Sometimes in stories, the lines between magic and science are blurred—either by how magic or science works in that universe, or by leaving things ambiguous as to whether an object is magical or a creation of science. Science and magic are often shown as being at odds in fiction, but when the lines between the two are blurred, the results can be very interesting.
Tag Archives: Saiyuki
Oh, My Pop Culture Rebirth: Reincarnation in Fiction
Reincarnation is the idea that a person’s eternal soul is reborn numerous times in different bodies. In a religious sense, reincarnation tends to occur as a purifying process: through each life cycle, you either learn important lessons, cleansing your soul and becoming closer to heaven, or rack up karmic negativity, setting your eternal self back in the queue and, depending on the belief system, guaranteeing a shittier vessel for yourself in your next life cycle. The monotheistic Big Three—Judaism, Islam, Christianity) don’t generally hold with this concept, but it is an important part of many Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism.
Reincarnation is also a time-tested trope in fiction, and I find it interesting that in most cases, it’s a hard and fast aspect of the fictional universe rather than a religious belief that some follow and some don’t. It’s just given that reincarnation exists. Continue reading
Oh, My Pop Culture Paradise: How Far is Heaven?
The concept of Paradise, the idea of some final reward waiting for the good folks after death, is a part of many religious traditions. From Dante’s Paradiso to that episode of Tom and Jerry where Tom dies and St. Peter won’t let him into heaven unless Jerry forgives him, we have a bit of a cultural fixation on the good life after death.
We’ve gotten pretty creative about portraying it, too. It’s not all angels in white dresses wielding harps anymore.
Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Fate vs. Free Will
I have noticed something when watching television or movies and reading books or comics: we humans seem never to know if we would rather believe in free will or fate. If I had to pick I would say that we are more inclined to approve of free will, but fate still seems to be a hard and fast concept that we cling to, and it shows up in much of our pop culture.
It seems to mean that any time the concept of fate is really introduced into a story the author tends to quickly subvert fate with free will. Take, for example, Harry Potter. In book five when Harry learns that a prophecy predicted he would be the only one that could defeat Voldemort he was upset, until Dumbledore pointed out that after everything Voldemort put him through Harry would want to kill him anyway, regardless of what any prophecy says. Furthermore, Dumbledore stresses that Voldemort had had to choose between Harry and Neville (as the boy to potentially kill him) and if Voldemort had ignored the prophecy, then Voldemort’s choice would have ensured that the prophecy would never have come to pass. And finally, in book seven, Harry has to freely choose to sacrifice himself or else Harry might not have survived his encounter with Voldemort. Despite the strong sense of fate, the books make it clear that the characters’ choices, their free will, are what’s important and not some higher cosmic power.
In the TV show Heroes, a painter has the power to see the future and his prophecy tends to be accurate. However, the prophecies also tend to change. Isaac, the prophetic painter, predicts something vague enough that can be interpreted in numerous ways. The tag line in season one of Heroes for a while was “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World.” Isaac constantly draws pictures of serial killer Sylar killing Claire, an immortal cheerleader. Isaac’s pictures show a blonde cheerleader with her head sawed off. However, another character, Peter, saves Claire. So doesn’t Isaac’s prediction hold true? Kind of. Sylar mistakes another blonde cheerleader for Claire, so it could be argued that Isaac’s prediction holds true. However, the characters also have often traveled into the future where they see horrible dystopian-like realities, that are later stopped and changed, no matter what Isaac has predicted. In Heroes, the characters act like your fate is inevitable, unless it’s really bad and they decide to change it. The writers couldn’t seem to decide whether to follow fate or free will.
There are many other examples of course (Supernatural, Oedipus, Brave, Thor, Beowulf, Star Wars, Saiyuki, Doctor Who, Into the Woods, Dark Souls), but this theme of fate versus free will is something that consistently comes up in our pop culture. I think it’s because on some level humanity likes fate. We like the idea that God or some other higher power has a plan in which we play a part, maybe even a starring role. However, we find the notion of being bound to a fate, especially one we may not like, distasteful. We like have autonomy, but we also like the idea of being destined for something great or important.
