The Difficulty of Interior Change

Recently, I have been watching You’re Under Arrest: Full Throttle.  Those of you who watch the show know that one character named Aoi is a transvestite/trap, who gives no indication of masculinity save for his height.  In episode six, a former superior who knew Aoi when he transitioned shows up and tries for a second time to make a man out of him.  He puts Aoi through judo and other tough training in order to accomplish this, but Aoi persists in being more feminine than the female heroines.  In the end, this superior gives up, and assumes that Aoi is fine living the way he does.

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Here, I don’t want to discuss the ethics of changing a transvestite to conform to their sex.  Instead, this episode reminds me of the difficulty of changing one’s ways–whether they be habits, opinions, vices, or sins.  A friend once told me that a man doesn’t change much after reaching the age of twenty-five.  (Though, many great saints experienced conversions around this age.)  I assume the same rule applies to women.  There is a strong likelihood of retaining all the evil habits one has acquired by this point to the grave; though, they will naturally ameliorate or worsen depending on our recognition of these faults and our attempts to overcome them.  Sometimes, one does succeed in uprooting a vice entirely through time, effort, prayer, and the sacraments.  During the long period of struggle, victory seems impossible as the long force of habit draws us again and again to sin–even over the course of decades.

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Pride and Virtue Mix Like Oil and Water

Watching Chain Chronicle has proven quite fun so far. This classic fantasy provides the viewer with a bevy of strong heroes, implacable foes, beautiful warrior maidens, and a Luke Skywalker-ish hero for its viewers to engage in “egocentric castle building,” as C. S. Lewis termed it in An Experiment in Criticism. This is a fantasy fully in the spirit of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s fun, but nothing within the story thus far has struck me as uncommon.

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Bruckhardt’s fall from grace counts as the most interesting event of the story thus far. From the first, my ears heard “Blackheart” when the seiyuu pronounced the knight’s name, and episode three revealed his transformation to a Blackheart indeed. The twin scourges of pride and melancholy oppressed him on account of the preferment Yuri gave to Aram. This allowed him to fall easy prey to the evil influence of the Black King’s demon. There is no faster way to hell than pride: the way Lucifer fell and the chief fault of Adam. Even the early Church Fathers wrote that pride alone suffices to send one to hell, even as humility provides the surest means to salvation among the virtues.

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Three Recommendations for Spiritual Reading

A Christian ought to daily nourish his spirit with theology or the good example of the saints.  The Bible accomplishes both admirably; yet, it can sometimes strike one as too abstract or its familiarity blocks us from receiving new insights.  This is where spiritual books are an enormous help.

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St. John Bosco, pray for us!

Below, I have included three recommendations and write a little about what makes them unique.  Hopefully, one or more of these will make your reading list in the near future.

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1) Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson

This is probably the most prosaic version of the world’s end I have ever encountered.  Written prior to WWI, Benson actually predicted that war and posits that the world will end in the early 21st century.  Readers of the Apocalypse know that there shall be widespread irreligion at the end of the world: the religious shall be few and far between, and God’s punishments will cause the impenitent to curse God rather than amend their lives.  What is the primary cause for the world ending around the beginning of the 21st century?  The rise of communism and the culture of death.

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A Brief Criticism of Drifters and Defense of St. Joan of Arc

Drifters stood at the top of my list among the present season’s anime, and I wrote as much in the chat of an entertaining conversation hosted by LitaKino.  Then, one of my best commentators, David A, pointed out that St. Joan of Arc was portrayed as a crazied pyromaniac in the show and as one of the villains.  This counts as the most wholly inaccurate and unflattering representations of a saint I have heard of since Wolf Hall, a show which portrays St. Thomas More as a corrupt fanatic.  I cannot get behind a show which calumniates a saint.  At least Joan of Arc’s portrayal in Shingeki no Bahamuteven though it presents a Joan of Arc who falls from grace for a time–still presents a character bearing her name as noble, courageous, and just.

