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In the first part of this post, I presented evidence to the strong Christian undercurrent present in the storytelling of Arpeggio of Blue Steel, complimenting the already broad list of examples medievalotaku presented in his original blog post. Because of those motives, medievalotaku views Arpeggio as a “spy anime”.

However, I have my misgivings about the series being branded as such. On the one hand, I would generally oppose the idea of works of fiction being “spy anything”, since that implies there being only one true interpretation, which is untrue of any kind of deeper fiction. On the other hand, while Arpeggio takes from the Christian worldview to create the foundation of its setting and plot developments, it is not afraid to criticize Christian ideals and discuss the present state of Christianity.

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One of the ways in which Arpeggio transcends being a mere retelling and introduces its own ideas is through its female lead: I-401 Iona. Unlike with Gunzou, the obvious Christ figure of the show, it is not easy to pinpoint which Biblical figure Iona resembles the most. I pointed out how. at times, she works as God’s messenger dove – the Holy Spirit. Yet there is certainly a master-student relationship between her and Gunzou more reminiscent of that between Christ and his apostles. Either way, as medievalotaku points out,    “[s]he is certainly Gunzou’s most perfect follower”.

If there is something unusual about Iona as a follower of Christ, though, it is that she is… a declared atheist.

- This is a navy graveyard.

- Graveyard?

- A place where we mourn the dead and where we let their souls rest.

- The dead? Those whose life functions have ceased? Is there any meaning to mourning the dead?

Like her sisters, Iona was born without a predefined belief system, except for the priorities established by the Admiralty Code. As such, she values reason and logic above all else. For her, the graveyard is “just a place”, while the actions of mourners are “meaningless”.

Viewers might be used to that kind of thinking from other science-fiction works involving machine-like intelligence. But it does not take long for the conversation to take an unusual turn.

- Meaningless, huh? But I think human progress might be all about finding meaning within those meaningless actions.

- …It is similar to how a growing system allows for irregular noise to maintain diversity and avoid the inevitable corruption of data throughout successive copying.

Iona’s parallel seems to surprise Gunzou at first, but he soon responds with a smile.

Through the conversation between Iona and Gunzou in episode three, Arpeggio shows the ideal of a relationship between a Christian and an atheist/agnostic.

Iona honestly admits the differences in their beliefs. However, Iona’s denial of Gunzou’s ideas, no matter how direct and to the point, does not become a personal attack. This is because at this point in the series, she holds an absolute devotion to Gunzou. There may therefore be no doubt that while she denies her captain’s words, she does not deny him as a person. We are not usually connected with each other in a special way like this. But, as fellow humans blessed with the same free will and reason, we should still at least be able to respect each other regardless of differences in belief.

The above-mentioned respect is often put into practice in the form of a no-touch policy. But like Iona and Gunzou, we should not be afraid to ask questions, and, when questioned, we should answer to the best of our ability.

Why is the above necessary? Partly because it is an opportunity for self-reflection. As they say, a teacher needs to know his stuff thrice as well as the regular person. But mostly, it is necessary for what Iona was able to do in the end – the forming of bridges and parallels.

It is worth it to look at the conversations as a win-win scenario, where both sides win to the extent they can gain an understanding of the other. It is crucial to realize, and accept, that our current positions are different, sometimes to the point of being mutually exclusive. But more often then we realize, we come from the same places, aiming for the same things. After all, we all share the same basic needs as human beings. The key, therefore, is to seek similarities and understanding even while acknowledging the differences.

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It is not immediately obvious what point the series is making with its messiah-atheist combination. But the answer comes in the second part of the same episode, with the crew of I-401 invited to a dinner party by an army/government official.

His demand: hand I-401 over to the government. His reasoning behind the demand: we are the government, our soldiers have proper training and you cannot trust that monster submarine in the first place.

Gunzou’s answer is negative, his reasoning equally simple: Iona, my crew and I have been risking our lives and achieving results; your army has failed to do anything for the last seven years, their “proper training” notwithstanding; I trust Iona much more than I could ever trust you.

On a superficial level, Gunzou and the official would seem to share a lot of similarities. They represent the same race, the same nationality and the same military background. They are similar to two people of the same religious denomination. Had it been the official who saw Gunzou offering the flowers in the graveyard, there would be no need to explain whether there is any meaning to mourning the dead.

But there is a great chasm separating the two men. That chasm can be described with a single phrase: “delivering the goods”. For all their ideological differences, Gunzou and Iona have no secrets between each other. On the battlefield, they can have absolute trust the other won’t betray them. Can Gunzou say the same about the official?

It is not difficult to see how empty the man’s arguments are. At no point does he mention what the government intends to do once they get their hands on I-401 or what great strategy they have in mind to beat back the Fog. In fact, complying with his request would require Gunzou to abandon his quest to deliver humanity’s last-hope superweapon to America. Add the fact that there is some obvious power struggle going on in the background between the navy and ground forces, and it can be guessed that the official represents some small clique who want to benefit from the possession of I-401, and his top priority is not necessarily the good of humanity as a whole.

