Planet With: Sealing Away Those Who Stray From The Path of Love

In a season where everyone was talking about Hero Academia and Attack on Titan, the actual best anime of the season goes unnoticed by many. Planet With is an anime written by none other than Mizukami Satoshi, the author who penned the legendary manga Hoshi no Samidare.  Anyone who was around back then will remember the countless threads and memes about how we will never get a Samidare anime. Finally, after all these years, we have gotten the closest thing to a Samidare anime. Mizukami is one of the best mangaka of our time, with his stories being full of amazing action, whacky but loveable characters, powerful messages, and what is sorely lacking the most in manga: satisfying endings. Planet With has all of that in anime form, and it has only made me wish even more for his works to get an anime.

Like all Mizukami works, the fight scenes make for great entertainment, but it’s really the message of the story that sets the plot apart from others. In the universe of Planet With, humans have been marked as a species which is evolving too quickly and heading down a path of destruction. Since they are unlikely to choose the path of love, Nebula wishes to seal humanity away in dreams of happiness. However, one person (cat) in Nebula wishes to watch over humanity peacefully with the optimism that they will choose the path of love. He partners with the sole survivor of Sirius, a planet which chose destruction over love, to protect the Earth and show the potential of love that humans have.

For a 1 cour anime, its plot is difficult to summarize succinctly, and I have left out a lot of important details. Even so, I think the major point is conveyed – Planet With is a story about choosing love and forgiveness over hate and destruction and the trials that come with it. It is difficult to believe in the potential for love of those who are filled with hate, and it is even more difficult to forgive those who performed acts of hatred and violence. At what point should you draw the line and stop people from acting out their evil desires? If a group of people is consistently producing violence, is it justified to punish the entire group, including those who have yet to commit any faults? Nebula believes in stopping a species from evolving if they show signs of danger. In contrast, the protagonists want to keep believing that humanity will choose the path of love.

Oops we did.

Planet With’s story applies to Christians in the way we could view ourselves. Christians are capable of so much good, but it would be foolish to ignore all the evils we have committed and continue to commit in the name of God. Recently, I have become more and more disappointed with “Christians.” It was not long ago that I argued the ones atheists always complain about were the small minority who gave Christians a bad name. You could find recent blog posts I wrote only a few years ago that said that. Yet it is becoming increasingly clear to me that such hateful Christians are far from a minority. Maybe the ones who need to be sealed away are Christians…is what crossed my mind as I watched certain characters in the story think the same of their own species. But Planet With is a story of hope, love, and forgiveness. Despite so many characters wanting to seal away humanity, they eventually come together and hope for a better future. Even so, you cannot forgive others without first acknowledging the sins they commit. Like my own self only a few years ago, it’s clear that one of the biggest problems with Christianity now is not only those who corrupt its name but also all of us who passively let those around us continue evil and immoral acts. Even some of the most loving, respectable Christians I know will only acknowledge the Pharisees of today in closed circles and call for prayer that they see the error of their ways. However, this has only served to make the problem fester and the corruption of Christianity from the inside has blossomed thanks to all of us who tried to downplay the problems. I, too, am part of the problem.

I think you mean Christians

Today, the Republican “party of Christian values,” supported by millions of conservative Christians, have come out defending pedophilia, Nazis, murderers, rapists, concentration camps, calling the media the enemy of the people, and other horrors that Christians should be directly against; or, basically what every fascist dictatorship looks like in both fiction and reality. After a lot of thinking and reading about how this insanity came about, I think the biggest problem has been because Christians so rarely speak out against each other.  In Planet With, Nebula is the organization of those who chose the path of love. Yet, when one of their own performs his own idea of justice, they banish him. Christians are called to judge not those outside the Church but those inside the Church so that we are not corrupted from the inside out. We have absolutely failed in that regard.

Even the most liberal pastors I respect speak of the changes in society’s culture and the spread of immorality as reasons why people are fleeing Christianity. I think it is clear that the biggest issue is not the immorality of today’s society but the immorality of today’s Christianity. Christians around me are quick to pray for fellow Christians that they might see why they are wrong, but they aren’t willing to speak out against them, even in today’s climate. So while there are large numbers who actively support neo-Nazis, violence, and racist hatred, there are millions more who passively support it by “avoiding politics” because they either won’t confront those who do or they don’t even realize it is happening. Even worse are the ones who verbally disagree with what’s happening then go on to vote for “Christian” Republicans who will *intentionally* make the situation even worse. The culture of staying away from politics has resulted in millions of Christians who simple wonder how things are so bad when this is exactly what all those critical atheists have been trying to warn us about for decades. What’s happening is not new; it has been festering for years and years and been conveniently ignored under the guise of politics. We have developed a culture that doesn’t discuss politics because it so easily brings out the worst in us. Yet isn’t it because we are so reluctant to witness the worst in others that things like racism, murders, and terrorism can be supported by people we otherwise thought to be good Christians? If the debate of forcibly removing children from parents and locking them up in cages is a political issue, then what isn’t political? We’re now at the point where Christian leadership is no longer just hypocritical, but many leaders are outright lying with messages of hate and fear, and effectively building cults rather than communities for the sake of power and money.