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Calumniating the memory of the saints and great men counts as one of the blackest crimes a writer can commit.  Not only does the calumniator blacken someone’s reputation, but he damages the heritage of new generations.  Each generation has a right to have heroes to look up to and emulate.  One can claim that Drifters‘ portrayal is mere fiction, but most people get their information about the past from media, especially because schools don’t properly educate the youth on the subject of history.  Many people do believe that St. Joan of Arc was insane and delusional.

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Mercy in a Berserk World

While watching Berserk (2016), one cannot but be struck by how much evil exists in that world.  In that way, it imitates our own world, where every depravity has been committed at least a thousand times over.  Most figures in the story strike one as villains or mindless drones.  Few are like Guts in taking a stand against the forces of evil.  Decent people are mostly powerless against evil, and the majority only want to save their own skin–even at the expense of another’s life or hundreds of other lives.  This anime provides as bleak a picture of humanity.  Even death does not provide rest, as souls swallowed by demons remain trapped in their anger, hatred, and despair.

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But, I repeat that this world is much like ours: there is even the presence of grace though characters deny the efficacy of prayer and claim that only deeds count.  The concepts of grace and providence apply more to Nina than any other character.  Her surviving merciless soldiers, monstrous executioners, a fall of several stories, an ogreish inquisitor, and an army of infernal blob demons can only be considered providential and gracious.  Did she deserve it?  No, all her actions are selfish and call for punishment, from her clinging to life at all costs and participation at Satanic orgies to her consistent betrayal of associates and friends.

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The Importance of a Personal Philosophy

The latest episode of 91 Days inspires this topic, especially in light of what happened at the end of that episode.  Angelo has lived without purpose for the seven years following the murder of his family.  He exists in a cheap apartment with no signs of individuality and makes a living through theft.  He constantly thinks about his one great treasure, his deceased family, and has no desire to really live.  This makes him easy to manipulate as Angelo becomes embroiled in the power struggle within the Vanetti mob.  While he shows himself resolute, resourceful, and tough, he soon becomes a pawn barely able to exercise his own will.

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The above shows the importance of having a personal philosophy and of being true to oneself.  Indeed, one cannot ever be true to oneself without some personal philosophy.  The most warped mindset is that of relativism, and the relativist stands as the most miserable of all men, because his stance changes with the zeitgeist.  In terms of mindset, a racist imperialist is superior to a relativist.  Sure, it’s an awful thing to judge other men purely on external characteristics and to support a program of conquest for the benefit of the fatherland.  But, the relativist can morph from a classical liberal to a socialist to a monarchist to a democrat depending on what the majority prefers.  In England, the relativist abhors female circumcision; in Indonesia, he deems it a cultural practice worthy of toleration.  Contention and ostracism are feared above all.  At least, the racist imperialist has objective standards which he is willing to fight for.  Also, because he has objective standards, the racist imperialist can be convinced that his objective standards are not true and be brought closer to the truth.  The relativist blows with the winds of expediency.

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The Fragmented Heart of Mytho

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I’ve known about Princess Tutu since around 2004, but have only just decided to watch it due to Josh W’s influence.  One does not expect a fantasy show revolving around ballet to be this good, and part of the entertainment lies in how little of the plot is straightforward.  In the city where the tale takes place, storybook characters can enter the real world.  Prince Mytho stands as one such person and so is his antagonist, the Raven.  According to the book, written by an eccentric named Drosselmeyer, the Prince sealed the Raven’s power through shattering his own heart.  Though Mytho succeeded in his object, he has become the shell of a human being.  The heroine, Duck, is approached by Drosselmeyer and given the power to transform into Princess Tutu so that she might restore Mytho’s heart to its proper condition.  However, restoring Mytho’s heart brings him pain and sorrow which he would never experience without a heart.  Also, the advent of the Raven’s release from his imprisonment is simultaneously advanced by the restoration of Mytho’s heart.

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On the Danger of Flying Witch and Its Ilk

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Here is the article I promised on magic in anime, which will especially focus on Flying Witch.  My arguements proceed from several premises, developed from Catholic theology and my years reading fantasy fiction, which I shall list here:

  1. All occult magic–i.e. not the kind resorting to deception or sleight of hand–in the real world is evil.
  2. Magic in the real world is evil because it involves the diabolic.
  3. To encourage or to support magic or the occult is always wrong.
  4. In fiction, there can exist types of magic not associated with the diabolic because the rules of fictional world and settings are not those of the real world.
  5. The decision to approve or condemn a fictional work’s portrayal of magic depends upon its similarity to the occult and whether it presents the magic as positive or negative.