The law is on our side, the official says, without thinking about the ultimate purpose of the law. Our troops had proper training, he says, without thinking what purpose the training was supposed to serve. His goals are the same as Gunzou’s, but in shape only – they are empty on the inside.

Unfortunately, that description might sound familiar. The official represents people of faith who have lost sight of their own core values in favor of formalities and appearances. The Church is on our side, they say, forgetting that the Church is there for the salvation of all people and God’s glory, and meaningless without that purpose. We attend mass and take part in all the proper rituals, they say, forgetting that the rituals are there to foster spiritual growth and lend them strength to do the right thing with their lives. Reduced to motions and appearances, the actions hold no value.

Gunzou rejects the man’s invitation and sides with Iona. There are times when Iona cannot understand his thoughts and motivations. The only thing she can offer him are her best and honest intentions, as well as actions carried out in accordance with her own reason and consciousness. But that, Gunzou realizes, is the only thing that counts.

Good is good, evil is evil. It does not matter whether the hand that performs the act belongs to a Christian, atheist, or whoever else. Virtue and sin make no exceptions based on plaques and connections. Arpeggio of Blue Steel aired in 2013, the same year Pope Francis assumed his duties. Pope Francis caused quite a buzz in the Christian world when he declared that atheists may be good people, and that if they walk the path of good, they walk the path towards Christ. That same message is contained in Arpeggio: to praise all good, and condemn all evil.

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Perhaps the most important scene of the anime as a whole is the birth of the titular Ars Nova ship: Gunzo and Iona’s struggle for survival after being sunk by Fog submarines and Takao’s sacrifice to bring them both to safety. Medievalotaku only offers a brief mention of the scene, perhaps because Gunzou’s readiness to sacrifice his own life for the crew seems so obvious a parallel of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. However, it is exactly because the parallels are so obvious that the discrepancies contained in this portrayal are so striking. And taking a closer look at those discrepancies is key to understanding the message Arpeggio is trying to get across.

First and foremost: Gunzou does not die. Why? Because his fleet and followers would not let him. The episode is not only an opportunity for Gunzou to show his selfless ideals, it is an important character development moment for two other characters.

First and foremost is I-401 Iona. Her efforts to save Gunzou are entirely in character and come as no surprise. Iona identifies herself most strongly as Gunzou’s ship and adheres to all his commands. It is early on in the series where she realizes, on her own accord, that she exists "not to let Gunzou die”. All is in perfect order then, until the moment when Gunzou orders Iona to sacrifice him. Iona hears the order… and refuses.

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Gunzou’s orders are Iona’s one Absolute Principle, her First Law of Robotics. It is through her refusal of the order that she proves herself a free and thinking being, human in all the ways that actually count. It is through her refusal that she achieves her greatest moral victory, because Gunzou’s orders are a test of fire that proves that Iona’s principles are genuine and hers alone. And yet, surprisingly, it is also through that refusal that Iona’s principles are proven to be the same Gunzou holds. Gunzou considers Iona’s life worth sacrificing his own, and Iona responds in turn. She looks beyond what Gunzou says, and sees what he stands for.

This is a powerful stab at Christianity, which values the moral growth of an individual… up to a point. Unfortunately, obedience often takes precedence over sound judgment in terms of Christian virtues. In what is one of the most troubling biblical passages. God demands that Abraham kill his son as a human sacrifice to Him in a test of faith. Interpretations differ, but Abraham passes the test, willing and ready to kill his son until God stops him at the last moment. Murder is, of course, a vile and grave sin. And Christianity makes no allowance for sins in thought – they are as evil as sins through action. Thus God orders His follower to sin, and Abraham does so, resolving to undertake one of the most repugnant deeds imaginable. (Logical somersaults follow to justify that.)

Had Abraham thought like Iona, he might have realized that God and evil do not mix, ever. He might have refused, and stayed true to what God stands for, rather than to whatever was whispering in his ear at the time. It might have been the Devil, after all, taking advantage of blind obedience like he does with human stupidity. But Christianity tells its followers they cannot fathom God’s will and urges them to suspend their judgment in favor of following others, be they priests or charlatans.

Iona proved herself human, and there comes a day when we must all prove ourselves adults: not doing as we are told forever, in sweet ignorance, but thinking about our actions for ourselves, so that we may take responsibility for them, learn from our mistakes and take pride in what we represent.

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But there is another lesson contained in that scene, and to pick up on it, we need to return to the starting point. Gunzou does not die. Why? Because his followers will not let him.

Christ spilled His blood and offered His body for the sake of His followers. You might expect Gunzou to do the same here, but surprisingly enough, the roles are reversed. As Gunzou is under threat of freezing to death (and/or suffocating), it is Iona who is slowly bleeding herself to death as she keeps a sinking ship fully operational to maintain life support. And, in the titular scene of the episode, it is Takao who offers her body to guide Gunzou to safety. It is only through this reversed sacrifice of body and blood that master and followers ultimately reach salvation.

