Last time, I declared that I am a fan of the Japanese “magical girl” genre. I introduced the genre and spoke about a particular franchise called Pretty Cure or Precure for short. I briefly gave an overview of why Precure is so popular and of why I enjoy it, which would be it’s clever writing, postmodernism/realism, action, and how it deals with Biblical themes (albeit often unintentionally). Now let’s deal with one particular story arc of last year’s series/continuity that dealt with an important spiritual issue in a Christian way.
Exploring ‘Happiness Charge Precure’
Now let’s explore a more recent anime series, Happiness Charge Precure, and egspecially a recent story arc. The story dealt with forgiveness and did so quite well.1
Since the first episode this story has been building. Shirayuki Hime (Cure Princess and heir of the Blue Sky Kingdom) has been hiding the dark secret: that she was the one who opened the box of Axia and released the evil sorcerers imprisoned within. This evil is known as the “Phantom Empire” and is lead by Queen Mirage. They have invaded many worlds, including parts of Earth. Another Cure, Fortune—a girl named Hikawa Iona, whose sister was captured by the bad guys—knows the truth. Or at least she knows part of it; she doesn’t know Hime was tricked into doing this. And she hates Hime with a passion.
Enter two new friends and fellow Cures who Hime meets: Aino Megumi (Cure Lovely) and Yuko Omori (Cure Honey). Though a loner, Iona does become aware that she needs others. But she is still quite callous and selfish, wanting their help for her sake, not theirs. She also wants to hurt Hime, so she reveals her identity as Cure Fortune to the others and offers to team up with them, if they leave Hime behind. After telling them Hime’s secret, she is shocked when they side with and forgive their friend and try to convince her to forgive Hime as well.
Going deeper: four lies about forgiveness
Obviously, Hime and Iona do become friends, but only after a difficult path. That’s what has caused me to explore this story arc. Too often our culture reflects twisted ideas of forgiveness. In Happiness Charge Precure I can see our unscriptural ideas of forgiveness falling under the headings of four lies.
The first lie is that we are expected to not just be willing to forgive, but to forgive period, someone who has not asked or repented. That is absolutely not in line with the Bible. You ought to be willing to forgive people, and not hold hate or a grudge against them, but you can’t forgive someone who doesn’t ask, anymore than God can forgive us our sins if we don’t ask Him for salvation. You treat those who wrong you with love and hold out the hand of forgiveness, but you can’t do so until they ask.
The second lie is that “tough” guys and gals don’t forgive because it is weak. No, it is not “weak.” It takes strength, because it is hard. Among the hardest things you or I will ever do. Last fall, I began to truly take steps to love and to be willing to forgive certain people (if they ever ask forgiveness) for their past mistakes and evil done to in the Army, and before that in high school. I still have flashes of hard feelings, and this is several years after the Army and even more after high school. It’s hard to forgive.
The third lie is that folks should earn forgiveness. This is absurdly unscriptural, but it’s easier to condemn this lie because Christ says we can’t earn redemption.
However, the fourth lie is the opposite of the third like and escapes our notice: that offenders don’t need to repent or face any consequences after their offenses, or that no atonement is necessary. How often have we heard folks state they “are sorry,” they “take responsibility,” but they do not take responsibility, not do anything to repair their error, and in general, not actually bear fruit in keeping with repentance?2 It is so strange, because repentance is a big part of the free gift of unearned salvation and of continued fellowship with Christ. I’m not saying that if we do not specifically repent of every single we lose our salvation, which I don’t believe is Scriptural. Instead, we must constantly repent of sins we commit in order to keep in good fellowship with Our Savior and Lord.
Yet too often if someone asks another person to own their mistakes and fix things if possible, we cry, “They said they’re sorry! What else do ya want?” Um, probably to show real repentance, meaning to try to not do the same thing again and to make things right if they are able to do so, God-willing. Christ never said to the adulterous woman, “Go and have a great life since you’re sorry and scared.” No, He said “Go and sin no more.”3 Paul didn’t get off easy once saved on the road to Damascus, but served Christ in missionary work (which was a joy to him in God’s mercy, as it should be for us all), which included a lot of suffering.
A related false idea, perhaps a fifth lie, is the notion that folks are “let off the hook” if forgiven. They are not. The “making amends” part of repentance is necessary, as are natural consquences for sin.
Did the adulterous woman and later Paul earn their salvation, forgiveness, or anything else? No. You can’t earn salvation or forgiveness. God’s grace, which by His power we extend in our small ways when we forgive, is unearned. That is the definition of grace. But they were expected to repent, change their ways, right their wrongs, and do what they could to do right in the future. That wasn’t about earning anything. It was about showing, and acting in a manner that showed, real repentance.
Now back to Happiness Charge Precure. In the arc that comprises episodes 19-23 (the main story and its aftermath), we see forgiveness and repentance dealt with, including atoning for mistakes. But here repentance and forgiveness go both ways.
Yes, Hime made a horrible mistake, but Iona has been a selfish, cruel bully. Hime can’t make up what she did, and says as much, but she saves Iona from imprisonment and sacrifices something amazing for her. This is a woman who has treated Hime like slime unendingly and continually actually proclaimed her intention to never forgive Hime or give her a break. Yet Hime takes such an incredible step to show her sorrow for past wrongs. She does so because she knows she can never make things “right” but she is sorry and wants to apologize and help one of the many people that she hurt. She states as much when she begs for forgiveness and gives up something so important for Iona.
Iona on the other hand morally ought to — but doesn’t have to — accept this apology. She could easily have stated that she still won’t forgive Hime because Hime is right. This doesn’t change things. Not really. But she realized that forgiving is the right thing to do for everyone, including herself, and that she herself has done wrong and needs the forgiveness of others, including Hime.
The key is that neither girl tries to get off with just a “sorry” and expects that all harm for their actions will magically disappear. They both realize they made mistakes for which they desire to atone. They want forgiveness even though they can not change what they did, and they truly do repent and take responsibility. Both girls also, in turn, truly must forgive out of kindness and grace, and not what they can “get” from the other one. Neither Iona or Hime is “earning” or buying forgiveness or anything else. She is merely showing repentance.
As you can tell, this obviously left an impression on me. Japan and its culture is very secular, though influenced by Christianity and Western philosophical ideas. But this story it still hit the major points in the Scriptural ideas of forgiveness and repentance in a way most American and other shows do not.
Explore ‘Precure’ and beyond
I could go on trying to defend the “magical girl” genre, but this is just one example of why I like the types of series and all the Precure franchise. Yes, it has the frilly stuff that doesn’t interest me and causes eye-rolling. But it also has action, believable characters and interesting arcs, while dealing with complicated issues in a way that evokes Biblical ideas even though often not written by a believer.
I urge folks to try out this show, or any of the stories in the franchise or broader genre. You’ll be impressed with a the ability of these series to handle the plots, serious issues, and characterizations, in such a compelling, funny, and often Biblical manner.
- A quick word: Happiness Charge Precure is not a series written with Christianity in the setting. The god of Earth is a different entity that bestows the girls (and others around the world) with their powers to fight Mirage and her Phantom Empire. What appeals to me is that here, like elsewhere in Japanese media, the story deals with these issues in a mature and (intentionally or not) Scriptural manner. ↩
- Matt. 3:8. ↩
- John 8:11. ↩