For those who may not be aware, I watched a lot of cartoons in my childhood and teenage years. Japanese cartoons (Anime) were some of my favorite. I always loved the art styles, the cool hair, and the mysticism of anime. As an adult, I have found that some of the characters across a variety of series have remained deeply ingrained in me, and serve as major sources of inspiration. I will list a few of them.
(Dragon Ball Z)
I was always a casual fan of Dragon Ball Z, but it wasn’t until Gohan became an adult that I found myself drawn to him. Then, retrospectively, I realized I had overlooked the commonalities between the two of us. Gohan is a figure in the series that is somewhat overshadowed by his father Goku (the main protagonist). Contrary to his father, Gohan is only half-saiyan (the super-human race of the series). However, multiple characters have said that Gohan actually has the most potential out of everyone in the series. However, there are two major flaws with Gohan that I resonate with, despite the fact that he has the potential to be the strongest fighter of all. Whenever I face really stressful barriers in working towards my goals, and I feel tempted to quit, I think of Gohan charging his energy to unlock his potential, and especially the famous power struggle with Cell. It reminds me that I will never become what I am meant to be without overcoming massive resistance.
Gohan: “What’s the point…I know I’ve lost my one chance to beat you…”
Goku: “You’ve got to be joking! Giving up already? Well, that’s not the Gohan I know.“
The first of Gohan’s flaws is the fact that he needs to be pushed. Gohan is not like his father in this respect. Goku is an over-achiever, and always puts 100% effort into everything he does, which is why Goku is always consistently the strongest, and is usually the first to create major benchmark achievements. However, Gohan is rarely motivated to put effort into actualizing his seemingly unlimited potential. He always needs someone to push him (whether it be positive motivation from his family and friends, or negative reactionary motivation from his enemies). In other words, Gohan needs those around him in order to actualize his potential. It is not something he can do by himself. I resonated with this immediately, as someone who is also tempted to utilize high potential as an excuse to not work as hard (and subsequently, not achieve as much as I could otherwise).
The second of Gohan’s flaws is his tendency to get drunk on his own power whenever he ascends beyond everyone else (despite how his natural disposition is quite humble). When he was the first to achieve Super Saiyan 2 against Cell, he could have ended Cell’s reign immediately. However, because he got arrogant, knowing that Cell was powerless against him, he decided to toy around with Cell instead of killing him. As a result of this decision, Cell revealed a self-destruct technique that forced Goku to sacrifice himself to save everyone. Gohan could have stopped Cell quickly, but instead he had to watch his father die as a result.
This same tendency of Gohan’s happens again in the Buu saga when he unlocks his potential. He’s far stronger than Super Buu (who at this point in the series was killing everyone), and he knows it. He knows he won before he even entered the fight (the above image depicts that very dynamic with his confident facial expression). However, like clockwork, Gohan once again chooses to put on a power display instead of getting the job done. As a result, Buu is backed into a corner and eventually figures out a way to turn the tables. This “savor the moment” tendency is also a flaw I notice within myself, and something I find myself battling against. The outcome of what happened with Gohan is certainly a good reminder for me to do what needs to be done. These are a few of the reasons why I resonate with Gohan, and why he is my favorite DBZ character.
(Attack On Titan)
If we’re going to outwit our enemy, we’ll need to think outside the box. – Erwin Smith
Erwin Smith is a fascinating and intense individual who grew on me the more I read this series. Attack on Titan takes place around AD 850 in a world where the population of humanity is down to a single city, because of man-eating giants roaming outside the walls. The militia is basically separated into three main factions: the Military Police, Scouting Legion, and the Stationary Guard. Erwin is the general of the Scouting Legion, whose task is to lead the bravest of soldiers outside the walls, into the greatest danger, in order to gather information that could help humanity conquer their massive and violently brutish enemies and continue to exist on the planet.
