Is Noragami an illustration of how we deal with mental health?

Yato Final Rend

This was written as an entry to Anime Writing Reddit Competition. It’s an essay so this isn’t my usual style nor it is as comfortable to read if you’re not in the mood. Expect spoilers for Season 1 and 2 of Noragami (Aragoto).

Introduction

Noragami is an anime based on the adventures of an up and coming God called Yato without a single shrine to his name and a schoolgirl – Hiyori – who changes his fortunes forever. The purpose of this essay is to explore how the anime illustrates how religion, spirituality and medical practices approach mental health in today’s society.

This anime is appropriately based in a country with supposed mental health issues linked to its high suicide rates, while potentially aimed at an audience who can relate to the circumstances depicted. It is based on a religion ingrained into the Japanese culture that is strongly tied to elements of spirituality. This can be seen as a double edged sword in combating mental illnesses as I’ll explain in more detail next.

Religion and spirituality are not the same especially when it comes to mental illness

Shinto Shrine

People are very unhappy nowadays in what is becoming a very atheist world in many parts. Organised religion is slowly taking a step back and Japan is a prime example of a country who is duly influenced by it. The first thing I’ll do is refer to is a survey based on 7,000 people in England that supports the basis of this argument. It identified that people who had “spiritual understanding of life” but not practicing organised religion were more likely to have a variety of mental health disorders than religious and atheists people. While looking into this, I couldn’t ignore the correlation. Japanese culture is technically not religious but it is instead spiritual as the dominant religions are either considered lax in dictating a way of life or lacking in a strict religious framework. This forms a rather thin connection between the mental issues in Japan and the Shinto religion – which Noragami is based on.

Going on this, some can make the assumption that having a spiritual understanding of life (without a religious framework of regular worship) somehow causes more mental health problems. This is all hypothetical because the survey doesn’t prove cause and effect. It cannot prove which came first: spirituality or mental ill health. But it may warrant further looking into.

This challenges a common assumption that spirituality (think mainstream rituals such as yoga and meditation) leads to better mental health. Although there is one consideration to bear in mind. I wanted to point out that the broadening of the term spirituality can imply mental health by definition. Such misconceptions make mental health more difficult to diagnose and cure if there are unsolved misunderstandings.

Now that the parameters of spirituality and religion has been defined, I’ll move on to the main event.

Episode 1: How negativity spreads

The anime starts season 2 by recapping on the concepts of how humans fall prey to dark spirits requiring the intervention of “kamis” ie Gods such as Yato.

Scary Baby Face Mirror

“His longing created the vulnerability that brought the Phantom”.

In the first episode, what seemed to be a simple matter of babysitting turned out be something more sinister. The baby wouldn’t stop crying. This was a symptom of the vulnerability that drew a phantom. How this all came about becomes clearer a few minutes later when Yato looks in the mirror. It seemed the phantom was an image created by the baby in the mirror because he wanted someone to play with.

This is a concept in Noragami influenced by the Shinto religion – humans are made vulnerable by a circumstance which a dark spirit (or phantom) exploits. This perspective minimises accountability and emphasises sympathy with the plight of the “victim”. Sympathy is the key word here because we are more inclined to help someone rather than blame them for their erroneous ways. For example,  an unsympathetic psychiatrist would be very problematic if their patient happened to be deeply depressed.

Her humanity will be taken

“Unless we do something it will eventually possess his mother and take her humanity”.

There was also another concept I picked up on. In this scene, the mention of the mother eventually becoming possessed was glazed over when on reflection I saw it hinting at a bigger theme in the series. Simply put, negative emotions are contagious.

“Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” – 1 Corinthians 15:33

The World Ends With You

You can easily imagine how this story would work if re-enacted in a more realistic setting. A baby refuses to stop crying, so the mother takes out her frustration through violence (beating the child). Or worst, the lack of sleep causes dramatic mood swings at her workplace and her colleagues respond in kind. By the end of the week, the whole town has been affected by bad spirited behaviour. And this continuous cycle would have all started from an innocent place – a newborn child. Think the “Noise” and “Reapers” from The World Ends With You if you’re familiar with the game.

Episode 1 shows us how a simple scenario can be interpreted differently leading to a similar conclusion but different diagnosis. Remember that mental health is very murky and hard to quantify even for medical professionals. This creates a challenge for medical diagnosis counter arguing conclusions drawn by the illustrative nature of mythology and spiritual beliefs. Simply put, in many religion circles, a demon possessing your child is pretty powerful diagnosis rather than “he needs more company”.

Episode 2: The power of faith, the perils of doubt

She has long forgotten about you

In episode 2, the one who falls prey to dark spirits isn’t human but a spirit who befriends Yukine. What you’ll realise in Noragami, spirits suffer the same emotional issues as humans. The afterlife doesn’t grant them immunity to this. The spirit – Suzuha – was neglected by his God holding onto a promise by a human who could see him even though she was a living person. The promise was his cherished friend would come visit him again to watch the cherry blossoms, so he decorated the tree where the promise was carved. Thirty years and counting, he held on then Kugaha broke the news that he was abandoned. The phantom dogs then appeared to attack him at his most vulnerable state.

