“Today is gonna be the first day of the rest of your life.” That’s a line I think I stole from an old Spider-Girl comic (yeah, she’s a thing), and it’s become my mantra at the beginning of big events in my life. From graduating high school to starting college to today, the beginning of my sophomore year, life is definitely changing. I’m changing. In some ways good, in some ways…weird. I’ve found that in the middle of all of this insanity…I’m enjoying it? I’m even looking forward to Calculus 3, for Grimlock’s sake! Maybe it’s something in the food. Maybe it’s something in the air. Or maybe…just maybe…it’s something in the people.
They say that suffering builds character. They’re wrong. Doesn’t work that way. I should know: I suffered through Calculus 2 and didn’t buld antthing except a biological resistance to derivatives. No, what builds character is the way you deal with suffering, and this reaction is what defines your development as a person. We’re all the main characters in our own stories, and our character arcs tend to begin and end with specifc events, all characterized by some type of suffering. Anime loves to capitalize on this, especially anime with an edge of the fantastic:
One of my favorite examples of this is Deadman Wonderland. It starts off like your typical shounene: main protag is in school, bad things happen, his life falls apart. In our boy Ganta’s situation, his entire class is killed in front of him by a mysterious man in red. His community was shattered, his life was shaken, and what’s worse is that he was accused of committing the murder. Sentenced to live in the prison/amusement park Deadman Wonderland, Ganta’s life has taken a BIG turn for the worse.
The series progresses in the standard way: Ganta finds out he has a special power, finds out that the prison was constructed for an ulterior motive, and finds a squad to hang with and share his new life with. Pretty simple shounen staples, but what I love about the series is how it capitalizes on the suffering they share. Prisoners in Deadman Wonderland are nothing more than entertainment: their lives are seen as mostly worthless. They literally gamble their lives with each passing day, being forced to compete in death games in hopes of earning digital points to buy an antidote for the slow-burning poison they’ve all been injected with. The hope of one more day is all that keeps most of them going, and in a striking parallel to the college life, it’s what keeps the morale low and the tension high.
Then Ganta meets Shiro. Besides the incredibly obvious play on the Japanese word for “white”, Shiro is the first person to befriend Ganta within the walls of Deadman Wonderland. Her presence is an oddly cheerful, even calming influence on Ganta, soothing away the edges he’s developed due to the insane life changes he’s been through. She comforts him, consoles him, and gives him more to focus on than just the negative elements of, y’know, being in a super-prison disguised as an amusement park. She isn’t the only one: over the course of the series his cast of friends expands: he finds other power-wielders like himself, different people with their own motivations and reasons for being there, and all of this has something of a normalizing effect on Ganta.
Why is that, though?
How can we see even insanity as normal when we’re in a group? Are we just stupid sheeple, doomed to wander after whatever leader we set our sights on?
Thing about humans is that we’re beings of community. Taking after the God who made us, we long to be in communion with others like us. In both the good times and the bad, we cope better, we adapt faster, and we learn more easily when we’re surrounded by like-minded individuals. This is why support groups exist, study partners are amazing, and entire cults form around celebrities. We love to share life, whether it’s good or bad. Having that outlet to share experience with keeps us motivated, keeps us moving, and keeps us reassured that we aren’t alone. Our suffering isn’t confined to us, but we’re part of something bigger. Something greater. Something relatable. And that’s pretty cool.
This is why Paul encourages believers not to “forsake the assembly of the brethren” in Hebrews 10:25, because mutual encouragement is so powerful. As much as one man can do, two men can do exponentially more, and it increases with the amount of like-minded people. So far, I’ve counted 10 people in my Calculus 3 class that I know, and it fills me with so much joy to know that I’ll have so many people to experience it with. Math and the mental sciences are pretty rough in general, but being able to share that with my friends really excites me. More ideals, more perspectives, more ways of understanding all help to make me a more well-rounded individual, and together I know that we can achieve the victory we’re looking for. It won’t be easy; it’ll take a lot of communication and effort. But that’s only to be expected. It’s the first day of the rest of our lives.