Utawarerumono and God

The following is a guest post by my good friend and fellow VN enthusiast Japesland of Beneath the Tangles. When it comes to seeing Christianity in eroge, he is as weird as I am, so I hope you find his thoughts on the topic interesting. Utawarerumono is currently being localized, with the first 2 games already released and the final game scheduled for release this September. Naturally, the post will contain spoilers for the games, so you have been warned.

One of the craziest things about being a Christian is seeing Christianity in everything. I’m no psychologist. In fact, having only taken the most basic of psychology courses in college, I’m sure I know less about psychology than many with at least a basic college education. I’ve also been surrounded by Christianity and Christians for more or less my entire life. Those with more than my aforementioned level of psychology education could probably point out a physiological reason for why I constantly see the story of God and Israel all around me, and I could hardly refute that line of reasoning. However, that does not change the fact that I continue to see God no matter where I look, no matter how much I do or do not want to acknowledge it.

The most recent instance of this comes from finishing one of my favorite, in a guilty pleasure sort of way, video game series of all time: Utawarerumono.

Looking at the history of the series and its most basic premise would seem to indicate anything but a relation to Christianity. The series began almost twenty years ago exclusively on PC as an eroge with light strategic role playing game elements (notably, like some of its peers, the series has picked up some degree of popularity, so it no longer has to rely on porn as a selling point). The story essentially takes place in a fantasy Yayoi period, perfect for chuunibyo and nearly all characters feature animal tails and ears, making it appear marketed particularly toward a fetish-driven audience.

Yet in spite of all this, now that the series has come to its three-game conclusion spread over nearly two decades, I couldn’t help but be moved to my very core at not only an emotional, but a spiritual level.

The first game of the series has you playing an amnesiac human who has awoken in an unfamiliar world filled with unfamiliar creatures. Throughout the course of the game, you ultimately discover that this world is a post apocalyptic earth, and your character has only survived and awoken at this point because of his existence as a sort of god (the explanation is far too complex to explain here). By the end of the game, the climax has you sacrificing yourself, sealing yourself away with your more or less evil half in order to save the whole of society as it has managed to exist to this point.At this point the story is hardly Christian in nature. In fact, the concept of yin and yang is far more prevalent, necessitating that the good and evil halves of this deity be sealed away indefinitely.

Then enter the final two entries in the series.

In these two games you play as a human in the true sense of the word. Unlike the first game, you not only think you’re a human, you know you’re a human. There is nothing to indicate otherwise in the whole of the narrative. However, like the first game, you end up concluding the series by sacrificing yourself and ultimately sealing yourself away in a climatic conclusion that results in being killed by a great evil, returning temporarily from the afterlife, then returning to the afterlife as an exchange of sorts with the sealed main character from the first game (it’s worth noting that these games follow the first game by nearly 20 years, both in real life and in the context of the story. That’s a long time to wait for players and characters alike, and makes a more significant impact than my simple explanation does it justice).

Much more happens in the plot than this, but the Gospel connection that I just can’t forget, despite its analogous inconsistencies, comes down to matching each character with a Bible element. The main character from the original game is God as he interacts directly with his people, perhaps referred to best as the Holy Spirit. The main character of the second and third entries is the human element of God: Jesus. Both characters have similar, yet fundamentally different existences, in some ways analogous to the relationship of these two facets of the Christian God.

In Utawarerumono, the first game’s protagonist, Hakuoro, leads his people much like the people of Israel, through hardship and strife, enduring great loss, but ultimately into prosperity, then necessarily departing from their presence for a limited period of time (still there in spirit, but no longer leading in the direct fashion that he once had). Many years later, the protagonist of the final entries, Haku, leads a different group in a much different and more personal way, resulting finally in his own necessitated death. However, in spite of this death, he returns to life shortly after to “finish the job,” after which he returns to his afterlife state, exchanging places with Hakuoro, finally returning Hakuoro to direct contact with the people he led, now increased many fold.

Anyone with passing knowledge of the Biblical narrative, whether or not you call it “history” will see the connections here. Israel’s God once led the nation tangibly and directly before an extended period of several hundred years of basically “radio silence” following the last of the prophets. Then entered Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for all, returning to life physically and as a human for a short time before returning to Heaven. At this point, in his place, He sends the Holy Spirit to lead the people, much like God had allegedly led Israel in ages past.

So am I crazy?

