In this month’s anime collaboration article, we ask the age-old question: “What would be the Apostle Paul’s favorite anime?” Because we have no real reason not to ask such a question. Check out the Pauline picks we’ve penned to present-day parchment, and share your own in the comments below!
Cooper D Barham
If the Apostle Paul were to have an affinity for anime, I suspect he would enjoy nearly anything with a strong redemption story. You know, with his personal testimony and such. That said, I’m not going to recommend anything of the sort.
My pick for Paul’s favorite anime is the modern classic, Mushishi (or Mushi-Shi). Mushishi follows Ginko, a thinker and a wanderer (we’ve already got 80% of Paul’s personality in those two words), as he injects himself into the tribulations caused by creatures of subtle and ancient origins. These creatures, called Mushi, function independently of absolutes such as “good” and “bad, or “right” and “wrong.” They simply exist, and influence the world around them in curious ways. Ginko, in all of his patient, sagely intelligence, navigates his way through the confusion and frustration of people who don’t understand these beings, and in truth, Ginko spends most of the series wondering about them as well, and how they represent the world, life, and even the fundamental nature of existence. Kind of like God… except not really.
It might not be expressly related to God or Paul’s own journey, but Ginko strikes me as a character Paul would find of similar mind and behavior to himself. They both traverse an antiquated world, helping people out of tough and confusing situations, endure some hardships along the way, and generally approach things with a knowledge not well-known to the public around them. They promote understanding everywhere they go, even if it means people won’t like what they have to say. The biggest difference is probably that Ginko smokes, which is to say there’s not much difference at all.
(If you have not watched this series, it comes with immense recommendations, especially if you are the type who enjoys interesting thought experiments and unique creature concepts.)
Since I’m currently on a magical girl binge, my nomination for the Apostle Paul’s favorite anime is Puella Magi Madoka Magica. If you’ve seen the show, then you’ve probably noticed the themes I’m about to discuss in detail already. If you haven’t seen the show, go watch it.
**My explanation contains spoilers.**
Mainly, I feel Paul would enjoy the relationship between Homura and Madoka, as both girls exhibit characteristics of biblical love throughout the show.
Let’s start with Homura. While she initially seems cold to Madoka, we eventually find out that she has her reeasons. Homura has the power to reverse time to an extent, and in her initial timeline she befriended Madoka, only to watch her die in the battle against Walpurginacht. As a result, Homura becomes a magical girl and wishes for the ability to return to the time when she initially met Madoka, hoping to prevent this catastrophe. Despite her best efforts, though, Homura is unable to prevent Madoka’s fate, causing her to live through almost 100 timelines. While it’s true that Homura’s goal eventually turns into a very selfish pursuit, her initial reasoning is based on love and gratitude toward Madoka. Homura repeatedly puts herself through the pain of watching her friend die, all for the hope that she will eventually find a way to save her. This sacrificial attitude seems to be reflective of the type of life Christians are called to live, even if Homura’s sacrifice is tainted by her flawed humanity and, likely, frayed sanity.
Ever since the show’s conclusion, Madoka has been heralded as a Christ figure by Christian anime fans, and for good reason. While Homura sacrifices herself for Madoka around 100 times, Madoka ultimately sacrifices herself, not just for Homura, but for all of the magical girls throughout history, purifying every one of them right before they become witches. As a trade-off, Madoka ceases to exist and is wiped from everyone’s memory, except Homura’s and, to some extent, Madoka’s little brother’s. Granted, this also elevates Madoka to godhood, as she becomes an omnipotent being who exists for all time.
I believe Paul would have found the themes of Madoka Magica appealing. After all, he referenced secular works in some of his sermons. He certainly didn’t condone the lifestyles of the men he referenced or their religious beliefs, but he obviously found something applicable within them. Who’s to say he wouldn’t use Madoka in a 21st-century sermon illustration?
