Anime Virtues: You Don’t Need a Reason to Help Someone

Bleach teaches several good moral lessonsStories shape how we view the world and how we treat other people. While I’ve gotten into anime too late in life for it to really shape my morality, it has changed how I think about some topics. In this article, I will pull from Zen and Christianity (and indirectly from Judaism) in addition to anime for my illustrations. Why just those two? Because that is what I am familiar with. They are my practice. While I’ve studied Islam and read the Koran, I don’t have enough knowledge to comment on how Islam teaches the morals we will cover.  Zen can be found throughout anime because of how Buddhism and Shinto have mixed in Japanese culture. Because JP is a blog, I can’t write in depth about either Zen or Christianity. That would take a book! (No, I don’t have one in the works on this topic. At least, not yet.) So in some virtues, I will have to simplify some of the explanations. I’ll do my best to keep to the core of it and also not make it too boring.

Although some would argue they already have the stories necessary to teach morality–the teachings of Buddha and Jesus for example–anime provides accessibility these stories often lack. Entertainment helps messages sink in and help with remembering them. For kids, Naruto inspires more than the usual depiction of a stodgy, bearded Jewish man (I don’t see Jesus as stodgy, far from it, but that is one of the traditional depictions). We might as well understand this appeal and use it.

Bleach contains many virtues such as loyalty, dedication, and community, but let’s look at the core moral found throughout Bleach: you don’t need a reason to help someone.   I am going to assume you are familiar with the anime, if not you can read a few of our reviews.  While Bleach has fallen in popularity, it still appeals to many people. A simple search on Google shows how fans are still making fan art and fan fiction.

The Nature of Suffering

Ichigo endures much to help his friends avoid sufferingThroughout Bleach, Ichigo and friends rush to help people in need. The need to protect people, not just family members and friends, drives the story. As Ichigo states:

I’m not superman, so I can’t say anything big like I’ll protect everyone on earth. I’m not a modest guy who will say it’s enough if I can protect as many people as my two hands can handle either. I want to protect a mountain-load of people.

But what does it mean to protect people? Sure, you work to keep them from being hurt, but it also extends to protecting them from suffering in general. The urge to avoid suffering and help others do the same comes naturally. Buddhism enshrines this idea in the Four Noble Truths: suffering hurts, suffering comes from clinging to things, suffering ends when we stop clinging, there is a way to stop clinging to things. The Four Noble Truths state suffering comes from how we view reality. Our expectations can’t be met by reality, therefore we hurt. If I would drop my favorite teacup–the one my girlfriend bought me for Christmas–and break it, my expectation that I will always have it would make me hurt. This is clinging. In a larger sense, suffering comes from expectations driving people to hurt each other.

In a larger sense, suffering comes from expectations driving people to hurt each other. For example, religious fundamentalism has a certain set of demands (expectations) that adherents force upon others. In most cases, the adherents can’t even keep the demands! But these shape how they view the world and creates suffering for both themselves and those they force. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam are all guilty of this at one time or another.

The Drive to Help

Ichigo is driven to help others, but he doesn't go looking to do so like Superman does.

Okay, let’s come get back to ground level. It’s natural to want to take away a loved one’s pain. It’s a virtue to want to take away a neighbor’s and an enemy’s pain. Bleach teaches this virtue is natural to being human. As Ichigo puts it:

I ain’t such a saint that I can promise to risk my life for strangers. Neither am I scum enough to sit quietly by while people are getting hurt before my eyes.

Normal people don’t go about seeking situations to risk their lives. However, good people also don’t stand aside when someone is getting hurt. Jesus spoke about this in the story of the Good Samaritan. Here’s the story, to refresh your memory (Luke 10:25-37 ESV):

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

 

He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

 

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

 

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

 

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denariiand gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

 

He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

 

And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Let’s look at this story briefly. The people who avoided the beaten man were religious people: a priest and a Levite. Levites assisted priests in worship. As such, you’d think these men would stop to help someone in need. However, according to Jewish Law, touching a corpse would make them ritually dirty (Numbers 19:11). So to avoid this they passed by without checking on the poor man. Samaritans are a branch of Judaism that only accepts its own ancient version of the Pentateuch, or first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible. Without regard to his ritual purity, the Samaritan stops and helps the man. For the Samaritan, there wasn’t any hesitation toward helping the poor sod.

