Happy Easter to All!

Happy Easter, my dear readers!  Christus resurrexit!  Resurrexit sicut dixit!  Alleluia!  Today, we celebrate Christ’s double victory over sin and death, a share of which victory Christ offers to all humanity.  Though we are yet troubled by sin in this life, we shall one day cease to offend God and men and no longer be troubled by the effects of human wickedness in ourselves and others.  Though we all shall die, death has been transformed into the entrance to life illimitable.  How great the reward, and how little God asks of us!  Even if our malice, weakness, and ignorance frequently cause us to fall short of God’s commands, repentance continually brings us ever closer to God despite many falls.

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Recently, I made the happy discovery of another “Dante class anime”: Blood Blockade Battlefront.  (See the page Anime for Christians for a description of “Dante class anime.”)  Many who have seen this anime might thinks that monsters are the only thing Blood Blockade Battlefront has in common with The Divine Comedy.  But, Christian themes are intentionally used throughout the show.  I was first alerted to the possibility of this when Mary MacBeth says that people commit the same wrongs they did two thousand years ago when Christ came to earth.

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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.

Shadowy Zagato

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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Laughing into the Abyss: the Role of Laughter in Ashita no Joe

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The desire to write another article on Ashita no Joe has chaffed me for a long time.  Considering that Ashita no Joe contains as many themes as Hamlet or King Lear, I have no fear that I shall exhaust the topics I can use for my upcoming column on Beneath the Tangles.  Before I get into the idea of laughing into the abyss, watch the following clip–it’s short.

Frightening and insane, isn’t it?  About thirty percent of all the laughter in Ashita no Joe partakes of some insanity, another thirty percent strikes the ears as pathetic, and much of the rest is derisive.  The laughter is not happy because few of the main characters are.  Our heroes struggle against nihilism after obstacle after obstacle is placed in their attempt to realize a truly human life.  Before the eyes of Joe Yabuki, whose heart has taken a glacial hardness, and before the eyes of Danpei Tange, whose everyday life revolves around draining saké bottles, there lies a great and unfathomable abyss.  These two heroes start out at rock bottom.  The very uselessness of their lives renders Danpei’s laughter pathetic and imbues Joe’s with scorn.

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“Joe Yabuki isn’t Some Sandbag” : The Greatest Boxing Epic Ever

After watching twenty-nine episodes of Ashita no Joe, the time seems ripe to tell my dear readers about why I have become addicted to it.  In the past couple of weeks, I have only twice turned my attention to other anime: Rolling Girls and Angel Cop.  But, I might be forgiven for my narrow viewing by the fact that Ashita no Joe renders everything else mediocre in comparison–especially more recent anime.  Don’t get me wrong.   Rolling Girls is entertaining, Aldnoah.Zero 2 will likely be quite good, and Yuri Kuma Arashi just might find itself on my watch list.  But, none of these has a prayer of meeting the quality of Ashita no Joe.

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So, what makes Ashita no Joe so great?  It’s strongest suit is the characters.  Our hero might be the worst jerk you’ve ever seen; but, Joe Yabuki feels surprisingly real, and certain moments of his characters development blow one’s mind.  The Aoyama Arc’s conclusion almost made me fall out of my chair!  Sometimes you root for Joe, at other times you pity him, and much of the time you want to see him knocked flat.  With Joe’s proclivity for fighting everyone and everything, one does see that time and time again.  Yet, Joe always gets back up.

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The Final Temptation of Jeanne D’Arc

In watching Shingeki no Bahamutsine dubio the best show of the past season, the temptation of Jeanne D’Arc struck me enough to produce the present article.  Their portrayal of demons and how they tempt people advancing in virtue is very true to reality.  Note well, the devil does not tempt everybody in the way that Jeanne was tempted but only the virtuous.

