Saber Marionette J and the Family

You know, its amazing how sometimes an anime can be based on a trite, fanservicey manga and yet contain a great high story.  This is precisely what happened in the case of Saber Marionette J.  (Don’t read the manga.)  I found myself surprised at the conservative tack it took in regard to the family.  As you know, the premise of this series describes a futuristic society on another planet which must survive by cloning.  Unfortunately, no women survived of the original settlers, which means that all clones are men.  In order to keep the memory of women alive, men make androids in the form of women, but these lack emotion–save in the case of our heroines and their opposites, anyway.  How miserable to be a man in a world without women!

A picture of our heroines' opponents for a change.

A picture of our heroines’ opponents for a change.

But, the shogun of Japoness has a plan for bringing women back into society through using the maiden circuits in Lime, Cherry, and Bloodberry.  He tells Otaru very little of his overall plan save that this will be possible once their maiden circuits or hearts have grown.  However, the Shogun insists that the family is mankind’s original form and that man must regain it.  This view diverges greatly from a more popular science fiction anime, Crest of the Stars, which imagines that people can do without the family.  But, would people really be happy without belonging to a family?  Here’s what Theodore Roosevelt says about the importance of marriage, which I quote from the forward of his autobiography: “There is need to develop all the virtues that have the state for their sphere of action; but these virtues are as dust in a windy street unless back of them lie the strong and tender virtues of a family life based on the love of the one man for the one woman and on their joyous and fearless acceptance of their common obligation to the children that are theirs.”  The hardships inherent in forming a good character have their reward in love.  Without love, especially the nearly unconditional love found in the family, people cannot be happy.

Cherry, the most domestic of Otaru's harem.

Cherry, the most domestic of Otaru’s harem.

But, most people follow the Crest of the Stars view that families are not necessary.  People place economic success as the goal of life, marriage and children are accessories rather than what makes for happiness.  But, happiness is an end, and work is obviously a means.  One cannot find happiness in means.  Because work and generating money are not the locus of happiness, Max Scheler, a famous Catholic philosopher of the turn of the twentieth century organizes the spheres of human activity thus, from least to greatest:

  1. Economic
  2. Vital
  3. Aesthetic
  4. Spiritual

The term vital refers to those activities which sustain humanity, especially the family.  Most thinkers nowadays refer to community and family without using the term vital, but we see the use of this term in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, who happens to be one writer to forget that all things are not a matter of utility.  Basically, modern man–or post-modern man, whichever term you think more accurate–places the economic sphere above the rest and does his best to eliminate or infringe upon the value of the rest.

Faust, actually does make the mistake of placing utility over personality--creating a monster android because it is better at battle than his original marionettes.

Faust (pictured in the upper left), actually does make the mistake of placing utility over personality–creating a monster android because it is better at battle than his original marionettes.

The problem with such a reversal lies in that such a mindset never finds happiness.  And our protagonists, poor as they are, would never be happy if it all depended on their economic situation.  Instead, the people of Japoness seek happiness in community, friendship, or art.  But most people would feel incomplete without families.  Saber Marionette J displays this best in the case of Otaru’s sensei, who has a marionette, with whom he has fallen in love despite the fact that she doesn’t have a personality.  Of course, he sees this deficiency and tricks Lime into giving up her heart.  He intends to erase the data on it and install the maiden circuit into his own marionette so that they can essentially live together as husband and wife–as the two haves of humanity should.  Most people need this kind of love.  If this were not the case, marriage would not have been called the ordinary vocation.

SMJ the gang

And so, I shall end my remarks on the surprising conservatism of Saber Marionette J by referencing the Holy Father’s thoughts on the family.  The shogun of Japoness would surely agree: “We were created to love, as a reflection of God and His Love.  And in matrimonial union, the man and woman realize this vocation as a sign of reciprocity and the full and definitive communion of life.”  Would that modern man learn both that happiness is the goal of life and that marriage is integral to happiness unless God has called a person to a life of service–especially as a priest or religious.  No one was created for the sake of merely making money and enjoying pleasurable goods!

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9 comments on “Saber Marionette J and the Family

  1. Cytrus says:

    Wow, saying that the modern man “places the economic sphere above the rest and does his best to eliminate or infringe upon the value of the rest” seems very pessimistic to me, particularly the latter half. The first half is often true, but it seems to me plenty of people value all the spheres.

    But a great article, nevertheless. I haven’t seen SMJ, though I’ve heard a lot about it.

    You mention the changing of values/drifting away from family as one of the priorities mostly in a modern/sci-fi setting, but this difference of perception can also be seen if you look far enough back. I’m reading the Romance of the Three Kingdoms right now, and the Chinese proverb “Brothers are like arms and legs; husband and wife are like clothing” comes up quite a lot, showing how the loyalty between comrades is more important than family in 200 AD China (the brothers in question here are mostly not blood-related, but brothers-by-oath). Likewise, one wife berates her husband hesitating to risk his son by taking part in a plot against a powerful rebel by stating that “one should be ready to sacrifice his wife to serve their lord, how much more so their son!”. Similarly, Plato’s Symposium mentions how the love between man and woman, pragmatic in nature, cannot even be compared to the pure love between two men (e.g. a master and his protege).