As recent news has revealed, Christian churches and leadership, among many other organizations, have been targeted for infiltration and manipulation for nefarious purposes over the last several decades in what is likely the most sophisticated and coordinated propaganda attack modern society has experienced (and continues to experience). Through extremely slow but methodical influences, Christianity has been corrupted from the inside. What might have started as affirming disgruntled Christians regarding illegal immigration can, over the course of 30+ years of constant lies and fear-mongering, become a justification for concentration camps and eventually genocide. And throughout this time, Christians such as me have done little other than saying that such people are a tiny minority. But this is not just a few people who don’t misunderstand a couple tenants of Christianity; this is a deliberate, malicious, and extremely successful attack on Christianity that has come to fruition, and nobody seems to be able to accept this. Of course, I’m just being a paranoid alarmist here; I’m sure those who warned German citizens about Nazis were just alarmists too. What pains me most is when so many of my Christian friends call it a spiritual problem and pray for it but do nothing else. Yes, there is a spiritual aspect, but it is by and large a physical problem that can be countered by real actions. Prayer is great, but it is also the easy way out rather than confronting those who continue to make the problem worse. After all, what good is faith without works?

With the advent of the internet and social media, there is so much propaganda fanning the flames of hate or at best, frustration at “both sides,” among us, without Christians ever recognizing that it is an intentional, human act to sow discord, hatred, and perhaps even worse, apathy and exhaustion.  Republicans of today only care for power and are manipulating the country with massive amounts of propaganda and blatant lies to maintain that power, with a particular reliance on the Christian communities to remain ignorant, fearful, and uneducated, or at least, uninvolved in politics. The calls for fear and hatred of immigrants and “others” is exactly what you would see in every fascist’s rise to power. It is now, when so many Christians view so much of the world as enemies, that the story of the Good Samaritan and who are neighbors are is most poignant. If Christians do not speak out now, when we currently have calls for white supremacy nationalism and stochastic terrorism from many of the Republican leaders, who are supported by millions of “Christians,” then when will we speak out against such evils? To every person who still does not acknowledge this truth yet: you are exactly how things like the Holocaust happen without anyone stopping it – a lot of propaganda and refusal to admit things are as bad as they are until it’s too late.

How to forgive the one who murdered your entire species?

To tie all of this back into my original point: large portions of Christianity are on a clear path of immorality due to corruption from the inside. We are so busy looking to non-believers and spreading the Gospel to those who have never heard it, that we have neglected nurturing those who claim they have heard it but are now misguided in ways that cannot be rectified easily. I no longer have any words to refute those who think Christianity should be sealed away and removed from society because for better or worse, I am finally being exposed to just how hateful, cruel, and numerous so-called “Christians” can be while invoking God’s name and the countless others who turn a blind eye to it. But Planet With is a story of love and forgiveness. Rather than choosing hatred and revenge, the characters choose to forgive; however, that does not mean a lack of punishment. While the big bad villain is forgiven, he is also properly punished, and it is through facing a punishment that lacks hatred that he finds peace. It is an optimistically hopeful end that I’m sure many feel is too unrealistic to happen in today’s environment. Nonetheless, I want to continue hoping and believing in the best that people and Christianity have to offer. As tempting as it might be to seal away Christianity from society’s culture, I hope that people will mete out just punishment and go no further and keep believing in the potential of Christianity’s intended values and its path of love. But even then, I have no choice but to admit such a dream will be a long and arduous path.

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Manga Recommendation: Bitter Virgin

Given the recent political developments surrounding sexual assault, violence, and rape, I thought it would be an appropriate time to recommend one of my favorite manga. Bitter Virgin is a relatively short manga that you can read in a few hours which centers on the story of Aikawa Hinako, a high school girl who was the victim of being raped by her step-father at the age of 14. She gets an abortion only for the sexual violence and raping to continue and gets pregnant a second time. This time, she is forced to wait out the term and give birth to her father’s baby. Because of this history, she develops a deep rooted fear of men and moves to the countryside where her classmate Suwa accidentally finds out about her secret when she confesses at the local church. Thus begins the story of a girl who has experienced nothing but tragedy and a boy attempting to balance her fears and secret with his own growing attraction to her.

I first read Bitter Virgin in high school, and I feel like it did a lot to teach me the kinds of problems girls have to deal with that, as a guy, I would never realize on my own. That is not to say every girl has been raped, but as more and more women have been coming out and publicly telling their stories, it is clear that every girl has at least one story involving sexual harassment.  Without such awareness movements, this would continue to go unnoticed, as women go on pretending to be happy even when they are really crying on the inside. It is becoming more and more obvious how many women in today’s society have had traumatic experiences with sexual harassment, assault, and rape yet remain silent for their entire lives.

While Aikawa is still too young to have shouldered her secret for decades, the story nonetheless touches on this topic. When she first confesses to her mother about her step-father’s actions, she is reprimanded for being a liar and a disgrace. The one person who should have protected her only makes the problem worse. It’s only after the doctor points out she is likely a victim of rape that the mother finally acknowledges the truth – even so, it is the doctor, not the victim, who is able to change her mind. If a girl cannot trust her own mother, who can she trust? Throughout the story, we see Aikawa’s fear not just of men and sexual assault, but also of being found out. To be a victim of sexual assault is considered the greatest shame, and while it never states it directly, the manga makes it a point that she sees herself as “damaged goods” who could never be loved. She lives every day in fear of others discovering her secret, and the amount of psychological damage that entails for a sexual assault victim is something I will never be able to truly relate to.

