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.

Advertisements

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

.