No list of Paul-like characters is complete without mentioning the redeemed Rouroni Kenshin, who once toted the feared (and rather Saul-ish) name of Battousai the Manslayer. While I wouldn’t go so far to say that a red ponytail and derpy catchphrase are the only things separating Paul from his sword-swinging counterpart, I think he would no doubt resonate with Kenshin’s embodiment of counterculture in a world experiencing revolutionary growing pains.
Redemption arcs are nearly synonymous with shonen storylines. What sets Kenshin apart from, say, Sasuke Uchiha, is that his entire country recognizes him as a changed man because of the sanguinary history he’s helped carve into the budding Meiji Era, pre-plot. Once known as a merciless “Manslayer” who served the government during Japan’s civil war, Kenshin inverts his blade and vows to never kill again after a Road to Damascus moment leaves him with a bleeding, cross-shaped scar on his cheek.
Much like Saul-turned-Paul, Kenshin’s face is stamped onto the very core of his culture. Friends of warriors he’s cut down in his past life vow revenge against him, citizens balk even at the sight of his sheathed blade, and villains try to exploit his Manslayer nature (the “old man,” if you will) to their own selfish ends. Kenshin’s dual identities aren’t the Jekyll and Hyde interplay that they could be. Only the subtlest of tweaks reveal his steely-cold edge—the starkness of his eyes, the use of “I” VS “this one” in his formalities, and his willingness to turn the sharp side of his blade on an opponent–but when these transitions happen, they are immediately obvious to those around him because Kenshin has so remarkably separated himself from the man he used to be.
Often, though, despite his gentle exterior and unassuming smile, Kenshin does the wrong thing when he desires to do the right thing (Romans 7:19), and his story is an ever-evolving battle against the past that resurfaces through flashbacks, familiar faces, and formidable fears—the same spiritual and psychological minefields Paul no doubt found himself tiptoeing through on a daily basis.
And yet, as Kenshin wanders from precinct to precinct, person to person, he challenges beliefs, dogmas, and life-long principles—such unbiblical mantas as “the strong survive while the weak die” and “revenge is the only formula for inner peace.” He doesn’t change hearts and turn heads with throat-throttling sermons, though, but rather through his lifestyle.
Citizens take note of Kenshin’s sheathed sword in an era where they are illegal to wear in public and the samurai class is dying. Rival swordsmen raise their eyebrows at Kenshin’s inverted blade, which they scorn for lacking any practical use—never having envisioned a weapon meant to save lives rather than take them. Villains cannot overlook Kenshin’s refusal to kill or even shoot down their unethical beliefs with his own impassioned logic, instead letting his lifestyle do the talking for him. Paul was no stranger to such seemingly irrational modus operandi. He was known to sing praises while imprisoned with the worst of criminals, and then forgo escape when the prison bars miraculously crashed down in order to save his jailer’s life.
It’s worth noting, too, that Paul would no doubt resonate with Kenshin’s personal “thorn in the flesh”—a physical malady that results from his overusing the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū sword technique. Many biblical scholars believe that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was also physical—his waning eyesight or a chronic illness that he feared would impair his life’s work, in much the same way that Kenshin fears his weakening body will cripple his abilities as a swordsman. Both men are dogged by these identity-defining impairments in their final days, causing them to rely on the strength of another until the time comes to finish their course and hang up the way of the warrior.
That said, I think Paul would appreciate the Rouroni Kenshin manga more than the anime. Let’s be honest: a story about a blood-soaked swordsman seeking redemption should never be proceeded by a dubbed OP called “Freckles.” Oh well. That’s the 90’s for you.
Aspiring author, marriage and family therapist, and active behavioral health technician, Cooper fills his world with God, music, videogames, anime/manga, drawing, reading, writing, and some physical stuff in between. If you ever want to talk about the big or little things of life, fire him a message. Helping others through tough times is both his passion and way of living. 'Got it memorized?'
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