Suhuza is bitten by phantom wolves

Faith is at the centre of all that is religious and spiritual. We have all heard of people finding God in their darkest hour, finding hope when there seemed like none. On the brink of mental breakdown, faith in a higher power is literally a life-saver. Many people probably would suffer from deep depression if it weren’t for faith. It allows you to move forward into the unknown and acts as a shield against uncertainty, once removed your doubts resurface and you can become victim to negativity and temptations.

What we can take from episode 2 is the coping mechanism are the same. It could be denial, delusional thoughts, obsession or naivety. We turn to different sources to find a solution to the darkness in our hearts and prevent it consuming us. And this anime show does more than weigh on this – prevention.

Two methods of prevention

so many of regalias have died again

We have looked at small examples of dark spirits spreading their evils and the infectious nature of negative emotions. A remedy for this surfaces when looking at the God-Regalia relationships. In Noragami, Gods can be “blighted” (infected) by the impurities of the spirits under their care when their regalia commits a sin or is attacked by phantoms. The ramifications are laid bear when you see how Yato treats Yukine and Bishamon’s relationship with her numerous Regalias.  

Yato implores Yukine to talk to him

The lowly God on one hand always asks Yukine to discuss his feelings whenever he begins to sense ill-thought creeping in. In contrast, Bishamon had little interactions with her regalias outside the 9 combat ready shinki. This results in her suffering in isolation whilst relying on medication and her traitorous doctor who eventually abuses his position. This may have been a sly dig at the pharmaceutical approach (use of antidepressants) to mental health treatment. Either way it highlights effectiveness of two contrasting methods.

There’s a reason why having someone to talk to is highly recommended when facing mental health issues. Venting and expressing emotion is a remedy well illustrated in this series. Bishamon’s story is also reflective of how neglect can result in deep isolation a recent phenomenon in Japan called Hikikomori. Additionally, I find Gods being able to feel their regalia’s emotions is similar to how loved ones tend to sense your bad moods. A mother may not become blighted by her daughter’s transgressions but she is definitely affected when her children experience any form of emotional turmoil.

The Cure: The one thing they all agree on

“The two cannot be separated. To cleanse the body is also to cleanse the mind.”
Aiha successful endures ablution

When all else has failed, you call your psychiatrist or if you’re religious, your religious leader. In Noragami, there is an ablution. This is is a ritual held to purify a Shinki that has been committing sins and betrayed his/her God(s). It is a painful process of cleansing the impurities or blight attached on the body. You can draw direct parallels between an ablution, cleansing of sins or exorcisms of christianity and other religions. Unfortunately, this is too mystical for the medical profession but these processes are not completely world’s apart. A big part of dealing with a mental health situation is confession. Yukine had to confess his sins before the blight left him. Honesty with your psychiatrist is vital to proper treatment. I think this is the one thing, medical practices, religion and spirituality all agree on. Confess it, let it go and move on.

I think when it comes to mental health these can all be effective because the outcome is within the mind. It is what you make of it – a placebo effect in different shapes and sizes. For example, if I genuinely believe Pastor David just casted out a demon from my body, I would stop worrying and suddenly feel happy. And I’m the only one who can judge whether that’s correct. With the intangibility of such cases the concept of Gods and spirits may not look so far fetched after all.

We have advanced to the point, the human body is well documented and understood. But the mind is still rather mysterious. Noragami painted an interesting picture around mental health issues and gives us a new angle to view them. Even if there is nothing groundbreaking to be found on the surface, what’s to say inspiration cannot be found when addresses such challenges?

Conclusion

Japan has developed a reputation for high suicide rates so it doesn’t surprise me an anime show tackling mental health exists. The show touches on the potential causes such as neglect, isolation and lack of expression. It does a fair job of visualising the effects of mental illness even if unintentional. A child suffering from such issues could potentially find comfort in dark spirits being vanquished by good, down-to-earth duos such like Yukine and Yato. Drawn as symptoms of distressed souls but reflective of medical conditions rampant in Japanese society and all around the world. The more I read into Noragami and Japan, the more vivid the connection and real life analogies became.

Pride: The Double Edged Sword in Anime

Fatal lack of pride in your sword skills

What is “Pride” and why it is so common in Anime?

Pride has always been a common trait in anime series I’ve watched over the years. More common than any other character trait and also the one I’ve enjoyed the most when it materialises in key (and badass) moments within a story. So I wanted to talk about it as a driving force behind key characters’ development. Firstly, I wanted to establish what definition of pride I am referring to as there are multiple meanings to this.

“A feeling of self-respect and personal worth.”

Or

“The Trait of being spurred on by a dislike of falling below your standards.”