Interestingly enough, there is also a scene with a false rape accusation. This is perhaps the most relevant scene in the manga to today’s developments with a certain Supreme Court Justice nominee (well, now after drafting this, he is officially confirmed). There are many opinions on the topic, but I think this one line from the manga sums up how rape accusations go the best:

If she had really been raped, she wouldn’t be able to make such a fuss. When you’re raped, you’re scared and in pain. You can’t do anything but cry.

It is disgusting that so many people say things like “if she had really been raped, she would have immediately pressed charges!” As if that is how the mentality of a rape victim will go. A rape victim is instead far more likely to curl up in a ball, cry, and pretend it never happened.  If people find out, there is the threat of the greatest public shame not for the assaulter but for the victim. If she goes without proof, she could be called a liar (what a surprise, that’s EXACTLY what happened), possibly even by her own family. And even if all that goes in her favor, there is still the potential issue of pregnancy and abortion, not to mention having to live with the trauma and scars left behind. Anyone who actually cares about sexual assault victims would know that keeping it a secret for decades is absolutely the most common and realistic response a young girl would make.

Bitter Virgin is seriously the best manga I’ve read when it comes to understanding the mentality and tragedy of sexual assault victims. I have nothing but praise for the author Kusonoki Kei who has stated some parts of the story relate to her own personal life experiences (not the rape).   It is especially impressive in the context of Japan’s extremely patriarchal society and its tendency to downplay sexual assault and rape even more than America, not to mention how a core tenant of anime/manga is the sexual imagery of female characters. Maybe it’s still inaccurate or not as good as it could be, but again, as a guy, it opened my eyes to the cruel reality of sexual assault in many positive ways. So to sum it up, go read Bitter Virgin if you want a mature story on a serious topic that everyone is talking about lately.

I’d like to end by saying how much I respect every woman who has come out and admitted to being a victim of sexual assault. It takes such an enormous amount of courage to do that in a public forum where you will inevitably be greeted by criticism and hatred. And even for the countless others who have not revealed their secrets, you’re amazing too. Just being able to live out each day after undergoing such a traumatic event should be praiseworthy. I’m just a random guy on the internet, so it probably doesn’t mean anything, but still, please, keep fighting on because being able to continue after such a horrific experience makes you stronger than I could ever imagine myself to be.

Summer Pockets: The Adventure You Never Had

Kanon, Air, Clannad, Little Busters. The visual novel company Key has created some of the most beloved nakige in the entire industry, with the anime adaptations receiving extraordinary praise for the most part. However, it has been some time since they produced something that was truly loved. I’m of course excluding Rewrite, that while is an amazing piece of fiction, is simply not a nakige. This has extended to their anime adaptation as it has been nearly a decade since one of their anime has struck the hearts of anime fans. Ask the average fan today what they think of Key, and a surprisingly high number won’t know who they are or haven’t seen more than one or two of their anime (and likely their more recent, poorly received ones). Thus, in some ways, Key’s newest work Summer Pockets and the inevitable anime are a chance for Key to remind everyone that they can write some of the saddest and simultaneously heart-warming stories in the industry.

I don’t want to spoil too much for now, but Summer Pockets was good but simply not at the level of their former glory. That’s not intended to place any amount of blame on them because their best is just so close to perfection, I can’t reasonably expect them to continue producing things as good or better. In the end, Summer Pockets was a story that has very much the kind of tone, theme, and execution you would expect from Key. One of the routes is centered on the girl Kamome Kushima who is in search of a hidden treasure from her childhood days. Spoilers to follow.

With a series of riddles on hand, she and the main character Hairi set out to find 4 keys hidden on the island. The keys unlock a map which then guides them to a secret location where Kamome claims a pirate ship is located. As the two figure out how to decipher the map and find the true route which leads to the ship, Hairi begins to see dreams that suggest he has already experienced this.  Kamome, on the other hand, already has when she first discovered the ship with her childhood friends. Hairi continues to see visions of Kamome as a child and memories of being a part of her group of friends. He begins to wonder if maybe he was one of them and merely forgot, but that shouldn’t be possible. As they approach their goal, his memories of the journey become more and more accurate until finally they find the hidden…boat. It’s not a pirate ship; it’s a simple, broken down boat. The story shifts into a search for the truth behind the memories of Kamome and Hairi and the boat they found. In reality, the memories the two shared were nothing but a story which Hairi read as a child, a story written by Kamome’s mother and inspired by Kamome’s own imagination. As a child, Kamome was too sick to have fun like a normal kid; so, she invented an adventure that she wished she could experience. But like many things from childhood, these facts were distorted over many years. Hairi forgot the truth and experiencing the story in real life gave him a feeling of déjà vu and caused him to recall the story as his own experience. Kamome, on the other hand, truly believed the story was her own life experience. Her desire to live out an exciting adventure muddled together with her own memories and so fiction became reality.

Kamome’s route was really fun to read and one of the most enjoyable non-true routes I’ve read in awhile especially because of how well it stands alone aside from a few questions about how the supernatural elements happen.  It’s fun enough that you can really empathize with Kamome who desired an adventurous experience enough that she mixed up fiction for reality. While it’s true there were supernatural reasons at play, I don’t think it is so psychologically unrealistic. And I think this phenomenon can be applied to faith in a few different ways.

