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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Reflections on Mardock Scramble and The Problem of Evil

As I was watching Mardock Scramble, I thought to myself that Catholic ideas heavily influenced this show.  I wonder whether Tow Ubukata is Catholic himself or at least admires the Faith.  After all, he is known for writing Chevalier D’Eon, which contains many references to Catholic motifs, but it also takes on a cultish quality.  This leads me to believe that Ubukata admires features of the Faith without being part of it, but I don’t know for sure.

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But, the Christian motifs of Mardock Scramble alongside the terrible evils committed in that show remind me of how atheists think that the Problem of Evil suffices to prove that God does not exist.  Believers must be living on cloud nine, happily removed from evil and suffering!  If only the Christians of modern nations instead lived in the violent regions of Africa where where the evils of cannibalism, rape, torture, murder, mutilation, etc. were common, then we should be forced to conclude that God was absent from the universe!

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Yet, believers often experience more evils than most people, not less.  African Christians suffer the very evils I mentioned above.  Even if Christians choose a life of exclusion, as ascetics like St. Guthlac and St. Anthony of Egypt have done, then devil comes after them–at least, with greater frequency than those living in human society.  Then again, who can forget the example of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, who endured persecution from demons, unbelievers, skeptics, Church authorities, and even distrust from members of his own community!  Of course, we should also look to our greatest examples, Our Lord and Lady, whose perseverance through hardships and manifold evils earned them the titles of the Man of Sorrows and Our Lady of Sorrows respectively.  We cannot but know that the more one strives to be good and to attain the truest goods the more evil and darkness one experiences.  If one delights so perfectly in God so that all one’s works and loves must refer to God as their final end, then the very presence of God may be taken away from one–as famously happened to Mother Teresa.

You'd never suspect that such a happy person experienced much darkness.

You’d never suspect that such a happy person experienced much darkness.

The reason why God permits such pain often escapes us.  I can only suppose that God wishes His followers to be so free as to choose righteousness in the complete absence of reward.  At such times, the atheistic ridicule that Christians believe in a figment of their imaginations–an imaginary friend–particularly hurts.  To draw a comparison to Mardock Scramble, the person whom Rune Balot completely relies on is Oeufcoque (The name “Egg cock” is ridiculous in itself), a talking golden mouse which can transform into a variety of tools.  Her complete reliance upon Oeufcoque is reminiscent of the reliance that a Christian is supposed to place in God.  And I could imagine an atheist ridiculing a Christian’s faith in God as being similar to hoping in a talking golden mouse.  After all, do their arguments involving a flying spaghetti monster pose any less ridiculous a concept?

Oeufcocque

At some of the darkest points in these OVAs, I doubt that Balot feels Oeufcoque’s presence.  This is especially so in the thick of her fights and when she experiences the evil memories of the person who tried to kill her.  Yet, her love for Ouefcoque counts as a lifeline for her at such times.  Similarly, a Christian must count on Christ at the times when He seems absent and hell seems ever-present.  One must keep the memory of God alive through all kinds of troubles, remembering that when Jesus Christ felt the most darkness–His Passion and Death–he effected the salvation of the world.

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In the same way, God also produces the most good in us and others when we act with God despite darkness.  So, the Christian’s solution to the Problem of Evil is by conquering evil through faith in the love of God and good works.  Keeping faith in difficult times and continuing to do the works Christ would have us do is more than enough proof of God’s victory over the devil and all evil.

Mirai Nikki: The Heretic Successor of Elfen Lied

Well, dear readers, I finally broke down and decided to watch Mirai Nikki due to my sister’s insistence.  I have seen about thirteen episodes of this well known series thus far, and find it rather enjoyable.  The first thing to strike me was how similar it seemed to Elfen Lied: the insane, pink-haired, crazed killer, many violent, bloody deaths, and the abnormal fighting abilities of the contestants.  Despite these similarities, there is a difference in mood between the two shows, which boils down to the variance with which they treat the concept of evil.  (I can see it all now: people who consider Elfen Lied a vacuous show are going to hate this article.)

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Haven’t you noticed this yourselves?  The plot of Mirai Nikki is centered around a game prepared by “the god of time and space” in which the contestants annihilate each other in order to gain the god’s title.  Creating the setting of a game does much to minimize the effect of the atrocious crimes committed therein.  All the casualties become pawns in a chess game.  This takes away from the impact of say killing scores of school children, taking invalids hostage, wretchedly treating prisoners, and even creating a twisted young child to be killed for the purposes of the game–I’m referring to a diary holder.

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Conversely, Elfen Lied causes us to feel sorrow whenever someone is slain or even when they are merely struck.  The sinfulness of the action strikes us.  I believe this involves the fact that Lynn Okamoto was probably influenced by the religion of the Lutheran minister who wrote the eponymous poem.  So, we are struck by a sense of sin pervading the show.  Lives are lost; but, the wickedness of these acts are not lost on us, as they tend to be in Mirai Nikki.  So, the main divergence between the two shows appears to be religious: the Christian God in Elfen Lied–albeit, with the Lutheran conception of the depravity of man tainting the world–vs. the rather Assyrian god of Mirai Nikki, who enjoys playing with other people’s lives.

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The curious case of #9, Uryuu Minene, offers the most striking example of how Mirai Nikki‘s world misunderstands the problem of evil.  We are introduced to this character as a monster who’s willing to sacrifice school children in order to achieve her goals.  To speak plainly, she’s rather loathesome, right?  Then, she fails in her object due to Yukiteru taking out her eye, she suffers greatly in making her escape from the police, and endures humiliation, pain, and betrayal from the “justice” besotted contestant (the conception of justice held by this character makes one fear for how the manga-ka views justice himself), and goes on to become perhaps the most likeable character in the show–at least, in my case.  (Could it be a perceived resemblance to Revy of Black Lagoon?)

Then again, I might be reaching too hard or nostalgic for an old favorite.

Then again, I might be reaching too hard or nostalgic for an old favorite.

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How is it that we can so easily warm up to a character who’s first shown us committing heinous crimes?  The suffering which followed her debut might be said to partially atone for her wrongs, but can they really be enough?  Her character even undergoes a change as she becomes level-headed, and we only rarely glimpse her maniacal smile.  And so, evil seems to result from insanity rather than malice.  We cannot really hold an insane person guilty, therefore no need for atonement.

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By the deep seated guilt of many of the characters, Elfen Lied acknowledges that, no matter what evil influences have twisted a person’s personality, they still sin by their own free choice.  This visibly taints their souls and places a burden of judgment upon them.  We, the viewers, sense this and develop true antipathy toward certain characters.

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An exception to this rule in Elfen Lied is Lucy herself.  Her very guilt makes her sympathetic.  She would like to obtain forgiveness, and Kohta tries to give it to her.  However, Lucy knows in her heart of hearts that murder cannot be taken back, that the blood tainting her soul can’t be brushed aside or blamed on anyone else.  The only person who can erase such a thing is found in the lyrics of the opening song to that show: “O Lord, O Sacred Fire, have mercy!”  For God alone can forgive sins.  Excuses based on one’s mental state or tragic background don’t cut it.

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Ultimately, Elfen Lied‘s biggest failure in understanding human nature is the doctrine of total depravity which runs through the show.  But, it still knows human nature better than Mirai Nikki.  This makes it the better show of these rather similar works.  So, what do you think, my dear readers?  Which show really has a better perception of human nature and the mystery of evil?