Monday, July 21, 2008

Spiritual Bridges in Anime - Eureka seveN

Good day to you all. After a long hiatus, Spiritual Bridges is back in full force. We were pleased to have Robin White’s excellent post on “Gedo Senki: Tales from Earthsea” last month, and we look forward to including more guest writers in the future. Please let me begin by writing a note about the name of this series. The series name is “Spiritual Bridges,” not “Spiritual Bridges in Anime.” So far, we have covered only anime shows, but future projects may cover manga, light novels, and even live-action movies. I was also recently asked why I didn’t name it “Cultural Bridges.” The answer is that I am not trying to bridge any cultures. I could care less about bridging Japanese culture with Western culture. There has been far too much of that already, which is one of the reasons why people are confusing the message of Christianity with elements of Western culture. For example, look at how Christianity is portrayed in anime. Most of the examples I can think of are either from the vampire genre or include demon-hunting catholic priests/nuns. This is what results when spiritual bridges are confused with cultural bridges. So bridging cultures is pretty low on my list of things to do. Rather, I seek to highlight elements that already exist in Japanese culture to bridge the gap between them and God. A lot of Western anime fans will find things in this series that apply to them, and that’s great. However, that is a secondary goal, not the main one. My main goal is to spark dialogue between Japanese youth and Christ’s ambassadors.

I have been very pleased at the number of positive responses this series has been getting. A little while ago, Paul informed me that we were linked on the Adult Swim forums for the show Death Note. [note: Adult Swim is the late-night block of time on the American Cartoon Network where Death Note is currently airing.] Praise God!

Today, we will be looking at another anime that recently aired on Adult Swim (the original run was in 2007). I first saw this series when I lived in Korea. I didn’t have high hopes for it, but when I read that it was scripted by Dai Sato (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Wolf’s Rain) and animated by BONES (Fullmetal Alchemist, RahXephon, Escaflowne), I decided that I would at least give it a shot. Well, in the end, I watched all 50 episodes in a matter of two weeks, and I currently list this anime as my favorite anime of all time. So, please excuse me if my love for this series gushes forth.


Psalms of Planets: Eureka seveN (交響詩篇 エウレカセブ)

Series Composition and Direction: Dai Sato (佐藤大) and Tomoki Kyoda ()

Animation Company: BONES

English Licensor: Bandai Entertainment

So, what is Eureka seveN? It’s a 50-episode anime series in the Mecha genre. However, it has multiple spinoff projects, including a 6-volume manga series that re-tells the story in a different way, two Playstation 2 video games that operate as a prequel story (and have two manga volumes themselves), and a movie which was recently announced in the Japanese Newtype Magazine. It has also won 8 awards at some fairly prestigious conventions.

Though the name of the story is taken from the female heroine Eureka (pronounced e-u-re-ka, not yu-ri-ka), the main character is 14-year-old Renton Thurston. When he was a young boy, his father sacrificed himself to save the world, and his sister, who was convinced that their father was still alive, disappeared while looking for him. So Renton has grown up with his grandfather, while everyone expects him to act the hero, just like his father. That’s not his dream though. His dream is to join a professional sports group known as Gekko State and become a famous lifter. [Lifting being an offshoot of surfing where the rider reflects off of concentrations of “transparent light particles” in the air. As a special note, there are no oceans on this world.] Then, in the middle of the night, Eureka literally crashes into his house. She has been sent from Gekko State to have Renton’s grandfather repair her giant mecha (LFOs in this series), known as the Nirvash typeZERO. The machine is missing a vital component, and has ceased responding to her. She and Gekko State think that the missing part is a special piece that Renton’s father created; however, they soon discover that the missing part is actually Renton himself. So Renton’s dream comes true, and he is officially invited to join Gekko State.

What follows is a classic coming-of-age story. Renton quickly learns that his dream of joining Gekko State is a mixed blessing at best, as he spends the first part of the series as an errand/shop boy aboard the ship. In this time, he also learns that people are not always as they appear, and he begins to see the flawed people around him in an adult manner; he sees all of their flaws, but learns to love them for who they are. In return, people discover that Renton has a very special ability: He can make people smile, and he can disarm even the grouchiest and bitter people he comes across. He even manages to break open the shell of Eureka’s emotions, which she has never been taught how to express.

