On Drawing Religious Messages from Anime

In any meditation on anime and religion, my major premise is the following: all men, whether they realize it or not, are seeking Jesus Christ.  In St. Gertrude’s revelations, Our Lord remarks to the saint that he looks fondly at people who read books, because He believes that they really wish to find Him among their pages.  This leads us to the question of how to find Christ through fiction.  People have been turning to novels since the 19th century for religion (which you shall indeed find in the best of them: Alexandre Dumas, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and others), but can one also discover God in cartoons from the Land of the Gods?

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The first thing to note is that not every anime cleaves to a pagan worldview.  For example, Wolf’s RainArpeggio of Blue SteelBlassreiterMardock ScrambleTrigunLe Chevalier D’Eon, and Glass Fleet either use Christian elements effectively or derive from a Christian author.  When I write about these shows, Christian themes are there for the taking: this is how I can meditate on Our Lord and Our Lady through Wolf’s Rain.  Nevertheless, such articles usually do not come to me so easily, because the majority of anime adheres to a pagan worldview.  How is one to discern Christ in a story whose author does not  know the Lord?

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The answer lies in allegory and symbolism.  However, ancient peoples understood allegorical reasoning much better than moderns (as is shown by students’ constantly complaining about analogies on tests); but, this form of reasoning is essential to understanding religion.  Words inadequately convey spiritual realities.  For example, we call God Lord.  This same word can be applied to Genghis Khan, Charlemagne, or King George III.  The word lord was originally used to apply to figures like these, but how can they compare to the Lord of the Universe, Who rules all things spiritual and material with complete knowledge of all that happened, occurs presently, and will be in the future?  We also refer to God as the Architect of the Universe.  But, how can someone who draws diagrams of a house be compared to the One who has designed the cosmos?  We can only describe God and other religious concepts by analogy, where words stand as metaphors for something greater than they can express.

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To see how this becomes applicable to anime, let us take the beginning of episode two of Madan no Ou to Vanadis.  *Many spoilers from episodes two and three ahead!*  Tigre attempts to exit (it cannot really be called escape, can it?) Eleonore’s castle, only to be stopped by Eleonore herself.   What allegories to Christianity might we find in this example?  First, let us note Tigre’s utter destitution and powerlessness compared to Eleonore, the lord of the castle and leader of an army.  Compared to God, people are poor and weak.  We must rely upon God for everything.  In regard to our hero and heroine, Tigre has no hope of defending his fief from enemy attack, but wishes to return home anyway despite certain death.  This contempt for his life enrages Eleonore both because Tigre is participating in an exercise of futility and because he neglects to rely upon her. In the same way, people often rely upon themselves instead of God and rush headlong into certain failure.  If only they had sought God’s aid, they might have succeeded in their endeavor.

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But, for various reasons, people are either neglect or are afraid to approach God.  One way of overcoming the fear of approaching God is to approach Him through intercessors.  (An important thing to remember on All Saint’s Day!)  Yet, nothing delights Our Lord as being approached directly and with full confidence in Him.  On what does this confidence rest?  Knowing that God loves us and wishes for our happiness.  After all, Jesus Christ has been described as the Bridegroom and the Church as the Bride.  The love of man and wife becomes symbolic of Christ’s love for the Church.  Bride and bridegroom denote newlyweds in particular, and one cannot imagine newlyweds being inclined to refuse each other anything.

This was a great shot, by the way.

This was a great shot, by the way.

Well, dear readers, you see where I’m going with this, don’t you?  Though their sexes do not match their roles, this symbolism works very well for Eleonore and Tigre.  (Also, unless something untoward and horrendous happens, they are certain to get hitched.)  Tigre boldly asks for an army from Eleonore, who bursts out laughing with delight and happily gives him the army with a few conditions.  These conditions bind Tigre more closely to her, as occurs when we receive anything from God.  As St. Bernard of Clairvaux says, the reward for loving is to be able to love more, and the opportunities for loving increase the more closely two people are bound to one another.  And so, Eleonore not only gives Tigre the gift of her army, but even joins it in order to defeat the most powerful opponents herself.  In a similar way, God delights not only to give us what we ask for but more besides.  Though we are expected to continue in the firm desire to do the right, God truly brings about our triumphs–only requiring that we have a firm and complete confidence in Him.

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At any rate, that is how my mind draws connections between anime and religion most of the time.  One cannot be afraid to think a little outside the box and reconcile imperfect analogies!  May this help other people use literature and film to think about their faith.