I’ve met a lot of different Christians in my life, and my personal experience has found that the ones who grew up in Christian homes are actually the least likely to be true followers of Christ despite claiming they are. I would group myself as one of such people. Thinking about Kamome’s story, I wonder if a similar phenomenon happens in regards to Christian faith. We grow up being told Christian stories, Bible lessons, and surrounded by people who are “faithful.” But children are not capable of truly understanding the meaning of giving your life to Christ. Some Christians certainly grow up to be respectable and faithful Christians despite facing the harsh reality of life. But many grow up by only continuing to follow the motions without understanding how Jesus should impact your lifestyle and choices. If they go to church and listen to the pastor and say their prayers, then they are good Christians in their minds. I think when your childhood is filled with stories about good Christians, it can be easy to think that you are also a good Christian for no reason other than constantly hearing about it. Like Kamome who believes she went on an adventure she never did, people can believe they hold faith they never had.

Such a thing is incredibly ironic because your faith is not in God; instead, your faith is in a false perception of yourself as someone who does have faith in God. Anyone who questions your faith is clearly in the wrong because you are certain that you are a faithful person. How can you be wrong when your entire childhood memories are filled with stories about being faithful? Kamome’s misunderstanding is compounded by her own mother’s actions. With nothing but love for Kamome, she wrote a story that would make Kamome happy and then went on to reconstruct the story in real life. The truth behind Hairi and Kamome’s adventure: finding the keys, the secret map, and even the old ship, it was all prepared for the sake of living out the fictional tale; but this too, Kamome forgot. Christians who grow up in Christian homes must also deal with this irony. Because they are surrounded by people who want them to become respectable adults of faith, it becomes far easier to simply believe they are. When you live in an isolated community of religion where failure is met only with encouragement to be more faithful, faith is no longer a challenge; it is “inevitability.” Those who see the hypocrisy often end up leaving Christianity, while those who don’t end up trapped in a life of faith without works.

This is all not to say Christian communities are bad or this is the sole cause of Christian faith in name only. However, I do think this is a very real thing that happens to people who have only known “good Christian faith” their entire lives. Kamome got caught up in the adventure of the past which she never experienced. However, she and Hairi still experienced a real adventure in the present.  In the same way, God can use even those of false faith to lead people to true faith. The question is whether or not you can distinguish which of the two you are.

P.S. The adventure of Kamome is based on the very real tourist attraction of Megijima.

Nana Concerts and What That Even Means

I’m not dead! I haven’t actually written anything in forever, again. This seems to be a recurring problem. To be fair, I did participate in NaNoWriMo (and failed, naturally), and then I’m always lazy in December, and then I went on vacation to Japan yay, and now it’s February, wait, March.  The main reason I went to Japan was of course to attend Nana Mizuki’s Live Gate concert! This time, with 7 days at Budokan, of which I went to 4 of them (+the birthday live streaming at a theater). I no longer have the patience to write out a report for every concert I go to, but I’ll say it was once again one of the best times of my life. The best part was probably finally getting to hear Brave Phoenix live after all these years of waiting and always missing the ones where she did perform it. Then there were all the special guests and duets that I would probably regret not hearing if I didn’t go to all of those concerts. I’m already sad I missed the duets at the concerts I didn’t attend.

As I told people about my trip and 4 (5) concerts I went to, everyone always asked if the concerts were the same. Because going to the same concert isn’t worth it, right? Then I have to explain how Nana changes a few of the songs, but there’s a core setlist. I get different kinds of reactions to that. Even if it was their favorite artist, people wouldn’t go to the exact same concert multiple times in such a short period of time. Who does that? I kind of felt like people weren’t really as big fans of whomever they said they were. Then again, I’m a crazy person who flies to the other side of the world to see Nana. I’m definitely the anomaly here; I’m fully aware of that much.

But eventually I finally realized a major difference in perception. Probably, when most people think of going to concerts or listening to singers, they think of enjoying the music. You go to the concert to enjoy music you like and the experience of hearing it live. Going multiple times, especially if you have to pay money each time, isn’t exactly as appealing as the first time. You might want to hear different songs, but the same set list would certainly be less alluring. But I realized I don’t go to Nana Mizuki concerts for the music. It’s definitely a high priority, but in reality, when I think of Nana concerts, I think of spending time with Nana. Being in the same place as her, listening to her talk, and interacting with her through all the wotagei, all of this is what makes her concerts so fun for me. Spending time with Nana and building a stronger connection with her as a fan is what I really care about. Especially with her MCs, where she always has something different to say, and being able to hear her thoughts on the concert or just her daily happenings is really important to me. In the end, as a fan, I just want to spend as much time with Nana as possible and the music is second to that. There is just a completely different interpretation and understanding of why someone would go to a concert. Indeed, for other artists, I would go to listen to a select few songs I want to hear live and after that, I wouldn’t want to go again so soon. But for Nana my motivation, expectations, and hopes are different.

And that difference in perspective is similar to the difference in understanding what Christianity is about. Christianity is supposed to be about a relationship with God through Jesus. It is about mutual love and wanting to love others because of a love for God. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t view it this way. They view it as being forced to live a lifestyle without fun or being under the rule of a man in the sky, among plenty of other twisted misunderstandings. Even Christians often misunderstand it as a religion where you must follow a set of laws or a relationship based on fear of being sent to hell. But that’s not what it’s supposed to be about, and that’s not what many Christians think of when they think of their relationship with God.

