Ghibli Reflections: Spirited Away

“Dogma inevitably will find corruption, and I’ve certainly never made religion a basis for my films. My own religion, if you can call it that, has no practice, no Bible, no saints, only a desire to keep certain places and my own self as pure and holy as possible. That kind of spirituality is very important to me. Obviously it’s an essential value that cannot help but manifest in my films.”

Miyazaki

Spirited Away is not my first Studio Ghibli film, but it is the first time that I have watched a Ghibli film with a greater appreciation of the art, sound, atmosphere and spirituality of it all.

I watched this film with my Muslim anime group, Animate Life!, and it was specifically requested and chosen for its praises in both the secular and spiritual world. The group was filled with anime lovers, people who had seen the film, and people who had never seen anime outside of knowing what Pokémon was. While I had not seen Spirited Away myself, I had a specific intention of how to separate the viewing, questions to ask, and specific things to bring up. However, quite a few things happened in lieu of me wanting to do what I wanted to, and Allah is the best planner of all of us, it worked out a lot better His way.

After prepping the group with sushi, homemade ramen, and aspirations for the movie, I was able to watch their reactions of the fantastical art and animation as we watched Chihiro’s family wander into this abandoned amusement park. There was confusion, laughter, shock and awe during the first part of the film. The murmurs, laughter and occasional incredulous “what?!” stayed in my mind as I tried to piece together the minds of the new viewers while also trying to piece together the piece myself.

After Chihiro’s job at the Bath House led to a shocking turn of a stink monster turned dragon spirit, we paused the film for a brief break. It was here that the real magic happened. Conversations on how the three bouncing heads were weird, “I thought Haku was a girl,” and a room filled with questions and people trying to piece together how Yubaba had a baby in the first place. We regrouped and absorbed the bits of conversations I overheard and I provided key advice in watching the movie:

“Watch this through the eyes of a child. Not as rationally thinking adults.”

I encouraged the group to feel empathetic and put themselves in the shoes of Chihiro, a young girl without her parents in a strange place with spirits and talking creatures. Rationality was far gone out the window.

This advice lead to a whole new experience the second half of the movie – even for myself. The emotions of the film changed to something of childlike understanding which lead to some amazing insights from the group as a collective. Before we shared our thoughts, I thought it was important for the group to know the quote I posted previously in the article about Miyazaki and his stance on his religion. I have mentioned this article in previous works, but again, Beneath the Tangles, inspired this particular viewing party solely based off their feature article by Kaitlyn Ugoretz.

Before I get into reviews, it is important that I mention why I chose this movie. From my own personal interaction within the Muslim community, not all communities are opening or welcome to animation, drawings or are just unaware of the culture altogether. Studio Ghibli is a household name even in passing. While the movies may be fantastical to the untrained eye, they hold magic that once understood can be moving. Alhamdulillah, that was something I saw on that day, magic of understanding not only the film, but magic of seeing other Muslims who were outside the bubble of the anime world, look through the window of what it is, not what it’s made out to be.

Religion, spirituality and the arts are blended. They work hand in hand. In fact, one could even say one is emboldened by the other. But that is a discussion for another day insha’Allah.

A few of the takeaways from the group are what many would see at a first glace. Materialism, consumerism, and greed. Something that was agreed upon after remembering one of Chihiro’s father’s first lines, “Don’t worry honey, I’ve got cash and cards.” A timeless reflection of fixing our problems with money and also ignoring the warnings and woes of children. Turning into pigs wasn’t just due to eating food in the spirits world, but also a reflection of the gluttonous behavior mankind exhibits when they have even a taste of anything that fills them; be it food, attention or any other material gain.

Yubaba and her Bath House carried the conversation for hours. The Bath House itself spoke of cleanliness, but only cleanliness of the external, not the internal. Your body is clean, but the spirit is still heavy with the filth of the world. We can even see the change of the spirits from the very beginning. Their sur de soir behavior, placing themselves on a higher pedestal from humans.

Yubaba and Zeniba were two sides of the same coin so to speak. The only similarities the sisters shared was their face. One member even said, “when her sister came in, she didn’t have the mean essence about her.” When Zeniba entered the scene where Haku was entered, she wasn’t threatening as Yubaba was when you first meet her. Even when Chihiro had to travel to her home there was no real fear about Zeniba herself, but the travel of how to get back home. “She was immediately referred to as granny…” one member reflected about how unthreatened she felt by her. The entire atmosphere changed in the movie after their visit to Zeniba’s house down to the spirits of the Bath House and even Yubaba’s giant baby boy.