Plenary Indulgence This Sunday!

This is a last reminder that this Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, offers the Faithful a chance to gain a plenary indulgence.  The conditions are described as follows:

The plenary indulgence is granted (under the usual conditions of a sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and a prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on Divine Mercy Sunday, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, recite the Our Father and the Creed, and also adding a devout prayer (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!).

So, go to confession this Saturday or that Sunday if your Church offers it then, receive communion, have a strong resolution to turn from sin, pray the Our Father, the Apostles’ Creed, and “Jesus, I trust in you.”  Should you die immediately after that, you’ll go straight to heaven without a moment of Purgatory.

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How many of my dear readers balked at this bold assertion?  A villain becomes a saint in the space of one or two days?  And quite painlessly?  No, they should have to suffer more!  Forgiveness should be more difficult!  But, we are forgetting the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, where those who worked one hour are given the same reward as those who bore the day and the heat.

We forget one more thing: mercy is unearned.  At least, mercy was not earned by us.  It was earned by Jesus Christ for all that would receive His mercy.  Either through the instrument of His Church or without the instrumentality of His Church, Our Lord can apply mercy to whomever He wishes.  Our very willingness to receive mercy, our tenderness of heart, is something Jesus Christ earned for us.  Therefore, we have no right to be like the Prophet Jonah and sulk because Our Lord shows mercy in a manner which doesn’t meet with our human values.

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But, we are so quick to doubt God’s Mercy and Love for us!  In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father does not have the wayward son weep for a week outside of his door and fast on bread and water before taking him into His house.  Rather, He does so immediately.  To use an example from the life of St. Gertrude, she once wished to gain a plenary indulgence, but illness or business kept her from being able to obtain it.  The Lord asked her if she wished to have it, to which she responded yes.  After the Lord’s blessing, she doubted the very purity which she felt in her soul.  Knowing her doubts, Our Lord recalled to her that the sun can bleach dyed cloth to a pure white.  Our Lord said to her: “If I have given such power to a creature, how much more can I purify souls?”

And so, let us allow the Lord to shine down as much mercy as He wishes upon us two days from now on Divine Mercy Sunday.

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The Triduum, Easter, and Divine Mercy Sunday

Well, my dear readers, we have come to the most important time of the year: the time when God’s mercy is celebrated far and wide.  Tomorrow, we recall the painful suffering Our Lord endured for our salvation.  Holy Saturday recalls His descent into hell so that the fruits of His Passion might be poured upon all the dead including Adam and Eve.  How can one neglect the eagerness with which Our Lord must have rushed to Adam’s side to proclaim to him that all was forgiven?  The second reading from the Holy Saturday Office of Readings makes for an edifying read.  In my own case, I am not sure whether anything more profound has been said of God’s mercy outside of the Scriptures.  Indeed, the Magnificence and Magnanimity of God toward us who are burdened by our sins, failings, and the thought that heavy punishment awaits us makes the heart rejoice!

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The one Our Lord is lifting up is Adam and Eve is on his left.

One of the terrible things about this life is that we are constantly tempted to doubt God’s goodness.  There is evil in the world; we suffer evil done to ourselves; and we suffer through evil done by ourselves.  We barely make the slightest progress to amend our wicked ways and often find ourselves becoming worse.  We shout with St. Paul: “O wretched man that I am!  Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)  We see our sins reflected in the wounds of Christ.  These wounds reflect Our Savior’s undying love for us, but how often does our wickedness crush our souls such that we are tempted to say with St. Peter: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).

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But, God does not want to leave us.  When Peter first said that to Christ, Christ responded: “Fear not: from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”  Then, after Peter could not keep his eyes open to comfort our Lord in His agony in the garden, after Peter denied Him three times, and after Peter avoided Him during His three hours of agony on the cross, Jesus Christ says to St. Peter and the rest of the disciples:

36 …”Peace be to you; it is I, fear not.”

37  But they being troubled and frightened, supposed that they saw a spirit.

38  And He said to them: “Why are you troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?

39  “See my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you see me to have.” (Luke 24)

St. Thomas the Apostle and Our Lord

This is as if to Our Lord is saying: “Be at peace and don’t fear to come to me.  I have really taken your nature upon myself and endured the agony of the cross to bind you to me forever.  Look upon my wounds!  Touch these wounds which I boast of because they redeemed you.  I did not come to condemn you.  I am not angry with you.  Do not be slow to believe that God is Love.  On that painful cross, mercy triumphed over justice so that I can show mercy to whoever comes to me.”

