The Cuckoo Bird Christ or How the Toothbrush Scene’s Not the Worst Part of Nisemonogatari

Nisemonogatari has been considered infamous for its toothbrush scene, but a worse scene has been neglected by the blogosphere.  (And if another article exists on this topic, please tell me about it.)  As much as I enjoyed the first seven episodes of Nisemonogatari, the last four ranged from atrocious to uninspiring.  Having no desire to watch it again, I could not but give it two and a half stars.
episode-_10_tsukihi_phoenix_part_3_tsukihi_araragi_1

This lackluster performance was capped by some infuriating insinuations in the prologue of episode eleven.  Let me remind you of some of the details of the description of the Dying Bird, which is apparently what Tsukihi Araragi–the main character’s sister–is.  The Dying Bird has been incorrectly called the Phoenix.  Instead, it is the fraudulent Cuckoo, who implants its brood into the nests of others.  In the context of this show, it’s a nisemono–fake–and an immortal one at that.  Also, the mother is the victim of this event.

In the midst of this narration, we see a picture of the Madonna and Child burning to ashes.  And do not forget that the Phoenix has been traditionally a symbol of Christ, which Nisemonogatari downgrades to a cuckoo.
Jesus et Maria

The suggestion is not subtle: St. Mary is the unfortunate victim of the Incarnation, and Jesus Christ a fake immortal.  Tying in the description of the Dying Bird with the picture of the Madonna and Child indicates that Nisemonogatari* wishes to smear the nobility of the Blessed Virgin Mary and paint our Lord and Savior in dark colors as it denies His divinity.  Nisemonogatari, with its constant questioning of traditional values, is clearly a Post-Modern work.  For Post-Moderns, denying the hand of Providence in all births makes them incapable of perceiving the divine origin of the Incarnation.  Denying free will makes them unable to perceive heroes in the mass of victims they consider humanity to be.

Fra_Angelico_Annunciation
Christianity has much more adventure and nobility than the Post-Modern credits it.  Through the archangel Gabriel, God approaches Mary with His plan of salvation and Mary agrees: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”   Once, I heard a professor claim that God carried out His plan without the will of any human being–including the Blessed Virgin.  God is more chivalrous and great-souled than that!  He hangs the whole plan of His salvation on Mary’s lips, and the Immaculate Virgin speaks her “Fiat” to undo the disobedience of Eve.  Eve’s disobedience slammed the gates of heaven to all humanity, while St. Mary’s obedience opened the gates of God’s plan of salvation.  Mary is not a victim, but a hero deserving a special reverence which the Church refers to as hyperdulia in Greek.
Nor is Our Lord a foreign body in the body of the Blessed Virgin.  He took His Flesh and Blood from the Immaculate Virgin.  But, St. Mary is not only the Mother of Christ’s body, but the Mother of God or Theotokos, as affirmed in the Third Ecumenical Council.  Mothers do not only give birth to bodies, but to persons unless the baby is stillborn.  Thus, Jesus Christ is the true Only Begotten Son of God and the true Son of Mary.
Nisemonogatari assassin
Nisemonogatari wished to scoff at a central tenet of Christianity, and they fail bitterly because they cannot see the nobility of God and His Gospel.  Tsukihi’s mother is not the Immaculate Mary, and Tsukihi herself no Jesus Christ.  It was nothing except poor taste and perhaps a hostility toward Christianity which prompted them to make this suggestion.  Or is my reaction to this juxtaposition of an immortal cuckoo and Our Lord too extreme?
*Kaze has pointed out that I am writing inaccurately here.  By “Nisemonogatari wishes to smear the nobility of the Blessed Virgin Mary etc.”, I meant the person or persons who devised the scene in question.  Kaze informs me that the original writer of the novel Nisemonogatari does not connect the Blessed Virgin Mary and Our Lord to the tale of the Dying Bird.  Hence, all blame for the attempt to denigrate the persons of Our Lord and Lady must lie on the hands of SHAFT.  Nisio Isin, the original author, cannot be faulted for it.
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28 comments on “The Cuckoo Bird Christ or How the Toothbrush Scene’s Not the Worst Part of Nisemonogatari

  1. David A says:

    Wow… definitely not checking these series.

    They managed to do something worse than the toothbrush scene….

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    • Yep, they certainly did! Everyone tells me that Monogatari is a masterpiece so I’m definitely going to watch it. However, it’s a masterpiece of the Post-Modern strain, so more offensive ideas may come my way.

      In a way, it’s good to learn about these ideas in order to understand why the modern world is such a mess. And also, it shows what fundamental misconceptions keep secular persons from the Faith.