For Ichigo, what the Samaritan did is a natural action. The Samaritan didn’t go out looking for people to save, but he also couldn’t turn a blind eye. The fact we have these stories points to how we don’t follow this virtue. Protecting people underpins much of shonen, and it is equated with strength. In Ichigo’s case, it drives him to seek power. He wants to protect people from suffering. It takes inner strength to overcome selfishness and seek to help people. The greatest strength comes from when you realize you can’t protect everyone and the cost compassion demands of you:

Unless I grip the sword, I cannot protect you. While gripping the sword, I cannot embrace you.

Sometimes a person doesn’t need protection. Sometimes they need a listening ear and a hug. These moments of frustration test our fiber. Some enemies can’t be cut. The hardest moments come when the sword needs to be put down.

You Don’t Need a Reason to Help Someone

Ichigo provides a good human example of the fact we don't need a reason to help others.Throughout Bleach, Ichigo doesn’t need a reason to help someone. He simply does. In Buddhism, some people vow to become bodhisattvas–beings who are reborn until all living things escape suffering–just because they want to protect people from suffering. The Good Samaritan doesn’t ask anything of the man. He simply helps and goes on his way. We don’t need a reason to help other people. Of course, you could argue being human is reason enough. This virtue forms the core philosophy of Bleach and drives Ichigo throughout the story. He will go out of his way to protect friends and family. But he doesn’t go out of his way to help others. He doesn’t fly around like Superman to help all those he sees. In this, Ichigo is quite human. But when faced with suffering, he naturally seeks to help. This too is human.

Anime, like all stories, affect us. They shape how we view the world even though they are fiction. The dialogue we surround ourselves with everyday becomes our internal dialogue. While I write often about anime’s problems–fan-service, incest, harems, and the like–anime has many stand out messages. In fact, most shonen and shojo stories contain good messages. I’ve been beating up on harem stories, but many have a good heart underneath the antics and objectification of women (although objectification should never be overlooked). Anime like Pokemon prove time and again that the medium on the whole is better than the direction American TV (even children’s shows) has gone in terms of moral lessons. Perhaps I’m being biased and a prude, but despite anime’s problems I find it far more watchable than shows like Game of Thrones (I disliked the books). It’s possible to tell a gritty and dark story without falling into smut (Oops, there’s my prudishness again!).

In any case, helping people involves more than giving money. In fact, offering money to those in need can be the worst course of action. Ichigo and the Samaritan get personally involved. I’ll admit that I struggle with this virtue. I am standoffish and guard my personal time jealously. I have turned away from strangers in need. I’m present for those close to me, but I struggle with personally helping strangers. Virtues take time and work to cultivate. After all, it takes time for Ichigo to develop the power he needed to protect people. Striving matters.

Violet Evergarden and the Lost Art of Letter Writing

Violet Evergarden AnimeI’ve never received a letter. Most likely, you haven’t either. Our digital age killed letter writing with email and social media. Is it odd that I feel nostalgic toward letters? I spent a good bit of my teen years hanging out with WWII veterans. They told me of their excitement when they received letters from their girlfriends (most married and stayed together for 50+ years). Most still had the letters with the elegant penmanship of the time.

Seriously, it seemed everyone in the 1930s and 1940s had elegant handwriting. Of course, some letters weren’t for my gaze. Where else do you think the Internet got some of it’s raunchiness?

I remember the wives’ grins as they spoke of the anticipation and worry. They spoke of elation when the letter finally arrived, and how letter writing helped them fall in love over distance and time.

So when I saw the anime Violet Evergarden, I was all in. The story takes place in an alternative world during their World War I. The country falls into such dire need for manpower that they take to training war orphans. Violet is one such orphan. She becomes attached to her commanding office, who is a father to her. But during a mission he is wounded and she loses both her arms. When an artillery shell strikes the building they are in, they become separated. Violet survives and wants to find him.

One of the Major’s war buddies takes her in and arranges for her to have prosthetic arms. The arms work much like Fullmetal Alchemist’s automail. They are beyond the technology of the time, but I didn’t find it any more jarring than automail. Well, she begins work as an Auto-memory doll, women who write letters for people.

The new job requires Violet to travel around the country (setting up the anime’s episodic structure), and it requires her to face her brutality and suppressed emotions about herself and the war.

