The Difficulty of Interior Change

Recently, I have been watching You’re Under Arrest: Full Throttle.  Those of you who watch the show know that one character named Aoi is a transvestite/trap, who gives no indication of masculinity save for his height.  In episode six, a former superior who knew Aoi when he transitioned shows up and tries for a second time to make a man out of him.  He puts Aoi through judo and other tough training in order to accomplish this, but Aoi persists in being more feminine than the female heroines.  In the end, this superior gives up, and assumes that Aoi is fine living the way he does.

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Here, I don’t want to discuss the ethics of changing a transvestite to conform to their sex.  Instead, this episode reminds me of the difficulty of changing one’s ways–whether they be habits, opinions, vices, or sins.  A friend once told me that a man doesn’t change much after reaching the age of twenty-five.  (Though, many great saints experienced conversions around this age.)  I assume the same rule applies to women.  There is a strong likelihood of retaining all the evil habits one has acquired by this point to the grave; though, they will naturally ameliorate or worsen depending on our recognition of these faults and our attempts to overcome them.  Sometimes, one does succeed in uprooting a vice entirely through time, effort, prayer, and the sacraments.  During the long period of struggle, victory seems impossible as the long force of habit draws us again and again to sin–even over the course of decades.

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About the Devil in the Series Lucifer

A few days ago, I received a curious protest petition against the upcoming series Lucifer, which will premiere in January on FOX and is based on a character from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.  The e-mail highlights how the series would show the devil as a nice guy, solving crimes and being kind and compassionate to all sorts of people.  The e-mail stated how important it was to urge FOX not to air the show, for it’s portrayal of the devil would confuse the ill-informed and corrupt the youth.

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But, this description of the devil brought an important fact to my mind: the devil never shows himself as the hate-filled and filth-loving monster that he is.  If he does take that aspect, it is only toward people who assiduously resist his temptations and refuse to be taken in by the devil’s facade.  Fulton Sheen appropriately notes that the devil pretends to be a friend of human freedom before a sin, while God, who actively tries to stop us from doing evil, appears as if He were against human freedom.

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“Looking down with Malicious Intent”: How a Remark in Spice and Wolf Volume Six has Irked me

Those of you looking for an enjoyable light novel need look no further than Spice and Wolf by Isuna Hasekura.  The translation put out by Yen Press reads quite easily and still manages to have a lot of character.  In particular, one of anime’s most beloved characters, Holo, can be read in all her sly wisdom, cunning repartee, archaic usage, culinary enthusiasm, and love of liquor.  Besides Holo, the other characters, especially the protagonist, feel compelling.  I cannot but love how the medieval setting reminds one of the Baltic Crusades and how Hasekura attempts to create a merchant hero who adheres to the code of contract law.  (Very interesting and unusual.)  Also, the novels cover more adventures than the anime ever will.

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However much fun these novels are, they never fail to needle me a little.  The tales are written from an atheist’s perspective, which varies from disdain to curiosity in regards to monotheism as practiced by the Church.  This Church is reminiscent of the medieval Catholic Church, but their theologies don’t square perfectly.  One of my favorite pot shots has to be Holo’s “The universe is too big for it to have been created by a single god.”  How limiting the word kami must be on the Japanese theological imagination!

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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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Forgetting One’s Sins

Dear Readers, the idea for this article came from my reminiscences about my Alma Mater, Hillsdale College.  I feel that I was too shy to take proper advantage of the great minds and personalities which surrounded me there.  Among my reminisces, one professor stands out: Dr. Reist.  He was a hoot.  A professor not easily forgotten.  I’ll never forget the first time he walked into my classroom:

He says: “My wife broke her leg.”  The students collectively gasp.  Then, Dr. Reist says: “I told her having sex standing up was dangerous.”

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That’s a masterful way to break the ice!  One day, when he noticed people were not participating or had not done the readings, he told us that we weren’t free.  Which is an interesting way to put it!  And sealing one’s lips as one looks down at an unfamiliar text hoping that the professor won’t call on one may be compared to slavery.  After all, how much more preferable is it to be able to gaze steadily upon the teacher confident in being able to provide an answer to any question and being free to participate or not as you list?