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      • David A says:

        I’m already aware of various contemporary ideas.

        But, being “art” justifies these things? I think, that it doesn’t. After all, modern art is a farce.

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      • You can say that again: there is no way art can justify denigrating the Faith. And it might become so bad that I’ll put down the series; but, we’ll see whether Monogatari strays too much into the realm of theology.

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  2. dmdutcher says:

    More reasons to dislike Shaft. Also, that toothbrush scene makes no sense, lol. Do they not sit in dentist chairs in japan, or realizes you have to rinse?

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  3. Sindar says:

    I wish I’ve seen this anime so I’d know exactly how this reference was made. Anime making weird metaphors using christian symbols is not a new thing, people often comment on it with “Japanese don’t know anything about Christianity”. I don’t know how much truth is in it. I think a lot of times anime treats Christianity just as another part of European culture, something you use for building your story. I mean, maybe they study the material, try to understand how Christianity works, but they don’t necessarily care to portray it in a way that would be pleasing for the followers. And why should they, it is their choice. It would be hard to make me believe that they actually hate or dislike the faith. When they do a show about vampires and make them obnoxious it doesn’t mean that someone was letting his steam out this way, it is just a way they build the story. Same with Christianity, they just don’t treat it with some special respect, like we might assume would be natural.

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    • Sometimes it is difficult to tell the intentionality with which anime uses Christian symbols. Things like Wolf’s Rain and Arpeggio of Blue Steel feel very positive. Neon Genesis Evangelion and Kill la Kill feel like they are just throwing Christian symbols around; though, I’m not entirely sure in the case of NGE and I could discern some Christian themes in KLK.

      Nisemonogatari is a rather intelligent show, so I cannot but feel like the slight at Jesus and Mary was intentional. A friend of mine who studied philosophy in depth claims that it offers a brilliant mix of Post-Modern and Continental philosophy. And Post-Modern essentially means Post-Christian, so one can expect a Post-Modern work to take shots at Christianity and other traditional beliefs.

      Another important point: most people don’t know that the Phoenix symbolizes the Resurrected Christ, so for them to use that idea and then downgrade it to a “Dying Bird” as opposed to a bird that rises again and also to label it a “fake immortal” shouts intentionality. But, much of my commentary is based on the first few minutes of episode 11, so you can see whether I’m onto something or if this is indeed a case of the Japanese carelessly using Christian imagery.

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      • Sindar says:

        I didn’t mean that they made those implied points on accident or that they just weren’t careful. I mean to say that they may not care =) Even if they understand that what they are saying is an insult towards Jesus, they may still go for it, just because they think it would make the show better. I am sure people who work in the anime industry are concerned with earning money much more than with making religious commentaries. And apparently the audience likes occasional Christian references in their shows, and so they serve this demand.

        But if you are right and that is indeed a serious attempt to discuss the birth of Jesus in some new way, I would be surprised. I shouldn’t be though, even in the West books like Da Vinci Code have a decent fan base, and this particular book is pretty explicit about making up weird theories regarding biblical events =)

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      • I see what you mean. The matter revolves around whether they used this correlation of the Dying Bird to Christ with the intention of undermining Christianity or for the sake of the story despite knowing that Christians wouldn’t like it. Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code would fit in the first category with its very negative description of Christianity and Our Lord; but, is Nisemonogatari merely playing with Christian motifs for the sake of art or is it in the same category as the Da Vinci Code?

        One big problem with this dichotomy is that the effects are often the same. For example, I mentioned that Neon Genesis Evangelion was likely just tossing around Christian symbols, but I have read at least one other blogger mention how this show led him to forsake Christianity: http://fantasyandanime.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/evangelion-made-me-an-atheist-anime-retrospect/. And, Nisemonogatari strikes the viewer as having more intentionality than that great show. Perhaps, I would need more evidence that that brief presentation in episode eleven and Nisemonogatari’s generally Post-Modern bent to make my case conclusive. But, I can’t help think that the likelihood of the show being anti-Christian is rather strong.

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      • Sindar says:

        Wow, that is impressive. I didn’t think this careless play with Christian symbolism can be that harmful. For me NGE seems to be so random and disconnected from Christian ideas that it feels like it just borrows names from Bible, but tells absolutely unrelated story. I couldn’t imagine someone would become an atheist because of something like that.