This is a wake up call for Christians out there. Christ died for your sins once already. Now it is time for His followers to return the favor and carry His cross for Him. There are plenty of opportunities out there, every single day. 

The Fog ships passed the test. What about humanity?

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Spoiler warning: This post discusses the events of Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio / Arpeggio of Blue Steel in detail and contains significant spoilers.

I was late to pick up Arpeggio of Blue Steel last year, but it immediately shot up in the ranks of my favorite anime works from that period. Arpeggio is great fun as a self-contained sci-fi show, but there is also that religious undercurrent to it that I found fascinating. After all, Arpeggio was leaning very closely to classic Western ideas, despite its Japanese staff. Immediately upon finishing the series, I started looking around for a Christian look at the show, and medievalotaku obliged with a highly-detailed reinterpretation of the show as a parallel of the Bible.

As I read the article, though, I was surprised at how different the things medievalotaku noticed were from my own observations on the show. Turns out there was even more Christian material in Arpeggio than I thought! (But that possibility was one of the reasons why I wanted a more knowledgeable blogger to tackle the issue, of course.)

The following are my own thoughts on the religious themes contained in the show. While not a direct response to medievalotaku’s article, reading both should be interesting as a comparison of two perspectives on the issue.

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The Holy Feather

While medievalotaku became sure of the Christian undercurrent to the show in the couple final episodes, I found it impossible to ignore the evidence presented at the midpoint of the series.

Episode six of the show sees battleship Haruna, a competent and powerful member of the Fog, in a pinch in her battle against the human armed forces. The irony of her predicament is that, weakened though she might be at that point, she is not losing because of a lack of power. Rather, she is dead set on shielding the human child Makie, and thus finds herself in a hostage situation. Her best bet would be to kill the foot soldiers first, then go after the people controlling the artillery, but Haruna has just been taught that it is wrong to kill, and she chooses an uphill struggle of disabling her opponents without killing them. The army going after her has no concerns regarding any of the above points, obviously.

What we see, therefore, is Haruna getting punished for doing the right thing, for her love and her mercy. And while her newfound moral principles would not be enough for most people to throw away their lives, it seems increasingly likely with every second of the episode that Haruna will refuse to throw away either her moral integrity or the life of her friend – not even resorting to the lesser evil approach of prioritizing the life of her defenseless companion over the lives of their assassins.

Play nice and you will get punished, the scene says. It shows the thorny path awaiting those who choose to carry the burden of ideals. And in the final moments before receiving that cruel judgment, Haruna does something quite unlike a Fog warship: she closes her eyes and prays.

Somebody. Anyone. Please help us. Please save us. Somebody!

And then, with the wonderful “SAVIOR” soundtrack heralding it, help descends from the sky. With overwhelming, but precisely controlled power, the I-401 submarine Iona takes control of the situation. As user suburbanbanshee helpfully points out in their comment on medievalotaku’s article, Iona’s name can be traced back to the Latin word for dove, which also happens to be the Blue Steel crest. As Gunzou is the Christ-figure of the show, Iona arrives as the Holy Spirit – the messenger of Christ descending to aid the believers in their darkest hour.

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- Haruna, what are you doing here? 

- I am… We are trying to protect Makie… our friend.

- Is that so? Then I will help you.

Just a moment before, Haruna was still trying to tell herself that she only needs Makie to survive for the Fog’s purpose. Haruna wanted to believe she was acting according to cold reason, confused as she was to the newfound feelings in her heart. But Iona forces her to come clean and face the true motivation behind her actions. And once everything is laid open, Iona offers her unconditional help.

- 401, why did you help me?

- Because I heard your voice.

- What?

- ‘Please help,’ you said. And so I came to help.

The events of the scene parallel the promise existing between Christ and His believers. Christians are not promised escape from suffering. Indeed, the holy path is one of thorns. But Christ promises that in our most difficult hour, when a believer closes their eyes, speaks out and reaches out with their hands, Christ and the Holy Spirit will be there, listening and ready to offer help. The help Christ offers is unconditional, and comes with no price attached. The only thing asked in exchange for answering a prayer is a true and open heart.

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Submarine Morality

There are many more Arpeggio scenes that parallel those found in the Bible, and medievalotaku mentions many of them. Perhaps even more important than any single scene, though, is the fact that the setting of Arpeggio adheres to some basic tenets of the Christian worldview, even where this is against Japanese tradition.

One attractive feature of anime and other Japanese works, for me and many others, is that they often show human beings as capable of both good and evil at all times. Remember that psychopathic murderer from Fullmetal Alchemist who ends up saving the main character at the end “just because”? The Japanese proficiency at such portrayals of the gray areas in our morality might stem from the fact Japan lacks the tradition of the good/evil duality supported by the church in the West.