Japanese Ritual of Seppukk

In this case, Pride is about how you feel about yourself. An important distinction because in a lot of cases, pride is measured by what you think others perceive you as. Initially I thought its common occurrence in manga was due to its prevalence in Japanese culture. But actually it is tied to a bigger cultural theme – a culture of shame and honor. In essence, you live to make your family proud, which is closely related but slightly different to self-respect and personal worth. It is possible that could be getting lost in translation of subtitles to this day. For example, a character could be referring to his “honour” in japanese but translate to his “pride” in english. This is simply food for thought and I won’t go further into this.

So back to the original question, why does “Pride” appear so often? I felt it had more to do with my watching preferences. I mainly watched shows based on shonen manga which focus on martial arts, competitiveness and battles. I don’t like using wikipedia links but it was all I could find to define “shonen” as a genre. I feel it encapsulates the main character traits seen in these series very well:

 For my pride as Warriorof Elbaph

Such manga often portray challenges to the protagonist’s abilities, skills, and maturity, stressing self-perfection, austere self-discipline, sacrifice in the cause of duty, and honorable service to society, community, family, and friends.

Shonen manga generally fall under the action and adventure genres containing elements of violence. Many portray a male team, whether a sports team or a fighting squad, working together for a common goal.

The correlation between shonen fighting and pride is obvious. And maybe we can give credit to Akira Toriyama for he contributed to the popularity of shonen manga with Dragon Ball. And by extension provided the blueprint for what personality traits future shonen character will have. And with that, I will look at a character of his whose pride is more than a trait but rather a way of life.

A Saiyan’s Pride

Majin Vegeta

“You may have invaded my mind and my body, but there’s one thing a Saiyan always keeps… his pride!!!” Vegeta resisting Babidi’s control.

Vegeta was without doubt the proudest character in the Dragon Ball universe. What looked like arrogance at first eventually became something more. He felt his royal blood destined him to greatness but he knew that this destiny came with a huge responsibility. On top of that, he was one of the only survivors of his extinct race meaning he couldn’t disappoint them even if they were no longer alive to judge him.

Seeing Goku, a Saiyan of lower class attain powers beyond comprehension was something Vegeta couldn’t live with.There were no Saiyans to mock him or question his royal status but it was his duty to reach such levels of power. His pride demanded it.

“Now it’s time to share that pride..pride in myself. I am a Saiyan who was raised on Planet Earth, and in the name of every single Saiyan that you’ve made suffer!…For them, and all the people of Planet Namek, too!…I will defeat you!” Goku right before his battle against Frieza begun

This led Vegeta to partake in a near-impossible training regime to become a Super Saiyan. This single goal was a compass that guided him towards being Goku’s greatest rival but it also led him astray. It had a dark side which was exploited by Babidi who tried to take control of the “Dark Prince”. Fortunately, it was Vegeta’s Pride that would always overcome any obstacle.

His character development is built around his sense of pride and has inspired many Dragon Ball fans to root for him over a rather cardboard cut-out protagonist – Goku. When I was a kid, I always remembered my dad coming back from work, seeing me and brother watching DBZ and he’ll always ask “where’s Vegeta”. That’s all he cared about. I think this was because he related to Vegeta as a man of great pride. As my father’s son, I feel the same connection too.

A Soldier’s Pride

I lost my Pride Ein Dalton Iron Blooded Orphan

Ein Dalton was a dutiful young soldier, who held intense loyalty to both his comrades as well as Gjallarhorn – the organisation he fought for. Above all, he was extremely loyal to his mentor Crank Zent who died at the hands of Mikasuki Augus – the main protagonist. His story is one of pride and his honour as a soldier versus Mika – an orphan with none. Unfortunately, it didn’t end well for him nor his mentor who was the one that instilled these values.

You allowed me to rise again Gaelio and Dalton

From what I saw, pride was never the victor in this series but was a self-destructive trait that faltered when tested. Crank Zent didn’t have to go back and fight Mikazuki but he did it out of duty. It was his responsibility to preserve his soldiers reputation. Then he died for that and his student continued this vicious cycle. He became obsessed with vengeance and even put his life on the line for Gaelio who provided him another opportunity to restore his pride.

“McGillis. As a way to ensnare Gjallarhorn. You used Ein. You used his pride.”

But in the end, it was McGillis who used that against him for his own aims. What would be seen as admirable in many people’s eyes, was shown to be fragile and easily manipulated. Not everyone can survive a blow of this doubled edged sword like Vegeta.

The different forms of Pride

“If it is for the sake of my pride, there is nothing I won’t destroy.” — Byakuya Kuchiki 

When he said this, it seemed he had betrayed the Soul Society by siding with the rogue Zanpakutos. Eventually it was revealed that Byakuya’s true intentions were to stay close to Muramasa so that he could locate and kill his Soul Reaper Kōga Kuchiki for dishonoring the Kuchiki clan. This was a filler arc so you can take what you like with a pinch of salt but the reference to his pride (whether true to the manga or not) is interesting in how elusive it is.