What do you think? Are our lives governed by some kind of fate, free will, or is it a bit of both?
Tune in next week and get some religion.
Manga Mondays: Gensomaden Saiyuki
[Warning for rape and incest]
Well, just because I think it looks cool and near impossible to write off memory, this is how it’s spelled in the original Japanese: 幻想魔伝最遊記—awesome!
Back when I wrote Manga Mondays: Dragon Ball Z, I briefly talked about Saiyuki, since both it and the original Dragon Ball are based on the same story. So yes, there is a character named Son Goku, and he is a monkey god. Well, actually, he’s a demon in this version, but he used to live in heaven, so what the hell?
Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Christianity in Anime
As with any situation where some people try to represent a tradition they don’t really know that much about, the Japanese are pretty ace at reimagining Christianity in the weirdest of ways. (Disclaimer: Yes, I know America does the same thing when they make every Buddhist monk a master of kung fu or something, I know as far as Christianity is concerned Christians have some of the least space historically to complain about appropriation, but that’s not what I’m gonna focus on today.)
Christianity first came to southern Japan with the first merchants during the European age of exploration, circa the 17th century. The Japanese government had finally restabilized itself following the Warring States era, and the ruling Tokugawa family decided that the foreigners’ religion (among other foreigner things) was a threat to the nation, and implemented a closed-borders policy, where no foreigners went in and no Japanese went out. Part of this policy made being a Christian a capital offense. This went on for over two and a half centuries, until the Tokugawa regime was toppled, America bullied Japan into reopening, and a new government was established. To this day, the population of Christians in Japan is about 1% of the total number of Japanese.
tl;dr: Historically and currently, Japan doesn’t have a lot of Christians and the Japanese in general (yay sweeping generalizations) don’t really get or care about getting a grasp on the meat of the doctrine, since they mostly all follow a vaguely atheist mix of Buddhism and Shintoism.
In part, because of the fact that Christianity isn’t really understood, there are a lot of really crazy anime that involve Christianity since it can make a theoretically great backdrop for anything with a supernatural plot. You may remember my Manga Mondays review of Hellsing? Well, it’s my honor to start there.
Hellsing’s main characters are English Protestants fighting vampires, and good god are they bloodthirsty, but not as bloodthirsty as the amoral and nigh-sociopathic forces of the
Catholic Church’s Division XIII, the Iscariot unit. They are basically a holdover from the most vicious and brutal of Crusaders—willing to kill anything—human or supernatural—that doesn’t profess the Catholic faith. At one point in the story, the Pope (who may or may not be JPII) gives permission for actual Catholic crusader armies to level London, as the first step in a Reconquista of the heathen Protestant islands. Yikes. The Church is by no means perfect, but I’m pretty sure that the Vatican does not have legions of crack soldiers for this sort of purpose.
There are also a lot of misconceptions about religious life. For example, Sister Esther of Trinity Blood and Sister Rosette of Chrono Crusade both have romantic interests in their male companions, Father Abel, a priest, and Chrono, a demon, respectively. Rosette’s also drawn in a super fetishistic way—thigh highs and garter belts under that habit? Of course there are. Trinity Blood also goes against current Catholic doctrine with a female Cardinal, but Caterina’s so badass that I don’t give any bothers about that.
In Rurouni Kenshin filler as well as in Samurai Champloo, the main characters encounter secret Christian groups in southern Japan, and they often wield plans to take over Japan like real Christian groups wielded rosaries.
A particularly strange case is that of Saiyuki—the story is based on a founding myth of Mahayana Buddhism, for cripe’s sake, and the main character is a Buddhist priest, but in the anime at least, we see statues of the Virgin Mary protecting a town from demons in a way that nothing Buddhist can.
And there are dozens of anime, mostly romantic (they’re a particularly common setting for shoujo-ai like Maria-sama ga Miteru) that are set in Catholic schools, but where the chapels are more of a place for a dramatic scene change than a place for worship.