In one very powerful scene in the first half of the series, Renton learns from Eureka that she was trained as a child soldier, and that she has killed many people. Renton, having no idea what to do, simply accepts her for who she is and doesn’t hold her past against her. This freedom allows Eureka to weep for what is presumably the first time in her life, and emotional healing begins in her life. With this emotional healing comes the ability to think for herself and make her own decisions. This becomes our first unlooked for spiritual bridge: the power of confession for healing. Confession is not a very popular subject in Protestant Christianity, as it brings to mind the very penance and indulgence system that Protestants tried so hard to break away from. However, confession is a very Biblical principle, and it almost always leads to healing.

Now, let’s look at Renton’s ability a little bit more. Renton’s ability stems from what I consider the main spiritual bridge of this series: unconditional love. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he talks extensively about love. He says the following: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Never have I seen this so clearly portrayed in any modern medium. Renton loves and forgives everyone around him, but no one more than Eureka. This series does what I have never seen an anime series do before: partway through the series, the beautiful female lead is injured very badly, and she becomes rather ugly. She has scars all over her face, her eyebrows have fallen out, and her hair has been lost. Throughout all of this, Renton continues to love her. Even after he learns that she isn’t completely human (more on that later), it doesn’t change the way he looks at her. His love extends even to his enemies, as later in the series he devises a way to fight his enemies and disarm them without harming them. Because of all of this, Renton provides a very unique role model in the world of anime. Though he makes mistakes while learning to love unconditionally, he learns from them and grows.

Let me give one more note about the love portrayed in this series. It is distinctly split into two parts. In the first half of the series, Renton and Eureka are in the process of falling in love and going through all of the growing pains associated with that. However, when the credits roll for episode 26, that thread of the story is resolved; Renton and Eureka are together. Happily ever after, right? Not quite. The second half of the series depicts how they learn to live with each other; how they argue and reconcile; how they learn to think and live as one. As they do so, they slowly uncover a way to save the world, but it requires both of them to give up their pride and themselves. It is a beautiful depiction of some of the elements that I believe Godly relationships are built upon.

There are many, many more spiritual bridges in this anime, but I’m only going to mention one more: the character of Eureka. As I mentioned before, Eureka is not entirely human. On the planet where this takes place, there are two main forms of sentient life: humans and Coralians—a kind of living coral. The Coralians have a hive mentality, where one thought is shared amongst them all, essentially making Coralians one personality. Humans are trying to destroy the Coralians, but the Coralians are simply trying to understand the humans and form a relationship with them. As a result, they fashion a Coralian with a human body, Eureka, and give her a distinct personality. She is to learn all that she can about the humans and then rejoin the Coralian entity. She is likened to a “blank page” that humans can write anything that they want on. Depending on what is written on her “page”, the Coralians will either sacrifice themselves to support human life, or they will destroy the humans to save themselves. Though it is not a perfect bridge by any means, this can lead the way into a discussion about Christ from the book of Hebrews, where He is presented as High Priest and Mediator, being our perfect advocate before God because He understands everything that we have gone through. Though Eureka is not perfect, she represents the hope associated with incarnation, and it is powerful.

As I said, there is a lot more to cover. This series also touches on racism, the importance of father figures, facing problems instead of running away from them, disciplining in love, and much more. It is not my favorite anime for no reason. How can you get ahold of it? In Japan, it should be available in pretty much every rental store in the country. In America, it stands a high chance of being in rental stores, though Netflix is always sure to have it. Unfortunately, no box sets have become available yet, so the price for purchasing it is still really high. Still, I doubt you will be disappointed.

Here is a trailer from the series, made by a fan.


Paul Nethercott said...

Thanks Scot for this good post.

FIFTY episodes! My wife would kill me if I watched them all. You have gotten me interested though, I think I will cheat (a lot) on this one and just watch the first one and the last one... or so.

Scot Eaton said...

So you're going to skip 96% of the anime? I can't recommend that. You'll have no idea what's going on in the last episode.

Anyway, it seems I should explain to everyone HOW TO WATCH a 50-episode anime. Take it in stages. If it helps, think of it as a book trilogy or quadrology. You aren't necessarily required to read one book right after the other, nor are you required to finish it as soon as possible. One chapter a day, or one chapter every two days, is perfectly acceptable. Over a long period of time, you'll eventually finish, and you will be glad for taking your time to do so.

Anime is usually broken into chunks of 12-13 episodes (a half season) or 24-26 episodes (a full season), and there is often a climax falling on those season markers. The opening and ending themes usually change at those points too. Eureka seveN mostly follows that, though the third arc goes from episode 27-42, so it's a bit longer.

Paul, my recommendation to you is to watch the first two episodes, and if you like it, take it one disc at a time. If you're not hooked by episode 13, you probably never will be, so it's okay if you stop there.

And to everyone else, don't be surprised if this comment turns into a separate post.