Pointed at my pride Bleach

“My killing you is no other reason than the fact that you… Pointed your blade [view shifts to Rukia] at my pride”

Byakuya Kuchiki is the 28th head of one of the four great noble clans in Soul Society and captain of the 6th Division in the Gotei 13 so there’s plenty of reason for his prideful nature. But his is a lot less straightforward. I say this because it was this same pride that was for Rukia’s execution. He felt it was his duty as head of the Kuchiki clan to uphold the law even if it meant his adoptive sister’s death. Then in another arc, he refers to Rukia as his pride after saving her from the 7th Espada, Zommari Rureaux.

What you may take from these examples is that Pride can take many forms, whether it is a matter of honour, a sense of duty or virtue you live by such as protecting your loved ones. Essentially it is something you fight for even if it means putting everything else at risk, including one’s life.

Pride in today’s society

Lucifer falls from heaven

“Lucifer spoke thus. Pride took him from heaven, though he sat at God’s right hand. In the end, pride is the root of all evil.” – Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Pride has always had dark connotations but I can imagine it had a better reputation a few centuries back. Nowadays it is dismissed as hypermasculine or egotistic, I can understand why. The stakes are not so high, we are not soldiers and have no reason to fight nor do we have anything to prove to anyone. These values were reserved in times of wars or for people of power such as royalty. These things are less visible in a world of democracy and flatter hierarchies. You would struggle to justify a person possessing this trait as it is no longer needed.

Does Pride still serve any purpose?

Dishonour can be washed away with success

When I see a football (soccer) player dive, I question their sense of pride. Nowadays there’s no shame in getting the best outcome. Whether it is your team winning or doing wrong by your work colleagues for shareholder profits. We even applaud these actions as if it was for the greater good. Without the fear of public shame or anyone questioning your “honour”, such acts are more likely to happen. It makes me wonder whether pride has become so socially unacceptable, it’s facing extinction.

Maybe it is the rarity of it that makes characters with pride my favourite. It can send one down a spiral of darkness, as shown by the above examples but it can also motivate you to do what’s right and attain greatness. Isn’t the Pirate Hunter Zoro a prideful man? Didn’t he swallow his pride when it mattered for a higher purpose? For me it is a double edge sword worth wielding but not out of a honour or a sense of obligation. Simply because I want to meet my own high standards and be great enough to reach my full potential.

 

Eiichiro Oda’s World Building and Video Games

The Fictional World of One Piece

Doflamingo City.png

So I was recently catching up on One Piece having just reached the Dressrosa Arc where Luffy had entered the tournament at the Corrida Colosseum. When the contestants were being revealed both through the announcements and during the backstage drama something dawned on me. I don’t know if “dawned” is the right word because I have always known this deep down but it really “clicked” this time round. Maybe it was the long break from watching the series that made this realisation ever more clear or possibly the way this was presented to me in these episodes. Either way Oda has built one of the most expansive fictional worlds in existence.

This is probably both a sweeping and ignorant statement and I’m aware that this is not area of expertise but I play RPGs regularly enough, read books and watch shows based in fantasy worlds and I’m convinced it’s up there with the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and War Hammer series’. Those who are not familiar with One Piece would disagree but those who are would understand why this is the biggest anime universe (and best). And that’s because of the characters. Oda builds his fantasy world through characters.

Poor Pacing or World Building?

Sabo_Hack_Koala_Revolutionaries_in_Dressrosa.png

I realised this when became frustrated with the (well-known) pacing of the episodes. As each gladiator was being introduced, I sat there thinking why the hell is still taking so long? I was questioning the how necessary all these side characters were in the grander scheme of things. A common rule in storytelling is making sure you only include information that matters. This is something One Piece’s creator seems not bothered about on the other hand this may be what makes this story great. Because side characters and minor acquaintances do matter. Each person that enters the screen or graces the manga panel is a seed. Whether that be a potential ally or enemy, a new obstacle for the Straw Hats to overcome or a conflict that our characters must address for them to grow further.

On top of side characters with their own agendas, the series has continued to add layers to the world. Originally you believed it was just Pirates vs Navy. Then you find out there are secret organisations, revolutionaries, actual islands and countries with their own kind of warriors. And alien species who hold grudges against each other and even other worlds (think Fishmen Island and Skypiea). This means more possible outcomes, threads, possibilities, conflicts alliances, enemies. This is something the likes of Naruto and Dragonball Z failed to do, the side characters eventually faded into irrelevance – it became all about Jinchurikis and Saiyans. The creators of these great series funneled their own creations and shrunk their potentials.

Every character matters

Bellamy_vs_Abdullah_Jeet.png

In One Piece, you don’t know whether a new character is simply another cameo or someone who will play a bigger role later on. We never anticipated how or whether Bellamy, Laboon or Coby would re-appear. The way the universe has been set up we don’t know who or what will impact the trajectory of this adventure. The world is filled to the brim with characters so maybe we are mistaking poor pacing with world building. This theory rather resonated with me upon reflection.

Necessities are things like gladiators in Dressrosa arc. They seem irrelevant and filler at first, but in reality are allies and future army that will aid Luffy either during a fight with yonko or during the final war. It’s something that has to happen and, for better or worse, is happening now.