I could go on for a long time, here. But I won’t. There are certainly anime that represent Christianity more reasonably. In the new anime Kids on the Slope/Sakamichi no Apollon, the main character moves to Kyushu and the friends he makes are Christians. In general, he has a typical Japanese reaction—he doesn’t get it, but he doesn’t resent them or try to convert them or anything either. They just happen to be Christian, with no guns, demons, or corny, chaste, and over-dramatic girls-love involved. To be fair, this is a slice of life anime and most of the rest I mentioned are fantasy in some way, but nevertheless, it was a breath of fresh air to see it.
What other anime do you know of with weird religious overtones or themes, readers? Let me know in the comments. For now, though, that’s a wrap on this week’s Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus.
Tune in next time and get some religion!
Manga Mondays: Dragon Ball Z
Dragon Ball Z probably doesn’t need much explanation as to what it is, since just about everyone’s already heard about it, but for those of you who haven’t, here you go: Dragon Ball Z, written by Toriyama Akira, is actually a sequel series to the much less popular Dragon Ball and focuses on a hero named Goku. The original show centers heavily on Chinese mythology, Son Goku being the name of the monkey god, and a good number of its characters are from mythology, such as Chichi’s dad, the Ox King. On top of all this, the series has a strong emphasis on martial arts and the use of ki to do ridiculously implausible feats, such as flying or being physically strong enough to topple mountains with a head butt.
Dragon Ball Z stretches the suspension of disbelief much farther than Dragon Ball in this regard, but despite this, it did remarkably well. It’s over twenty years old and is one of the most successful anime ever. In fact, without the success Dragon Ball Z had in America, there would probably be nowhere near the amount of anime over here that we now have today.
The story itself is relatively simple. Within the manga, the Dragon Balls are seven mystical balls that summon forth a dragon who can grant a person any one wish once a year, including bringing the dead back to life.
I personally never really got into Dragon Ball, only the sequel, and instead watched Saiyuki when it came out some years later; however, both Saiyuki and Dragon Ball are essentially two very different interpretations of the same story. From what I have seen of Dragon Ball, I can say that it definitely has much clearer character arcs than its sequel. I don’t mean that Dragon Ball Z has poorer character development, but it introduced a lot of newer characters and focused on them, leaving everyone else not essential to the plot trailing along in their wake with nothing to do.
This is particularly seen in characters such as Yamcha and Tien. Remember those Dragon Balls I mentioned? Well, here’s the reoccurring plot of the series. Some ridiculously powerful evil dude comes and kills a bunch of people and is then defeated by Goku. Side characters like Yamcha seem to exist solely for the purpose of getting killed before Goku’s victory just to show us how bad the big bad truly is. There’s nothing wrong in killing a minor character to make a point, but there’s so little emotion to it in this anymore. No one cares if Yamcha dies because Goku’s going to wish him back to life just in time to be killed by the next villain.
Other characters, the ones who neither fight nor have an important relationship to the main characters, slowly just leave the series and become all but nonexistent pieces in the background. Tien, who does fight, goes this route, only to show up on occasion as a deus ex machina to keep the bad guy busy for a while.
And in case you haven’t noticed by now, all the characters’ names are purposefully stupid. Yamcha, for instance, is a play on for ‘drinking tea.’ Almost all the characters are named after some kind of food or some random object. We even have characters like the Ginyu Force, who were designed to make fun of things like Sailor Moon and Power Rangers.
There is a limit on the Dragon Balls that I should mention before we go any further. They cannot be used to make the same wish twice. So in theory, someone can die once, be wished back, and then have to remain dead the next time he or she gets killed. This limit doesn’t stick around for very long, and after the characters go off world for the first time and come back, this aforementioned rule sort of vanishes.
As bad as I’m making this series out to be, it’s really not that bad. Sure, characters like Yamcha and Puar don’t do much, but they’re not really needed anymore. But as someone who started the series in Dragon Ball Z and not in Dragon Ball, I couldn’t help but wonder why there were so many useless characters that had no purpose outside of dying over and over again.