Still, the Japanese attachment to moral ambiguity also means that anime works will rarely take a definite stance on whether humans, by nature, lean more towards good or evil. Christianity has no doubts in this regard: everyone is a sinner, but God intended everybody to be good. Provided that they have the honest will to seek the light, God promises to support everyone in their spiritual growth towards good and, eventually, salvation.

This way of thinking obviously requires that we assume the existence of a universal morality, a concept avoided in most Japanese works, but present in Arpeggio, and how so! Universal morality not only exists, it seems to be infectious and jumping from one victim to another faster than the virus in the latest zombie flick!

Arpeggio can embrace the concept full on because of its unique cast of characters. The fleet warships are fully developed mentally, in the intellectual sense, but they are blank slates in the moral sense. Each of the mental models is therefore a small social experiment: will the pure mind sway towards love or hatred?

If you bet on love, you won big time. Haruna needs some three days to turn from a heartless weapon to the selfless pacifist described in the first part of the article. Hyuuga does not mind getting dismantled for the greater good. Takao likewise sacrifices herself to save the other members of her fleet. Kirishima… Kirishima likes playing the tough girl, but she is all plushy on the inside. (Hah!)

Those people all met while blasting supercavitation torpedoes at each other, and they were not throwing any punches! But the smallest bit of kindness is enough to attract them to the path of light. For the Fog warships, the concepts of good and evil are something completely new, and so, they are not immediately able to properly discern between the two. But this does not matter in the least, because good seems to be like a powerful magnet, pulling them towards the right path at every opportunity. By the point Haruna starts wondering how she came to possess moral principles in the first place, she is already an example to follow in terms of moral integrity.

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But while the outstanding moral qualities are still understandable, storytelling-wise, among those warships which join the protagonists, it is the antagonist side that proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the power of good is universal, and not to be trifled with!

Iona’s sister ships, I-400 and I-402, are very careful not to get within range of the good-magnet. This does not seem to help them any, though. Within minutes of moral small talk with Iona, I-402 can no longer remain professionally indifferent. Shaken, she demands that Iona explain her incomprehensible principles. There is outrage there, on the surface, but beneath it lies a desperate need to understand that great secret which Iona got hold of. The spiritual distance between the two is growing shorter than I-402 might realize, and this is reflected in her cutting down the physical distance between their avatars and reaching out her hand to touch, and try to understand, Iona. If God’s morality is indeed universal, it must be natural even to those who have never heard of God, even to those who have been taught a different brand of good and evil. This is the kind of good Arpeggio portrays – an irresistible force that attracts all without exception.

I-400 steps in to stop the talk between the two, but it is already too late. Mere moments later, I-402 will be making her first moral choice, and one which consists of throwing away her life to protect her sister. I-400 is outraged at seeing that act of sacrifice, accuses I-402 of being no different from Iona, and rushes at the Blue Steel submarine in a blind rage. She does not notice, of course, that she is getting entangled in the web of good. It is not rage that is the opposite of love, but indifference. I-400 can feel rage because she can feel hurt. And she can feel hurt at seeing her sister sunk by a torpedo because she can feel love.

The battle between the submarines soon ends with Iona’s victory. When I-402 apologizes to her sister for being unable to protect her, I-400 asks her why she would apologize. Then she reaches out her hand in a gesture of… Forgiveness? Acceptance? Or is it the same desire for understanding as was the case between I-402 and Iona before? Death claims I-400 before we can make sure of the answer.

The real heart-breaker, though, comes immediately after. As Iona cries for the loss of her two sisters, I-402 asks her why she would cry. Then she tells Iona that all Iona did was fight her enemies and sink them. When Iona tries to protest, I-402 cuts in: That and nothing else.

This might seem like I-402 berating her sister for her lack of logic, a stubborn rejection of emotion until the very end. But because this is the same I-402 that shielded her sister with her own body and still felt guilty for not being able to protect her, a different interpretation comes to mind.

From a logical perspective, there is no point in conversing with Iona at that point. But I-402 uses her last moments to absolve Iona of her guilt. Her insistence that Iona is not to blame is the only gift she can leave behind, the only way she can lessen the burden Iona will have to bear. I-402 shields Iona‘s heart no differently then she shielded the body of her other sister minutes before.

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It might seem surprising that while the Fog warships prove capable of extraordinary moral feats and astounding moral progress within moments from being exposed to the power of good, there are plenty of human characters in the series who are evidently short-sighted and concerned only with their personal interests. The key difference, I think, lies in the fact that the Fog warships are all like children. This is why their emotional reactions are all so intense, why they learn so fast, why Kongou’s seemingly deep-rooted hatred disappears like mist after a simple hug. It is no coincidence that Haruna’s thoughts and moral development are shown at one point to perfectly mirror that of Makie.

The kingdom of heaven belongs to children, and it is a great challenge to retain childlike faith even as we grow up, and encounter the temptations and gray areas of adult life. Many of the grown ups of the Arpeggio world apparently lost their way. And the road ahead of our Blue Steel fleet will not be easy either. As the world balance switches from one where the Fog was firmly in control to a more even distribution of forces, there will come times when they will have to choose sides and make difficult choices.