It all comes down to understanding this difference in perspective, and in another way, a difference in definitions based on that perspective. Lately, I have found myself plagued more and more by people simply using and defining words or ideas in completely different ways than I understand them. It makes communication nearly impossible, and it is arguably a dangerous thing to think we are speaking the same language, when in reality, we really aren’t. When I talk about a Nana concert, there is a disconnect between what I think of and what others think of. Of course, that’s natural because I’m a crazy Nana fan and others aren’t, and that influences how I think of a concert. In the same way, people have vastly different experiences and understandings about religion, Christianity, and God. Christians may truly have a beautiful and desirable relationship with God, but we’re still the crazy ones. In fact, even trying to explain Christianity as a mutual relationship can fail because people do not all view relationships the same way. Some people have very negative experiences with relationships or some people view them as mutually taking advantage of each other. I have found even explaining Christianity as love can backfire as people view love as a fleeting, fickle emotion no better than infatuation. I have argued before that Biblical love is far greater and amazing than how we as a society view it today, and that surely has an effect on trying to explain God’s love to others, as oftentimes arguments arise from a difference in what it means to be loved by God.

So what is the solution to this problem in perspective? Well, I don’t have one per se. There are probably a hundred different methods you could try and get a hundred different results with a hundred different people. However, the one commonality to any solution is to first understand the depth of this problem. This is something that does not only help in explaining your perspective on Christianity to others, but it helps in having empathy for others as a whole. The fact that a person’s experiences can so largely affect how a person views not just life but also ideas and the very definition of words is something that is lost on pretty much anyone who doesn’t think about the limitations of language. When we consider that Christianity is such an abstract and spiritual topic, it’s no wonder that it is understood so differently by many kinds of people all around the world. Before we even consider if it’s true, there is the problem of establishing a consistent and mutual understanding of what it even is.

Dies irae: Acta est Fabula

I already wrote a post on Dies irae, but I have so much to say about it that I couldn’t help but write another. However, while my previous post was different from the norm with its play on the chuuni genre and making outlandish claims about the true intention behind the story, this time I will go back to what I, and probably my readers, are used to. If you haven’t read my previous post on the story, then that might actually be a good thing because it spoiled all of the biggest plot twists. Instead, I will kind of spoil everything else but leave the biggest and final twists alone.

As you may know, Dies irae is about Ren, an ordinary protagonist who gets caught up in a supernatural battle with some Nazis in modern day Japan. He partners with the mysterious girl Marie to protect those he holds dear and stop them from sacrificing the entire town to resurrect their leader, so to speak. With the progression of each route, the stakes get exponentially larger and the truth behind the madness begins to unravel. However, while each route ends while arguably “stopping the big bad from coming back,” none of the routes other than the finale give a true satisfaction of victory. Kasumi’s route alone might as well be a bad end considering the sacrifices Ren has to make to stop them. Although Marie’s route can give off the impression of victory and the defeat of the most powerful enemies, the reader can’t help but shake the feeling that something is off. Mercurius, the mastermind pulling all the strings from behind the scenes, is defeated, yet the truth is that such defeat was his plan all along. Thus even in the “best case scenario” of Marie’s route, the characters did nothing but get played like fiddle. It is only in the finale of Rea’s route that things go off course from the puppet master’s plan. It is only in this route that things truly go as the characters hope for.

What, then, is so different about Rea’s route that it manages to undermine the plans of a man who manipulated people since WW2 and has the power of foreknowledge on his side? The answer is Rea, which was obvious because it’s her route. What does that entail exactly? In the previous 3 routes, Rea was closer to a bystander. Sure, she played her role and made certain choices, but she was never willing to throw everything away to achieve her goals. She was never willing to face the truth and move forward. More specifically, she was never willing to speak or act out against that which she knew was wrong. In her route, she constantly refers to how she always knew something was off with the church she grew up in. But she closed her eyes. She shut her mouth. She blocked her ears. She wanted to believe it was just her imagination, that she was just thinking too much. But the truth was that the church she knew as home was an existence far more sinister than she ever wanted to acknowledge.

However, when Rea chooses to speak out, to act, and to walk down an unknown path fraught with danger and arguably foolishness, the play which Mercurius so carefully laid out begins to distort. It is not a flashy wrench in his plans but more of a tiny snowball that grows with each successive coincidence. Rea does not hide from the truth, and thus, she paves the route to an ending which is far from the expectations of the one who commands foreknowledge.

Rea reminds me a lot of, well, myself. Similar to Rea, I grew up in a Christian home. To the average person, this says a lot about my childhood. When I tell other Christians this, they immediately assume so many things, as if they understand where I’m coming from. Because usually, they assume that my childhood was like theirs too. We both grew up in a Christian home, so we both grew up with similar childhoods. It makes it so much easier on me because I don’t have to give any detailed stories about how I became a Christian or why I go to church. I’m not lying, and people are just assuming, and the societal harmony is maintained. This meaningless exchange is no different than the Japanese 和 which insists on giving on the expected answers rather than the true ones. But the truth is so much grayer, and the Christian home I grew up is so much different than what people like to assume, though it was by no means as extreme as Rea’s case.

I did grow up in a Christian home, but there were still a number of times where I questioned what was going on and what was being said. Like Rea, I tried to believe that I was just misunderstanding. I was only a young child, so it must be the fault of my age; indeed, this is what I was told. But as I grew older, I found those doubts I had to be more legitimate and my suspicions to be more than just naïve questions. For example, the fact that my family would change churches so often. For example, deflecting any questions I had with being told to honor my parents. For example, and the most memorable conversation that has stayed with me to this day, when I was told how Mexicans should all be beheaded and the border should be lined with their heads to scare away illegal immigrants. I was told I would understand these things when I’m older. I still don’t.