Reaction to Ostrich Ferns

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Thoughts on Volume Seven of Spice and Wolf

The seventh volume of the Spice and Wolf novels offers a break from the main story.  This annoyed me because of how little happened in volume six: the worst volume thus far.  Volume seven features the usual bad religion, especially in the novella which forms the first part of the book.  (You can tell already what most of my comments shall be about.)  This novella and one of the short stories were as bland as the prior volume.  Only “The Red of the Apple, The Blue of the Sky” showed Isuna Hasekura at his best.  The second short story was interesting in how it took Holo’s perspective, revealing how terribly insecure and anxious Holo is behind her quick-witted and capable facade.

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The novella takes place before Holo settles down as the goddess of the harvest and concerns two children, Aryes and Klass, who are forced to flee their lord’s estate and find a new life for themselves in a far off town.  On the way, they run into Holo, who makes herself extremely useful and extremely annoying by turns.  (Holo appears unable to help teasing any man or boy in her company.)  The story ends with a thrilling chase, which would have been better without the twist.

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On Suicide, the Negation of Being, and Evil

The anime Bungo Stray Dogs, another called Shigofumi, and certain blog comments have inspired me to write this article.  Shigofumi, an anime highly reminiscent of Kino’s Journey, (For interesting me in the latter series, my thanks go to Genki Jason of the blog Genkinahito.) hits the nail right on the head in the way it portrays evil as the negation of being in the first couple of episodes.  Since many of my fellow bloggers watch Bungo Stray Dogs, my article will focus on that series rather than Shigofumi, but I highly recommend it to those who love introspective dramas.  There are some spoilers, but you should be fine as long as you have watched the first seven episodes of Bungo Stray Dogs.

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In this series, I have been flabbergasted by both Osamu Dazai’s predilection for suicide–which is treated as absurd–and his nihilistic outlook, which shows his predilection for suicide to be no laughing matter.  His statement “Justice is a weapon” stands as the most nihilistic statement I have heard all year.  (By the way, if you wish to read an excellent article on Dazai’s statement and the nature of justice, read Annalyn’s article here.  No more digressions–I promise!)  Dazai, even if he works for the good guys, counts as an anti-hero if not a downright villain.  Though he pooh-poohs ideals, his statements prove that he has his own ideology, which is not far from the ideals of some of the worst villains.

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Examining Old School Anime: Be as Wise as Serpents

Here is my lastest post for my Examining Old School Anime column on Beneath the Tangles.  In this particular post, I reflect on Our Lord’s admonition to be as wise as serpents through the lens of an episode of Saint Seiya, which is an old school classic.  Click on the link below for the article.

Examining Old School Anime: Be as Wise as Serpents

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Battles and Hope

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We’re in the eighth week of the season, and I should write my mid-season review soon–perhaps this Sunday.  Yet, so many shows are about to expire on Hulu: Tide Line BlueProject ArmsMagic Knight Rayearth, etc.  My determination to at least sample from these fine old shows has inspired me to write the following article on Magic Knight Rayearth.  (Also, I did finish the Dirty Pair OVA, which I hope to review soon–and no, that show is not as bad as the title makes it sound.)  This series falls into the genres of shoujo and fantasy, along the lines of Pretear and Escaflowne.  (I apparently have completed five shows which fall into both categories, all of which have a rating of four stars or higher from me.)  Magic Knight Rayearth has greatly amused me by the realistic reactions of Umi and Fuu when faced with monsters: scream and run away!  (There is a reason why history has not recorded conquering armies of high school girls.)  However, Hikaru is much more spirited than the other two, and they are gradually rising to the challenge of saving the world from the evil Il Pallazo Zagato and his minions.