If you haven’t played the games yourself, it’s obviously hard to say, as my account is colored by my Christian faith in every way fathomable. But rather than claiming that these flawed connections between a dumb game and the Bible are evidence of God, I think it’s significant to note that this interpretation can exist at all. Did God influence the writer to include these distant allusions, or am I merely seeing what I want to see because it is what I believe?

Ultimately, I don’t think the answer to that question matters, because either way it is evidence to me not that there is a God or that Christianity is true, but that if God exists and Christianity are true, He and it can truly use anything to strengthen faith and understanding. Even Utawarerumono.

Tsuki ga Kirei: The Cultural and Generational Gap of Technology

I have mostly been enjoying the Tsuki ga Kirei anime with its depiction of first love between two awkward teenagers.  The worst part has been the CGI, the best part has been the dokidoki romance; the second worst part has been the NTR, and the second best part has been whenever the NTR gets mercilessly crushed by our main characters. It’s great, adorable, and fun romance. It’ll never reach anything amazing like ef~A Tale of Memories/Melodies, but it has certainly managed to be very good at what it’s meant to do – depict awkward teenage romance. One of those aspects of awkward romance is the texting, where just thinking of what to write or how to respond can take minutes or hours. They ponder what to write then erase it and ponder more. Before they know it, the day has passed. Or when they do send a message, they wait in anticipation and anxiety. When they get a response back, their stomachs fill with butterflies and they blush and rejoice at the simplest thing. This is painfully reminiscent of my own teenage years. But it is also a thing that is very new to the world of dating and childhood.

She’s so adorable

The progression and evolution of technology has been unbelievably rapid the past hundred years and especially the past twenty years. This has changed not just how we live as a society and culture but how children are raised, and this creates generational gaps that are increasingly more difficult to overcome. Many parents do not even understand the technology that exists. Just think of the stereotype of trying to teach your mom how to use a computer or a smart phone; it’s more often true than not. How could a generation that struggles to understand emerging technology possibly understand what it’s like to grow up with that technology as part of your daily life? The answer is they can’t. And as technology continues to progress with AR and VR and even the fast paced evolution of internet culture which changes by the day, I, too, will be unable to understand the next generation. In fact, I already experience this with teenagers using terminology and memes I don’t understand. My 2 year old memes and slang are already outdated. But more than that, I also don’t understand what it’s even like to grow up with the internet as it exists today. When I was a kid, the internet was new and everyone was exploring what it could do. On dial-up internet. Today, the internet is exponentially large in comparison, with all of it at your fingertips on demand. Of course I can’t understand what it’s like to grow up with that kind of technology, at a time in one’s life where you are still learning about yourself.

Throughout the ages, parents have a habit of casting aside their children’s complaints about not understanding them. Because parents have far more life experience, they know what’s best for their children and have the right to ignore what they have to say. But every now and then, that’s not true. Parents (or adults) are still humans, and perhaps more often than we’d like to admit, the kids may know more about the situation than we do. Even with this generational gap in technology, we adults might think that just because we use the same, new technology, we can understand what’s best. But I think that’s just arrogance speaking. The different generations will use the technology differently, and this will create an entire generational culture of how they interact with the technology, one that may be completely different than the one we see and understand. Now, as someone without kids, I’m not here to tell parents how to raise their kids. However, I do think it’s important to realize that these massive developments in technology mean children are going to have a completely unique and foreign experience growing up online. As a result, the interactions with technology as you understand it will not necessarily be applicable, and it will be important to make judgments as a parent based on the culture of the children rather than the internet culture that you understand as an adult.

In similar ways, there is a cultural gap when it comes to Japan and technology. Most people fail to realize it, but Japan’s use of technology is very different than the way ours works and they are still, in many ways, living in the 90s, largely because Japan has a staunch refusal to adapt to new methodologies. They still love to use the fax machine, for example, and their website designs make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. Although slowly changing, few people have their own computers. The PC never really took off in Japan, and consequently, Japanese people have some pretty abysmal IT skills. Email is something that many older people fail to comprehend beyond the most basic usage; they use it, but they can’t understand any of its more “complex” uses, like bcc or attachments (because bcc means someone is spying and attachments all have viruses). Even when I went to Todai, most of the students had no idea how to troubleshoot a computer or how to do a lot of things I would consider simple (at least for a student at a top university). At the same time, the younger generation lives on their phones even more than we do, whether they are gaming or texting or browsing the internet (in great contrast, much of the older generation still loves their flip phones).  As a Westerner, it can be surprising to see a culture that is so divided in their use of 21st century technology. I am no expert about the exact mechanisms that happened to cause this, and that is an entire topic by itself, but it is suffice to say that this is the strange reality. Therefore, with a culture so different when it comes to technology, a similar thing occurs with the aforementioned generational gap. In fact, I would argue this cultural gap is compounded by any existing generational gap, making it even harder for Westerners to understand how these people interact with the technology around them.