But well, if they cannot pull through, who possibly could?

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No, wait, not the kind of temptation pictured above.

If you have been watching the show, you know that Black Bullet took its riveting setting and has been going weird places and doing weird things ever since the first arc ended. Still, it has its moments of brilliance. One of those was the commentary on temptation contained in episode eleven of the show.

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The episode treats us to a reunion with our favorite villain pair from the first arc. The show never tried hiding that the Hiruko pair are both evil and completely insane, nor that where they now stand is where Rentarou might end up should he lose to the anger and despair in his heart. Kagetane urges Rentarou to join him from the very beginning, offering Rentarou various incentives as well as showing him the dark sides of the society Rentarou has sworn to protect.

However, during that first arc, there was little doubt that Rentarou would be refusing the offer. While the government’s neglect led to many deaths among the Cursed Children, Kagetane’s alternative was that of killing even more people in much more direct ways while spouting clichéd villain lines. This, of course, made sense as generating bad publicity was in Kagetane’s job description at the time.

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But Rentarou’s recent meeting with the pair was nothing like those before it – there was no shouting or fighting involved. To the contrary, it was a moment of respite in a dangerous journey.

In many ways, Kagetane’s timing could not have been better. Rentarou has just been betrayed by the system he protects. He was punished for doing what he thought was right, and the people in charge were not subtle about turning his family and teammates into hostages. He is sent alone on a suicide mission, one he might accepted anyway if provided with the proper support. But the language of threats seems to be the official one in this world.

Rentarou’s mission is about to meet its premature end – godly as his offensive abilities are, half of his body is still human. And as Rentarou climbs out of a river, wet, tired, wounded and about to become dog food, the Hiruko pair arrive just in time to save the day. It seems that for once, Rentarou has had enough and decided to give up on it all – and the two heard that and responded to the call.

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In Rentarou’s darkest hour, the “other option” the Hiruko pair represent might have come to his mind. But of course, the two before him are flesh and blood. They bring with them power and destruction, necessary to get Rentarou out of his pinch, but also the warmth of a fireplace, the safety of mutual protection, the sweet scent of food and the bandages to cover Rentarou’s wounds.

It is a great irony that for that one moment, Rentarou’s only light in the world comes from the darkest part of his soul. But then, is it not the wat temptation works for all of us?

Each person has their own weakness. We can tell right from wrong when confronted about the issue directly – like Rentarou confronted his foes in the first arc of this story. But when we are lost on the way, betrayed, hurt, hungry, exhausted… that is when our weaknesses sneak up on us. And they offer comfort and healing.

Me? I reach out for sweets when lady luck seems to hate me, and for condescension when people do not think or act the way I would like them to. Those are two different vices, both with their own hazards, but they both feel good in the short term.

The question is, will we be able to wake up next morning, and walk away from that fireplace?

[HorribleSubs] Black Bullet - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_22.09_[2014.06.23_23.38.04]    

Like with Rentarou’s new little troupe, the power of temptation lies not in direct confrontation with the force of our will, but in the fact that, quite accidentally, it always seems to be heading in the same direction we are.

Liebster Award

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Thanks to medivalotaku for nominating me for the Liebster Award. It’s always a now-or-never thing for me with such community projects. If I put it off once, I’ll never get to it at all. Forgive me, then, for the simplicity of my answers/questions.

Rules:

1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.

2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)

3. Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.

4. Provide 11 random facts about yourself.

5. Nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. (Note that you can always ask the blog owner this since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know this information!)

6. Create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.

7. List these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to:

8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)

Answers

1. Do you watch the Olympics?

I tend only to watch the Olympics/other sports events together with my family. Most of the time, however, I live elsewhere and do not have access to a TV at all. In terms of sports I sometimes watch for personal pleasure, what comes to mind is volleyball and snooker.   

2. Who is your favorite historical figure?

Gautama Buddha. Thomas Aquinas.

3. Vikings vs. Samurai. Who wins on a level playing ground?

I’m no history buff, but my vision of the Vikings is that of an army wielding axes and the like, plundering some poor British village, while my vision of the Samurai is Nobunaga’s armies with firearms and stuff.

Samurai? Easily???  

4. Do you like Jane Austen’s books?

They are lovely. I remember reading about the frolicking of “young, gay soldiers” and wondering how the main character could be certain the soldiers were indeed gay.  

5. If you were marooned on a desert island with little possibility of rescue, which five books would you want to have with you?

Give me whatever survival tutorials of practical value that you have. Other than that admission of being a geek with no idea how to survive getting stranded?

The Dune, The Little Prince, Umineko (text-only printout is fine), some unfinished light novel to keep me hoping for more, one empty book for my own writing.    

6. Also, a lifetime supply of what drink would you want to have with you on that island?

Water.

Provided that water is abundant, tea. Or apple or orange juice. 