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This manga from which this show is adapted was published in 1993, but its focus on hope, following one’s dreams, and the importance of will power manifest strong influence from the eighties.  The eighties were an incredibly upbeat time, which can be felt especially in its popular music, and that quality draws may people to have a fondness for that decade.  What made it so upbeat?  From an American perspective, I can point to two reasons: 1) economic prosperity and 2) Ronald Reagan.  The latter reason probably made someone’s eyes roll, so I shall endeavor to explain the mood of the country prior to his election, as I have gleaned it from books, my parents, and others who experienced them.  (I myself only lived through four of those years.)

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Observations on How Religion Rolls Back Superstition

Many watching Mayoiga have no doubt discerned that the characters are stupid.  Not that this sort of thing is rare in the horror genre, but here it should be pointed out that much of their stupidity derives from their superstitious ideas, which plainly comes forth in that most believe Masaki to be a ghost.  What is a ghost?  The soul or spirit of a deceased person.  It is in the nature of ghosts to be immaterial, and so they can’t be touched and don’t need food, which explains why Our Lord had St. Thomas the Apostle touch His wounds and why He ate fish before the apostles after His Resurrection.  I might add that one cannot tie up or wound ghosts either, as the protagonists of Mayoiga were able to do to Masaki.  The point of the above is that no Christian would take seriously the contention that Masaki was a ghost, but particular nonbelievers, lacking the education provided by the Faith, are more susceptible to superstition in this matter.

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The concept of religion guarding against superstition sounds odd to us: we’re trained to think of religion as promoting superstition.  Even in the days of Plutarch (c. 46 – c. 120 AD), the Romans were held to be superstitious by the Greeks because of their fervor for religion.  There are even some Catholic superstitions, which often base themselves on certain acts or rituals guaranteed to gain the object of our prayers.  In reality, there are several elements which much be present for a prayer to be effective, such as humility, devotion, confidence, necessity for salvation, and the will of God.  Believing a pious practice will obtain one’s prayers may increase one’s confidence and devotion, but without the other three conditions, one’s prayer will not be answered.  Sometimes a prayer to a lesser saint is more effective because one’s devotion to that saint is greater; but, as George MacDonald wrote, God would “instead of being a merciful Savior, be the ministering Genius of our destruction” if He answered every prayer exactly as we wished it.  Not everything we want advances our salvation or is in accord with God’s will.

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Whether to Emphasize God’s Justice or His Mercy

This topic came to the fore of my mind recently while having a talk with my father on the burial of suicides.  I brought up the fact that suicides were much fewer in number when they were forbidden a place on hallowed ground.  This very practice highlighted the gravity of suicide, i.e. damning in and of itself.  My father brought forward that there may be many extenuating circumstances (mental illness, extreme pain, or the threat of extreme pain) in each individual case, which diminish the suicide’s culpability.  Also, the mercy of God is beyond imagining.  Contrary to the opinion of the Church of the Middle Ages, we cannot be sure that every suicide is in hell.  I countered, but, does that not diminish the seriousness of the sin in most people’s eyes?  I might have even added that we now have people who hold suicide as a natural right or that suicides might now understand that they can gain the Kingdom without carrying their cross.

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We went forth back and forth on this issue, I emphasizing justice and my father mercy, which leads us to the interesting topic of which of these attributes should be emphasized.  (If you were curious, yes, I was playing devil’s advocate above: suicides ought to receive a Christian burial because God’s mercy is infinitely greater than human wickedness–even in the case of something as final as suicide.) Many say that we can reasonably assume that most are saved.  Others, however, contend that this lackadaisical attitude toward salvation causes many to be damned.  Rather, it is reasonable to assume that most or even all penitents are saved, but most of humanity do not seek or even want God’s forgiveness.

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Article Ideas for May through July

My dear readers!  How little I write these days!  Day to day worries and trivial pursuits so easily distract the mind, even though writing posts for your enjoyment is more worthwhile.  And so, I have decided to take a page from the YouTuber Lindybeige and will write at least two posts per week starting tomorrow: one on Sunday and one on Friday.  Far from being difficult to conjure up with things to write about, I devised so many that it shall take me until July to finish with them.  Though, I must confess that I usually only get around to 80% of the topics on lists like this.

