Saturday, September 20, 2014

Rewind: Chihayafuru

At first glance, Chihayafuru doesn't look exciting. It's about teenagers playing karuta, a traditional card game based on 100 old poems. Why would anyone besides a literature or history nerd watch 50 episodes of that? Then again, if you've been on the anime scene very long, you know not to judge an anime by its subject. 

Taichi and Chihaya in Chihayafuru 2, episode 20. I love these two, and
they love each other... at least, they're dear friends. Chihaya's oblivious
to the concept of anything besides friendship at this point. Poor Taichi.

Chihayafuru shares a lot of qualities with sports anime, so it's no surprise that I like it so much. When the main character, Chihaya, starts high school, she begins a karuta club. She's passionate about it, and she inspires her friends to passion, too. She and her childhood friend, Taichi, wrangle up enough members to officially start the club. They train, improve, and compete in intense karuta tournaments. Suspense gets pretty high at times, just like in a sports anime. 

But tournament suspense isn't what has me patiently waiting for another season. No, the relationships between characters stand out to me. I wrote about the main trio of friends, Chihaya, Taichi, and Arata, at the end of the second season. It struck a chord with me. And the relationships between club members helped inspire a post at the beginning of last school year, Advice from Anime: Join a Club.

I'm hoping for another round of Chihayafuru, after there's enough material in the manga to pull from. As far as I know, nothing has been announced yet. I'm in no hurry. So long as I get to see more of this beautiful, often humorous show, I can wait for a couple more years.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Rewind: Skip Beat!

Last week, I wrote about "pushover" characters and what we can learn from them. Even as I wrote that post, I thought about Kyoko from Skip Beat!. She didn't qualify for last week's post for multiple reasons. First, she stops being a pushover after the first episode. Second, her character development is more complex, so I'd like to spend more than a paragraph on her story.

Before I dive into Kyoko's character, let's cover the anime itself.

I watched Skip Beat! at least four years ago—even before I watched Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge (The Wallflower). I think, at the time, I thought the male characters were attractive, in the 2D kind of way. I laughed at the the manifestations of Kyoko's feelings—like the phantoms. Looking back, I'm not a fan of the art style—those bishies don't look so pretty anymore, and the dramatic visual effects don't move me the same way. Still, I must agree with my past self: this is a fun show.

In fact, I just finished the Taiwanese drama of Skip Beat!, which followed pretty much the same plot as the anime, though they changed some details. I'm not exactly a drama fan, but I enjoyed this production. It retained anime/manga physics and effects, like Kyoko's crazy cycling speed and those little Kyoko-phantoms, so I felt right at home.

The manifestations of Kyoko's grudge can physically harm people.
Kinda cool anime logic. In this scene, she's just found out that Sho is
just using her, and she's gone nuts (ep 1).

But I digress. Back to the anime.

Kyoko has built her life around Sho—childhood friend, rising idol, and narcissistic jerk. He asked her to move with him to Tokyo right after middle school, so he could escape his family's plans for him and become an idol, like he's always dreamed. Of course, she accepted, even though it meant giving up high school (which is not compulsory in Japan). She works two jobs to pay rent at their expensive apartment, and she buys almost nothing for herself... except his CDs, posters, etc. (which he really should be getting her for free). He's rarely at the apartment, and when he is, he's rude--but she brushes it off, blaming his work schedule for his grumpiness.

Sho, on the other hand, thinks he's entitled to treat her as his maid. After all, it's always been that way. She's lived at his family's inn since childhood, always following and adoring him, working hard to get his and his family's approval. She thinks of him as her prince. She's in rags now, like fairytale princesses, but she'll always be together with him... Sho thinks of himself as a prince, too. But that's the only part they really agree on.

By the end of the first episode, Kyoko knows the truth and moves on. But, up to that point, this is an abusive relationship. What separates Kyoko from the selfless characters I talked about last week? Why does she seem more pitiable than admirable? Where did she go wrong? I don't have the time or expertise to fully explore these questions, but I want to take at least a few moments to consider them.

