Dragging Myself to 400 Anime: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

This enjoyable movie really only suffers from one defect: the presentation of this two and three quarter hour long tale causes it to drag.  It uses the sort of pacing we see in the TV series, but what works for a twenty-four minute segment suffices not for an almost three hour block of time.  One can’t treat the two the same way!  I ended up watching the movie in three sittings and do not think it detracted from my enjoyment.

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The central theme of the movie reminds me of a comment the hero’s father made in Dostoyevsky’s The Adolescent: “Life isn’t worth living without these little annoyances.” My intimate friends know that this is one of my favorite expressions, and Kyon knows this by instinct.  I almost wrote “comes to discover this over the course of the film,” but that is not precisely true.  He automatically sets about trying to restore the world as soon as he realizes Haruhi is gone.  *Spoilers from here on* But, he avoids admitting to himself that life is not worthwhile without Haruhi until the final third of the film. Continue reading

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Jinbee Tsukishima as a Model of Sainthood

The more I read the Mushibugyo manga and watch the anime based on it the more fond of it I become. One of its greatest moments occurs in chapter 33 of the manga–covered within episode 8 of the anime. Our hero, Jinbee, discovers that Mitsuki has abducted Haru, his love interest, in order to draw him into a trap. Once Mitsuki has him inside a cavern crawling with giant bugs and lined with debris and buildings from a destroyed village, Haru finds a way to escape her bounds. But, Mitsuki still intends to crush both of them by bringing down the house on them–literally dropping houses from the cavern’s ceiling! Rather than lament his predicament, Jinbee quickly hits upon the plan of using the houses as a means to ascend to the top and escape! Not only does he not utter a single lamentation for his situation, but he even excuses Mitsuki of any wrongdoing–claiming that she must be being manipulated somehow!

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How many lessons this short chapter holds for a Christian! Those of you familiar with the series know that Jinbee and Haru are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, but their very simplicity allows them to act without hesitation. Curiously, intelligence can actually produce barriers to right action. Dostoyevsky’s underground man states that a truly intelligent man would never do anything. A man of action must be stupid. Why? The intelligent man tends to overanalyze and complain because their very intelligence allows them to see more difficulties. The knowledge of these difficulties stymies action. In Jinbee’s case, on the other hand, he seizes upon what he considers the best course of action and follows it without hesitation.

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Some of the best Christian saints were also some of the simplest people. Sure, Christ has need of intelligent people, and the ranks of the Doctors of the Church are filled with them. Also, few religions have placed the same emphasis on learning as Christianity. However, when God needs something done, he often turns to the simplest individuals. Once God showed St. Francis of Assisi a room filled with thousands of swords and spears, and told him that he should win as many swords for God. The next day, St. Francis immediately bought some armor and set about to raise a company of soldiers for the Crusades! Fortunately, another dream that evening described that St. Francis would be responsible for raising spiritual warriors rather than Crusaders to the Holy Land. Like the good and single-hearted man St. Francis was, he returned to Assisi and set about creating the foundations for the Order of Friars Minor.

Happiness in Struggle

Neither St. Francis nor Jinbee allowed the struggles to daunt them from achieving their purpose. Haru also immediately consents to the plan of house climbing. If we take houses to symbolize temptations and difficulties, should not their ascent indicate walking the royal road to paradise? Temptations and obstacles ought to be met with cheer because overcoming them causes growth and sanctification. God permits temptations and obstacles in our lives so that we can triumph over them. As much as it may appear to the contrary, God would never permit temptations so great that we could never overcome them. We have no reason to be angry with God for the difficulties in our lives–though God is understanding of our frustration.

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For that matter, we should avoid becoming angry at the people who place stumbling blocks and temptations before us. As Mitsuki sends houses crashing down on him and giant bugs after him, Jinbee claims that she must be being forced against her will. Flabbergasted by these excuses and the cheerful attitude of Haru and Jinbee–they essentially treat the attempts to kill them as a game, she vehemently asserts her malevolence, which produces more resolute denials of her wickedness from Jinbee. In a like fashion, Christians should make excuses for the people that wrong them and remember both that Christ died for that person and that their enemies possess the spark of divinity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God.