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This professor, a fellow New Jerseyan, had once been Catholic but converted to a variety of Protestantism–even became a minister.  I suspect the reason for his conversion lay in that he felt Catholicism’s emphasis on faith and works placed too much emphasis on personal merit than on God’s election.  (But, even our merits are God’s gifts to us.  The idea of cooperation between grace and free will tends to overcomplicate matters from most Protestant perspectives.)  However, he seemed grateful for many of the lessons he learned as a Catholic.  For example, he once told us: “Do you know that it’s a sin to forget your sins?”

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And it certainly is: the sin of pride.  In our unending process of repentance, we ought always remember where we have been and all the patience God has shown us and continues to show us despite our iniquity and lack of amendment.  Even if we claim that we have progressed far from where we once were, that does not cancel out the fact that we did not deserve to be extricated from our wicked ways of living–that it was pure Mercy which brought us out of each vicious circle.  Even after confession where our guilt is washed away, can we ever stop mourning for the wounds we have placed on Christ’s body or forget that we still deserve temporal punishment and have deserved everlasting flames?

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So, whenever a non-believer claims that Christians have a nonchalant attitude toward sins because God is so ready to forgive, you can tell him that this is the attitude of the proud or the ignorant.  An educated Christian knows that he ought never stop pouring tears into his pillow or cease remembering the wounds of Christ until Christ himself has wiped away every tear  and welcomes us into Our Father’s house.

Encore Une Autre Raison D’Etre Pour Fiction

Excuse the French title, dear readers, but this article is related to another rather popular article on this site titled Fiction’s Raison D’Etre. The title was proofed by the former French teacher who resides next door to my room, so you may be assured of its grammatically correct nature. (It’s so nice living next to a former French teacher. I’ll have to try my best to benefit from this propinquity in order to master French before he leaves us next semester.) Beginning to watch Hell Girl again and reading George MacDonald’s Weighted and Wanting have prompted me to write this article. Both works have certain Christian themes—especially this novel of George MacDonald, who was also a great influence on C. S. Lewis—which helped to highlight the other reason to read fiction: repentance.

First, I shall summarize the basic premise of Hell Girl, the eponymous young heroine of which is also known as Enma Ai. Enma Ai was cursed with the eternal duty of aiding those who were seeking revenge by dragging their tormentors to hell. The sufferers contact her through a certain website called the Hell Link, at midnight—merely typing in the name of their tormentor. She appears to them holding a doll with a red string, pulling which string seals this contract: she’ll send their tormentor to hell with the catch that the person who initiates the contract must also go to hell upon their death. (A surprisingly large number of people agree to such terms.)

You wouldn’t have guessed, but this girl was one of the most eager to pull the red string.

This premise provides us with some great scenarios for character study, a favorite genre of the Japanese. As I mentioned in the prior article on fiction, character study aids us in understanding other people. On the other hand, it is a more useful tool in bringing us to understand ourselves—especially in cases where we cannot see our faults. How can we repent unless our shortcomings are present to us?

That’s unrepentant for you.

Hell Girl excels at bringing to light various faults, particularly since all the episodes employ modern settings with commonplace situations. This makes it highly probable that we shall find ourselves in one of the antagonists. (As I did in episode ten of the second season. Despite its edifying nature, watching how Tetsuro Megoro’s lack of constancy led to his demise was rather painful to watch.) People often possess faults of which they are unaware or faults in which they have justified and excused themselves for so long as to produce hardness of heart, i.e. they no longer see a need to change. By holding fictional characters with the same faults before our eyes, our identification with them will hopefully reveal how we have gone wrong and the necessity of our repentance. Otherwise, we shall be like the tormentors in Hell Girl, claiming our innocence despite the heinousness of our offenses and dying with final impenitence on our souls. (From which, may God preserve us!)

So says the detective who used his position to stalk and harass a high school girl, attempt to murder her, actually murder his partner, critically wound the girl’s father, and is presently attempting to finish the job.