Jeanne at the stake

According to Aristotle, there exist four kinds of people in the quest for virtue.  Well, Aristotle does list two more; but one is a worse state of the vicious man, and the other is lukewarm.  Neither are especially important to my arguments here or to Aristotle himself.  The four classes consist of the vicious, the inconstant, constant, and the virtuous.  The vicious freely and painlessly commit sins out of habit; the inconstant fall often though they intend to do the right and are pained by their sins; the constant avoid wrongdoing even though the practice of virtue feels painful to them; and the virtuous joyfully and often painlessly do the right thing.  The devil does not bother to tempt the vicious, sometimes finds it necessary to tempt the second, fights against the progress of the third, and–in his bitterness at their good fortune–wages total war against those sane individuals who love the practice of virtue.

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Most of us are slightly insane in believing that sinful deeds are good for us.  We believe so either because of the pleasure obtained in the sinful act (occasions of lust, sloth, or gluttony come to mind) or because sinning appears to be to our advantage (e.g. theft or destroying a personal enemy’s reputation through slander and detraction).  On the other hand, the virtuous make for very difficult targets for the devil, because not only do their minds and will tend toward the right but even their affections and emotions.  Every sin repulses them, no matter how apparently advantageous or pleasurable, while the thought of any good deed spurs them to action no matter how arduous, self-effacing, or painful.  They possess true wisdom and solid good habits.  So how does the devil make war on them?

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We see the answer in Jeanne D’Arc’s temptation, which spans episodes nine and ten: the devil assaults them with darkness in order to take away their wisdom.  Not only does Martinet try to make the sinful desirable for Jeanne but even persuades her that goodness itself does not exist.  Martinet mocks her belief that she is a holy knight and states flatly that the gods have abandoned her.  Jeanne makes the fatal mistake, which everyone makes, of actually talking to the devil and engaging with his ideas instead of treating them with contempt.  Demons lack all wisdom and deal exclusively in lies–no matter how persuasive their words or how close they seem to match reality.  By engaging with them, we only become entangled and influenced by them.  Our Lord provides the perfect example of how to deal with devils when He does not permit them to speak (Mark 1:25 and 1:34).

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Shingeki no Bahamut‘s gods are finite beings; therefore, they did indeed abandon her.  However, when the devil tells us that God has abandoned us, we ought instead understand that the devil is panicking in seeing that God works ever more strongly in perfecting our souls.  In Jeanne’s case, Martinet even resorts to impersonating the gods in order to induce despair into her soul.  I can think of two saints against whom the devil has impersonated Our Lord: St. Martin of Tours and St. Padre Pio.  The people of St. Martin’s time esteemed him as equal to the apostles.  Padre Pio is the greatest saint of modern times.  Both saw through the devil’s schemes.  The more hotly pursued we are by evil, the more tightly God binds us to Himself: “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

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Sadly, Jeanne allows her mind to become so disturbed by the abandonment of the divine and the problem of evil that she drinks Martinet’s poison.  Similarly, if we allow despair and distrust of God to guide our choices, we shall doff our wisdom, imprudently indulge our senses, and eventually drink the poison of the vices.  Fortunately, such failings do not turn us instantly into demons!  But, how shameful for someone who has been given so many graces and the honor of participating more in Christ’s Passion than other people to not only distrust God but to show Him scorn!  Surely, God will bring down many punishments upon such people and abandon them to the deepest hell!

Our Lord Jesus Christ descending into hell on Good Friday.  He grasps Adam by the hand in order to lead him to paradise.

Our Lord Jesus Christ descending into hell on Good Friday. He grasps Adam by the hand in order to lead him to paradise.

No, God is infinitely more merciful than even St. Michael in Shingeki no Bahamut.  As St. Bernard of Clairvaux writes, “When we fly from Thee, Thou pursue us; when we turn our backs, Thou present Thyself before us; when we despise Thee, Thou entreat us; and there is neither insult nor contempt which hinders Thee from laboring unweariedly to bring us to the attainment of that which the eye has not seen, nor ear heard, and which the heart of man cannot comprehend.” People are weak and ignorant, stray from the truth, and sin.  However, God is ever faithful, even if we are unfaithful: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).  God Himself restores the light lost amidst darkness and the faith lost in bitter trials.  This restoration may take a long time, but we are assured to be more blessed then than we were before–as was the case with Job.  No matter how dark and bitter our present circumstances, God never swerves from being generous, good, merciful and caring.