First, her identity is built around one human being. She idolized him long before he became a pop idol, and she continues to worship him. Her time, talents, energy, worship—every ounce of it goes to Sho. This is never healthy. Even if he were everything she wanted him to be, it wouldn't be good.

So, what would be a better situation? Our culture might suggest she learn to love and respect herself, and pursue her own happiness... but she'd still be building her life around one person—herself. It sounds like a healthy option, but it's not. Alternatively, we could suggest she expand her perspective, and spend her time building other relationships and giving to multiple people. The characters I mentioned last week certainly do that. And yet, it's still not the complete picture.

I believe that our service and love should be primarily oriented toward God, not toward other people or ourselves. That is the key to living well. God commands us to be selfless and loving. So serving others is built into serving him. But we don't have to depend on the people we serve for acceptance, praise, or love. Nor is our worth measured by how much we please others.

Imagine if Kyoko knew all this. I suspect the story would be very different—first, she might not have gone to Tokyo at all. She wouldn't let Sho drain her resources. Instead, she'd bless more people with her friendship. She wouldn't fear abandonment from Sho as much. And when she found out the truth about his jerkiness, she wouldn't be consumed by vengeance. She'd feel sad and betrayed, yes, but she'd also know that her hope for salvation and love was always in the Lord God, not in her childhood friend.

This topic deserves more attention, but this is all I can give it tonight. Since I can't think much more before I fall asleep, I'd love to read your thoughts on this topic!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Lessons from those Pushover Anime Characters

I'm categorizing this as a Swamped post. I probably have time to do a normal Rewind, but, as I sat in chapel today yesterday, I realized that this needed to be written instead.

Sometimes, anime girls are pushovers, or at least "unrealistically" selfless. I see characters like Moriyama Shiemi from Blue Exorcist, Ema from Brothers Conflict, or Honda Tohru from Fruits Basket, and I can't help but sigh. Seriously? I say, Why do they let their so-called-friends treat them like that? or Are they really going to continue pining for that jerk and making him lunch? or Girl, it's okay to think about yourself and ask for help every now and then! You don't always need to worry that you're inconveniencing someone!

Tohru is her usual thoughtful self in episode 4 of Fruits Basket. In
this scene, she gives onigiri to an obnoxious girl who, in pursuing
Kyo, wrecked the house.

In some cases, like Ema's, the character is in an abusive situation (even if the anime doesn't recognize it as abusive), and my annoyance is warranted. Letting your stepbrothers harass you is not kindness, and it's certainly not how you show any type of love. But, in many cases, I shouldn't be rolling my eyes. Instead, I should look at these characters as role models--flawed, naive role models, but admirable nonetheless. They, unlike me, habitually put others first, even when it gets in the way of their own health and goals.

As an American woman, I struggle with this kind of selflessness. Our culture tells me to worship my own health and pleasure. For example: I'm an introvert, so I'm entitled to my alone time, even when a friend needs to talk, or a coworker needs a sub. After my mental and physical health, my grades take priority, even if I feel the Spirit nudging me to watch all the dishes in the sink, and not just mine.

But I know better. Jesus set a radical example of selfless love (much more radical than waking up early to pack an extra bento box). And I've often wrestled with Paul's words on the topic, written to the Philippian church:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a]who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippans 2:3-8, ESV, emphasis mine)
My culture tells me that I'm the most significant person in my life. Biblically, I know that's a lie. Jesus is the most significant person in anyone's life, including his own--yet even he set aside the perks of Godhood and became one of us, complete with dirt, pain sensory, and taxes. He served us, sinners, in both life and death--and a very painful death at that. If you've seen third episode of Akame ga Kill, you might remember that crucifixion was briefly mentioned/shown as an example of the Empire's cruelty and perversion. It's one of the worst ways to die. And that is the kind of selflessness God calls me to imitate.

On a more lighthearted, but still convicting level, anime characters show me how to live out this selfless love in everyday life. Here are a few examples (and I'm expanding to male characters as well):

Kaori in One Week Friends spends hours in the kitchen, at the cost of her sleep, in order to find the perfect sweetness for Hase-kun's eggs. She measures the sugar down to the last gram--if that's not actively looking out for someone else's interests, I don't know what is.

