The Four Loves in Shingeki no Bahamut

I was delighted to learn that JP of Beneath the Tangles and Japesland was convinced by one of my articles to give Shingeki no Bahamut another look.  As I have another article on this show up my sleeve, I might as well give him and my other dear readers some more ideas to chew on from this Christian fairy tale.  At least, it has convinced me that it is such, but my readers may easily disagree.  After all, the Christian symbolism feels overwhelmed by pagan dualism and mythology.

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However, we have the example of Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis that Christian truths can be reaped from a pagan world.  I have already mentioned how Shingeki no Bahamut tells the truth about demons and temptation.   The present article will discuss how the show points to human love having a divine origin–not only the love of man for God, but each kind of love C. S. Lewis ponders in his book The Four Loves: Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Agape.

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An interesting thing about Christian theology is its emphasis on relationship, which has its foundation in God: “…God is love” (1 John 4:8).   The two things which characterize God’s relationship to his people are loving-kindness and faithfulness.  One becomes sanctified by maintaining a relationship with God, i.e. remaining in a state of grace, which enables one more and more to love as God does.  The Trinity itself can only be explained through relationship.  After all, everything the Father is, the Son is; everything the Son is, the Holy Ghost is; and everything the Holy Ghost is, the Father is.  The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.  Not three Gods but one and the same God.  But the Father is begotten of none and does not proceed, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, which Himself is the infinite Love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father.

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In a similar way that love is at the core of the mystery of the Trinity, our relationships and loves are how people define us.  People develop certain expectations of us from the company we keep, our parents, our beloved, and our relationship to God–in other words, our four loves.  Shingeki no Bahamut stresses its focus on the four loves through the four significant relationships of the show: Amira and her mother (affection), Favaro and Kaisar (friendship), Amira and Favaro (eros), and Jeanne and St. Michael (agape).  (Of course, few of the hallmarks of romance are apparent in Amira and Favaro’s relationship; but, most would agree that more would have followed had Amira been able to live beyond their parting kiss.)  Each one of these relationships is maintained despite the many factors threatening their dissolution.

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The immutability of these bonds imbue each with a divine aspect.  Death cannot sunder the bonds of Amira and her mother, Amira and Favaro, nor those of Jeanne and St. Michael.  St. Jerome commented once, “A friendship which can end has never been real.”  And the betrayals threatening to break Favaro and Kaisar’s friendship are resolved by the end of the show, and we can look forward to more of their antics should a sequel be indeed forthcoming.  Love transcends death, which shows love as one of the qualities which demonstrate man’s divine image and likeness.  The divine cannot die.

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Which brings up a flaw in this show’s mythology: its St. Michael, who is called a god, does in fact die.  How can the divine die?  The fact that he dies and that there is an afterlife in which he says that he shall still love Jeanne seems to show that the series acknowledges a God greater than the gods!  Of course, central to Christianity is the story of a dying God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, but only his human body died on Good Friday, which his divinity could raise up again on Easter.  It is impossible for the divine, pure Being, to die.  So, does the mythology of Shingeki no Bahamut in fact recognize a “God of gods”?  That’s a question for another time.

Rita, one of the most lovable characters of the past season.

Rita, one of the most lovable characters of the past season.

At any rate, this is a most cursory look at the topic.  If only Lewis’s The Four Loves had been more foremost in my mind, I might have been able to make more of it!  But, I hope that this idea adds more pleasure to your enjoyment of a truly fine series.

Akana ga Kiru: Love Makes the World Go Round

Well, my dear readers, Akane ga Kiru happens to be the latest manga to capture my imagination.  However, the villains are downright fiends.  Some of the atrocities they commit make it easier to think of them as demons or monsters than human beings.  The violence often reaches the level of Hellsing (and the artwork of Akame ga Kiru is incredibly reminiscent of that work) and occasionally the level of the Berserk manga (don’t read that for Pete’s sake!); so, I only recommend it to the thickest skinned of my readers.  I find myself skipping pages and examining each page for foreshadowing of the gruesome so that I can avoid scenes reminiscent of the worst passages of Terry Goodkind’s novels.

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Then, why read Akame ga Kiru?  Any lover of dark stories will tell you that one reads dark stories for the light contained therein.  The surrounding darkness makes the light seem that much more precious and lovable.  If dark stories contain no light, they fall to the level of trash or poison—the product of a diabolical or melancholy imagination.

Speaking of diabolical, the attitude of treating people as cattle is pretty much rampant among the upper class of this society,

Speaking of diabolical, the attitude of treating people as cattle is pretty much rampant among the upper class of this society,

The point of light which seems most precious because it shines most precariously is romantic love in Esdese, our heroes’ greatest opponent.  Objectively speaking, she’s a vile sadist, but I cannot help but be fascinated by her–nay, she’s actually my favorite character right now.  Her desire to fall in love separates her from the majority of the villains.  And who else should she fall for but the hero?  During a tournament instigated by her to find the sixth member of her Jaeger team, Tatsumi steals her heart, and she drags him from the field in a manner reminiscent of a caveman claiming a bride.  They pass the night debating philosophy–Aristotle vs. Nietzsche, you might say.  Like Thrasymachus of Plato’s Republic, she claims that Tatsumi’s notion of justice derives from weak people: the strong only need to act to their own advantage.  All the while, Tatsumi tries to convince her to defect from the Empire and join the Rebel side without admitting that he has already joined the Empire’s most infamous enemy: Night Raid.