7. Have you ever thought about joining the military or joined it?  Which branch?

I have thought about how not to join the military. Thankfully, they didn’t really want me, either.

I still remember the questionnaire lady asking us questions after our meeting with the military commission. She got to “What is your stance towards military service?”, and my expression must have been telling enough, because after a moment’s pause, she continued with: “Yes, you can say ‘negative’.” 

8. If for one night you could dine with anyone–living or dead, who would it be?

Albert Einstein. 

9. If for a fortnight you could be transported into a fantasy world before returning to the real world, which one would it be?

Damn, I hate you xD. My practical side tells me to pick any fantasy world with magic-medicine developed and reliable enough for me to reap lasting benefits from those two weeks.

Even I can’t deny the temptation for a little bit of adventure here, though. A ticket to the Touhou-verse sounds most alluring. Even if I would likely end up serving as a hungry loli’s dinner before the fortnight is up. 

10. (For men) If you could grow a beard like JEB Stuart’s, would you?  (For women) If you could be any height you wished, what would it be?

I could, who would stop me? I see no point, though. The longest I’ve gone without shaving is less than a week, I think. 

11. What’s your favorite sea creature?

enguarde_02Teh Swordfish, ‘nuff said.

Fun facts

1. My grandmothers from my father’s and my mother’s side are sisters. There is some anime-esque not-related-by-blood stuff going on that makes the resulting diamond-shaped family tree legal and morally sound (???).

2. I can swim, ski and all that, but I first rode a bicycle a couple years ago, aged 22. I can now kind of keep the devilish invention going straight, but I’m not nearing any traffic with my current level of skill!

3. I was brought up in a “somewhat Catholic” household, like most Poles. By the time I was a teen, I was pretty no-no about the faith, but me and my mother agreed I would take part in the confirmation rite before doing whatever I wanted with my faith and ideology from then on.

The fun part of confirmation is that you get a third name (or second, if you never had that), which you get to choose from a list of saints. The choice is free, but you have to explain it to a priest first. My third name ended up being Boniface, for the patron of converts. I was able to tell the priest that my faith is not all that, and the support from Boniface might be necessary to help me.

I did not mention the other reason for the choice: that Boniface happened to be the name of a certain lazy cat…

bonifacy4. The number four is my favorite/lucky number, which often gets me awkward glances from my Asian acquaintances, many of whom link the number to death. (The words “four” and “death” share the same/similar pronunciation in both Japanese and Chinese). Then again, I always felt some kind of affinity for the necromantic side of force in fantasy/rpg settings.

5. I cried at a work of fiction thrice in my life:

  • Dracula: Dead and Loving It, when the titular character dies
  • Dragonheart, see above
  • Pokemon, near the end of the first season, when Ash loses to his friend in the league 

All those were in my childhood, and apparently at some point I’ve lost the ability to cry at fiction. Doesn’t mean I don’t get the feels from watching/reading stuff – I can be a real softie.

6. There is a Japanese textbook out there for Polish learners of the language with the entire grammar part of the book written by yours truly. The request for that came on a “by the way” basis, since my main job on the book was in proofreading, editing and romanization. “By the way,” my boss said at the end of the project, “could you also write a few pages explaining Japanese grammar? ASAP, please.”

The book apparently sold well enough, and it’s one of the rare cases where I’m happy not to be credited for my work. (Hint: try explaining the grammar of any language within the limit of about five pages and a two days’ deadline).

7. Through the years of writing anime-related stuff, I’ve had the pleasure of getting my work plagiarized, translated into foreign languages and adapted into animation.

A fellow fanfiction.net writer plagiarized large portions of Piko Piko Trouble. I don’t think he had any idea what he was doing, as he copied a surreal description of wind gradually breaking out of a time-frozen space straight into his own scene of an everyday conversation, but it was still funny.

Many of the character profiles for ISML2011 are available in Chinese. As far as I can tell with my basic grasp of the language, some of those translations are quite loose, but I hope to be able to read them properly one of those days. (I should probably put more effort into my Chinese.)

Finally, one of my readers came to me asking whether they could animate Twisted Equilibrium. I was like “Huh…? Um, go ahead?” The result was a Microsoft Paint slide show summarizing the story in a surrealistic manner. I regret not downloading the video from youtube at the time, as it is no longer available.

8. During my first year of high school, a piece of paper started circulating the classroom during a physics class, with the single question of: “Have you ever studied German?” and two columns of names underneath. Little did we know that the piece of paper would be used to decide who would qualify where… for the English beginner and advanced classes. Cue in people starting the language from scratch getting sorted to the same group as people with nine years of language study under their belt.

High school is an amazing place.

9. My mother isn’t sure whether she knows what anime is all about, but the few series me and my sister exposed her to “taught [her] that no one is ever fully good or fully evil”. Yay.