Kuroko seeks no glory for himself in Kuroko's Basketball. In fact, he describes himself as the shadow to Kagami's light. He gets more attention as his high school career continues, but it's still all about the team. Wow. I should think about how I can incorporate this attitude into my schoolwork (I don't play sports), especially group presentations. Even my participation in class discussion could stand to be more about the class and what we're discussing and less about my interpretation of the text.

Honda Tohru in Fruits Basket is homeless, although her relatives think she's living with friends. She doesn't want to inconvenience anyone, especially since she knows they have their own problems (like an already-crowded house). So she lives in a tent at the beginning of the show, while everyone thinks she's in a proper home. Granted, this is an extreme example. But it's easy for me to think I have a right to get attention when I'm in an unideal situation. I let people know if I'm really hungry and forgot to bring a snack to school--even if I don't accept food for them, I want pity, or at least attention. And to what end? To make them feel bad? That's wrong. The world does not revolve around me. Sometimes, we should accept help--Tohru needs to learn that. But often, we need to shut up and care about someone else's problems, even their little problems--I need to learn that.

To reference another basketball anime: Aikawa from Dear Boys (aka Hoop Days) was captain of an his old high school basketball team before he transferred to Mizuho. He gives up leadership of a winning team of his own accord, and, as a result, saves the Mizuho basketball team in more ways than one. He cares about his new teammates both on and off the court, singlehandedly securing the anime's place in my memory (and I really do mean singlehandedly--this ain't KuroBas).

That's all I have for now, although I should revisit this topic in the future. Even if I don't blog about it again, I guarantee it will pop up in my devotions and journalling (although not as often as it should). Selflessness doesn't come as easily to me as it does to several of these characters... probably because I'm a real human being, fighting non-fictional sin. But I do have one thing that none of these characters have: a relationship with Jesus. Any improvements in my attitude are thanks to him, who can transform my heart, and not just my motions. I'm too naturally selfish to make much progress on my own.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Rewind: Yowapeda

When a decent sports anime begins airing, it quickly lands a spot on my "watching" list. But I follow some sports anime closer than others. Yowapeda, or Yowamushi Pedal, is classified among the "others." I started following it near its inception in Fall 2013, but I didn't watch it every week. Compared to Kuroko's Basketball or Ace of the Diamond, Yowapeda fell short. I'm still not sure why it has such a high average rating on Anime-Planet.

Onoda and one of his senpai singing his favorite anime OP as they
make their way from the back of the back to the front, to rejoin the rest
of the team in episode 36

It's not that I dislike Yowapeda. On the contrary, I really like Onoda. He's an otaku, which grabbed my attention, and I loved watching his otakudom merge with--and even enhance--his newfound athleticism. First, his bike rides to Akihabara strengthened him. Then, his "Love Hime" song gave him and his senpai strength to succeed in their race. I enjoyed all of this.

And yet, ultimately, the characters failed to capture my heart. They often entertained me, sparked at least some level of inspiration, and even creeped me out. But they didn't move me.

For more of my comments on Yowapeda, and my theory about why Midousuji is so creepy, browse the Yowapeda tag on my Tumblr.  Also, see my post from May about sports anime.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Rewind: Silver Spoon

I still haven't finished the second season of Silver Spoon, though I liked the first season well enough. Since there was a gap between seasons, I consider them separate enough to write about the first season as a finished product. 

Silver Spoon, like Fullmetal Alchemist, is based off a manga by Arakawa Hiromu. I can see the similarities in the characters' looks. But similarities end there (or at least, the obvious ones do). Silver Spoon is a slice of life anime set in an agricultural school without an alchemist or soldier in sight. 

