Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hanayamata, Episodes 1-2: New Beginnings

As I mentioned in my introductory YamaHanaBara post, Hanayamata, which is about a girl who steps into the world of yosakoi dance, has parallels to the earliest stages of a Christian's faith. In this post, I will look at the first two episodes in more detail. Naturally, there will be spoilers for said episodes after the jump.

(Source: Pixiv)

Episode 1: Shall We Dance

As we start out the show, we meet Naru, who describes herself as completely average and unremarkable in every way, especially compared to her friend, Yaya, who is beautiful, smart, and a drummer in the light music club. Naru likes to read fantasy stories and fairy tales, hoping that one day a fairy will take her away from the mundane world. Then, one day, at a shrine, she runs into a dancing, blonde girl. She follows the girl, who then invites her to dance with her, but after a moment, Naru feels too embarrassed to dance and runs away. Of course, that same girl, Hana, transfers into her class the next day, and immediately tries to recruit Naru into joining her Yosakoi club. Naru refuses at first, not wanting to do something as extravagant as yosakoi, but eventually decides to join her club, hoping she can "sparkle" like Hana and Yaya.

The "Spider-Girl" recruiting tactic is admittedly of limited effectiveness.
Out of the Comfort Zone

When looking at how Naru's experience mirrors that of a new Christian, the first thing to note is Naru's confession that she does not want to have her comfortable daily routine broken. She talks about how she wants to change, but at the same time she admits how relieved she is that she can continue to live life the same way as before. It's pretty easy to empathize with Naru's feelings; I know there are many times I would love to change for the better, if it weren't for the whole "breaking routine" part.

Oftentimes, in order to change, we need to step out of our comfort zone... but of course, that is much easier said than done. Usually, we need the help of an outside force to push us out, like how Hana tries to push Naru into yosakoi. (She eventually backs off, but her impact has already been made--more on that later.) For both Christians and non-Christians on the verge of joining the faith, God is great at giving us the push we need to step out of our comfort zone.

For more on comfort zones, check out Charles's excellent post on the subject at Beneath the Tangles here.

Starting from Brokenness

In addition to Naru's confession that she doesn't want her daily routine to be broken, and therefore believes that , she later on confesses that she doesn't have a dream to work toward to and is empty inside. Naru has come to a point of complete brokenness, where she is face to face with just how bad her current reality is... and then Hana has the following words for her:

"You have a lot to look forward to, then. Well, 'empty' just means you have plenty of room to pile things in. Lots of fun things, precious things, painful things, and new things."
It is in arriving at the end of herself that Naru has found a golden opportunity for a new life. Likewise, for Christians, it is when we come to God in a spirit of brokenness, empty of all our attempts to pretend that we have it all together, that God can truly start to work in us and change us. It is all too easy to keep trying to hold the pieces of ourselves together, but doing so limits the room God has to work in us. If we "empty" ourselves of our pride and humbly ask God to do what we cannot do, He will fill our hearts with the love, grace, and experiences that will restore our souls.

Hana's Role

In looking at how Naru's experience parallels that of a new Christian, it's worth looking at what role Hana played in drawing Naru into her yosakoi club in the end. Of course, Hana was very proactive (to say the least) in trying to convince Naru directly to join her club, which helped in not only encouraging Naru to step out of her comfort zone, but also give her a vote of confidence that she can potentially become the dazzling girl that she wants to be.

However, beyond trying to recruit Naru directly, Hana indirectly has a significant effect on her through her overall efforts in recruiting for the yosakoi club. She tirelessly asks students if they are interested in joining, and does not care if she gets weird looks from people. (It's hinted in the next episode that this all is more taxing on her than it looks.) Naru is confused as to why she would go to such lengths for the sake of yosakoi, which allows Hana to share her dream of being able to dance yosakoi with others.

If we truly, deeply love God and want to share about Him with others, we may get weird looks and draw the attention of those who do not understand why we would go to such lengths for Him. We may even get criticisms or even outright attacks. However, rather than just labeling such reactions as "persecution" and calling it a day, we can start to view them as opportunities to share just how much we love God, and why we love Him so much. After all, a deep love for our gospel is of utmost importance if we are to bring others into the faith.

Episode 2: Jealousy Rose!