10. I was class representative (or vice-representative, or class something) for six years straight, starting from 4th grade until the end of junior high. Other than my close friends, classmates probably saw me as something akin to a half-teacher, and so I either learned about something first, or dead last. Towards the end of junior high, I accidentally discovered that half my class were smokers, and I had no idea until then. Something similar went down in high school – I know there were people doing drugs there, but nobody even bothered trying to invite me to join the club.

Should I feel left out, or just glad for the trouble it saved me?

11. One of my Japanese friends comes from Nishinomiya, and graduated from North High – the same high school Kyon & co. attended in the Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi. He was kind enough to give me and a couple friends a tour of the city, and our last stop was the high school itself. The idea was to ask the guard for permission to enter for a few minutes, but since it was summer vacation, no guard was present and the gate wasn’t locked, we, uh, slipped in for a bit xD?

The photos from that are my treasure, right next to K-On high school photos – but those were taken without breaking any laws.

Nominees

The Huge Anime Fan

Kyarakuta

A Thousand Years From Now

Anime Soup

Marusera no Sekai

Questions

1. The world will blow up in an hour. What do you do with your final hour?

2. Aliens come and want to know whether Earth is worth saving – they ask you to show them three works/things/places/facts to convince them. What do you choose?

3. The same aliens offer you a deal: they will save Earth if you can beat them at a (fair) game. What game/sport/challenge do you choose?

4. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten/drunk in your life?

5. Name one thing somebody did for you that you are most grateful for.

6. Has your opinion on a subject ever changed 180 degrees after years passed/something happened/you learned something new? If so, what was it?

7. You happen to reincarnate as an animal of your choice, what animal do you pick?

8. Choose one anime character for president of your country.

9. Pick one book school forced you to read, and now you’re glad about it.

10. What is the ultimate form and kind of cheese?

11. Cat person? Dog Person?

sorashiro

No Game No Life is pretty upfront about the basic idea behind the names of its characters. We have Sora (sky) and Shiro (white), whose names put together just happen to form the word blank (kuuhaku).

For a long time, I thought that was it. The series does get plenty of mileage out of the blank idea. The official way of writing that term within the series is just an empty space within Japanese brackets like this: 「   」. Throughout the series, Sora and Shiro delight in capturing various things in those metaphorical brackets, like one would in a camera lens, and thus claiming those things for their own.

blank 2 

The blank idea also plays nicely into the urban legend the siblings have going on. The title of Blank is an open declaration that the miracle gamer everyone wants to believe in does not exist: in the sense that Blank is the joint effort of two people rather than a single person, obviously, but also because the truth behind the siblings is much more down to earth than most gossipers would like to think.

Still, there was something left nagging at my brain – the reasoning behind Sora’s name. Shiro, after all, has her albino coloration, which is reason enough for her name both from an in-universe and the readers’ perspective. Sora’s connection to the sky seemed oddly lacking, or even inappropriate considering his hikikomori habits.

sorashiro2     

Then I had a talk with that white squirrel-cat thing called feal87. It was complaining that while Sora was constantly out doing something cool, Shiro had no personality at all. Feal, I found myself telling it, they both have similar, twisted personalities. The main difference between the two is that Sora covers up his poison and hurt with lies and deception, Shiro with silence and a mask of neutrality.

Then it clicked.

shiro  

Shiro is the easier one of the two. Shiro’s white is, on the surface, a white of perfect purity. Her strength lies in the world of calculations and absolute truths. Aside from raw brainpower, Sora also points to her ability to retain perfect focus at all times as one of the reasons behind her proficiency at games. Internally, Shiro embodies the pure and serene mind. Her outward appearance keeps up the trend: the obvious white hair, the petite build and the sailor fuku all represent youth, innocence and purity.

There is only one catch to all of this: the purity of white is achieved through rejection. Just as white objects refuse to absorb light, Shiro refuses to interact with the world around her. She rarely speaks to anyone but her brother. Her great focus comes from shutting herself away from unnecessary interference. Her default expression is having no expression at all. Rather than an ideal, Shiro’s purity is her way of dealing with the “unfair” world around her.

If the duality of perfection and rejection contained within the color white sounds familiar, it has been extensively covered in the first arc of Monogatari Second Season. Come to think of it, Tsubasa and Shiro do have plenty in common.

sora

Sora is the more difficult one to crack because the image and symbolism of the sky are just too powerful and distracting. It is necessary to take a step back to see the double meanings involved with his name.

The Japanese choose to view the sky as, among other things, a vast empty space. This explains why the terms sky and empty, share the same character, albeit with different readings: 空 can be read as, respectively, sora and kara. This is the reason why the sky is part of blank in the first place.

But a look through some other sky-compounds turns out to be quite enlightening:

空言 soragoto  falsehood, lie

空手形 karategata bad (fictitious) bill, empty promise

空威張り karaibari bluffing, bluster, bravado

空涙 soranamida crocodile tears

空空しい sorazorashii false, hypocritical 

It turns out that the sky has found its way into half the deception and falsehood going on in the Japanese language (and plenty of those retain the sora reading, to boot.) The last one is my favorite: just line up one Sora after another to get falsehood and hypocrisy.

