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Thursday, December 30, 2010

I have been blessed to spend the last few days with my good buddy, Robert Allister "Bobby" Rose. One of our favorite things to do is watch Japanese anime. We began with a show called Yu Yu Hakusho that aired in the early 1990s. In some respects, it could be suited for a more youthful audience, but this is not always the case. (Indeed, most often not.) But the last couple of years has been spent with a show called, "Ruroni Kenshin," which translates to "Wandering Samurai." (I nerdily recall from a History Channel program that "ruroni" denotes a samurai that does not have a lord.) In any case, this is the plot: (basically)

A swordsman, Kenshin Himura, wanders the Japanese countryside near the dawn of the Meiji Era, (1878) hoping to find atonement for crimes committed as "Battosai the Manslayer," a legendary samurai in the service of the Tokugawa shogunate. Taken in by the gentle but fierce Kaoru Kamiya, Himura finds more than he bargained for, and all of them find, against their expectations, that they need each other to survive. Will Kenshin keep his vow to never kill again, and can he, in the face of all the threats to the new Japan, and his adopted family?

A prequel show called, "Samurai X" introduces us to Himura in his Battosai days, as well as explains the origin of his distinctive cross-shaped cheek scar. In addition, an epilogue movie set some 15 years after the conclusion of "Ruroni Kenshin" tells us what happened to Kenshin and Kaoru (and trust me, you'd be dying to know after watching the show). I was genuinely moved by the film.

One of the fascinating aspects of this story is the character development, especially of Kenshin and Kaoru. The ongoing struggle between Kenshin's growing attachments and his inability to forgive himself is a tension that deserves to be played out in live action film or on the stage. Why am I telling you all this? At one point, our protagonist says, (paraphrase) "There is nothing I could do to atone for all the sins I have committed." What most of the characters fail to realize (Kenshin included) is how true the statement is. Many rationalizations, explanations, and suggestions are offered, but the truth is clear. This declares to the Christian the glory and all-sufficiency of the work of Jesus Christ. Despite the well-known disagreements concerning the application of that redemption to believers, Christians can declare with one voice that Kenshin's responses to his sins, were they in the face of Christ's redemption, would be nothing short of pride.

Yet what a fascinating and sympathetic character he makes! He now spends his days in works of mercy and charity, and one could only guess that were he offered Christ plainly, he would take Him without a thought. The other part of this we ought to remember is that the character Kenshin Himura killed thousands of people in cold blood. If he finds a measure of reconciliation in ignorance, how much more can we expect to find, we who know of Christ and his love? I am blessed that I rejoice in Christ even when watching Japanese anime. Fair warning: There is ample animated blood throughout, and some aspects of this East Asian spirituality are incompatible with Christianity, and are doubtless in the service of the evil one in the real world. Still, it is entertaining, educational, and clarifies many spiritual truths for the discerning.

My interest as an amateur in things Japanese was actually renewed by Tom Cruise's "The Last Samurai," and led to us watching the show in the first place. It for example illustrates the Meiji Era prohibition against wearing swords, which also arises as a side-plot in "Ruroni Kenshin." In any case, the clash between tradition and modernity or postmodernity is intriguing in any time or place.