Build games with characters not with quests

ACS-charles-dickens.jpg

I believe this is a concept that can be applied to open world games. Many sandboxes claim to be expansive worlds that are more open and big but really most are empty. In 2015, I wasn’t expecting to take an interest in Assassin Creed’s next game then I saw the likes of Jack the Ripper and Charles Darwin in trailers. These characters who would provide quests with substance.

I know it’s weird for game designers and writers taking advice from a mangaka but the demand narrative driven gameplay and storytelling experience is growing ever stronger in gaming. A lot of gamers don’t want “stuff to do” or collectibles but stories on top of stories. Short stories, weird ones mixed with dark ones based on characters from all walks of life.

As a gamer and someone who enjoys immersing himself in fictional realities I ask game designers who are building their own worlds to try something different. Try not having “side missions or quests” instead add new characters with quests attached. Don’t add a location or a “challenge”. Add another character. Because every character has hopes and dreams, a place they came from and a place they are going to. Build around characters and deep dig into their personalities because it is the characters that leave a lasting impression on you not game trophies (unless it’s Platinum).

5 Reasons Why One Punch Man is Saving Anime

One Punch Monster

In case you haven’t heard – One Punch Man is currently saving anime.

Before Saitama came along we were still mourning the loss of Hunter x Hunter (it’s been a year and Togashi still playing Dragon Quest). We were also feeling the burn from a below-par One Piece arc (Dressrosa). The industry was at wits end then our bald super hero enter the fray and saved the day – like a bawse.

The success of the series has surprised many but the Day One manga readers were already hyped the moment they found it would be Madhouse handling the adaptation. Inevitably there has even been talks of a second season.

These are the 5 (amongst many others) reasons why One Punch Man is worth the hype and has such an incredible mass appeal worldwide.

It is an anime true to its original source.

Saitama is OK

A lot of animes get a lot of stick for not following mangas closely enough or simply not doing them justice. Tokyo Ghoul totally went off track in season 2. Then in other cases, it’s the animation that’s at fault. Remember how Toei Animation went all weird on us with Dragonball Super? But obviously Madhouse who has been delivering BANGERS all year round comes along and delivers another smash hit.  

It has a great sense of humour.

Saitama Scary

This is the best part about the series. We get a lot animes that get too serious and philosophical. Which is not a bad thing (unless it ends like Neon Genesis) but being funny is the ultimate form of entertainment. And as a westerner, it’s nice when Japanese humour doesn’t totally get lost in translation every now and then. The entertainment value overall is rather refreshing.

The Protagonist isn’t generic

One Punch Man GOAT

It’s nice to get a protagonist  that isn’t a hard headed, dumbass intent on saving the world (sorry Naruto/Luffy). Saitama actually moves away from the traditional protagonist formula of taking themselves too seriously while being overly stubborn for the sake of grit and gusto. My man right there, doesn’t give a fuck – and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Hitting the mainstream

One Punch Man dominates IMDB

It is breaking records everywhere. The show is a commercial success without the accompanying hate you get from hardcore anime fans due its mass appealing nature. My friend at work asked if I watched One Punch Man the other day. He never watches anime.

Bringing the anime community

goku saitama game

For a moment let’s ignore the hype beasts doing weird shit like – fantasizing over Genos Tumblr gifs, power scaling Goku vs Saitama and comparing 12 episodes with shounen heavy weights –  we all are enjoying it and having fun. This is a nice change of pace from the usual discussions such as how overrated One Piece is, Naruto’s infinite fillers, shounen face-offs and Togashi’s mental state of mind.

Now the series is over (for now) let’s all take a moment to thank Saitama for ending the year on a high.
Cheers baldy.

Kaneki’s Turmoil is a bit like a Quarter Life Crisis

Halloween is just round the corner so I felt it would be quite timely to drop this short piece on Tokyo Ghoul’s main protagonist.

Ken Kaneki’s development is pretty underrated in my eyes but I can understand why. Partly due to the lacklustre second season after an amazing debut. Or maybe the psychological changes he goes through gets lost in all the blood and gore of the series. Either way, I have decided to reflect on this as upon deeper inspection you realise how fascinating his emotional psyche really is.

As I love bringing the fictional verse of anime into the reality, I decided to draw parallels between Kaneki’s development and the quarter life crisis of a young adult. Because finding your way as a Ghoul is pretty much the same as finding your place in the real world, right?

When Does the Quarter Life Crisis Hit?

KAneki in Crisis

It could be when:

  • You’ve just graduated and still don’t know what to do with the rest of your life
  • Or you’re considering a tragic career change
  • Maybe you’ve just been dumped by your long time partner
  • You lose someone close to you

All of these things can cause you to reevaluate your life and drive you towards an emotional breakdown just like Kaneki did when he first discovered he was a Ghoul. But the comparison doesn’t stop there. 

Here are the key moments in Eyepatch’s journey during the first 2 seasons that feel a lot like the kind of shit, you’re probably going through (if you’re around 18-25). So if Ken Kaneki of all people can make it, so can you my friend.