    So the view of family as a unit of paramount importance was not always there, either, and it slowly developed and replaced the then-conservative values. This can also be seen in the Bible at times, like with the story of Job, where God takes away Job’s wealth-children-health, in that order, showing the relative importance of those things in a (very pious) man’s life. And Job is eventually rewarded for his trials with more numerous and more beautiful descendants, which to the modern reader gives the impression of losing one car and getting a new and better one, This family-as-assets approach can also be seen in certain versions of the Ten Commandments (e.g. the Protestant variation), when the wife is listed as the second of things not to be coveted, after a house (and before servants/slaves).

    I think the increasing importance of family was likely thanks to falling mortality rates meaning that family was slowly becoming an actual lifelong investment. The men of old probably couldn’t afford getting too attached to any one person if they wanted to thrive in their harsh times.

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    • That’s a lot of good food for thought! I must confess that I use the word conservative to refer to the Christian past before Marxist, Nietzschean, Materialist, Atheist Existentialist, and Machiavellian philosophies gained more of a hold on society. I think that these philosophies tend to devalue traditional structures in community and/or place material profits above or in the place of vital, aesthetic, and spiritual goods. Some countries in the modern world have not been as influenced by these movements, and so their value structures are much more wholesome.

      In the pagan past, the people of those times did tend to devalue the institution of the family. After all, Hesiod posits a worldview where women are evil creatures sent by Zeus to cause suffering for men (though, with much inconsistency, he writes about the pleasures of having a daughter) and their main value seems to be that women can produce heirs. And so, it seems natural that men would prefer male friendship (or even homosexuality) to a relationship which appeared to them as an essentially utilitarian and necessary evil. Though, we do see a more positive view of both marriage and family in Homer, especially the Odyssey. And Roman tombstones have been recovered where the husband expresses how much he misses his wife and how much he loved her.

      But, divorce was really easy in pagan cultures and marriage often done for the sake of creating a political alliance. And so, if the marriage did not work out, one could have their son or daughter divorce and obtain a more favorable match. Hence, the preference of blood relatives to relatives by law. (I think that was a reason behind “sister” being a term of endearment a Hebrew husband would say to his wife, which we see in the Book of Tobit.) And in regard to the east, according to Nitobe Inazo’s Bushido: The Soul of Japan, the power structure ran from the women of the family to their male relatives to the men’s master to the will of Heaven. So, a Chinese wife would probably advise her husband to risk his sons to further their lord’s ability to advance himself.

      But, I do think in the Judeo-Christian tradition, much more emphasis is placed on the family unit. After all, Hebraic law exempts a man from military service or other hazardous duties for one year after his marriage for the sole purpose of “giving joy to his wife.” (The fruit of reading the Old Testament one Lent. 🙂 The exact verse will be difficult to find, but if you’re curious, I’ll do a little digging.) But, of course, Hebrew society was originally under the Law rather than under a king, so it seems natural that the family would be considered the foundation of society rather than the ruler, as we see in pagan cultures. As Aristotle tells us, all people in monarchy are the kings slaves, and the king himself is considered the father and foundation of the country.

      In the case of Job, the very reason Job’s children were taken away is because they delighted him more than anything else he had. In this way, he was tempted very much in the same way that Abraham was with Isaac. I doubt that Job would actually prefer good health to his children if the choice had been left with him, but the devil does understand love; so, he thought that being sick would be a worse affliction to Job. It does not necessarily mean that Job loved himself more than his children. I doubt such a man could please God so much! And through Job’s endurance, he proved that he loved God for God’s own sake rather than for the goods God gave him.

      In the case of placing the house before the wife, the wife was part of a man’s household. So, this commandment means to say that one should not covet anything at all in a man’s house, starting with the most important person of his household–the wife.

      You make excellent points. One might say that modern societies with its return to no fault divorce and devaluing the family is actually returning to Pre-Christian times! And it is important to keep in mind that this valuing of the family so greatly is probably limited to the Judeo-Christian tradition. And even in the history of Christian countries, we see occasions of marriage being utilitarian–at least, initially. Because of Jesus’ insistence on the permanence of marriage (Mark 10:2-9 and other places) and the end of absolute monarchies and nobility, the family had gained its place as an enduring and central institution–until nowadays anyway.

      Sorry for my pessimistic outlook, but I do believe things can change for the better if only people have a change of heart. 🙂

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  2. You’re welcome! Cat ladies are certainly always welcome in my book as well, though Semonides only seems to care for worker bees. What a lack of variety!

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  3. […] What does Saber Marionette J have to say about the value of family? Plenty, and even from a Catholic perspective. [Medieval Otaku] […]

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