Warning: contains major spoilers for Bokurano.
You heard Ray’s column: now it’s my turn! My column is called “Art and Soul,” which will be a biweekly audio column about anime, religion/Christianity, and ethics. It’s an attempt to integrate anime with what I spent the other 75% of my day doing–reading, studying, and praying theology. (I am a seminary student with plans to enter ministry. This particular episode is, in fact, pretty much a mini-sermon; it’s certainly the closest marriage of my love of God and love of anime yet.) It’s also an excuse to indulge in my other love, public-radio style production values. You’ll hear something much more like This American Life than what we normally do in the podcast in this episode.
This episode is about the significance of one’s last moments in Bokurano, and how it relates to how the Man that I follow also died. As such, it contains spoilers for Bokurano up to episode 7, so be warned. It’s much more serious in tone, so if you’re looking for humor, sorry, this is not the episode for it. :) It is also unabashedly, blatantly, in-your-face Christian. For that, I make no apology.
This was a cool experiment, at any rate. See you all next time!
- –OP: “Uninstall,” by Chiaki Ishikawa (OP to Bokurano)
- –ED: “The Heady Feeling of Freedom,” by Shiro Sagisu (from Neon Genesis Evangelion)
- –BG: “Remedium” and “Take a Little Hand,” by Yoko Kanno (from Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society OST)
Read the transcript of this episode after the cutaway, including Scripture references (when I preach, I never say the chapter and verse numbers).
Art and Soul: An Audio Column about Anime, Religion, and Ethics
by Michael Huang
Issue 1: Bokurano and the Art of Dying Well
The premodern Christians emphasized the importance of dying well. It was believed that the manner in which a person died, especially his or her last moments, would not only determine a soul’s final destination in the afterlife. It was also often a summation, or a judgment, on that person’s character.
We see something similar going on in a thought provoking recent anime, Bokurano. Early death lies at the center of the story’s conception, in which several children have been chosen to pilot a giant robot to save the world–but at the certain cost of their lives. The first two children are unaware of this, but later ones are, and that shapes the narrative for the remainder of the show so far. The nearness and certainty of death: is this anime, or an Ingmar Bergman film?
In one respect, the children are lucky. Unlike most of us, they know how they will die and it will be very soon. The exact moment when they will be called to pilot the death robot is unpredictable, to be sure–but it is a certain and identifiable moment. If there was one thing the medievals were frightened of, it was the prospect of unexpected death. The children are spared that, at least.
But that is little comfort to many of the kids. They are only children, after all. We find it almost unbearably cruel to watch children face questions that tormented even the greatest philosophers and theologians: in the face of certain death, is there any meaning to life? Has my life up to this point been a waste? Does my death mean anything? I am going to be sacrificed supposedly for the sake of others–are they worth the sacrifice? The thing is, this is only the human condition in microcosm, experienced at a young age. For we must all face these issues one day. The mortality rate, still, is 100%.
How do we react to our mortality? The different childrens’ reactions to their doom runs the gamut of human emotion–from self-pity to stoicism to determined heroism, from a desperate criminal clawing at one’s object of desire, to regret for wasted opportunities and a desire to atone for one’s past. Even if the characters aren’t aware, we the viewers are aware that the last moments of every child’s life are the defining ones. The book is sealed after they are done with piloting and with life. Their story is written, and the manner in which they faced death is a measure or a judgment of who they are.
As a Christian, I am reminded of another story about someone who was called to die on behalf of the world. The children in Bokurano instantly know, with no uncertainty, when they are called to pilot and die. Jesus, too, knew when it was his time, and when he was called, he went into a garden and said–not unlike many of the characters–“Father, please, take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42) He said that because he was afraid, like any of us would be if our suffering and death was just around the corner.
The Gospels record his last moments in greater detail than in any other part of his life, and they did so because they tell us what kind of Person he was. And in his last moments, he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Matthew 27:46). He asked this because we ask this, when we we live in a world where even today, children can be turned into soldiers and cut short before their time. He asked this because we don’t understand why there is no end to the suffering and to mystery of death, the kind of mystery that fills us with horror and loathing and the terrifying sense that at the bottom of it all, there is nothing.
But then he also said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). What kind of man would say that to the very people who were mocking him and had beaten him? An extraordinarily good and generous man? Certainly. There have been many such men and women in this world, filled with love for their fellow human beings. But I think there’s something else. So many of the children face the prospect of a death they did not choose. “Why must I die? Why me?” one character, who has suffered so much humiliation in life, wails. Jesus, though, was able to say: “No one takes my life away from me. I lay it down willingly. I have the authority to lay it down,
I have the authority to take it back” (John 10:18).
The mockings, the beatings, the crucifixion, the death: Jesus asked for their forgiveness, because, truly, they did not know they were doing. They thought they were putting an end to him, so that they would trouble them no more. They were wrong. They were dealing with someone who could take it all back. Back from the grave. Back from meaninglessness and futility. Back from the last enemy, the last boss, Death Himself.
It is true: we can sometimes understand what a person is like by the way he dies. What do we say about a person who dies, and then lives again? St Paul said something. He said, because he was humble enough to die on the worst form of execution the Romans could deliver,
“God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9).
The Christian confession is that when we look at Jesus, we are looking at God Himself. That is who we see in the way this man died, for the world. For “zearth.”
This Christian moment is brought to you by Michael Huang, because seminarians will always find an excuse to preach! You were listening to Art and Soul #1: Bokurano and the Art of Dying Well. Disclaimer: this meditation was based on the first 7 episodes of Bokurano.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirableâ€”if anything is excellent or praiseworthyâ€”think about such things” (Philippians 4:8), until next time.