It is interesting to note that all the antagonists are offered the opportunity to own up to their guilt: final impenitence in grave sin—at least, according to the Catholic Faith—is the only way to be damned. Perhaps, Ai would be unable to fulfill the contract should the sinner admit his guilt. One imagines God intervening on behalf of the repentant lest such a one be eternally damned. We never know if such would be the case, because no one ever repents in the show at that point; though, I do remember a few rather inoffensive people being condemned—perhaps to cast doubt on Ai’s role as the savior of the oppressed.

The last thing they see before falling headlong into perdition: flowers.

Weighted and Wanting so far is less drastic in the consequences for people’s faults, which tend to be various forms of worldliness and vanity. But, the fault of mine with which I am reminded in this work recalls part of a lecture given at my old Alma Mater by the renowned Dr. Justin J. Jackson (if you care to hear give a beautiful convocation speech, click here):

“And how do we treat our families?”  When no one ventured to give an opinion, he replied for us: “Horribly!”

Needless to remark, no one gainsaid this opinion. But, does this shock any of my dear readers? Is there not a tendency to fear offending our families less than offending our friends, because forgiveness is so readily available? Instead, we ought to be less inclined to offend our family members due to their readiness to forgive us.

n.b. this is George MacDonald, not my former English Professor.

George MacDonald portrays the elder brother in the Raymount family, Cornelius, as suffering from this defect in regard to every member of his family save his father, who governs how his children shall inherit his property. Cornelius enjoys deriding his sister Hester at most every opportunity, though Hester isn’t perfectly innocent of this defect herself, and, on the whole, treats his friends and business associates better than his family. Yet, Cornelius is rather intelligent in a way: if we treated our friends the same way as we treated our family, we should only have the latter left to us. However, one cannot be too hard on oneself: the members of our families often take our good will for granted, increasing the chances of us sinning through impatience or wrath itself!

Illustration from one of his works. MacDonald was most famous for his fantasies.

So, one walks into the confessional with more offenses against one’s family than against one’s friends. But, cognizant of this fault and with the help of God’s grace, we can work to overcome it. Having been patient with the defects of my friends and associates, we can attempt to apply the same patience to the defects of my family members. Depending on the vision of George MacDonald, Cornelius’s lack of respect for his family and inability to consider this a fault may lead to his downfall.

Therefore, the next time one feels moved to deride another person or even a fictional character for their faults, one ought to first consider how oneself may be guilty of the same fault.

Kenshin as a Christ Figure

Recently, the desire to write about how Kenshin Himura of Rurouni Kenshin fulfills the role of a Christ Figure has been swirling in my mind.  I am unfamiliar with another article delving into the similarities between the two, though several forum goers and bloggers have touched on this idea.  The two published articles I have read which discussed Kenshin’s character, Brian Camp’s in Anime Classics Zettai (every otaku should own this book) and another one in Otaku USA, both remark on the extreme nobility of Kenshin’s character.  Here’s a quote from Brian Camp’s article: “In fact, Kenshin is so likeable and perfect that he runs the risk of being a little too abstract to be entirely plausible, but it’s the small human moments with the others that bring him down to earth and anchor the series in a kind of reality” (324).  In a similar way, Jesus Christ stands infinitely above everyone, but loves the company of little children and performed that most human of miracles at the wedding feast of Cana.  (Might as well point out here that Kenshin also loves children very much and often plays with Ayame and Suzume, Dr. Gensai’s granddaughters.)  The more I consider the similarities, the more I am convinced that Kenshin Himura was not based principally on Kawakami Gensai, despite Nobuhiro Watsuki’s claim that he based Kenshin on this assassin of the Meiji Era.  The physical design of Kenshin’s character may have been, but not his personality.

One might as well start with the most apparent connection: they’re both wanderers.  Kenshin wanders Japan, while Christ wandered Israel.  Of course, we run into the difference that the former traveled in order to learn and hide from his notoriety, while the latter, the source of all wisdom and knowledge, went about publicly in order to teach.  But, you can say that they were both impelled by humility: Christ humbly obeyed the will of His Father and imparted spiritual wisdom from his meek and humble heart; on the other hand, Kenshin, as a mere man who may be mistaken about his opinions, prefers to learn and encourages others to find their own way.  Interestingly, the main topic on which they preach is repentance.  Kenshin, a sinner like the rest of us (Few people will create a Christ figure who’s entirely flawless, after all), usually confines himself to elaborating on why he goes about repenting; but, to certain villains who are obviously in need of repentance, he’s quick to advise them to practice it themselves.  The Heart of Jesus, infinitely good and perfect and therefore having no need to repent himself, constantly advises others to repent so that they might find happiness.

