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.

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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.