But, God’s mercy did not stop with forgiving us and saving us from eternal death.  He raised humanity above the angels and promised us a glorified body like the one in which He rose on Easter Sunday.  And by the indwelling of His grace, we can come to imitate His divine perfections and His most divine life.  All the above is accomplished through God’s grace.  The sole thing God asks from us is a good will, which He Himself grants and strengthens, to correspond with these graces.

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And yet, we are sometimes more willing to suffer for our sins than receive mercy for them.  When life turns difficult, we get the impression that God is punishing us for our sins–how do we know that we suffered X, Y, and Z because of our sins?  Such thoughts only impress upon us the idea that God is a wrathful judge!  Jesus Christ did not undergo the crucifixion so that He can be wrathful, but so that he can show mercy in super-abundance.

Hence, I should like to remind my Catholic readers that, besides our Easter duty to confess if we have committed a mortal sin in the past year and to receive Holy Communion at least once during Lent, we ought to gain a plenary indulgence on Divine Mercy Sunday (April 27).  This is how Our Lord’s revelation to St. Faustina describes it:

Ask of my faithful servant [Father Sopocko] that, on this day, he will tell the world of My great mercy; that whoever approaches the Fount of Life on this day will be granted complete remission of sins and punishment.

Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to my mercy.

Oh, how much I am hurt by a soul’s distrust!  Such  a soul professes that I am Holy and Just, but does not believe that I am Mercy and does not trust in My Goodness.  Even the devils glorify my Justice but do not believe in My Goodness.  My heart rejoices in this title of Mercy.  (Divine Mercy in My Soul, paragraph 300)

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These are the instructions for the indulgence:

The plenary indulgence is granted (under the usual conditions of a sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and a prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on Divine Mercy Sunday, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, recite the Our Father and the Creed, and also adding a devout prayer (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!).

So, go to confession again on Saturday, April 26th, and follow the rest of the instructions.  What do you have to lose?  Don’t say to yourself: “It sounds like cheating.  I deserve to be punished for my sins.”  Such hardness of heart!  Do you think that God prefers seeing you suffer for your sins over seeing you as clean as new fallen snow?  That He rejoices in your pain?  Of course not!  Rather, He would much rather bring you straight into heaven without judgment!  So, focus on God’s Mercy this Easter and celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy in all its fullness.

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia and the Problem of Pride

One of the things which I admire about anime is that when one feels like one has seen the same plot a million times over, the same characters ten million times, and the same school classrooms a hundred million times over, a show will surface to blow one’s expectations and remind one why anime was so appealing in the first place.  This little one season show, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, stands head and shoulders above most anime for the profundity of its message.  I feel an eternal debt of gratitude toward Marlin-sama of Ashita no Anime for intriguing me enough to pick it up.  Among its themes, the refusal of its heroine to acknowledge her dark past and believing that she should be loved less if the hero discovered it reminds me of the folly of pride which believers can enmesh themselves in relation to God.

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Dusk Maiden of Amnesia has an interesting portrayal of pride in the mind of Yuuko, the ghost for whom Niiya, the protagonist, falls in love.  She has a light side which has expunged all the memories of suffering, bitterness, and hatred which she suffered in her past, and a dark side which remembers only these painful moments and can only feel these negative emotions.  This split is so complete that they appear as different persons.  We, dear readers, similarly have darkness and light within us; but most of us, however much we may minimize this darkness, never fall into that greatest temptation of pride: to cast off this dark side from our consciousness and to distort reality to the extent that we consider ourselves angels.

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But, Yuuko does have more of an excuse than most of us.  After all, she was sacrificed by superstitious pagans so that an epidemic might cease. (Perhaps superstitious is an unneeded modifier.  Can one truly be a pagan without being superstitious?  Oh, well.  That’s a question for another blogger.)  Nor was this a quick death: she was left to die alone of suffocation or of starvation in pitch blackness while suffering the agony of a broken leg at around 15 or 16 years of age.  All of this while thoughts of envy toward her best friend and hatred toward those who abandoned her there swirled in her mind.  That’s a memory I’m sure most of us would desire effaced!