        I wonder, did you read a book called His Dark Materials? I am asking because it is one of the few books I’ve read that left an impression of being seriously anti-christian. I’ve read Da Vinci Code, it seemed to me to be a silly sort of book, but it was not thought inspiring, it was not presenting an argument or anything of the sort. His Dark Materials on the other hand is really well written story witch offers so much to the reader; and at the same time the books are so antagonistic towards religion that sometimes it feels as propaganda. And that is a popular book too, and it is meant for children I think.

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      • I’ve read His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman–at least 2/3 of it. I stopped reading when I heard that one of our heroes was going to kill God, which was the final and last hint I needed that the author was anti-religion. Though, I will say that the books were very well written and entertaining. Pullman has actually stated that he meant these works to be an atheist response/version of The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

        But, an interesting thing about the modern world since the 19th century is that most people get their religion through reading novels and other mediums of entertainment. I used to be in almost the same boat: I could care less about sermons until my freshman year of college. Though I did pay attention to religious education courses throughout elementary and high school, I’d say C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Alexandre Dumas, Miguel de Cervantes, Viking Sagas, Aristotle, and certain medieval writings did much more to form my Faith than these classes. The most effective sermon on chastity I ever experienced was a writer in the introduction to a Sir Walter Scott novel who opined that Scott’s works made men again wish to declare to their brides that they had never known another woman. Much more beautiful and effective than a fire and brimstone sermon!

        So, there are classes of people who get their religion from entertainment venues, which are remarkably anti-religion these days. Though, I’d hope most viewers would study tracts of philosophy and theology as their main guides to religious thought, that’s probably not the case.

        Basically, His Dark Materials, Nisemonogatari, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and The Three Musketeers are more influential than religious services and philosophical works in forming ordinary people’s worldviews. One knows that this state of the world is wrong, but there’s not much for a Christian to do these days except try to instruct and entertain. Secular writers do that very well!

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      • Sindar says:

        There were a lot more of twisted stuff later on in those books =) It is a pity though, the books would have been better if they didn’t touch religion at all. I am not saying that because I am an offended believer, I just think Pullman damaged the story by trying to insert those commentaries into them. His universe became inconsistent and kind of incomplete. Not to mention that kids probably deserve to read books that don’t try to be aggressive towards any religion or belief.

        You make a really interesting point. I can’t disagree, young people are more or less isolated from church activities (at least it is so in my country; I never had a class on religion and I think people would protest if someone decides to put something like it into school curriculum). And so it is either up to their parents or, as you said, literature, to give them motivation to learn more about faith. Thinking about it this way is a little discouraging, it is not like young people read a lot of books in the first place, and other media (TV, music, internet) is not really famous for teaching christian morals in an engaging way =) It definitely is something to think about.

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  4. David A says:

    N G E could be a better and recommendable show if they ditched some ridiculous things, like nudity, the few fanservice scenes, the treatment to the incest topics, and some of the imagery from E o E. As it is, is dangerous, and I’ve be seen how badly has influenced many young people.

    The setting having a bunch of gnostic cultists as the bad guys, is surprisingly shasp, maybe it was a coincidence, but both of the groups shown there, are pushing for the gnostic themes of the self-deification of man, and they even got to making a Demiurge-like entity (unit 1 in space).

    The problem? the gnostic schemes worked.What could have been better? a failure in their plans. No instrumentality, no workable Demiurge-like beings…

    Like

    • Though, I do wonder if the instrumentality project really worked. I mean, Asuka’s famous exclamation of “Kimochi warui” at the end of End of Evangelion seems to show the horror of the instrumentality project, which essentially destroys human individuality. The show’s message could be taken to mean that gnostic ideas lead to the destruction of the human race.

      So, it could be viewed as having a good message. Now, the new OVA’s are going to show humanity after the instrumentality project, and I’m curious to see whether they shall show the project as a good thing in the fourth OVA.

      A great novel concerning how many modern ideologies wish to twist the nature of humankind because they refuse to recognize tradition and the natural order is That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis. It’s part of the Space Trilogy, but each novel could be read by itself, especially the last one.

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  5. […] Medieval writes that Nisemonogatari “wished to scoff at a central tenet of Christianity,” as he describes allusions in the series to Christ and the Virgin Mary. [Medieval Otaku] […]

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  6. Kaze says:

    It’s so interesting how people can have such polar interpretations of the same thing. While I think that Christian imagery in anime is largely used thoughtless and meaninglessly (at least, in terms of any sort of Christian commentary) and default to taking them with a grain of salt, I do agree the image in question has a blatant and intentional meaning. However, I interpreted it that it’s not that the the image represents the Dying Bird but that it represents what the Dying Bird is faking. It’s there to juxtapose the real and the fake. I doubt you’ll suddenly change your mind, but I thought I’d offer a much less negative viewpoint.