That ‘Holy Shit’ Moment

Kaneki Sees his Ghoul Eye for the 1st time

This is where it all turned to shit. It finally dawned on Kaneki that he was a ghoul. At first, he tried to resist his ghoulish nature by refusing to eat human meat. Obviously this wasn’t going to last long. Eventually he released his kagune in order to protect his friend, finally fed and began to come to terms with his new reality.

When the unexpected hits us, we don’t handle it so well at first. But it is when we are at our lowest that the most unlikely someone offers out a helping hand. We just need to ride the storm until we see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Finding your purpose

Kaneki Finds His Purpose While Laying On the Ground

Kaneki had his first encounter with Amon, blocking the way to Mr. Mado and Touka who were also facing off. While he is getting beaten down and trying to reason with the investigator, he suddenly reaches a conclusion. As an One-eyed Ghoul, he stood at the inner section between humans and ghouls. *Ghasp* Could he potentially find a way for both sides to co-exist? In that moment he finds his purpose. After searching for somewhere to belong, finding a reason to live as a ghoul, he had finally discovered his place in this new reality of his.

Kaneki is comforting

Finding your way in this world is difficult, no doubt about it. Education feels your head with a lot of stuff that doesn’t matter. Your parents suggestions are pretty much outdated and job market looks worse every year. Not that there are many fulfilling employment opportunities. But a day will come when you will find your place in this world. It may take longer than you wanted but when you do life suddenly becomes crystal clear.

Time to change

kaneki Screams In pain During TortureKaneki was going through one of the worst experiences of his life. Jason’s torturing was causing excruciating pain. Such an experience forced his mind to drift deep within where his memories, long-standing issues and internal conflicts lay. Rize was tearing away at everything he believed in, discrediting his mother and playing on his innocence so she could take over. Under the knife of his torturer, Kaneki faced a crossroads. Would he die believing his mother was right? That it is better to be hurt than hurt others. Or choose to embrace the dark side – Rize. In the nick of time he chooses a third option, he will reject Rize’s proposal but use his Ghoulish abilities to protect his friends. And he is willing to hurt to do it. Sorry Mom, I had to grow up.

Kaneki vs Jason looking badass

Change is important and one of the biggest changes 20-somethings go through is diverting from their parents advice. You realise that you wasn’t as religious as your parents would make you believe. Or you come to terms with the fact that, university isn’t for you even if your mum wants you to be a lawyer. In the end, you have the final say. And those who you thought had it all figured out, could actually be wrong.

Saying Goodbye

Kaneki Breaks the News to Touka

A lot changed within that torture room including the colour of his hair. He realised he had to get stronger in order to protect those dear to him. So he made a big decision and decided he needed to join Aogiri leaving behind the Anteiku cafe along with Touka.

Most people will reach a point where they have to leave behind what is safe and familiar for something totally new. The leap of faith in some cases, whether it is moving to a new city, travelling or simply moving out. Regardless of what your friends and family think, sometimes you got to change course. Kaneki may not have just left to protect Hide and co. but actually to find himself too.

Taking the wrong turn

Kaneki realises thanks to Amon

In this episode, Kaneki loses control of his Kagune during his battle with Shinohara while becoming incredibly strong. He overpowers his opponent and then uncharacteristically begins to devour his armour. At this point, he looked pretty unstoppable. He seemed to have gained the kind of power he had been seeking but he had lost his way. Amon seeing this transformation of Kaneki into this centipede-like Ghoul challenges Ken as being “like every other Ghoul”. It was then that Kaneki regained control, and becomes aware that he had strayed badly.

Our intentions may start off in a good place but the result may leave us in a bad one. I’m not a philosopher by any stretch people, just getting that clear. When you fall from grace, you probably need a good friend to remind you of who you really are. Or in this rare case, an enemy could be the one to make you snap out of it. Crazy that? Sometimes it is ‘thy haters’ that keep you in check. Because friends tend to sugar coat or hide the bitter truths from you. At least someone with no emotional obligation will hold nothing back.

Kaneki Smooth as they come

I have to give credit to the writer turning Kaneki from a blundering mess of a newbie Ghoul to a powerful enemy of the CCG – The One Eyepatch. So are you going through a life crisis? Well Kaneki can (kind of) relate and is getting through it somehow. If this softie can take this many Ls and still keep going, you can too.

Was Meruem’s criticism of humanity valid?

“I was born as the King of Ants, the crowning glory of life. All of your kind evolved solely to produce me. I am the culmination of generations of their unhesitating service. You are one of many, and no king. Of course you could never win!!
“Meruem, King of Ants, you understand nothing… of humanity’s infinite potential for evolution”

Note: It was infinite potential for *malice* in the manga but that’s a discussion for another day

How infinite is humanity’s potential to evolve?

Netero Laughing at King of Ants

Firstly, what an epic scene that was. Probably in my top 5 character deaths in anime.