Inuyasha and Beating the Devil

Inuyasha stood as my third favorite anime, but finishing Inuyasha: The Final Act gives me no choice but to bump it back into second place ahead of Code Geass.  Yes, the final installment of the series was enough to cover for any faults in the first several seasons.  The whole series focuses on the battle between good and evil.  Such shows and books are a dime a dozen, but Inuyasha parallels reality closely enough to catapult it to greatness.  In particular, Naraku very nearly captures the attitudes and wiles of the devil, and Inuyasha and his friends show how to beat the devil.

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#1 Good always wins.

This is the first and most important rule.  One must always act with this truth in mind lest one be taken down by despair.  Even if we are plagued with defeats, we must remember that an All-Powerful and All-Merciful God desires to hand us the victory which He won for us, and so we have great reason to hope, do penance, and continue doing good.  Naraku in particular tries to fill Inuyasha and his friends with despair.

The only thing to do is to keep fighting without believing the evil one’s lies.  As St. Anthony of the Desert (from whom I draw many of these maxims) said, Christ has defeated Satan so that the devils are powerless–they can only threaten.  They are no more than playthings for us Christians no matter how frightful they appear.  Christ always is ready to give us the power for victory, unless too much pride prevents his grace from being efficacious in us.  But these very falls provide reason for humility and allow for us to be victorious through God’s grace later.

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#2 Evil is best fought by the greathearted virtues of faith, hope, charity, and courage.

We see this especially in scenes like Sesshoumaru unhesitatingly entering the insides of Naraku, who has become a giant spider, in order to save Rin or Inuyasha jumping into the underworld to save Kagome.  Also, the utter reliance Kagome places in Inuyasha offers us a great symbol of faith: she does not fear falling into dark abysses, knowing that Inuyasha will save her.  We Christians should also not fear the darkness, knowing that we not only have a powerful savior, but an omnipotent and omnibenevolent Savior.

Evil cannot be conquered by excessive anxiety or worrying.  This is the fault of scrupulous people.  (Yours truly is guilty as charged.)  If we have excessive worry in our hearts, the devil will play upon these fears until we cannot perceive real goods or begin to fall into more vices.  Yet, if our hearts are filled with faith, hope, charity, and courage, all hell breaking into pandemonium cannot scare us.  Hence, it is important to fight evil with the greathearted virtues.

St. Anthony the Abbot doesn't look scared at all, does he?

St. Anthony the Abbot doesn’t look scared at all, does he?

#3 Remember Mercy and show mercy.

We are all weak and fall often.  Therefore, it is important to show mercy to one another, and to hope for mercy–even though all mercy is unmerited.

This is exemplified by things like Kagome forgiving Inuyasha for wounding her–the lover forgives her beloved.  In a similar way, the Church is the Beloved of God, who is more infinitely merciful than any human lover; and so, we have full reason to hope in receiving God’s mercy.  Then, we also have Sesshoumaru’s forgiveness of Sango for attempting to cut down Naraku by cutting through Rin in order to save Miroku.  Fortunately, Rin is not cut down, and Sesshoumaru completely overlooked Sango’s sin, for which she confesses to deserve punishment.  Though there is no forgiveness scene, the fact that Sango has three children at the end proves that forgiveness must at least have been tacitly given.

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#4 Even though we fall, don’t surrender.

Consider the mistakes Inuyasha and the gang made above.  They do not excessively grieve over their faults as to stop trying.  Rather, they continue to fight and refuse to give in to despair.  Miroku and Sango are particularly anguished by the prospect of the wind tunnel devouring Miroku; but, refuse to give in to despair, even though they come very close.

We are only human beings, not angels after all.

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#5 The devil lies and ought not to be heeded, even when he speaks the truth.

The devil is “the father of lies.”  Therefore, he ought never to be heeded.  Even when he speaks the truth, it is so that he can twist it to his own deadly purposes later.  Thus, Jesus Christ even silences the devil when he truly calls Jesus the Holy One of God.

In the same way, Naraku constantly lies or uses the peril of the situations to induce despair.  Sesshoumaru is perhaps the best at picking up on Naraku’s lies, especially where he quietly ignores all the illusions Naraku places before him of Rin.  (Indeed, silence and a calm mind are two great weapons in the fight against evil.)  And Inuyasha has this great line: “I’m sick of listening to you!”  In the same way, we should ignore the evil one and live our daily lines focused on doing good and our duty.

