to such hatred of herself that she warps the form of her ship and even wishes to destroy herself along with Iona.  Her envy is such that she cannot bear to see another person happy, since she believes that happiness does not lie in store for her.  But, Iona manages to touch Kongou’s heart, and thus they are saved, which reminds us of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s assertion that no one is saved alone.  The salvation of one always means the salvation of others.  To further the Pauline theme in the case of Kongou, recall Timothy 1:15-16: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.  But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.”  And so, Kongou’s darkness dissipates, her animosity toward Gunzou and his crew vanishes, and her Death Star-like airship returns to her true battleship form, events which show that she loves others now and loves herself truly.

Remember!  One can't properly love others unless one loves oneself.

Remember! One can’t properly love others unless one loves oneself.

So, what do you think of my evidence for Arpeggio of Blue Steel as a “spy anime”?  Am I correct or did I read too much into the show?  I think this might be the longest article I’ve ever written outside of the papers for school I have posted here!  I hope that everyone got to the end!

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15 comments on “Arpeggio of Blue Steel: A Spy Anime?

  1. How is anime so beautiful… I think I’ll always love it

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  2. […] Medieval Otaku does a remarkable job in describing Arpeggio of Blue Steel as a “Christian fairytale.” [Medieval Otaku] […]

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  3. Cytrus says:

    Sorry, medieval, try as I might I cannot find the time to comment on this properly, despite my loving this post to bits. I was telling japesland some two weeks ago that I really want a Christian interpretation done of this show and bam – here it is.

    The funny part is, you touch on almost none of the points that made me think of this show in connection with Christianity, while raising a whole bunch of other ones that I missed completely xD! Suffice to say that Jews did not even come to mind in my interpretation, so yours was an entirely new reading of the story to me.

    I’m motivated now to write down my own thoughts on this show and Christianity. Not sure when I’ll have the time to do so, though >_<.

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    • Thanks! I’m glad that you liked the post. The fact that you were able to pick out many more points which touch on Christianity than are given here reveal that this is a deeper show than it first appears. There were a few other themes I thought about mentioning, but the article is already appallingly long. 🙂

      You might say the fact that I recognized Kongou as a Pauline made me focus on certain themes found in St. Paul’s letters. Another interesting question to consider is which Gospel did the writers lean towards when considering parallels to the Christ story. The fact of a Pauline character and the fact that we have a Marian character in Iona, makes me lean toward St. Luke, the author of both Luke and Acts. Then again, the focus on law reminds me of St. Matthew; while the interpretation of the Fog as Jews attempting to suppress the New Laws tends toward St. John. Overall, I side witha Lucan orientation.

      I’d love to see your own article on this show! May you find the time.

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  4. Iona = Jonah in Latin. And Jonah = dove.

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    • Never thought of that. That’s pretty cool. I’m not sure if Iona’s character is too reminiscent of the Holy Spirit, but the Japanese do like giving their characters names with meaning. Perhaps, the dove here symbolizes that “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” After all, through Iona’s bravery, our heroes were able to reconcile with their worst enemy.

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  5. […] list.  Here’s some stuff I’ve written about his influence and I have mentioned him here, here, and […]

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  6. […] mentioned in my article on Arpeggio of Blue Steel that God wishes us to be His friends.  If we look at human friendships, we might rate them as […]

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  7. […] I was late to pick up Arpeggio of Blue Steel last year, but it immediately shot up in the ranks of my favorite anime works from that period. Arpeggio is great fun as a self-contained sci-fi show, but there is also that religious undercurrent to it that I found fascinating. After all, Arpeggio was leaning very closely to classic Western ideas, despite its Japanese staff. Immediately upon finishing the series, I started looking around for a Christian look at the show, and medievalotaku obliged with a highly-detailed reinterpretation of the show as a parallel of the Bible. […]

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  8. iblessall says:

    You wrote this way back before I really joined the anime blogosphere, but what an excellent take on this show.

    I pulled essentially none of this stuff out of my own watching, although I was certainly aware that it was a more worthwhile show than a lot of the stuff I was watching at the time.

    I wish I had more to say, but I think you pretty much covered everything in your interpretation. Well done, and it’s great to see you working to spread the gospel and help people see the Truth where it is to be seen.

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    • Thanks! Anime can be quite clever at subtlety when it comes to incorporating Christianity in a meaningful way. To use another example, I needed to watch Wolf’s Rain twice before I saw its reliance upon the Gospel for its plot and characters.

      It is a joy to be able to spread the Gospel in this way. In particular, I feel like many people are inclined to keep religion in a box: that religion has a certain sphere of activity which doesn’t touch everyday live–save for virtuous living anyway. So, I like showing that religion is not merely a list of does and don’ts and something to do on Sunday, but a worldview capable of injecting joy into literature, anime, and life in general.

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  9. […] of Blue Steel, complimenting the already broad list of examples medievalotaku presented in his original blog post. Because of those motives, medievalotaku views Arpeggio as a “spy […]

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