There were a lot of things about my childhood that just felt off. But I did grow up in a Christian home. My parents are Christian. I learned to say my prayers and read my Bible. I learned about sin, God’s mercy, Jesus’ sacrifice, and grace and love that all Christians should exhibit. Yes, my childhood was filled with all the good things a Christian home should be filled with. But something was not exactly right. Even so, I closed my eyes; I shut my mouth; I blocked my ears.

Perhaps my experience is actually not too different from many other Christians who “grew up in a Christian home.” No one is perfect and all Christian parents will get things wrong sometimes. Regardless, the point I wish to make is it is very much against the nature of the Church to condemn each other for holding different viewpoints. At worst, we part ways and let each other do our own thing. The countless denominations are but one example of how this plays out. If we all believe in Jesus Christ, then that’s fine, right? To an extent, most definitely, but there should also be a limit. At some point, Christians need to stop passively disagreeing with other Christians and voice their issues with hypocritical beliefs .

Today, I see “Christians” advocating for genocide, blindly hating those they have never met or spoken to, and proudly stating themselves to be superior to others based off the color of their skin. I hear of atheists who have been deeply wounded by Christian words or actions or of Christian parents who drove their children away from God by hypocritical example. I and many around me will say something like “I’m sorry, but not all Christians are like that,” and the criticism stops there. Yes, I am dangerously towing the line of politics, but it is far too relevant to what I want to say, and I have personally been far too affected by current events to stay silent. At some point, Christians need to take real action to denounce “Christians” who are behaving exactly the opposite of how Jesus taught us to.

Dies was a silly but entertaining chuuni story about fighting against gods and superpowers that could redefine the very laws of the universe. To quote myself, it was a story immersed in philosophy yet meaningless in its delivery. But I resonated with Rea in her route so much. The regrets she had about not acknowledging the strangeness about her church. The doubts she silently buried deep within her heart. When she lived as a bystander, Ren could not overcome the power of foreknowledge. He could not fight against the strings of the puppet master. Other than having the blood of the Beast run through her veins, Rea was just a single, powerless human. She had no superpowers to speak of. Logically, her actions should not have such influential effects on the story. All she did was speak out. All she did was follow her heart. Yet this was enough to change the minds and souls of the people around her, of the people who had the power to do something about the hopeless situation of the Ghetto.

I think Christians desperately need to learn from Rea. Not just from what she did right but also from what she did wrong. The multiple routes of a visual novel make this analysis far more fruitful than a linear Christian parallel of typical stories. Through Rea, we see the full consequences of staying silent as well as the miracle she birthed by speaking out. Look at the current political environment of our country: a “leader” who actively works to divide up its citizens in any way he can, supported largely by “Christians.” People who claim to have the same religious beliefs as I are openly advocating for murder and praising Nazis (how fitting, that Rea’s “Catholic” family were actually Nazis), judging others based on their ethnic background. These are modern day Pharisees, who Jesus actively spoke out against and criticized, though with more love than I could possibly conceive. I know so many Christians who agree with my opinion but still choose to take the role of a bystander. Sadly, I would argue it is exactly because of this passive stance Christians have taken over many decades that this chasm formed between people who all identify as following the same religion. Rea’s decision to stop being a bystander inspired those around her to change, and she has even inspired me to change. It’s time to put an end to this farce of a play and actively work against those who are twisting Christianity to something that is practically its opposite. I’m well aware of the near impossible logistics with deciding where the line should be drawn, how exactly to go about it, etc. but maintaining this status quo will only worsen the situation for everyone. I am not advocating anything beyond this: to be more like Rea. Be someone who speaks up when she has doubts about the church and its members, for it is better to be mistaken than to bury those questions away from the light of the truth.

Dies irae: Amantes amentes

I recently finished reading the highly praised epic Dies irae, and what an epic it was. While a lot of it feels nothing more than action and redundant, generic speeches, there is a lot more going on beneath the surface of the plot which does not get revealed until the latter half. Moreover, many have bestowed upon it the title of the best chuunibyou story ever written. Contrary to what probably the vast majority of Western anime fans may believe, the chuuni genre is hardly limited to teenagers glorifying the idea of superpowers and magic words. Rather the genre itself is one which glorifies anything in the name of awesome for the sake of awesome. Rather than trying to be serious about the logic of the powers and plot, it instead has self-awareness about its own absurdity and plays that up even more. And so with stories like Dies irae, the superpowers are completely real, the stakes are as ridiculous as what they claim, and chanting psalms to unleash your true power is an absolute requirement – all because it’s cooler that way and nothing more. Even so, Dies irae rises above the rest of chuuni stories as being something that is incredibly well written. The prose is so elegant and grandiose, reflecting in its annals the embellished glorification of superpowers, and the English localization masterfully translates this immersive tone to the spectators of the Grand Guignol.

Before delving into the prophesized Day of Wrath, it is necessary to understand that Dies is heavily influenced by Also sprach Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche, as many of the characters, themes, and ideas are directly based off it. To be completely frank, a fully accurate and fair analysis is something outside my range of knowledge and understanding. I could never hope to do a proper philosophical analysis of it as it pertains to Christianity. But simultaneously, we must remember that Dies is also the pinnacle of the chuuni genre – a genre that is not supposed to be taken seriously. Thus, it is this comical dichotomy that creates a story engrossed in philosophy yet meaningless in its delivery. Any outlandish interpretation we choose to make of it can therefore be argued as viable not because that is what the work is about but because making such a claim would in the spirit of the work. In other words, the genre is not about speaking in red but speaking in gold. It is not about stating the truth but about creating your own truth.