Simply put, Erwin is noble, bold, and a strategical genius: a prodigy that seems to be have been divinely appointed to lead humanity towards progress the very moment everyone is almost entirely destroyed. His physical appearance and demeanor reminds me of Marvel’s Captain America (Steve Rogers). He is intellectually relentless on his singular goal to protect humanity, which makes him a brilliantly focused visionary, but such a focus also has the side-effect of making him appear to be cold and aloof. He also has a keen eye for hidden talent, immediately trying to recruit a poor young thief named Levi Ackerman, who was living in the underground slums. Because of Erwin’s leadership, Levi eventually became the Commander of the Scouting Legion (which is a position second only to Erwin himself), and has become the greatest warrior humanity has ever seen or will ever see. Erwin also immediately saw the intellectual prowess of the often neglected Armin, and always took seriously Armin’s input even though he had no reason to listen to someone so inferior to himself.
Despite the fact that Erwin is most popular for getting ripped off his horse by the arm, still managing to bark orders and continue the battle maimed, and despite the fact that he is often overshadowed by the physical abilities of Levi, my admiration for Erwin’s intellectual abilities came later on in the series during the war with Zeke (a giant ape-like titan) and his army. Erwin is on top of a large wall, trying to observe the lay of the land. He knows the enemy desperately wants to capture the main character Eren, but he also needs a distraction to divert the Armored Titan and accomplish his goals. Erwin gives Eren instructions to reveal himself and run to give away his position. The very moment that the Armored Titan climbs up on top of the wall and spots the vulnerable Erwin (who the Armored Titan could easily kill if they were to fight), Eren jumps out of hiding and starts running. The Armored Titan and Erwin lock eyes, and the Armored Titan knows that Erwin knows that he has to chase Eren (and subsequently ignore the temptation to kill Erwin). It is such a simple yet climatic moment, because Erwin knows that despite his physical vulnerabilities against the intimidating Armored Titan, his strategic ability makes him nonetheless invincible, even when that titan is but twenty feet away. This scene is what solidified Erwin as my favorite Attack on Titan character. I pray that I can have a fraction of Erwin’s dedication, vision, and leadership capabilities when it comes to my spiritual journey.
For those who have actually seen Death Note, this might come as a surprise. Light Yagami is a sociopath who is hellbent on murdering everyone he determines to be a criminal, how could he inspire anyone? Well, like St Anthony of Egypt, I fundamentally operate under the idea that I am a bee and there is honey to be found here. Like anyone, I find Light’s charisma and intellect charming. However, what I find most fascinating about him is how he treats Ryuk (who is, for all intents and purposes, a demon). Ryuk intentionally drops his notebook (the Death Note) in the human world out of boredom, and Light ends up being the one to find it. Because Light is the new owner of the Death Note, Ryuk appears to Light in a kind of phenomenological sense. That is, Ryuk can only be seen by Light alone, despite actually being present. However, despite how you may think one would react to seeing the demonic, Light is initially startled, but is not afraid. In fact, throughout the series, Light often treats the demon as if he were a mindless idiot who is more annoying than helpful. Light has nothing but contempt for the demon, and it reminds me of the advice on how to ignore demons found in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. This got me thinking perhaps one could manipulate the devil. If one were to assume that demons cannot read thoughts and must rely on our voice and actions, one could, in theory, say certain things intending of the demonic to interpret them a particular way. I found this concept of a human manipulating the demonic, fascinating. Despite his many flaws, at least Light was in no danger of mistaking a demon for a god. Although, one could argue he did, he just needed a mirror to realize it.
You can always die. It’s living that takes real courage. – Kenshin Himura
Rurouni Kenshin pretty much represents my childhood. It’s a story about the greatest assassin (known as “Battousai”) for the Japanese government suddenly disappears for a decade and now lives a life of atonement for everyone he has killed. With a new reverse-blade sword, his mission is to protect life rather than take it. However, life never seems to let him leave his past behind. He constantly has to face his fears, and on few occasions he is even forced to return to his former murderous self.
At its heart, Rurouni Kenshin is a series about the inner life. It is like trying to live a post-baptismal life when the old man was so very wicked. And the temptation to revert back to that old man becomes so strong when you’re trying your hardest to live according to the new enlightened mode of life. Kenshin’s inner struggle with the passions alongside his pacifistic ideal, his fear of not being strong enough, and his growing understanding of his own need to be known, is why Kenshin inspires me.
Much more could be listed, but this is it for now.