Happiness itself is another theme about which both often speak.  One might say that the ultimate goal toward which the advice and teachings of these persons is happiness; however, the philosophy of Kenshin tends toward Epicureanism.  Oddly enough, this Epicurean form of happiness, at least shares a few features with Christian happiness, such as disinterest in wealth, hatred for the world, and a clear conscience.  The poverty of Rurouni Kenshin‘s heroes, the disdain shown by all toward the millionaire Takeda Kanryu, and Kenshin’s lecturing Misao about the wrongness of theft–even when one is in poor circumstances–stand as sufficient examples of idea of wealth’s unimportance.  Especially in Kanryu’s case, where his downfall makes it evident that “Wealth is useless on the day of wrath, but virtue saves from death” (Proverbs 11:4).  As for hatred for the world, the series has several examples of people who become corrupted through their desire for power, whether it be through physical strength or political power, and the time when Kenshin refuses General Yamagata’s offer to make him a government official show how much the characters wish to remain unstained by the world.  Most of the villains who disturb Kenshin’s idyllic life at Kamiya dojo have a lust for power, and desire for power always leads to a bad end.

The necessity for a good conscience is perhaps shown most clearly in the duel between Kenshin and Soujiro.  Soujiro becomes angry with Kenshin because he thinks that Kenshin is deluded in his desire not to kill.  Because delusion is a sort of disease, it truly ought to make Kenshin an inferior swordsman.  According to Zen Principles, any sort of delusion or anything which would disturb the purity of one’s mind should prevent the execution of good swordsmanship–especially the superior kind which Kenshin possesses!  But Soujiro’s frustration at the idea that he himself might be in the wrong prevent him from overcoming Kenshin, who believes himself to be in the right.  I suppose that it would be superfluous to provide examples of how Jesus advises us not to serve mammon, to avoid worldliness, and practice virtue in order to maintain a clear conscience, right?

Then, we have Kenshin’s vow not to kill which reminds me of this verse: “The Son of Man did not come to condemn the world, but to save it” (John 3:17).  In a similar way, none of Kenshin’s antagonists die by his hand, but rather by their own refusal to turn from their evil deeds.  The two best examples being Jin-e Udo’s suicide and how Shishio’s stubbornness works his own death.  As St. Faustina avers in her diary, whoever goes to hell, goes there by their own will, not because Jesus Christ wishes anyone to perish (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).

And in the second season, is not Kenshin’s journey to Kyoto reminiscent of Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem?  Even the true object of the journey is rather similar: just as Christ wished to put the old man to death in us so that we may have life in Christ, Kenshin wishes to put the man slayer side of himself to death.  Also, Shishio is pretty much Satan, whom Christ defeated by His passion and death.  Then again, Kenshin’s friends constantly remind us in this arc especially how he tries to carry everyone’s burdens on his shoulders, which–though it stands as manner he resembles Christ–is actually a fault in his case.  Only God can bear everyone’s burdens.

A picture of Kenshin from his days as an assassin in the Meiji Revolution.

But, this is my favorite line exhibiting the similarity between the two because many are apt to miss the connection, but it really slams the fact that Kenshin is a Christ figure on one’s head.  Sanosuke says: “Kenshin isn’t using the weak as food to feed his power like you [Shishio] are.  He’s willing to protect their happiness and become food for their power.”  This is about as inspired a line as one can find in anime.  (Surprisingly, it is not found in the manga.  I checked.)  Essentially, this is Eucharistic imagery!  Shishio, like evil, consumes those who fall prey to him; on the other hand, Kenshin is being described as food for the weak, and Christ feeds us weaklings with His body and blood each mass so that we remain in Him so “that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).  If not for Christ offering Himself as food for us, we should all fall to sin.

Well, I hope that this little discussion of how Kenshin’s character compares to Jesus Christ will deepen your experience of the show!