Examining Old School Anime: The Body as Essential to Our Humanity

Looking at Leiji Matsumoto’s treatment of the body in Galaxy Express 999, our dear readers may easily understand my suspicion that Leiji Matsumoto comes from a Christian background or at...

Looking at Leiji Matsumoto’s treatment of the body in Galaxy Express 999, our dear readers may easily understand my suspicion that Leiji Matsumoto comes from a Christian background or at very least is highly influenced by Christian ideas.  This especially comes across in Galaxy Express 999‘s emphasis on the evil of exchanging one’s body for a machine.  I don’t think one can discover a single pagan philosophy or religion, East or West, which gives the body real importance if that philosophy also postulates the existence of the soul.  In these pagan philosophies, the body is a container for your soul but not an essential part of you.  (Within the extras for the Otogi Zoshi anime, one Japanese historian even said that the Japanese of the tenth century simply threw away the bodies of their dead as if trash!)  This makes the Christian belief in the resurrection very unique.

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If you remember from my last article on Galaxy Express 999, the people within the anime sought to extend their lifespans through converting their bodies into machines, but this has not brought anyone happiness.  In episode six, the story took us to the planet Pluto, where we discovered a huge graveyard of people buried under transparent ice.  The interred were the leavings of people who gained mechanical bodies.  Tetsuro, our hero, met a woman without a face.  She refused to have a face placed on her mechanical body because none of them compared to her real face.  And we feel a sense of anguish in seeing how she regretted her mistake and pined for her body.

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This trade should not really cause her any pain if pagan philosophy is correct.  We see plenty of mechanical humans enjoying the same pleasures as they had while having real bodies.  The fact that they do anguish for this loss and that the woman without a face wants to kill Tetsuro in the belief that his soul can animate her body, show the great importance of the body to human happiness.  We are not ghosts in machines, but rational animals.

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Curiously, the weeping of mechanized humans over the loss of their bodies reminds me that the beatitude of the saints lacks a certain perfection because their souls are yet separate from their bodies.  Of course, they are not weeping because they are happier than can be imagined; but,they should be more happy still if, like Our Lord and Our Lady, they also possessed their bodies.  Conversely, to take the case of the damned, Dante avers that if the souls in hell suffer greatly now, just wait until their bodies are once again reunited to their souls!

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Christianity does focus on the need to eschew the law of the flesh and to discipline the body; however, this is only because of the effects of Original Sin: there is nothing in the God-given nature of our bodies which is evil and the body can even participate in the blessedness of the soul.  The body and soul are so conjoined that one cannot be affected without the other also experiencing it.  This is also true in regard to the effects of sin and the reception of grace, of which we normally have no sensible perception.  Remember that St. Paul claims that so many people are sick because they received the Eucharist unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:27-31).  A famous 19th century physician and saint, St. Guiseppe Moscati, sometimes prescribed confession in addition to medicine for his patients to be cured!

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If you still think that the Christian disciplining of the body equals a hatred for the flesh, consider the case of the Cathars.  The Cathar heresy was essentially the last hurrah of the Manichaeans.  They denied that the material universe was created by God and believed that all matter was evil.  So, they refused to eat animal meat, married not, and denied the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  (Since they believed matter was evil, they refused to believe Christ would take a physical body, hence the Sacrament of the Eucharist was impossible in their eyes.)  After missionary efforts proved in vain and one missionary was murdered, the pope launched the Albigensian Crusade, which was waged from 1209-1229 in the Cathar stronghold of southern France.  The Catholics of the time feared so much the spread of this heresy that, before assaulting a town, one commander, in response to a subordinate’s fear that loyal Catholics would be killed in the assault, famously replied: “God will sort our His Own!”  Following this crusade, the Dominicans led an expedition to eradicate the Cathars, until their efforts succeeded in the 14th century.  To such an extent, the Catholic Church defended the idea that physical reality, especially the human body, was good!  And, Galaxy Express 999 defends the importance of the body with almost equal rigor!

Medieval Otaku is essentially a bookworm. His greatest loves are writing, anime, literature, history, religion, and foreign and ancient language, especially Japanese, Latin, and French. He hopes to become a full-time novelist one day, though each day offers endless ways to distract him from this happy goal.
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  • medievalotaku
    25 November 2015 at 5:38 pm
  • Adapting Christianity – Elfnonationalist
    10 April 2017 at 8:13 pm

    […] He provides some interesting insights regarding the importance of the body in the Christian religion which I had not considered before (link). […]

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