To give a quick and horribly simplified summary of Also sprach Zarathustra and Nietzsche’s philosophy, it includes a harsh critique about Christian theology. Zarathustra is a man who speaks of the ubermensch, an individual who journeys to master himself and has complete power over himself. Humans are but the transition between monkey and ubermensch. Furthermore, the universe is always in flux and changing; nothing is fixed. Therefore, the ideas of an unchanging God and an absolute truth and even a fixed morality are all false. To be misguided by something claiming to be unchanging is to fail as an ubermensch. Finally, the universe is always recurring in a phenomenon known as the eternal recurrence. An ubermensch accepts this for he has no regrets in life and would be delighted to repeat anything in life no matter how much suffering it entails, going as far as to even laugh in the face of hardship. Therefore, the idea of heaven or hell after your life ends is an idea for the weak, those who cannot accept the reality of the present. To desire an end is to run from the truth of eternal recurrence. Okay, that is far from an acceptable summary, but these ideas are critical to understanding Dies irae and the following explanation.

Now I must summarize a 50 hour long VN in a short paragraph. Ren, the protagonist of our story, is forced to gain supernatural powers and fight against superpowered Nazis or let the world be destroyed by their leader. He is given the name Zarathustra and as an ubermensch, is able to alter the world around him with his own desires, by his own powers, as are the antagonists. Skipping over a million plot points, he will find himself facing off against the two leaders of the remnant Nazis: Reinhard the Beast and Mercurius the Serpent, references that are far from a coincidence. In the world of Dies irae, Mercurius is an enigmatic figure whose true nature is the god of the world who achieved the highest level an ubermensch can and paints the laws of the universe with his dearest wish: eternal recurrence. In the end, Ren puts an end to both The Beast and The Serpent, ending the eternal recurrence. His partner Marie takes the Throne of the universe and paints over the Law with her desire to envelop every person with her love. Wow I butchered that summary too but these are the key points I need to comprehend things

In Nietzsche’s work, Zarathustra accepts the eternal recurrence, but Ren destroys it. In other words, Dies irae can be viewed as a criticism of Nietzsche’s criticism of Christianity. The eternal recurrence which he speaks of is but a farce and ended by one who carries the very name of Nietzsche’s prophet-like protagonist. Furthermore, the eternal recurrence is created by The Serpent, who symbolizes Temptation.  In other words, in the world of Dies, eternal recurrence represents the cycle of sin as we constantly repeat the folly of our own actions (No doubt Taichi’s Channel has a thing or two to say about this). Indeed, the characters constantly refer to this phenomenon of eternal recurrence, stating they already have foreknowledge of a situation even if it is the first time they have experienced it. For the cycle of sin is the repetition of our folly and though we have foreknowledge of it, we still sin even while knowing exactly how it will go.

If Mercurius the Serpent represents Temptation then Reinhard the Beast naturally represents Satan. It is important to note that Reinhard, The Beguiling Light, was a normal man until he encountered the Serpent, whose silver-tongued words tempted Reinhard down the path of becoming Mephistopheles. As you may recall, Lucifer was originally an angel of heaven, and it was only when he listened to the temptations of his pride that he became the Satan of today. Furthermore, Reinhard is constantly referred to as being incredibly handsome; he is said to be the most beautiful man the characters have ever laid eyes on. Yet again, this description is fully intentional to make a parallel to his Biblical identity. Although, above everything else, the story outright calls him the Devil, making it less symbolic and more literal. Alongside this blatant parallel to the Devil, Reinhard is depicted as the ideal ubermensch: he is someone who accepts and loves everything equally. He does not regret and he does not fear whatever befalls him. Even when faced with death, he merely laughs in amusement, exactly as Nietzsche describes an ubermensch should. As such, it is clear that Dies irae is depicting Nietzsche’s ideal as the Devil incarnate, the one who rules over Legion.

Finally, with the destruction of both Mercurius the Serpent and Reinhard the Beast, the Throne of the World of Emanation is usurped by Marie the goddess who envelops all with her love. Most notably is that she chooses to envelop all the antagonists including Reinhard with her love as well. Her love does not discriminate against anyone. Sound familiar? By putting an end to the cycle of sin, the laws of the universe are replaced with infinite love – God’s love for us. Nietzsche’s entire philosophy is undermined by a power even greater than eternal recurrence: Christianity. Viewing the world of Dies irae a little differently, one could even call it a microcosm of our spiritual lives wherein we are initially ruled by the emanation of temptation, and it is only after a long struggle that we are able to put God on the Korsia of our lives and escape the Ghetto. Indeed, the story which unfolds is revealed to be but a theatrical act directed by The Serpent who grew wary of the eternal recurrence created by his own desires. We too will grow weary of the cycle of sin which tempts as daily, for no gratification in life can fill the gaping hole in our lives but Christ. We seek an end to eternal recurrence yet simultaneously do not choose to break free of it ourselves, even if the power of formation is buried in our souls. It is when the one who sits on the Throne emanates love throughout our lives that we can finally put an end to the deceitful cycle of eternal recurrence. Ren’s rejection of the supernatural and his return to the ordinary is depicted as the equivalent of the return of Odysseus to his wife Penelope. It is only through similar struggles that we too can return home to be the bride of Christ.