Naru has joined Hana's yosakoi club, though at first only to "help out". She invites Hana over to her house to talk about how to get more people into the club, and they talk about why Hana likes yosakoi so much. Meanwhile, Naru's friend, Yaya, is uneasy over how close Naru has suddenly got with Hana, and in an outburst declares to Naru that she is unsuited to yosakoi dance. Naru decides to learn to dance yosakoi to prove to Yaya that she can do it, but she cannot seem to do the dance properly. However, Yaya eventually comes to her senses, and after seeing her try to dance so seriously, encourages her to continue on with yosakoi.

There's certainly a "my Naru is being taken away!" feeling behind Yaya's actions, of course.
Why We Join The Faith

While at Naru's house, Hana talks more about why she loves yosakoi and wants to form a club for it at school. For Hana, she has an interest in other things, including superhero comics (it's worth noting here that Hana is originally from the United States--New Jersey, specifically) and free running/parkour. However, what ultimately made her interested in yosakoi (which she first saw as a child when she visited Japan) was the sense of unity among the dancers. As much as she enjoys her other interests, they are not inherently things to be done with other people (she remarks that a lot of superheroes in her comics are fighting loneliness). What she really wants is to enjoy a fellowship with others, hence why she chose to pursue yosakoi.

There are many reasons why Christians choose to join the faith in the first place. Some are like Naru: as non-Christians, they saw something in Christians that they wanted, or they wanted a sense of meaning or purpose in life that they decided they could get if they followed God. Others are like Hana, joining the faith because they want to experience the special kind of fellowship Christians have with each other. These might seem like "selfish" reasons, considering that Christianity is about dying to oneself to love God and serve Him, but God is a loving God that wants us to be genuinely joyful, so there is nothing wrong with wanting to join the faith for reasons of self-interest, as long as one recognizes that the source of those things is God, leading to a primary love for God himself. (See, for example, how Hana comes to love yosakoi because the dance itself is the source of the fellowship she wants.)

Also, growing into our full individual potential and having fellowship with other Christians are both things that God himself wants for us, so joining the faith for those reasons are very much in line with following His will.

New Faith, Old Friends

This episode is focused around Yaya, who has to deal with her friend, whom she had always had to protect and watch over, now starting to change, need less protection, and make new friends. While at first it might just seem like a case of simple jealousy, Yaya's situation reflects a larger truth in that friends oftentimes change and drift away from each other, even if unintentionally.

Yaya's situation also reflects a situation new Christians have to deal with: how to relate to their existing non-Christian friends. While sometimes those friends are understanding and will continue to get along well with the new Christian after she joins the faith, others will not be so understanding, especially as her time in her new faith changes her and takes up time that she used to spend with them. Some will get downright antagonistic and do everything they can to "de-convert" her, perhaps even telling her that she is not "suited" to be a Christian. (For the record, Christianity is not about being "suited" for God; all of us fall short and being a Christian simply means that we accept God's grace to allow Him to make up the difference for us.)

How a new Christian deals with less-accepting old friends will depend largely on the old friends in question. Naru decides to learn yosakoi dance and show it to Yaya to show that she is serious about it. She wants Yaya to approve of her choice, and while living for others' approval is a bad way of doing things, I think in this case, it is more because she trusts that Yaya's intentions are not bad, and that she will come around once she shows how serious she is about yosakoi. Sure enough, while Yaya might not have the purest of motivations for trying to keep Naru (she admits that she wants Naru to remain "inferior" so that she can continue to protect her), she does realize that she is being a bad friend, and has a change of heart at the end.

While some cases of new Christians dealing with old friends might turn out like this, others might not turn out so well. In some cases, especially if the old friends in question are too deeply associated with sinful activities, the new Christian may end up completely separating from those friends. (Blue Spring Ride episode 2 has a great example of this.) Other times, the friendship will continue but will be nowhere near as strong as before.

Perhaps the best overall advice for new Christians here is to show those old friends that you still care about them, regardless of what happens with your friendship. After all, the last thing we want to do is to make Christianity seem like something where we consider those who are not Christians to be beneath us. Rather, just like how Naru's dancing for Yaya showed Yaya that her friend still cared about her, if we use our faith to reach out to old friends and serve them, we may be able to win them over. And even if we do not, by maintaining a spirit of love, we can at least avoid burning bridges and causing unnecessary damage.


I would like to conclude this (long) post by saying that these first two episodes have been absolutely fantastic and beautiful. This really has earned its current place as one of my favorite shows of the season, and I am very much looking forward to what else this show has in store.

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