So what struck me about his last words was “humanity’s infinite potential for evolution”. Something that I have pondered from time to time. So I guess this is me reflecting on humanity’s potential to evolve and whether we are making the most of our potential.

You may be wondering why reflect on human evolution now? Well we seem to be facing a broad range of issues: Overpopulation, climate change, resource scarcity, slowdown in technological innovation. We are running out of time to solve these global issues thus times like these when our existence is on the line we must…evolve.

Humans vs. The Next Threat

Parastye attempts to eat human's head off

Seeing how quickly the Chimera Ants became a significant threat, showed how easily our extinction could become an imminent possibility. I know it is “only an anime” but some say our imagination is just as important as what we know. And it’s not as if we haven’t seen such themes in entertainment before..

Take the Planet of the Apes movie series. One of the closest mammals to our own DNA, suddenly learns how to communicate through a human experiment and quickly drives the rest of his species into a new age. In theory, this is possible. We are just as likely to experience a scientific breakthrough as a scientific disaster as such.

This also reminds me of Parastye. An anime I recently watched where these alien-like creatures invade the bodies of humans and infiltrate the governing bodies with ease. If you haven’t noticed already, there’s a pattern. Every menace with the power to destabilise us, will use what we have already built to overcome us. The technology we have used to take us so far, can become the weapon that is our undoing.

The Chimera Ants evolved very quickly by imitating humans but eventually this backfired.They started to take on human traits that slowed their progression. Human individuality made them turn on each other, creating cracks in their defenses that allowed the hunters to fight back. The more human they became, the more vulnerable. How has revealed a fatal flaw in our own existence?

Is our diversity hindering the human evolution?

Gon of Hunter x Hunter Begins to Power up

The ecology of the Chimera Ant is focused on the endpoint of all evolution… on me. Humanity, with its messy diversity… its individuals… never had a chance.”

I think many would agree diversity is actually humanity’s best asset. Yuval Noah Harari in his “What explains the rise of human” TED Talk assesses that: “Humans control the planet because they are the only animals that can cooperate both flexibly and in very large numbers. While social insects, the bees, the ants — that can cooperate in large numbers do but their cooperation is very rigid”.

This probably explains the Ant King’s bias towards a less democratic form of governance. Although maybe there was some truth in what he was saying?

Human beings have stopped evolving after becoming the only species to “put halt to natural selection of its own free will”, Sir David Attenborough said, as he predicted the “cultural evolution” of the future. The current definition of natural selection is quite primitive for the 21st century so I have expanded it by including producing not only “offspring” but a workforce through education. And to incorporate not just the physical but intellectual traits. I.e. Surviving by passing on our intelligence onto the newer generations, producing offspring and workforce more adapted to their current and near-future conditions of their environment.

Why have we stopped evolving?

Mereum asks Why King in Power1Mereum questions talent and skill HxHMereum questions human ways

Meruem questioned our hierarchical systems referring to how we allow less talented minds to rule us.

It is reasonable and ethically human of us to demand a fairer society. One that has human rights, equality and balanced representation in positions of power. This is what political movements have been fighting for centuries. But my question is that whether this hindering us from evolving by no longer elevating the most talented to the top of our hierarchies? Are we maximising the intelligence within our societies in order to go onto better things?

I believe in diversity but I do question the idea of status quotas. I do question putting people into powerful positions in the name of diversity. This quote on a matriarchy society summarises one way of seeing the reserve of human evolution as we deprioritise our most talented and skilled citizens in key industries.

Diversity makes sense, but is it slowly clouding our judgement? I watched the Matt Damon interview where he was simply trying to say, he wanted to pick directors on merit first, rather than representation. The media didn’t miss the opportunity to throw his name through the mud but fortunately reddit provided a more balanced view of what transpired. The point is we need to have a fair society but we should not risk the losing our best minds in these agenda-driven rows. But obviously there’s more to life than evolving continuously.

A fairer or a more advanced society – Can we have both?

Meruem Komugi Relationship

“I understood nothing”
“Because of Komugi…I’ve learned that there are different forms of strength… Even on my way here… I killed a child. That child may have had the talent to surpass me in something… I trampled over that seed. For no reason at all… I trampled over it!”

Meruem eventually understood the beauty of life. Of what makes us humans, we can all be great. A black female scientist at MIT may finally find a way for us to explore the galaxy or even time travel, so representation of ethnic minorities and genders is important but we shouldn’t trample over seeds that are already bearing fruit. We need the most talented to help us survive once more, or we may face a threat far worse than a Chimera Ant King with an appetite for world domination.

6 Tips For Turning Into A Super Saiyan

Dragon Ball z Goku

I have recently been going gym again and it has been progressing at a fair pace. These last couple of months, I have felt good but wanted to go to the next level. So I started looking for sources of inspiration or something to motivate me to train harder for better results. I’m not sure whether it was the recent mention of the Dragon Ball Super series or something else but my mind drifted to Dragonball Z. The training regimes the Saiyans (Goku & co) put themselves through were a big part of the anime.