Both the original and the sequel are two very different stories, and other than the aforementioned Dragon Balls, they don’t really have much to do with each other, which easily explains why Yamcha and a few others have no place in the sequel. Dragon Ball Z could very easily be a standalone series, and in many ways it is. The whole feel of the show changed in DBZ. Everyone got ridiculously stronger, aliens now exist—okay, they existed before, but nowhere near as prominent a plot point—and the characters travel to different planets in the course of only a few days. At a couple points they time travel.
I would quickly run through the story for you guys, but despite how simple all the arcs are and despite how they’re essentially the same thing with different villains over and over again, I don’t feel as though I’d have enough time to mention everything in one post. Instead, I’m going to focus on the first few arcs, since they sort of tie into each other.
Our story begins with Goku discovering he’s from an alien race called the Saiyans, and that he was sent to Earth as a baby to eradicate all life here to prepare the planet for selling. Fortunately, Goku hit his head as a baby and turned into a lovable, food-obsessed moron who doesn’t kill people and instead defends the innocent. Sometime after Goku was sent to Earth, an evil galactic emperor named Frieza destroyed the Saiyan home world. Surviving the destruction is also Goku’s older brother Raditz, a Saiyan elite named Nappa, and the Prince Vegeta. (In some of the movies we learn of a few more Saiyans who survived, but they don’t really fit into canon, so we’ll forgo talking about them.)
Don’t get too attached to Raditz, because even though he’s Goku’s brother, he’s only in about two episodes. A shame, really, since excluding Vegeta and Frieza, he seemed one of the more intelligent bad guys, and being Goku’s brother gave him a different dynamic than all the other evil dudes who have no personality outside being evil. Nappa eventually gets killed off as well. Nappa is also a complete dumbass, so it’s not really a big loss. Vegeta is by far the most interesting character to me. He’s the typical redeemed villain, but as the series is really long and his redemption happens over numerous episodes, it’s very believable. He first teams up with Goku’s eldest son Gohan and his best friend Krillin to fight Frieza’s lackeys out of a need of self-preservation, and he sort of falls in with the good guys from there. Overall, Akira did a very good job writing Vegeta’s character.
Eventually, the events of the story culminate into a showdown between Goku and Frieza. After Frieza’s eventual demise, DBZ just throws villain after villain at us, each with less personality than the last.
The anime particularly got a lot of shit said about it for all the dumbass filler episodes. Not only that, but during all the fight scenes—and I do mean all of them, at least the important ones—the characters had a habit of just standing and staring at their opponent seriously. A couple years ago, Dragon Ball Z Kai came out, which was the exact same show, only without the filler episodes. Or the staring. And the show is so much better for it. I am pretty forgiving of the filler in the original show however. The anime first aired alongside the manga, and the filler was added so the show wouldn’t get ahead of the manga. Yes, this can be annoying in many cases. Think Naruto, where the manga is so far ahead that it wouldn’t be a problem and yet the filler doesn’t end. But at the same time, if the anime skipped ahead, we would probably get some disaster like the first Fullmetal Alchemist, which wasn’t really a bad show, but it seems worse when held up next to what is was supposed to become.
One thing that can be said about both DB and DBZ and the final installment series Dragon Ball GT is that there is a passing of time. Goku starts off as a kid in the first one, and he’s a grandparent by the last one. It’s a series that details his life and the lives of his kids. For those of you who don’t know what the ‘Z’ stands for, I don’t know either. Looking it up, I’m still confused, because what I found was ‘Zetto.’ I think it’s safe to conclude that it probably doesn’t mean anything. As for ‘GT,’ I don’t know that either, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it means something along the lines of ‘Generically Terrible.’ If you haven’t watched GT, don’t. But I would most assuredly recommend both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. For those of you who don’t want to watch all of the series but still want to know what happens, or for those of you who have already seen it and love it, TeamFourStar has abridged episodes.