By the time it was time to end, the discussion of No Face bought a heavy, yet brief, discussion on loneliness, companionship and even eating disorders on a one on one connection. This discussion even lead me to believe it needed it’s own piece (to add to my own excitement).

In it’s entirety the movie, even without my approval, was bound to be a success. There were too many elemental points that hit hearts critically. Reminding people of their childhood, of how to treat children, of the environment and our own desires.

Writing Review Blogs Suck and I Love It

In the promise that I kept to myself of being consistent on my blog, I have already failed to do so. However, it’s only in the sense that I want to make sure everything is perfect.

Perfect reviews. Perfect timing. Perfect wording. Perfect images. Perfect title.

Everything is perfect.

Producing the content is the only issue, it’s never the ideas. The ideas are always overflowing and being written down in notebooks, sticky notes, and Google Docs. Research into what it is I want to accomplish in my piece is done so thoroughly that I can’t really meet my own personal deadlines. Out of all these “complaints”, there really is no excuse – or complaint.

Since I started this blog, there has always been this desire to look and delve deeper into my own passion. Finding the heavier meaning behind it all, and seeing something so much more. I find myself looking into other blogs such as Beneath The Tangles, an anime blog with a Christian focus. Their blog has inspired me to do so much more with my work and connecting it with Islam in the same respect.

In doing research for my Muslim anime group, Animate Life!, I stumbled across one of their reviews on Ghibli films and spirituality and found the most enlightening and motivational quotes from Jolyon Baraka Thomas.

“…entertainers can playfully use religious symbols to create an engaging story, and viewers can derive spiritual meaning from popular media, regardless of whether the creator intended them to do so.”

“…’vernacular religion’ refers to religion as it is lived- not what religious authorities say religion ‘should be,’ but how religious concepts are translated into a particular culture and actually practiced by people.”

“…it is left up to each of us as audience members to makes sense of these dissociated religious elements by translating them back to out own vernacular of faith.”

It is these quotes, supplemented by the teachings of my teachers that inspire me to take these writings seriously. In doing all of this, I also am opening my world of anime and manga, delving into titles and “to be read’s” and truly appreciating art for what it is.

So while I have been slow in my upload process, the work is being steadily done to produce content that is befitting of what I want to accomplish and what I hope viewers will read.

With all of this being said, I’m excited to say my first big topic of will be from a retreat I had the pleasure of being apart of called The Sage’s Journey, where we discuss Star Wars through the eyes of philosophers and scholars of Islam with our teacher Dr. Ali Hussein. There were a varieties of readings recommended to supplement this paper, and once it is released I’ll be content insha’Allah.

Find the book here!

Dr. Stone Reboot: Byakuya Review

Disclaimer:
This review will have spoilers and clips from the SJ app. All images are from Viz’s Shonen Jump App and are not my own.

Dr. Stone was one of the hottest summer animes of 2019 and rightfully so. Boichi-sensei opened a world of science “edutainment” that left us all with questions and piqued our interests. Our journey with Dr. Stone takes us from reality to petrification leading us into the stone world. This reboot gives us the story of petrification from the view of the astronauts – Byakuya, Senku’s father-figure – being one of them.

Byakuya and the crew of astronauts with him all had a front seat ticket to petrification event and the gradual shut down of society. His team try to make contact in several ways before putting their heads together and finding a way using their resources on the space station to go back to Earth.

For Byakuya, this means to find Senku and saving humanity.

As the entire teams departure from the space station, Byakuya’s robot REI-37 asks him if he would return, and is responded in kind unaware of the state mankind is in. While this Dr. Stone short is a spin off for Byakuya, for me it was more of the story of REI’s patience and perseverance in even the most unlikely of times.

Courtesy of Viz’s Shonen Jump App

It would be disrespectful of me to not mention the amazing work Boichi-sensei does with his art. While Dr. Stone was my first time seeing his work, the art style was so unique and interesting to me that I needed to find more of his works. I am no art expert, but the attention to detail and the sheer expansiveness of it moves me. It moves me so much so, I had to even stop and make a prayer for him. How he captures space and showing light piercing through darkness was enough to take my breath away.

Courtesy of Viz’s Shonen Jump App

REI spends his time keeping up the space station, so when the humans come back it will still be habitable. In every step that he takes to do repairs, find fuel, fix trajectory and everything in between he is reminded of what his goal is. He reminds himself of Byakuya, and even though years pass, the question always arises “I wonder when Byakuya will return,” and follows up with “I hope he is doing well.” Even for a human-robot relationship, it’s beautiful even for those moments.

As a reader, seeing the time span we know (or can estimate) what is happening based on the parallels with Senku. So when years go by and REI’s mind still reflects it inspires me to reflect on the reason I do any of what I do.