Every time they were faced with new, powerful foes, they would always look for ways to get stronger. And it was never purely down to hard work but the approaches they took to training and the creative methods they used to push their bodies to new heights. So after a little trip down memory lane, I came up with some tips on how to be a real life Super Saiyan. Hopefully I take on board my own advice while also inspiring you too.

Get Stronger, not bigger.

Saiyans don’t “bulk” or “get hench”. They get stronger. They were constantly conditioning themselves for battle. They didn’t pop into their local gym to spend an hour on the bench press, do a few bicep curls then go home. They focused on endurance – ie Goku doing 10,000 pull ups in the Gravity Chamber on his way to Planet Namek – as much as strength.
And thus this resulted in a body like this:
Goku Super Saiyan 1
If you want a body like this, you need to incorporate other things besides lifting really heavy weights. Consider higher number of reps until your muscles fatigue and more full body exercises that uses multiple muscles – like push-ups. Goku loved push-ups. If you can get this right, your strength will eventually materialise physically.

Goku loves push ups on the Gravity Chamber

Find your Piccolo (or King Kai)

Piccolo Kicking Gohan

Some would have said that Goku must have picked the worst person to look after his kid. But we eventually learned that Piccolo was the best person to train Gohan. The thing about personal trainers are, they are expensive especially when you can just Google fitness advice online. But nothing makes up for the motivation they provide. Firstly, the financial costs mean you want to get your money’s worth. And their constant presence will push you to train harder, every single time.

Find yourself a personal trainer to kick your ass until you are able to kick theirs. They will push you over and beyond even when you are not “feeling up to it”. Also they are there to stop you from developing bad habits such as bad form. If you really want to make a difference maybe it is time you put your money where your mouth is and invest in a trainer even if it’s a short period of time.

Find your Goku to your Vegeta

Goku Vegeta Rivalry

Who knew when Goku and Vegeta first encountered each other that their rivalry would be key to them finding their inner greatness? Goku pushed himself to learn King Kai’s Kaio-ken technique and the Genki Dama because of Vegeta. Vegeta became obsessed with beating Goku when he learned he had turned into a Super Saiyan. This rivalry was one of the most captivating in anime history.

Gym buddies are not only good for spotting you on the bench press. They are also good competition. Whoever is the weaker one actually benefits the most if they can embrace the rivalry before them. So don’t just look for someone to have a friendly chat between your sets. Find someone who you want to beat.

And say in the case you don’t have a gym buddy. Next time you go, look around for a familiar face. That guy that comes in, the same days as you and is physically at a point where you want to be. Now imagine he is Broly and think to yourself “I’m coming for you, motherf&%*ker*”… then search for someone to do the Saiyan Fusion Dance with….

Find your Intensity

It seems pretty straight forward right? No pain no gain but you would be surprised how easily people hit a brick wall and stop progressing. But now “High Intensity Interval Training” has become mainstream, thanks to the popularity of the Insanity Workout.
“High-intensity interval training (HIIT) describes any workout that alternates between intense bursts of activity and fixed periods of less-intense activity or even complete rest. For example, running as fast as you can for 1 minute and then walking for 2 minutes. Repeat that 3-minute interval five times for a 15-minute”

There are two benefits to this kind of exercise routine:
• Normal cardio seems to encourage muscle loss, but studies show that both weight training and HIIT workouts allow preservation of their hard-earned muscles while ensuring fat loss
• It’s time efficient, so you can do this kind of thing within your busy schedule
With a mixture of resistance training and HIIT, you are bound to finish your workout in agony. More pain, more gain.

Find some time to Sleep

Goku Sleeping on his to King Kai on Snakes Path

These guys don’t play around when it comes to sleep. You shouldn’t either. There’s enough science to support this notion, especially if you’re working out. The main benefits are:

• You produce most of your growth hormone when you sleep aka muscle growth
• Hinders bad eating habits – a tired body tends to indulge in sugary treats to keep up energy levels
• It supports your immune system and it keeps your organs operating smoothly

The last point tends to go over people’s head because it sounds generic and vague. So I’ll explain why your immune system needs to be in top condition for you to get the results you want. Firstly, your metabolism needs to do its job of burning fat. Then there’s muscle allocation and repairing. If your body is too exhausted, it’ll do a piss poor job of building mass in the right places and regulating muscle fibres. Worst case scenario, you’ll have big arms, skinny legs with a pop belly. Don’t be that guy.

Find your appetite

Goku Eating Rice

When I say eat, I don’t mean drink protein shakes. Eat real food! Protein supplements are convenient but don’t hold any advantages over whole food protein. You have to be wary of the marketing behind these protein supplement brands who add sugars and other unnatural substances to their products. You can’t go wrong with actually food. Time is money but if you can, learn to prepare food in advance. Where I am from, it is common practice to prepare your weekly supply of protein foods at the start of the week and store them in plastic containers. Doing something similar will make your life easier.

Hopefully you picked up some useful tips and while reminiscing the good old times of this iconic anime. So get the shirt and start your journey towards becoming a Super Saiyan.

Thanks for reading.
@seyiagboola