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Esdese seems pretty cute until you get to know her.

During a hunting exercise, he escapes her grasp.  She tells the Jaegers that they do not need to offer Tatsumi mercy should they meet him in combat; yet, she still pines for him.  She even refuses the evil Prime Minister’s offer to find a similar man for her.

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Why should this be significant?  Even bad people love others.  That’s natural, isn’t it?  But, love is intimately bound with happiness, the chief end of human beings.  If love were not so bound with happiness, the family would not be the chief unit of society.  The most effective governments try to foster the health of the family through fostering peace and justice.  Essentially, Esdese, by desiring love, also wishes for the flourishing of peace and justice unless she wants a sham love–the mere indulgence of her feelings.  If she opts for true love, she must become the enemy of her current employers.  (Oh, what a beautiful moment that would be!)  The rampant cruelty and injustice infecting the country hardly fosters the creation of happy households.

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But, many things war against her defection: her vicious character first and foremost.  Her subordinates are incredibly loyal to her because she shows them affection; however, her show of affection is motivated by the desire to make them good subordinates, i. e. tools.  Aristotle claimed that the wicked can only have friendships of utility, and all of Esdese’s relationships belong to that category.  Her relationship with Tatsumi stands as the sole exception, but if she begins to view her relationship with Tatsumi according to usefulness or pleasure, that will shatter her ability to find real love, where the beloved is loved for his own sake.  Then again, the heroines have taken a shine to Tatsumi, and he could easily break Esdese’s heart by choosing one of them over her.  At which point, Esdese might forsake love altogether.  Thirdly, the Japanese concept of karma would certainly deny Esdese the right to real happiness.  The manga takes a grimly realistic view of humanity.  I’d have to say that Dostoyevsky’s underground man had a greater chance at salvation than Esdese.

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In the meantime, I shall follow with rapt attention Esdese’s standing on the fence.  Shall she fall on the side she naturally leans towards and snuff out the little bit of light in her soul?  Or shall amor, with all its demands, sacrifices, and true joys, truly omnia vincit?

Matoi and Satsuki: Friends in the Making?

Watching Kill la Kill thus far convinces me that Matoi and Satsuki’s relationship goes beyond that usually shared by the hero and her antagonist.  Satsuki has always displayed a particular interest in Matoi.  I wish to make the case that Matoi is Kiryuin’s closest person to a friend.
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This sounds like an absurd statement, especially since Kiryuin places so many obstacles between Matoi and her goals.  Also, she may have even been responsible for the death of Matoi’s father.  (I rather doubt that, however.)  But, Aristotle called friendship the highest good, and everyone desires friends on one level or another.  Even as early as episode 3, Kiryuin donning a Kamui might be understood as an attempt to create similitude–an almost essential condition for friendship–between Matoi and herself.
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Yet, Kiryuin has a warped understanding of human relationships.  Her relationships are based on power rather than love.  She is surrounded by henchmen, not friends; though, she seems loath to suffer the loss of her top henchmen.  Even episode 6, where she almost abandons Uzu, she quickly forgives his loss to Matoi after seeing a sign of his resolve.  By episode 10, two of her henchmen suffer defeats by Matoi, but they appear confident that they can work their way back to her side.
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Yet, these kinds of relationships do not suffice for Kiryuin.  Perhaps even she thinks that it does, but her spirit must be at variance with this–as is shown by her actions.  After all, she busts her favorite tea cup in order to try to land a surprise attack on Uzu!  I cannot understand this action but through the lens of playfulness.  Uzu, having been conditioned to Satsuki’s quest for power, responds that she did not use her full power.  Who uses their full power in play!?  But, her subordinates cannot believe that Satsuki might just want to play with them.  Indeed, it seems like the closest Kiryuin comes to play is in placing obstacles before Matoi.
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Then, Satsuki offers Uzu a cup of tea at the end of episode 6.  Uzu declines his offer as tea is now too hot for his now heightened sense to endure.  The austerity of this scene suggests how isolated Satsuki is.  She sees Uzu, because he comes closest to Kiryuin in power, as the closest thing to a friend she has outside of Matoi.  One imagines that a pang of regret or doubts about her conduct ran through Kiryuin’s mind at this moment.  One even feels sorry for her.  Why have power if it only causes one grief?
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Under these circumstances, Matoi becomes Satsuki’s best choice for a friend.  And so, we have the fight club episode, where Satsuki attempts to establish equality between the two of them in terms of wealth and understanding the isolation caused by its possession.  Lastly, the tournament between Matoi and Satsuki’s top henchmen sees Matoi equaling Satsuki in her ability to secure the same triumphs as Kiryuin herself has achieved.  And if Matoi succeeds, Satsuki shall bring her into her confidence concerning her father’s death.  Shared secrets are yet another sign of friendship!
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Yet, I only wonder whether Satsuki’s mind has been far too warped in her quest for power.  Is she capable of realizing that perfect equality is not needed for friendship?  That the only result of attempting to gain this perfect equality will lead to the dominance of one party or endless conflict?  Will she even decide to renounce her quest for power and recognize that friendship is a higher good?  These are just a few things which make watching Kill la Kill interesting!