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#6 Though victory is assured, the struggle will take a very, very long time.

Inuyasha ran for a good 56 volumes, 193 episodes, and four movies in toto.  The struggle against evil in our lives and against our own vices will continue until death.  But, we must imitate Inuyasha and his friends in fighting this battle with perseverance and magnanimity until all our vices are pulled up by the roots.  Our Savior wishes this very thing.

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#7 Evil is small-hearted, mean, essentially nothing, and for nothing.

Kagome beautifully brings this out in a speech toward the end of the final battle.  Naraku lives merely to destroy.  He destroys relationships, friendships, families, and lives; but, for what?  No benefit ever accrues to him except that hollowest of pleasures: the delight in seeing another’s pain.  In the same way, the devil is the hater of all good and so truly deserves to be despised.

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However, Kagome’s speech brings out a very sad point: Naraku, while still a man, desired to be loved by Kikyo, but he gave in to despair and envy, which allowed him to be possessed by demons.  There are even hints in the show that a part of him wants to be good and to love others.  Rather than follow these good impulses, he actively strives to eliminate them.  These choices resulted in him becoming the evil creature that he is.

Hence, though we can gaily trample upon the devil and his designs, we should pity and pray for our fellow men who have fallen so low.  Remembering that if not for the grace of God, we ourselves would be in the same sorry state.

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The Pride of Despair and Humility of Hope in Claymore

My last article comparing Attack on Titan and Claymore spurred me to re-watch the latter–the lackluster quality of much of recent anime helped me along too.  At this point, I have reached the siege of Pieta, where some of the most desperate fighting in the series occurs.  The anime brings us one poignant moment when Miria, the Claymore ranked #6 in the organization and leader of the desperate band of Claymores, utters a prayer that all the fighters might survive.  Then, she undercuts this prayer by chiding herself for thinking that there is a God.

Miria

Interestingly, this points to a possible rift between the conscious mind and the spirit.  Hopeless conditions and misfortunes may overwhelm the mind such that it can barely or not at all cling to the the belief that God exists, but there exists something in the spirit which refuses to accept a Godless universe.  Or, the thought might even come that God does not listen to us, that we have been rejected by God.  Brother Lawrence, the famed subject of The Practice of the Presence of God, thought for two years of his life that he would be damned.  Can there be a worse feeling than this for a believer?   Yet, he entrusted his cause to God and the feeling dissipated.   In such darkness, we do not even want to pray anymore, but the cries still come, “God have mercy on us!” or “Lord, you are in the midst of us and we are called by your name.  Do not forsake us!” (Jeremiah 14:9)  We doubt the rationalism of such acts, but the deepest part of our soul nourishes the hope that these words mean something.

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Hope is the operative word: for, if God is infinitely good, we need not fear whatever happens to us.  He is a loving Father with infinite care for all His children, as George MacDonald loved to repeat.  Speaking of George MacDonald, he penned this interesting phrase in Weighted and Wanting: “The pride of despair and the despair of pride.”  Despair can only come from pride and placing our hopes in our own strength rather than in God.  If we trust in God despite our misfortunes, then we possess the humility of hope.  And, as Jesus Christ emphasized to that great apostle of Divine Mercy, St. Faustina, humility is truth.  So, we keep slogging on despite the darkness.

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Perhaps, the connection between hope and humility is best exemplified in the duel of Clare and the Awakened Being Rigaldo.  Rigaldo had just killed four of the five captains in Pieta, leaving Miria as the sole survivor.  Those familiar with Claymore know that Clare is ranked as the lowest Claymore, despite having some great abilities.  Rather than give up, she keeps striving to use her power with greater precision and refuses to accept defeat, despite being beaten down several times and being obviously outclassed.  A proud soul would have just accepted this disparity and surrendered.  But, humility forces her to keep trying, telling her that not every last resource has been exhausted–that her heart yet beats and that is sufficient reason to persevere.  The truly humble man can never despair.

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