It may be easy to argue that my interpretation of Dies irae is wrong, but in the context of a chuuni story, does it even matter? Making pseudo-intellectual claims is the entire basis of the genre; with Dies being what it is, my entire argument could only be wrong by not being ridiculous enough. By making the original story of Zarathustra the basis of Dies irae, Masada is discussing Christianity in the way only a chuuni would. For the Light of the world is what birthed the story which he penned. Therefore, let this be my Beri’ah, the manifestation of my desires in the real world, so I’ll say it in gold:

Dies irae is a criticism of Nietzsche’s criticism of Christianity

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The Importance of Your Most Mundane Choices

This post will heavily spoil the content of the visual novel Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi. You have been warned.

She seems innocent enough…

Regardless of how much you know about what makes the visual novel Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi as interesting as it is, one of the main heroines Aoi immediately begins the story by talking about how they are in a game. Thus, the lurking suspicion of whether she is just being a denpa girl or actually breaking the 4th wall is there from the onset. However, no matter what she says about being a fictional character, or about how the game CGs or the “god” of the outer world, it is never clear which of the two it is. At least for the first third/route of the game, which features the cute childhood friend Miyuki. However, after you complete her route and begin Aoi’s, things slowly get weirder as you interact with the denpa girl. The natural conclusion is that she’s just crazy with her talk about god and needing sex to maintain her existence. Then the game reaches a climactic scene just after you’ve fulfilled her obsession for sex. Miyuki crawls out from under the bed (and now the Nitroplus horror begins) where you just did the deed, straight up murders Aoi and breaks the protagonist’s limbs with her baseball bat, accusing him of betraying her. But this is a VN, and on the Aoi route, you never got together with Miyuki. Yes, but she’s not talking about THIS route, and she’s not talking to the protagonist. She’s talking about the previous route, and she’s talking to the YOU behind the monitor screen, playing this game.

And thus the 4th wall is shattered as you enter the final leg of the story that challenges everything you thought you knew about this game. The game is actually forcefully closed and rebooted. The new loading game screen looks like some 8-bit game out of the 80s. You can try to load your old saves but they no longer exist. Yes, the game literally deletes all your save files. You start a new game that appears to be the same as before. However, if you click the wrong choice, you end up in an inescapable loop. You close the game because there is no way to exit the loop. The game will not close. There is literally no way to close the game other than doing a forced shutdown (at least, I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe there’s some gimmick). You reboot the game. Instead of what you expect, Miyuki appears and asks “do you understand how this world works now?” You are no longer playing a game. You are playing against Miyuki, and she knows exactly what you are doing and can control the game as she pleases.

怖怖怖怖怖怖

The rest of the game basically consists of trying to outwit Miyuki, in a loop of satisfying Miyuki’s yandere lust for you all while the game remembers every action and choice you’ve taken. Even when you think you’ve outwitted Miyuki, she still knows because she is the game. The final climax involves YOU the player, not the protagonist, choosing which girl you truly love. After the credits roll, you will find you cannot go back to replay anything. The only way is to completely uninstall the game and reinstall anew. In this way, the game’s story and message has a direct effect on the real world. In the end, what the game asks of you is that even though you are playing a game, to truly consider the meaning of the choices you make and care for the characters you interact with. While it comes off as an amusing and hilarious trick that makes for a memorable game, it is nevertheless something that is very interesting to consider on a deeper level.

How much do you really think about the choices you make in life? I’m not talking about the big ones like where to go for college, whether to buy a house, or whether to take that job on the other side of the world. But how much do you think about the small choices; do you even think at all? How much do you think about the daily conversation you have with your coworker, or about the momentary interaction with a stranger on the street? There is a natural inclination to care less about the decisions you make when it comes to people you are not too invested in or are not a big part of your life. After all, there’s nothing wrong with going through the motions that society expects of you for a person you may never interact with again. Who cares if it’s thoughtless when your paths will never cross again? Yet, this VN challenges that very inclination through fictional characters – people who are not people; characters who are purely programmed by a script.

Christians always speak of “planting seeds,” but seem to easily glance over the fact that everyone is always planting seeds. The question is what kind of seeds are you planting? What sort of effects are you going to have on others with your words and actions, for everything you say and do can be seen as the act of planting seeds. If Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi can teach you to treat fictional girls with even the smallest extra degree of respect, love, and thoughtfulness, then how much better should you treat the real people around you? When you start a new game in a VN, the characters do not remember what you did in previous game. It’s your chance to start fresh and try a new route to see a different part of the story. But the girls in this game remember what you’ve done and said. Your actions have left a permanent mark in their lives. In the same way, your actions can leave lasting impressions on people no matter how little you may think they do. While people may not remember all of their experiences in life, those experiences are still a part of what makes up who they are and who they become.

We don’t know the situations of those around us; even our close friends have personal thoughts and feelings that they do not share on a regular basis. Thus, our actions and words can play far larger roles in people’s lives than we realize, even if they are strangers. This is not about helping others, reaching out to them, or trying to save anyone, per se. What Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi wishes to convey is only that you be fully considerate of the decisions you make and the effects of those decisions on those around you.  Is this not right in line with living our lives out as followers of Christ? Being loving and thoughtful towards others is not something to be done when it suits us but rather incessantly throughout our lives. You don’t know what effects your decisions will have on the strangers around you, but at the very least, you should act with the awareness that you are an ambassador to Christ, and every action you make is representative of your beliefs. Strangers aren’t NPCs in a game, and in the real world, there are no re-dos.