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Yet, we are not walking according to the truth if we disown our suffering, evil thoughts, and dark deeds.  And do we not own our dark side more truly than than our good side?  After all, we cannot maintain the least virtue, perform a single good deed, or have one good thought apart from God, who aids us by His own divine life.  On the other hand, we can do all sorts of sins on our own and would even plummet into utter vileness if not prevented by His grace.  St. Philip Neri once remarked as he saw a condemned man passing him on the road: “There goes Philip Neri but for the grace of God.”  Nor is this arrangement unfair: how many sins have I myself committed despite receiving the grace to will otherwise?  How many times have I consented to sin without lifting up a single prayer so that I might will good instead of evil?  Or did pray, but never wanted to form the wholehearted will to shun what might be more delightful to the senses or sweeter to my ego?

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At any rate, Yuuko further compounds her darkness by believing that Niiya won’t love her if she has any darkness or suffering in her.  This is not true: we are all loved by the people in our lives in spite of our defects.  How much more ought we trust that God loves us in spite of our wickedness?  As believers love to repeat, God’s love is unconditional.  Even in the midst of mortal sin by which we deserve to be sent straight to hell, God does not cease loving us and strives to turn us to repentance.  Yet, I believe people growing in goodness are more susceptible to this form of pride than outright sinners.  Somehow, the delusion intrudes that God loves us because of our good deeds rather than simply because He made us and thought it delightful that we should be with Him in paradise forever.  Then, we start forgetting our wicked deeds or minimizing them under the delusion that God somehow loves us more infinitely for being good!

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Yuuko’s desire to forget her painful past becomes so extreme that she further effaces her memories of Niiya.  You see, Niiya had absorbed the dark side’s, Shadow Yuuko’s, terrible memories and Yuuko cannot help reliving them when she touches Niiya.  Therefore, she blocks Niiya’s presence from her vision.  Even though she strongly desires to see him again and stays in the same vicinity as him, she cannot see him.  At last, the only way that they can communicate is by writing notes to each other in a notebook.

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Is this not rather like a Christian who in his mad drive to forget the memory of his sins even avoids the sight of a crucifix?  I think it no accident that in one episode we see two images of a cross: one made by Niiya and Kanoe’s shadows crossing and the other one of light.  For, the cross is painful because we see our sins in the wounds of Christ, but these very wounds bring us in the light of Christ’s presence.  And Niiya and Yuuko exchanging notes is rather like how a Christian soul, when frustrated at not feeling God’s presence, will turn to the Scriptures–all the while yearning for the embrace of the One who loves her.

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Then, that beautiful scene occurs in their club’s room, the Paranormal Investigation Club.  Niiya takes a bat and begins shattering everything in the room in order to get Yuuko’s attention.  Furthermore, his actions bring Shadow Yuuko into focus for Yuuko at the same time.  This is reminiscent of St. Augustine’s Confessions:

You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.

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In this scene, we find that Niiya wishes especially to speak to Shadow Yuuko and embraces her, saying that he loves Shadow Yuuko too, because Yuuko and Shadow Yuuko are the same person.  In the same way, though Jesus hates the least speck of sin in our souls, He loves us entire.  He wishes to love us in pain as well as in joy, which is so plainly figured in the cross as Jesus endures all the pain caused by pain and suffering in our lives out of pure love for us.  The confession of love by Niiya allows for both halves of Yuuko to come together, forming Yuuko into a complete person.

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Since God loves us as a complete person, there is no need to attempt hiding our sinful selves from Him.  Rather, let us contemplate the Crucifix in which we clearly see our sins in the holes in Christ’s hands and feet, the pierced side, the crowning of thorns, and the anguished expression on His countenance, knowing that it is through means of these wounds that we are bound to Him forever.

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Speaking of forever (Big spoiler coming!  If you’re the kind of person who absolutely cant’s endure them, don’t read on!), I expected Yuuko to disappear in the last episode–the natural end for ghost stories like this.  And indeed, with her regrets being solved and the integrity of her person, she does disappear for a while, leaving Niiya in great sorrow.  Does this not remind us of how we desire heaven, where we shall be reunited with our loved ones and love shall endure in perfection forever?  It seems, however, that Niiya’s last kiss produced a new regret in Yuuko: she now desires many more kisses.  Truly, love is never exhausted!  Since this is a love story first and foremost, Catullus 5 powerfully comes to mind:

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,
and let us judge all the rumors of the old men
to be worth just one penny!
The suns are able to fall and rise:
When that brief light has fallen for us,
we must sleep a never ending night.
Give me a thousand kisses, then another hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
then yet another thousand more, then another hundred.
Then, when we have made many thousands,
we will mix them all up so that we don’t know,
and so that no one can be jealous of us when he finds out
how many kisses we have shared.

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