Where his sister deals with the world by giving it nothing of herself, Sora has no qualms about sharing. What he gives away just happens to be 100% bullshit. While some viewers found it incongruous why Sora could easily communicate with others after years of seclusion, the answer is simple. For Sora, there is no actual communication going on. He is not putting his own feelings on the line, or trying to establish bonds, he is just trying to get the NPC around him to move the way he wants them to. Even then, there is plenty of stress involved in it for him, but Sora is probably good enough at lying to trick even himself into believing that it is all just a game, and that he can handle it all.

Life is a battlefield, and deception is Sora’s only shield.     

sorashiro3[HorribleSubs] No Game No Life - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_08.13_[2014.05.10_17.25.19]

Sora and Shiro, and by extension, Blank itself, were named for deception and rejection, the two ways in which the siblings learned to deal with the world.

It is awful and toxic. The siblings weaponized their concepts, creating Blank to lash out at the world by proving their superiority at every game. Blank is not allowed to lose, they say, but provide no reason for the rule. But that should be obvious. Blank was not born to play games and just enjoy doing it. Blank came to be to play and win, win, win. It is the siblings’ universal accusation against the entire world and the people within it: as long as the system is bound by specific rules, Sora and Shiro can thrive within it. And as long as the two can prove this truth, it is the senseless world around them and the people living within it that are responsible for the siblings’ inability to fit in. Blank cannot lose in order to protect that truth.

There is no shortage of hypocrisy in their beliefs, of course. Shiro needs her brother, somebody she can speak to without fear. Sora needs his sister, somebody who can see though his lies without fail. Their inseparable bond is made of the very elements they so vehemently deny through their actions. And their invincible armor is full of holes, ready to fall apart if confronted with the dangers of failure or separation – experiences mature people must at some time learn to face and overcome.

sorashiro.jpg4

But this is also a reason why their journey to Disboard might yet turn out to be a journey of salvation. Because for the first time in their lives, Sora and Shiro will end up using Blank not to cut themselves away from the world, but to affect and change it. In the real world, the two were literally nobodies, an urban legend with no connections to anybody. In Disboard, they are king and queen, shouldering the responsibility for an entire race. And along with that new responsibility, the two might just find the trust and friendship they had once lost.

God might be just a spectator, like Sora claims. But he might have also set up Tet and Blank to meet each other, silently supporting the siblings from the shadows. 

kohina243565

“Should have thought things through first,” Kohina thought as she found herself standing in front of the convenience store door, about to face the challenge of her first ever shopping errand.

Model Mantis VS Coffee

A silly fic that went all wrong? Homicidal loli goes shopping, but things are never quite as simple as they first appear.

enju

As far as I know, Enju-chan probably never met her parents. Childbirth cannot exactly be safe when infected, however lightly, with the Gastrea virus. Still, I would like to believe that Enju’s name did come from her parents, a parting gift for the child about to face the hardships of a post-apocalyptic world all on her own.

The name Enju (延珠) brings to mind a homophonic word written with the characters for long and lifespan, and meaning longevity (延寿, enju). The first of the two characters finds itself into Enju’s name as-is, expressing her parents’ wish for their child to lead a long and healthy life. Prayers for health/longevity are one of the most common meanings slipped into names in contemporary Japan, but the desire must be felt all the stronger in a dying and uncertain world, and especially so in the case born with a ticking time bomb inside her body.

The second of the two characters in Enju’s name, however, is made different without changing the reading. The character, read separately as tama (珠), refers to a sphere in general, and a pearl (真珠, shinju) by implication. As a symbol of fullness and perfection, the sphere often finds its way into Japanese names, as do references to jewels and precious minerals, which present the child as the family’s treasure. That, at least, is the surface meaning.

If we delve a bit deeper, we notice that the specific character for sphere used in Enju’s name can be further divided into two smaller characters. The left-side radical is a more general character for a sphere (玉, tama). The right side, on the other hand, refers to cinnabar/vermillion (朱,shu), giving us the additional, hidden meaning of cinnabar spheres.

Enju_2         

Many Japanese parents choose to wait until the child is born before deciding on a name in order to include a reference to the time and circumstances of birth or the child’s characteristics in the name. I can only imagine what went through the mind of Enju’s mother when she looked into her daughter’s eyes for the first time and saw the crimson glow confirming her daughter as one of the cursed children.

But painful though that must have been, Enju’s mother chose to accept the truth head on, accepting her daughter the way she was born. In linking Enju’s eyes to a pair of jewels, she is telling her daughter that whatever society thinks of Enju, she is forever her mother’s greatest treasure. And with the first part of the name meant to grant Enju longevity, her mother chooses hope over despair, believing Enju can live a long and happy life despite the danger hanging over her head.

Names are like small miracles – they are messages that never disappear, even if fate will not allow the sender and receiver to meet ever again.

All speculation based purely on the anime, please refrain from posting spoilers.

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