    Also, on the topic of author intent, the author of the use of the image is Shaft alone. I can’t tell who you mean when you use “Nisemonogatari,” but considering the original novel makes no mention or reference of the image in question, I don’t see how Nisio, the original author, could be said to be attacking Christianity (though I suspect you are not suggesting this). So even if you’re right, I’d say Shaft is defacing not only Christianity but Nisio and Nisemonoatari itself for turning Nise into a religious attack.

    Like

    • Thanks for your comment! I had not thought that there might be a positive way to interpret the juxtaposition of the Madonna and Child, especially because the image is burning. (Though, it does not burn completely.) So, I could not help interpreting this as a way of scoffing at Christian doctrine. After all, it is pretty common for atheists and agnostics to point to other religious traditions with common ideas or myths to Christianity in order to claim that Christian ideas have no more merit than the ideas and myths Christians “borrow” from other religions. Though Nisemonogatari essentially makes its own myth, the purpose is likely the same.

      For example, the plot of G. K. Chesterton’s The Ball and the Cross features an attack on the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Incarnation in a similar way. An atheist newspaper owner has an article in his window claiming that the Christian stories of the Incarnation and the Annunciation have so many parallels in other religions. Then, it concludes that the Christian myths have no more basis in truth than the Pagan ones. Such an article persuades through suggestion rather than by rational argument, but one finds that modern man is remarkably susceptible to insinuation.

      It is good to know that the original novel does not use the icon in this way, and I’ll certainly insert a footnote to highlight that.

      Like

  7. dorotheian says:

    Just want to put this out there: there are two different mythological origins for the phoenix. One is Western and one is Eastern. There is some overlap, but they symbolize different things, and the Eastern phoenix would have no overlap with Christ. (Likewise, there is a Western unicorn and an Eastern unicorn, a Western Dragon and an Eastern Dragon. Be careful about generalizing.) Personally, I do not think there is enough evidence to definitively say which type it is in the anime.

    http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/ho-oo-phoenix.shtml
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fenghuang

    But since I am not completely sure you are wrong about the symbolism, I will address some of your other arguments.

    All of this accusation/explanation of Tsukihi’s presence in the family as negative and harmful like the cuckoo story comes from the episode’s antagonist, Shinobu. As such she is NOT a credible source for the correct interpretation of Tsukihi’s presence in the family and in the story. Shinobu takes it upon herself to remove Tsukihi without the family’s knowledge and when this fails, she tries to use doubt to lead the Araragi family to reject Tsukihi, arguing that the family has been swindled into believing she is the real thing, a human like them. Rather than interpreting Jesus in this Madonna image as a “fake immortal,” isn’t it even more likely that he could be considered like Tsukihi to be a “fake human,” a more-than-human in a certain sense? His simultaneous divinity, and Tsukihi’s immortality, are what separates them from their fully human families. These latent superhuman qualities very well could grow into an uncrossable distance between them and their families.

    Although God borrowing of Mary’s womb could be seen as cuckoo-ish, as you describe, God told her of his plan up front and Mary’s choice to give birth to Jesus was a willing one. Mary’s acceptance of Jesus made him fully real as a human being. While the Araragi family is not informed of Tsukihi’s immortal origins until late in the game, Araragi willingly and unconditionally accepts Tsukihi as his own on the family’s behalf. He chooses her, so she belongs. She has never been unwanted and she is not a cuckoo now that her status is known. Though a “fake,” her family has chosen to treat her as real, so she is real. So informed that the family has not been victimized, Shinobu leaves Tsukihi alone.

    In other words, “fake” as negative and “real” as positive isn’t exactly correlated. Nisemonogatari is not absolute about what should be interpreted as fake and what as true: its main question, after all, is, “if a fake thing is indistinguishable from a true one, is it any less valuable than the real thing?” This leaves a lot of room for the viewer to decide, and I do not think this symbolism was intentionally created as an attack, but an attempt to draw upon resonances and parallel stories.

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    • Thanks for your comment! I should have kept in mind that Shinobu might not have been a reliable narrator. That fake is not necessarily a negative in Nisemonogatari is something that I haven’t thought of–probably because Araragi and Senjougahara use it at times with a negative connotation; though, Kaiki does boldly declare the fake to be better than the real because the fake needs to try harder. As you point out, Araragi’s acceptance of Tsukihi into the family despite her being “fake” according to Shinobu does make this acceptance more moving.