After watching his family take a shuttle to Earth, he constantly repairs himself and ship with some concept of time, but not a great understanding of how the human lifespan works. His connection, his remembrance of family is what keeps him moving, not just going into sleep mode as we may often to and come around to do maintenance when required. That station is his home as much as it is the home of the humans who have left it.

Courtesy of Viz’s Shonen Jump App

Between all these years, we are shown where Byakuya is late in his life. After all the other astronauts have passed, their children and grand children live on, Byakuya still searches for special minerals for Senku and the future of humanity even until his last moments. At the moment of petrification his life was never about surviving, it was about the future and the redemption of humanity. A hope for both future and past generations, and the meaning of life itself.

That same hope is deeply ingrained in REI. So much, that even though he could not communicate with Byakuya, he wanted him to still know he was there and did so in the only way he knew how from the space station. Anytime he passed over Japan, the station bore a bright light, telling him he was still in space. REI was only hopeful that he would see it, never actually knowing that Byakuya would.

The passion, drive, hope, motivation, all done for the sake of preserving humanity even if they failed. The question was never of “if” they succeded, it was always “when” even from the very beginning.

Even though REI’s hope extended in his own life, our tiny robotic friend gathered every resource so that the ship would still be of use even long after Byakuya would have passed away. Boichi-sensei does a great job of showing what pieces work together and how in the layout of how our scientific protagonists work, so we know this wasn’t a small tast. In remembering his original creation, REI creates one giant part to create other parts that finally recreate him, but in the form of Byakuya’s initial idea for a robot (shown in both Dr. Stone and the reboot).

To go such lengths for the end would have been more than a justification of the means. A hope that lasts even beyond what could be imaginable of one person.

That light, had started off small. It started as a love for life and science, turned into a love for survival and hope. That hope lasted 3,700 years to Senku and everyone inbetween, who still carries that light for life, survival, science and hope.

Courtesy of Viz’s Shonen Jump App

Read Dr. Stone and Dr. Stone Reboot: Byakuya for free on the Shonen Jump App!

Watch Dr. Stone on Crunchyroll!

My Promise to 2020

2019 was a big year for me.

From impromptu moving, traveling the east coast for two months, starting this blog and dabbling in YouTube videos I have touched on a lot of areas that I normally would not have. I will write them all up as an overall win for 2019 in terms of improving on my mental health and self esteem. I have finally found where it is and what it is I want to do.

Of course it would be solidified at the end of the year, but only after a retreat I attended made it concrete.

Being apart of a group called Razjan and living in the same house, I have an open door to a lot of wonderful retreats in terms of finding spirituality and searching for more in my faith. However, this particular retreat was something different that they normally don’t do- at it turned out amazingly.

The retreat, which I will talk about more in depth in a later post, was about Star Wars and happened during the release weekend of December 20-22, called The Sage’s Journey, with Sheikh Ali Hussein. It was almost comically how some of the participants (including me) had never actually seen Star Wars (no, I hadn’t seen any except for 5 minutes of the original). They all showed up because of the meaning that it held. People from all over the country came SOLELY for this retreat.

For context, the Muslim community doesn’t really have retreats like this – combining pop culture and spirituality. So for this to happen was amazing. The capacity for the program was 30, but 45 people ended up coming. Most of them begged to come even for a day. We paid for 50 seats for Rise of Skywalker at our movie theatre.

Fifty.

At the end of it all my teacher Ali, after telling what my goals and intentions were, asked me to write down the following questions. These questions are the same of reflect the same answers I gave myself in my Reading, Relocation, and Reference post.

What is anime to you?
How do you find spirituality in anime?
How does/can manga and anime fit in with your faith?
What connects you to your faith?

I was able to answer them. That alone showed my growth. It confirmed what I wanted to do, how I wanted it done, what I wanted to talk about. It forced me to make a set schedule of what to talk about and when. What reviews to do and why.

In that post, when it comes, will have all the answers and more.

My promise to 2020, and to myself, is to find the beauty in anime, in manga, video games and comics and grow stronger in my love for them and in my faith.

As 2019 comes to a close, I thank all the blogs that I follow for giving me inspiration and motivation. I thank the people that I know for encouraging me to take the next steps. Most importantly, I thank God for giving me the opportunity to begin great projects in the future.

Cheers to a new year!

Art by Penny Bowtie @pennybowtie on Twitter

Reading, Relocation and Reference

After being away from quite some time, I am ready to get back into the groove of writing and transferring it to my blog. I’ve done quite a bit of archiving and a few new posts, but now is the start for fresh takes!

There is a whole Google Drive dedicated to posts that can be made and potentially have personalized takes on. Time to get on that, Ellie!