There were several aspects I liked about Silver Spoon. For example, the main character, Hachiken, is a city boy, and he has a lot to learn about rural farm life. City folk are fun to watch outside of their native environments. (Yes, Hachiken, eggs comes from hens' backsides. Where did you think they came from?) I'm no farmer, but I'm comfortable in small or rural communities. I've ridden horses, eaten eggs from my grandparents' chickens, and learned basic wildlife safety. Thus, I find it fascinating to see city folk, real or fictional, adjust to rural life. 

But I didn't spend the entire show chuckling at Hachiken's antics. I enjoyed getting to know him and the other characters. Like many teenagers, Hachiken doesn't know what he wants to do with his life. After middle school, he needs to escape the traditional system (and the pressures that come with it). His new agricultural high school does wonders for him as he learns about the world and himself.

Hachiken spends his break at a classmate's farm. In episode 6,
they run into a bear and take it home to butcher for food. Very
amusing--and the fact that Hachiken doesn't mind the situation is
an important sign of growth.

Basically, it's another story about growing up and high school. It's not shallow about it--there are many unique, informative, and fun aspects to this anime. But there still isn't enough suspense or excitement to keep my attention for very long. I was content at the end of the first season, and I'm not sure if I'll ever finish the more recent installment.


Looks like I'm a minute late with this. Whoops. Lost track of time. I'll try to be better about scheduling my blogging time when school starts back up next week.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Rewind: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

It too me two years to finish Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood... and that's only counting the second time through. I feel sheepish admitting this. I'm an anime fan, and FMA Brotherhood is a highly acclaimed series. Why didn't I watch it earlier? I enjoyed almost every minute of the show, so it's strange that I went months--even years--without clicking on the next episode.

Ed and Al, pre-tragedy (flashback from ep 26). Love the character
development in this show.

For whatever reason, during my first attempt at FMA Brotherhood, I only made it through about thirty episodes. I started it up again in 2012. After twenty-three episodes, I wrote out a few of my reactions in a blog post. The characters in this show are magnificently done, so I dwelled on them in another post after the 28th episode. By the time I reached the 44th episode, the conflict was heating up, character stories were coming to light, and I was pretty excited about all of it.

I didn't get much further than that episode before I stalled the show. I'm not sure why--maybe, as my freshman year of college picked up pace, I was too busy and stressed to watch Brotherhood. That happens, sometimes, when I care too much about an anime's plot and characters. I eventually went to Hulu to watch the next episode... only to find that Funimation had taken most of the episodes down. Last month, almost two years after I last watched Brotherhood, I found it on Netflix. It didn't take long for the show to suck me right back in. And this time, I stuck with it.

There are a lot of dark, serious elements to Brotherhood. There are parallels to the Nazi regime, including genocide. Human experimentation has connections both to the Nazis and to modern ethical questions. And this is only a small fraction of the tough topics Arakawa Hiromu tackled in her manga-turned-anime. But it's not all dark. Somehow, there's just enough comic relief to keep this show from being completely depressing, without undermining the gravity of each situation.

[Big Spoilers next section]

Brotherhood is fascinating in all areas, including the mythology Arakawa develops in the show. God does not exist in this anime (there is a being described as "god," but it is not, by any stretch, like the God I know). Edward Elric is an atheist, and there are atheistic themes throughout. This is especially apparent near the end, after Father absorbs the "Eye of God," becoming, by all appearances, the most powerful being known to man.

Of course, our heroes don't have much respect for anything claiming to be all-powerful. Edward's the type to march up to the deity at the Gate of Truth and demand whatever trade he thinks is fair. Mustang and other characters are similarly bold, due to a combination of ambition, pride, and faith (whether in another god, like the Ishvalians believe in, or in humanity). So they face Father head-on, defeat him, and make a statement about how humans are basically the masters of their fate (with a slight bow to natural law) and can take care of themselves without the intervention of a divine being (in fact, in this show, they're generally better off on their own).

[Spoilers over]

Clearly, secular humanism plays a big role in this anime. The abilities of humans are lifted up, while supernatural or otherworldly beings--such as homunculi, deities, or deity wannabes--are systematically undermined and/or defeated. This is a popular worldview, and if you keep an eye out, you'll recognize its influence, especially in Western media. But it's not just the worldview in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. It's one of the reigning themes.