LINE is really popular

Thus, I come to the main focus of what I wish to rant about. From what I have seen from Japanese churches and missionaries, the majority utilize Facebook as their social media of choice. It is the largest and most successful one, and we can easily see how useful it is in the West. However, I would argue this is an incredibly large mistake being made by people who have fallen victim to this generational and cultural gap of technology, or in this case, social media. By far the most used social media in Japan, especially with the younger generation, is Twitter and Line. You see both of these in anime on a fairly regular basis, and Tsuki ga Kirei features Line quite heavily as well. The obvious reason for that is what I’ve just stated: these are ridiculously popular in Japan. If missionaries want to reach out to the Japanese with social media, then they should really be using Twitter and Line, not Facebook.

In fact, I would argue using Facebook is not only a lesser choice but a counterproductive choice. Culturally, Japan does not use Facebook the way we do in the West. Many of them use it closer to LinkedIn, as a professional profile and/or blog. This is fairly dependent on how “Westernized” the individual is, but it is also worth noting that this means they are very unlikely to engage with things that will be perceived negatively by the public, i.e. Christianity. Thus, a Japanese person is actually motivated to avoid your Facebook page, regardless of curiosity. The same is not true of Twitter or Line. It is here that they can live out their online personas. In fact, this phenomenon is seen to a smaller degree in the West, and I am willing to bet most of you are more willing to show off your anime interests using online names rather than on Facebook. The anonymity of the internet is incredibly important to people, and so it follows that the Japanese would be more willing to engage with Christian content when their real names are not involved.

Yet, this power of anonymity goes even further. As someone who follows a number of Japanese people on Twitter, I know for a fact that many people are willing to open up to the internet about how they are feeling, what they struggle with, and their concerns about the future. I am not even talking about conversations; they post these things on Twitter for all to see without any prompting from others. Missionaries always talk about how hard it is to get the Japanese to open up and talk honestly, how hard it is to befriend them and have these kinds of conversations. They are right, but the power of the internet and anonymity makes this orders of magnitudes easier and simpler.  These people are already talking about exactly the things Christians claim are difficult to learn about, yet there are practically no Christians listening to them. So why are churches and missionaries not utilizing these social media over Facebook?

The only conclusion I can draw is because there is an enormous cultural and/or generational gap in understanding how these people interact with technology.  So in case you haven’t realized by now, I am once again criticizing Japan missionaries everywhere for their ignorance about the country they claim to love so much. Granted, I know there are examples of Christians using Twitter as a form of outreach, but for every one of those, I know ten others that prefer Facebook. I have said it before, but I often wonder if Japan missionaries have become too complacent and accepting of the smallest victories. They have used the excuse that Japanese people require years of work and friendship before opening up to others (which is generally true) such that they do not consider their current methodology is inefficient for reasons besides the aforementioned excuse, trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy of miniature gains. All of you Japan missionaries who don’t use Twitter and Line clearly don’t know what you’re doing, so please fix it.

We Are All Terrible Communicators

The more I study Japanese, the more I realize how bad English translations are, not entirely at the fault of the translators. The languages are just so different and the nuances simply aren’t conveyed the same way. But more than things being lost in translation, I am learning just how much is lost in everyday communication, when the language of the speaker and listener is the same. In the anime Seikaisuru Kado, this idea of miscommunication and loss of information through language is used during the communication of humans with the higher dimensional being Yaha-kui zaShunina. He explains that no matter how effective language is, it can never communicate 100% of the intended information. Without a full understanding of an idea, miscommunication will certainly occur. As one of the main characters Shindo tries to communicate with him and find proper terminology, Yaha-ku zaShunina (I really don’t want to write this name out any more) often gives out scores for how accurately the information was understood, constantly noting that their communication is imperfect.

Nisio Isin of the Monogatari/Zaregoto series actually has an interesting quote on the matter of communication as well

People can’t express their thoughts a hundred percent, and what does get expressed isn’t going to make it across a hundred percent; in practice, you’re at sixty percent for each if things go well, which would mean the audience of a work gets only thirty-six percent of what the author is thinking. The other sixty-four percent is made up of misunderstandings.