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Below, I list the order in which these articles occurred to me.  Feel free to both chime in and steal ideas from here.  That’s right: steal them.  There are as many possible views on the topics listed below as there are people.  If any of you are so bold, link your article back to this post, and, within three days, I shall write an article on the same topic taking your post into consideration and linking back to yours!  (By the way, this includes posts taking the opposite point of view, and you have to beat me to the punch.) This sounds like a fun innovation, and I look forward to you taking me up on it.  If an anime spawned the idea for a topic, I have included its name.

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Spiritual Books for May

Those of you who remember my Candlemas Resolutions, recall my wish to write a review of one religious book per month.  Spiritual reading is of great necessity for Christians.  The Bible holds first place, but the Bible has been called “God’s Hidden Book” with good reason: it can be hard to understand, and the reader needs the special grace of the Holy Spirit to properly learn from it.  (Happy Pentecost, by the way!) However, there are three things which shed light on how to apply and understand Scripture: 1) the lives of the saints; 2) theology; and 3) devotional/spiritual books.

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I said that I wished to concentrate on theological works in that past article, but they are slow reading.  I’m still not finished with Peter Kreeft’s Practical Theology, which was reviewed in February of last year.  (Mostly due to laziness, it is true.) Now, my theologically heavy book is Matthias Joseph Scheenben’s A Manual of Catholic Theology.  It’s very interesting, but don’t expect a review of it any time soon.  In any case, I hope that one of the following three books, two saint’s lives and one devotional work, peaks your interest and enriches your life.

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1) Humility of Heart by Cajetan Maria de Bergamo

This book was written by the esteemed Capuchin missionary Cajetan Maria de Bergamo.  This might be the only work of his to have been published in English, even though his eulogist praises him as “second to none in religious life and easily first in all types of writing” and Pope Benedict XVI claims his work as equally satisfying the heart and the mind.  So, it should come as no surprise that his work on humility is considered one of the best on the virtue.

Humility of Heart does its best to paint a picture of how beautiful humility is and how ugly is its opposite, pride.  He uses many apt examples, especially from Scripture.  Most striking for me is how he reminded us that if humility is enough to move God to save us, then pride alone can cause damnation.  Indeed, that unforgivable sin against the Holy Ghost, refusal to repent, is rooted in pride; and many persons who are considered decent or even virtuous go to hell because they refuse to let God in their lives. 

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Feast of St. George

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Happy feast of St. George to all my dear readers, especially to those of you who are English!  Below, I have included G. K. Chesterton’s poem “The Englishman,” which happens to be my favorite poem on St. George and one of my favorites to derive from Chesterton’s pen.  St. George, pray for us!

The Englishman

ST George he was for England.
And before he killed the dragon
He drank a pint of English ale
Out of an English flagon.
For though he fast right readily
In hair-shirt or in mail.
It isn’t safe to give him cakes
Unless you give him ale.

St George he was for England,
And right gallantly set free
The lady left for dragon’s meat
And tied up to a tree;
But since he stood for England
And knew what England means,
Unless you give him bacon
You mustn’t give him beans.

St George he is for England,
And shall wear the shield he wore
When we go out in armour
With the battle-cross before.
But though he is jolly company
And very pleased to dine,
It isn’t safe to give him nuts
Unless you give him wine.

-G. K. Chesterton

Erased and the Two Forms of Salvation

Happy Low Sunday or Divine Mercy Sunday!  The anime Erased has got me thinking about the topic of salvation, as you know from my last article on the show.  In the finale, Yashiro was given a final chance of salvation by Satoru on the hospital roof: the statute of limitations had expired on Yashiro’s attempted murders.  He could have continued his ordinary and law-abiding life because Satoru had prevented his evil deeds.  Yet, Yashiro could not give up his evil obsession and was caught in the very trap he set: “They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down; they dug a pit for me; they themselves have fallen into the midst of it” (Psalms 57:6).  Like the reprobate soul I described in the past article, Yashiro pursued his own destruction despite all the help Satoru gave him.  (After all, if Socrates’ dictum that the one doing harm is harmed more than the one harmed is true, Yashiro himself received more benefit from Satoru’s acts than the children Satoru saved!) Yashiro refused to be deterred from sin and must now repent of it.

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