As a Christian, I must recognize when secular humanism is being promoted and reject the fallacies that come with it. There is an all-powerful God, and he is involved in our lives. He is our Creator, and he made the world--and humans in particular--to be in a relationship with him. As such, we are not better off on our own, and we can not completely solve our problems on our own--especially since the biggest problem any person can have is separation from God.

At the same time, there are glimmers of truth in humanism. (In fact, there's a branch known as Christian humanism, but I'm ignoring that term here, since it could confuse the compare/contrast of secular humanism and a Biblical worldview.) Humans are pretty special. Out of all Creation (including angels), we're the only ones created in the likeness of God. He gave us reign over everything else on earth (Genesis 1:26-29, Psalm 8). And if we believe in God, and in his son, Jesus Christ, then we will even be glorified with Christ, as co-heirs with him (Romans 8:14-17). I could spend an entire post on the blessings God gives us. But I won't. And, before I continue, I'd like to emphasize that everything that makes us special is a gift from God, and does not come from some human-generated ability. God is still infinitely greater than us in every way, which is what makes his love for us even more amazing.

Basically, we've been put in an enviable position... which brings me back to Brotherhood.

[Some spoilers through ep 54 ahead]

In episode 54, Ed cuts to the heart of Envy's envy.

Meet Envy, the vain, shapeshifting homunculus. I don't have a screenshot of his preferred form, but, by the end of his battle with Ed, Mustang, and the others in ep 54, he's just a little green monster, both literally and figuratively. Until his defeat, he had power than most humans can only dream of. If he'd left Mustang's friends alone, or at least concealed his part in Hughes's murder and hightailed it out of the country, he could have been immortal. And yet, he's jealous of humans. Why?

In Brotherhood, we see many things humans have that Envy doesn't. Most notably, there's the relationships, which provide not only love, but support and strength. We may be weak at times, but, together, we can pick each other up and succeed (note the humanism in that statement). We have a warmth and a depth, a wellroundedness, and an ability to rule that Envy and the other homunculi don't.

When I saw Envy's envy, I though of Satan, a vain, jealous (now fallen) angel. He tried to set himself up as God, and was then cast out of heaven. We humans are much closer to what he covets that he will ever be, for the reasons I outlined above the screenshot.

... I want to go on, but I'm out of time.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Rewind: KamiNomi

Kami nomi zo Shiru Sekai, aka The World God Only Knows, is about a dating sim addict who treats real girls like routes to be conquered. He gets them to fall for him, kisses them, and ditches them.

That sounds offensive. Does it help if I say that Keima, the addict, has to treat girls like this, in order to save them from the lost souls that dwell inside them? Trust me, he doesn't want to kiss 'n ditch... he prefers to avoid real girls altogether, actually.

Obviously, we're dealing with a dysfunctional main character. He spends every moment possible playing his dating sims--including in class. He can be very rude about it, actually. And yet, he's relatable. Many of us have enjoyed the thrill of 2D romance, be it through anime or game. Not to mention the thrill of mastering a game, using our minds to conquer a challenge. And sometimes (particularly, I think, in high school), these 2D adventures seem a lot more palatable than real life.

Keima's dedication to 2D girls has paid off, and he is acknowledged as the master--nay, "god,"--of dating sims. There's another piece that caught my attention when I first watched KamiNomi. While I wouldn't want to be called a "god" of anything, I do fantasize about being acknowledged as the best--or at least very good--at some skill (yeah... I struggle with pride sometimes). I can experience some of that through characters like Keima.

I also fantasize about my hobbies becoming very useful in the real world. That's what happens with Keima, which I enjoy.

[Oh, dear... I'm running out of time again... let's rush the rest]

Keima and Shiori, episode 10.

Anyway, KamiNomi is basically just a fun show, with some sweet moments. My favorite arc is the one with the shy library girl, Shiori, since I find her so relatable. Keima reaches out to her, helping her speak up for what's important to her.

For more of my thoughts, see what I wrote when the third season came out last summer.