Violet and the Letter Writing Crew

Violet and the Letter Writing Crew

As you can guess, letters shape the main structure of the anime. Much is said about the power of letters in people’s lives. And from what I’ve seen with my now-passed friends, it’s true. Perhaps the Internet and the proliferation of immediate writing has blinded us to the power of writing.

When you think about writing, it is a miracle. I can write or type squiggles that put at least a portion of my thoughts into your mind. It’s like telepathy or mind-melding. But immediacy is the problem. As Violet Evergarden suggests, it takes time to perfect a letter. My friends admitted to taking time to draft a letter. It wasn’t something they dashed off. Even when it was, the act of writing with a pen on paper forced them to sort their thoughts in ways we can’t do with our keyboards.

You’ve seen how some of my blog posts here are garbled. That’s even after I re-read and revise. Good writing takes delay, and most of our problems online would dissolve if publish buttons didn’t immediately publish. We need a time delay–like the time it takes to write a letter with pen and paper–for online writing.

Most of my articles here wait in the queue for at least a few weeks before you see them. Some wait for months. This bit of time lets me approach them with a fresh look and gives me time to reconsider some of my touchier topics. Likewise, I believe social media posts, tweets, shares, whatever should have a delay timer. Perhaps 15 minutes. After you hit the publish button, the system will wait 15 minutes before asking you if you are certain you want to publish the post. This gives emotions a chance to cool, such as waiting for a letter gives some distance between replies.

The world Violet Evergarden paints unfolds slower than ours. I don’t want to cast the past in an ideal light–it had problems we do not have now–but the slower pace would do us well. We cannot slow down and savor in our instant world. I’ve written about how anticipating can help us enjoy anime better. Well, anticipation can help us enjoy our relationships better too. Letter writing and the waiting it requires allows us to slow down. In my own life, I find absence does make the heart fonder.

Violet from Violet EvergardenAbsence allows us to overlook people’s foibles easier. They aren’t so grating. In fact, we see this a bit in Violet Evergarden. Some of Violet’s coworkers chafe with her presence, but as she travels more, they begin to miss her. They also see her internal changes more clearly. That’s the rub. When you live around people daily, you become blind to them. It’s much like how you can drive the same street for years and never notice that small book shop.

While I’m a technologist in addition to be a librarian, I believe we need to unplug and slow down more. At least, I know that I need to do so. But it takes effort. Unlike Violet’s world, we have instant choices for communication. They are not wrong of themselves, but if you are like me, you don’t use them in healthy ways. I’ve mindlessly lost many hours in Facebook, Tumblr, and the Internet at large.

Letters have an intimacy that social media lacks. Handwritten letters are human. You can see handshakes in the writing, tears staining the page, excitement in the way the pen gouges the paper. Typed letters, particularly on a typewriter (Do you know how to use one? I had to write reports on mechanical typewriters) are a little less human, but they are still friendlier than a computer-printed page. Computer-generated text is just too perfect, too sterile. It lacks many of the human errors that give items life and character.

Of course, I’m waxing nostalgic here. Typing on a mechanical or even an electric typewriter can be a pain, especially if you are a poor typist like me. But the tactile feedback is wonderful.

Violet Evergarden is a great anime you should watch. It’s not without problems. Sometimes it lays the emotions on too heavily. Violet’s relationship with the Major sometimes feels more like a relationship with a lover than a father, leaving you feeling uncertain which the story wants to show.  But on the whole, I enjoyed the story, but I’m a sucker for Data-like (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) characters. You should also consider writing letters or, at the least, writing a journal. A journal is just a letter to the future you. Consider ways to slow down and unplug, even if it means watching less anime online.

Christian Parental Concerns and Anime’s Fan-service

Christian parents and their anime fan-service concernsAnime’s fan-service makes many Christian parents hesitate for good reason. Many in the anime community share the reservation of parents I’ve spoke with. Fan-service is a blight on anime, and it’s a negative reflection on the anime community. It doesn’t help storytelling. Let’s look at how fan-service and Christian ideals clash and whether or not Christians can safely watch anime containing fan-service. Fan-service involves scenes and situations that shows off a character’s body. Typically, it focuses on female characters and showing their breasts, bottoms, legs, and other body parts. It can involve scenes of accidentally grabbing a breast or seeing up a skirt. Fan-service can reverse and focus on men in similar ways. Finally, fan-service involves long camera pans of technology like tanks, mechs, and other technology.