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Lastly, we cannot ascend to heaven on our own strength. No one is saved alone. At times, we must like Haru accept help; at other times, we must like Jinbee help others for the increase of our charity. John Donne puts it very well in his seventeenth Meditation:

…for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath afflicion enough, that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction…Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger, I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

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But, other people and our own efforts can only help us along so far. Our good deeds and patient suffering increase our merit and fortify our good will, but God Himself must draw us up to heaven as heaven is so far above our deserts. We often sin and must have recourse to God in straightening out our crookedness or indeed even infusing supernatural charity back in our souls after we do a grave wrong. And, we might say that that ever-present need of God’s salvation is symbolized by Jinbee’s associates breaking into that chasm to rescue Jinbee and Haru from Mitsuki, who would surely have killed them had not the warriors of Mushibugyo dropped in at the right time.

To the Rescue

Sometimes, samurai anime can be remarkably fruitful for contemplation!

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!

Conan the Barbarian, Light Reading, and the Wholesomeness of Myth

You know, dear readers, meditating on my past few articles has caused me to realize just how ponderously they were written.  How long back was my last attempt at humor?  (I promise to read and comment on five posts of whoever is able to find that out.)  In order to attain the proper mood, I have stuck a pipe in my mouth and positioned myself under an automatic light which periodically requires me to walk eight paces forward in order to reactivate.  The hope being that the uniqueness of my position causes humor to infect my pen.

By 1redgirl1 of deviant art

By 1redgirl1 of deviant art

(Now to take a short break to retrieve a forgotten and essential pipe cleaner.  Alright, having been delivered of the sensation of sucking the bottom of an empty glass with a straw, let the subject matter commence!)

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Anyway, reading Conan the Cimmerian brought home to me how ponderous my present reading list is.  Take a gander at these works: Cicero’s De Inventione, a book on the War of 1812, the British officer Frederick Mackenzie’s diary of the Revolutionary War, Anton Chekhov’s major plays (you know how those went from this article), E. D. Hirsch’s work on why America’s schools are failing, and An Honest President by H. Paul Jeffers.  Only the last, a biography on Grover Cleveland, may be considered light in any degree.

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Oh, this is a political cartoon of Grover Cleveland. Not a picture of Conan the Barbarian.

A certain repressed part of my mind seemed to click as I read through the adventures of Conan the Barbarian.  Who would not be stirred by reading tales of him rescuing a maiden from Neanderthals, chasing a women clothed in sheer gossamer upon snowy vasts, being captured by a voluptuous pirate queen, and being madly embraced by her after a mating dance?  Pardon me.  This list of adventures might give the impression that any stirring in me was of a localized and prosaic kind.  Let me rather point out him adventuring for treasure, slaying eldritch monsters, prowess in battle, journeying through fantastic lands, and narrowly escaping treachery.

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I had once opined that language seemed more geared to narrative than academic purposes.  I might even say that the full richness of language expresses itself more fully in myth than in even the best tales of 19th century realists.  Myth affects the psyche on the level of beauty more than goodness and truth; though, a good myth will obviously also contain the latter ideas.  In the Conan stories, one is particularly struck by the detailed depictions of the countryside, the uniqueness of the scenarios, the atavistic mindsets of the characters, and the curious utility or opulence of the apparel.  Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, employs a particularly rich vocabulary to convey all of this.  Forcing even a highly literary man like me to look up at least one word per page.  (That’s not bragging if it’s true, right?)

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So, burdening one’s mind with only works of academic rigor or factual events cannot but have a negative effect.  The mind needs to indulge in the beautiful and fantastic.  As Dostoyevsky wrote, “Beauty will save the world.”   It also saves the mind from stultification.  (That’s a real word, right?  Yes!  My dictionary confirms it and that my usage is perfect.)

Well, my pipe is done, and it’s time to step back into my nice, air conditioned house.  Good night to you all!