      Kaze also thought that the comparison of St. Mary and Our Lord to the myth of the Dying Bird was intended to be taken positively. And you both might be right. It’s just that most often when other mythologies are compared to Christianity, they are intended to create the impression that Christian dogma holds no more reality than the myths made up by pagans. And I took things like the use of “fake immortal” and the fact that the picture of the Madonna and child was burning as confirmation of the show intending to denigrate Christian theology.

      The question of “if a fake thing is indistinguishable from a true one, is it any less valuable than the real thing” is very post-modern indeed! Human beings are generally hard-wired to want the real thing–even if the fake or facsimile is just as good. For example, I can read many excellent translations of Virgil’s Aeneid, but, since I know Latin, I’d rather struggle through reading the original version. To be satisfied with Robert Fitzgerald’s version of the Aeneid when I could read the real Aeneid would seem to be to settle for something inferior.

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  8. […] thought did not at least affect this writing. Much like the Monogatari series, as mentioned by Medieval Otaku, something with as much depth as Mushishi could hardly ignore the cultural significance surrounding […]

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  9. […] Medieval writes that Nisemonogatari “wished to scoff at a central tenet of Christianity,” as he describes allusions in the series to Christ and the Virgin Mary. [Medieval Otaku] […]

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  10. Luminas says:

    “Once, I heard a professor claim that God carried out His plan without the will of any human being–including the Blessed Virgin. God is more chivalrous and great-souled than that! He hangs the whole plan of His salvation on Mary’s lips, and the Immaculate Virgin speaks her “Fiat” to undo the disobedience of Eve. Eve’s disobedience slammed the gates of heaven to all humanity, while St. Mary’s obedience opened the gates of God’s plan of salvation. Mary is not a victim, but a hero deserving a special reverence which the Church refers to as hyperdulia in Greek.”

    Hmm. …well, not exactly. If you’re a Catholic, then I assume you believe in one of the central Roman Catholic tenets about Mary: the Immaculate Conception. That is, Mary was actually, at the time this incident happened, about as sinless as Jesus Himself was. Which means that God already knew Mary would carry out the divine plan before He sent Gabriel because Mary would be compelled to do the right thing. In this sense, Mary couldn’t possibly have refused Him. And as you’ve pointed out, without the free will to truly *choose* to obey God we’re not that much more than conscious robots.

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    • Luminas says:

      Of course, this is where the limits of the world we exist in come to the forefront. C.S. Lewis portrays a sinless world (Heaven, really) at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia, and speculates on what it might be like to choose things in a world where it’s impossible to choose to do evil. He repeatedly conveys his inadequacy in explaining what he is getting at with his “Timeheart,” the world where all good things never die (If I might reference one of my favorite children’s book series), but he tries. And it might be that I just have trouble imagining what free will would be in a world without sin.

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      • Free will tends to be looked at as a choice between opposites like good and evil. But, people choose between a variety of goods all the time. Think about looking through a menu at your favorite restaurant: there are many goods to choose from, and few or no evils. Even if one thinks about sin, usually the person’s intellect decides upon a good thing, but it takes that thing in the wrong manner, at the wrong time, at the wrong place, with the wrong person, etc. Everything that exists is good on a basic level–only certain interactions with these things are evil.

        If one looks at the ten commandments, one sees that most are described as prohibitions. This is because a prohibition is less demanding than a positive commandment. Keeping holy the Sabbath and honoring one’s father and mother require a lot more effort than not killing someone!

        All the same, the problem of the human will does make it difficult to imagine a world without sin that is also completely free. Does that then mean that no one’s will shall conflict with another person’s? Well, heaven is greater than we can imagine; otherwise, we wouldn’t desire it so much! We’ll just have to wait and see.

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    • It does seem like Mary, because she was predestined to be the Mother of God, only had the illusion of choice during the Annunciation. But, if Mary was preserved from Original Sin from the moment of conception, that means that she was much freer than any other human being, since all human beings are weighed down by the effect of Original Sin: concupiscence.

      In effect, she had the same degree of freedom as Adam and Eve, who both abused their freedom in order to disobey God. Having a particular mission from God does not mean that one will fulfill it. For example, many more persons are called to be priests, monks, and nuns than those who actually accept the calling. Of course, a religious calling is far less weighty a thing being called to be the Mother of God, and we can be sure that God made sure of the woman He wished to make His Mother!

      It can be hard to look at religious figures with predestined roles as free, but God desires people to fulfill His will freely. Mary, supported by the gifts of the Original Justice and the Original Freedom possessed by Adam and Eve as well as additional graces, fulfilled God’s will at each moment of her life of her own free will.

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