In doing the #25DaysofManga challenge, and other challenges from friends on Twitter, I find myself reading more and pushing myself to read outside the demographics and genres I normally read from. Retouching the ones I had strayed from, and even contemplating ones I wouldn’t dare touch (only contemplating!). Moving causes quite the change in mental scenery, especially moving as abruptly as I did. The anxiety, uncertainty and self-doubt was overwhelming, but the one thing I did have was books.

Digital and physical.

It didn’t matter if I had to buy them. I had no idea where the library was, nor any transportation to get to it. When I could buy manga, I bought it, and it drilled a hole in my pocket for two months – totally worth it.

In the move, I had to leave a new project I started with friends, both new and old. An anime club to start up anime clubs in local library branches. Something that wasn’t toxic or nsfw. Just a wholesome club, that tried to interact with other clubs. We ended up learning a lot of the clubs we knew to exist were dying off or were no longer in existence outside of schools and universities. I’m proud to know that they continue monthly meet-ups and the occasional gathering in hopes of saving face and other benefits.

While all of that was happening, here in my new space in Virginia, I was asked to opening up and start a small group dedicated to Muslim Youth and anime. There had been a rising concern with parents not knowing how to interact with their growing children in their growing love for the hobby. The main focus on being getting them out of the dark whole of escapism that they found themselves in; a topic that will be addressed later on.

So as I prepare to give a brief showcase to a group of Star Wars fans in a retreat dedicated to Star Wars and the Islamic perspective, I am left with questions of my own.

How do I find my spirituality in anime and manga?

Is there a line between the two?

How can anime and pop culture fit in with faith?

And most importantly, what connects me to my faith?

My goal is to, insha’Allah (God willing), find and address all those things for reference in this blog and for those who need it in the group that I hope to start.

In the meantime, I sit and wait post-surgery and continue reading and having these insights I keep to myself.

Remembering Loneliness with I Am Here!

Hello again!

I have officially settled down for the most part and will be back on writing routinely. A schedule will be posted soon enough!

Currently on Twitter there is a #25Daysof Manga that I am taking part of to the upcoming days of Christmas. While, I don’t celebrate the holiday, I would never pass up the opportunity to read manga and increase my horizons.

A fellow co-worker recommended (and brought) Koko ni Iru yo! (I Am Here!) by Ema Tōyama. This story, while I’m only a few chapters in, brings back vivid emotions of loneliness in grade school. Not necessarily being in the “in-crowd”, but just being seen at all. The memories were almost bittersweet and caused me to be nearly remiss for the time.

Being invisible. Not recognized. Alone, save the friendly warmth of the digital huge I would get from friends on the internet. The story changed when one “popular” boy notices our sweet protag, and announces he has always seen her. That last part was lacking in my real life sob story, but a refreshing story to say the least.

Koko ni Iru yo! only adds to my favorite Kodansha titles on my bookshelf. If you’re ever in the mood for some sad nostalgia, I recommend grabbing this!

All the Firsts @ AnimeNYC

My first time at a huge convention like Anime NYC, I can say with certainty that it is and was an experience I will never forget. I am not one for taking pictures, but I am confident that my words can briefly explain my excitements and concerns for any of my future con endeavors.

Starting off with the good things, though I have never been to Javits, the center was beautifully draped (yes draped) in Fate/ Stay specials. So much so I wanted to watch and play at the same time. The Artist and Dealer Galleries were right next to each other so everything was easily accessed and a safe enough distance to the panel rooms.

Even though I had a schedule set, it did not matter as the amount of events that happened were so overwhelmingly close. Seeing Inagaki and Boichi sensei was both inspirational and entertaining. Meeting the crew behind Get In The Robot, Tim Lyu, Yung-I of Y. Chang, Sloan the Female Otaku, and that entire crowd was the most I’d laughed in months.

Given my run with anxiety, I am genuinely surprised I did not have to take any medication with the amount of people that were there. It warmed my heart and filled me with terror all at the same time. Even in brief passing, you wouldn’t know this was the third anniversary with it’s huge turn out. In the future, I hope they will have even a little gap between panels. Even if I stayed for three days, jumping from panel, meet and greets, and trying to buy merch all at once was quite tedious; but this was a learning experience!

With that being said, the amount of people was so much that you had to squeeze to get through anything – especially when the Fate and Naruto panels started forming (I WISH I had a photo of that. It was AMAZINGLY ridiculous).

At the end of it all, I was inspired and I learned a lot more than I would about myself and about anime conventions. For one, I need to bring at least two grand to SPEND. There was so much I left behind that I wish I would have bought!