Granted, the context of the quote is about authors commenting on their own work and how different people inevitably end up interpreting the same work differently (a topic that perhaps deserves its own post). However, in the context of communication in general, I find the quote to be equally relevant. Perhaps the numbers are a bit too arbitrary, but the basic sentiment holds true. Some people are skilled at expressing themselves with words, but many of us are not. How often do you struggle to find the right words only to realize you still chose the wrong ones? How often do you think someone meant one thing, only for them to counter with “that’s not what I meant”? Additionally, language itself is not perfect. Sometimes the perfect words still fall short of your intended meaning, and sometimes the clearest words will still be misinterpreted by people with a different understanding of how those words are used. I mean, we live in a world where the usage of a word like covfefe can evolve overnight.

Communication is arguably the most important thing when interacting with other people, but it takes far more effort than we like to admit, and that’s largely because so much of it involves miscommunication. Even so, disagreements are often attributed to differences in opinions, ignorance of opposing parties, or even stupidity. And sometimes these may very well be true. Everyone is ignorant about different things; we can’t all understand every topic. As harsh as it sounds, some people are less intelligent than others and can’t comprehend complex topics as easily. But if we are to acknowledge the miscommunication that arises from both a speaker’s inability to fully express their thoughts and a listener’s inability to fully interpret those words, I think we will find that many arguments are simple (or perhaps, complex) misunderstandings. Even how a word is used and interpreted differently can cause these kinds of misunderstandings.

Take for example, the term “Christian.” It should be a word that clearly denotes devotion to Christ and belief in the Gospel message. Yet somehow, it can mean a million different things. Which denomination are you? Do you go to church? Do you hate anime? Do you celebrate the idea of sinners suffering in hell? Do you believe in Christ? (I have had “Christians” tell me that their denomination does not…) A great deal of clarity is required to determine what kind of Christian you are talking about; by itself, it means almost nothing. People have all kinds of different ideas of what a given word means to them. Even though language has dictionary definitions of words, the fact remains that definitions change based on how we choose to use words, and that flux is further dependent on things like culture, beliefs, and personal experiences.

If a single word can cause confusion without follow up clarity, you can begin to imagine how many problems can arise with the added complications of context (or lack thereof), tone (which can be both helpful or detrimental), cultural differences, and worst of all, things being left unsaid entirely due to whatever human emotions we have like embarrassment or distrust. Unfortunately, we take language and communication for granted and more often than not assume what we interpreted is true, simply because the words have a clear meaning to us; in fact, this is the very crux of miscommunication as there is no reason to doubt out internal interpretation of what we hear. It is surprisingly easy for this misstep to snowball into a back and forth argument that sounds like the two are talking about the same thing but in their heads, they really aren’t.

I suppose no matter how much I write, you are likely to misunderstand some of the things I am trying to say, making for a rather ironic post. When we consider that the original quote from Nisio was in Japanese, we have an added layer of lost information and probably a pun or two because what else would you expect from Nisio? Even so, if we were to score ourselves on how accurately we interpret words around us, I think an assessment of 36% as an overall average is not too far from the truth. Especially when it comes to abstract things like how or why you are feeling a certain way or why your opinion on something is the way it is, it simply isn’t possible for language to communicate these things with 100% accuracy.

It is only natural, then, that Christians are just as vulnerable to this as much as anyone else. Yet, far too many Christians are too quick to judge what others are saying without considering that miscommunication is possible. Whether this is trying to reach out to others or listening to your pastor on Sunday morning, we internalize what we perceive to be true without questioning how accurate those perceptions are. It is so easy to misunderstand the intent of what is said because of these issues of communication, our own prejudices, and the influences of our own desires on interpretation. This extends to every aspect of our lives, and it is dangerously easy to think nothing is being misunderstood. As Christians (or even as humans), we need to make sure we understand the feelings and thoughts of those around us if we want to properly build community, and that can only be obtained through proper communication.

Therefore, I want to challenge everyone to critically think and question your own perceptions of everything you hear around you and in turn, realize how poor at communication everyone really is. The only real solution to poor communication is to communicate more with an open mind and an earnest desire to understand others.  Especially as Christians who are called to love others, it is imperative that we do not act on misunderstandings. In order to truly build a bridge between Christians and non-believers, it is necessary to have clear and precise communication, something that is often not addressed completely when Christians speak of outreach and missions. Communication is hard, and we will never truly get over this barrier; however, the more aware we make ourselves of this problem and educate others on it, the better we can close the gap of misunderstandings.