Fan-service titillates and panders to the audience’s desires. It’s used to make strong characters, usually female, appeal attainable. Upskirt views, swimsuit displays, cleavage shots, and other forms of objectification allows the audience to visually possess a character and build a fantasy around that character. Waifuism often uses fan-service as a part of its fantasy. Other types of fan-service exist, but the sexually-focused types, which are the most common, concern the parents I’ve spoken with so that is what I’ll focus upon here.

Christianity teaches against objectification and lust. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul states sexual immorality goes against God’s intention for the human body and urges Christians to flee sexual immorality. Jesus states lustful thoughts are the same as the act of adultery (Matthew, 5:27-28) and tells Christians to remove such from their lives. However, lust is different from momentary titillation.  Titillation is a fleeting response to something like fan-service. Lust, on the other hand, is a self-focused state of mind. It is a craving that consumes your thinking and drives you to attempt to sate it no matter the consequences (only to have it return). Many today, however, believe lust involves the momentary sexual desire we feel when something sexy appeals to our senses. Lust goes further. It is a habit, a state of mind, that goes beyond the moment. Lust comes from embracing momentary self-focused desires whenever they arise. This waters the seeds of lust. Fleeing from it–because we really can’t resist them–waters a different type of seed. Lust involves seeking these fleeting moments instead of fleeing.

The end result of a male character ogling

The end result of a male character ogling

Anime’s fan-service constitutes as lust when we seek it out and dwell on it. Momentary titillation is a normal part of the human body. It’s hard to look at a good-looking person, plate of food, and other physically appealing things and not feel desire. The body is wired to want such things, and the momentary wanting isn’t necessarily sinful. It’s automatic and makes us seek things like food that we need, but when it rules our every action, that’s where lust comes in. Selfishness sits at the heart of the problem. Now, anime fan-service seems harmless. After all, fan-service is just drawings of people that do not and cannot exist. However, it creates a habit of self-focused titillation that can morph into the habit of lust.

Of course, all of this depends too. I don’t feel titillation whenever I see fan-service in a story. I feel annoyance and even anger at mishandling a character. Christianity leaves room for individual differences, but it also cautions us to be careful not to delude ourselves about our strength. Fan-service may not affect me, but it may affect you. If so, Paul would urge you to flee. It takes self-awareness and a desire to pursue other, longer-lasting types of self fulfillment. However, there is pressure from sections of the otaku community to consume fan-service and to think in selfish ways.

I want to be clear. Not every aspect of the anime community encourage lustful views or other views contrary to Christianity. Much of the community is warm and positive. Likewise, waifuism doesn’t always have sexual components to it. For many, waifuism is a way to step out of self-focus. It allows people to learn how to step outside their views and into that of another. Of course, it can also foster self-projection. Everything can be used by God to pull people closer to Him, but sin can also distort those tools too. Waifuism can encourage compassion or encourage lust.

Christian parents have their own balancing act to perform. Teens compose anime’s main audience, hence the rather tired high-school setting. Forbidding anime wholesale will only encourage the teen to go behind the parent’s back. It also prevents the teen from accessing anime’s stories that can be uplifting or help the teen through a rough patch. Anime often addresses teen-identity problems and problems in friendships in helpful ways. Fan-service can also be used as satire to point out problems within anime and how we view clothing. Nudity can also be used as a character trait–showing innocence of a character–such as Holo in Spice and Wolf.

Our lives are formed by the stories we live within. For example, we live in a world that believes in the story of resource scarcity, and it impacts how we view life. Likewise, anime and its fan-service can impact our views of the world–for better or for worse. Fan-service is designed to appeal to our base instincts rather than cultivate a more God-focused perspective. But fan-service can allow for a teaching opportunity, such as this article. I’m not a parent. I can’t offer any true advice. However, a shared interest in anime can allow parents and their children to bond and discuss issues like fan-service and the nature of lust. The stories we consume shape our thoughts. Many people downplay anime as mere entertainment, but it contains messages that we consciously and unconsciously add to our characters. We do the same with movies, books, and the stories people tell us. Anime, like all stories, has positive and negative messages. It’s up to us to decide what messages to consume and which we need to flee.