Kokoro Connect 05 — To Conquer Death, You Only Have to Die

In the latest episode of Kokoro Connect, Iori dies. Wait, you may say, she didn’t really die! But I would have to disagree.

My understanding of this episode comes through the language of Christianity, since that is the language I am familiar with (most of this post’s ideas were gleaned from Richard Beck’s series on the Slavery of Death, which I can’t recommend enough if you’re interested). I believe these ideas are fairly universal, and I am certain that the creators of this episode would not use my language to describe things. But this is the language I use, so please bear with me and trust me when I say the connection to Kokoro Connect will soon become clear. Think of this interlude not as an exercise in religious indoctrination, but simply as a lesson in vocabulary.

A Brief Lesson in Theology

One of the central ideas of Christian theology is that man is a slave to sin. We’re seriously messed up. The world is filled with people who are hungry, sick, poor and crying, and here we are lusting after money or sex at the expense of others; seeking power and abusing the small amount we have been given, or choosing to watch anime at the expense of our responsibilities. In the language of theology, we seek to find meaning in our short and limited lives by serving the  principalities and the powers and constructing a culturally accepted self-identity that allows us to accept ourselves and builds up our self-esteem. This identity could be one of wealth, of power, of popularity, of fame, or even something as obscure or innocuous as an identity as an anime connoisseur. By serving the principalities and powers and donning their constructed identities, we establish meaning in our lives and are able to push aside our fear of death. However, to serve the principalities and powers is idolatry; their promises are empty and their self-esteem is worthless. Serving the principalities and powers is merely a self-interested means of self-preservation. We can accept and take pride in ourselves because we are better than those other people.

For we know that our old self was crucified with [Christ] so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. — Romans 6:6-7

The only way to destroy the hold the principalities and powers have on us, the power of death and sin, is to die. By dying, we recognize the self-esteem the principalities and powers offer as rubbish. We are free to love selflessly without the need for self-preservation.

Naming the Principalities and Powers

Now, back to Kokoro Connect. How does this episode fit into our narrative?

Let’s start with Iori’s identity crisis. Why is something as simple as Iori’s identity so confusing for her? Because, in service to the principalities and powers, Iori has constructed many identities. She constructed identities to please her many fathers. She constructed identities to please her teachers at school. She constructed identities to please her friends. Iori has constructed meaning in her own life by pleasing other people. She has worshiped at the altar of the principalities and powers, and her prayers have been rewarded with self-preservation and with self-esteem. It feels good to have other people like her, and Iori’s life now has meaning.

But on his deathbed, Iori’s latest father names her idol for what it is when he tells her to do what she wants. When they are named and laid bare, the principalities and powers lose their hold over Iori. She realizes that the identities she has worn are all empty and that other peoples’ approval is meaningless. A woman of many faces, she no longer remembers if she ever wore a face of her own. Her brief life stretches out before her, and she sees the endless freedom and unfathomable power she has been given.

The Exorcism of Nagase Iori

But now that the her idols have been silenced, the fear of death takes root once more in her heart. What will she do with her life? Will she waste it, or can she accomplish something meaningful, a “matter of consequence”? Does Iori even have an identity of her own, or a matter of consequence to accomplish? The search for a new idol to ease Iori’s fear to death begins. And she consults Taichi for help.

While the demons are cast out and have no claim on her, Taichi calls Iori by name and proclaims that she is loved. He doesn’t call on the identities she has constructed in service to the principalities and powers, but on Iori herself: the Iori whose life is meaningless and who is in thrall to the fear of death.

And Iori comes to a remarkable conclusion. All the masks she has worn, all the idols she has worshipped: they are worthless rubbish. She devoted her life to being accepted by others, but she already was accepted all along. Taichi’s selfless love has exorcised Inori and cast out her demons.

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. — 1 John 3:14

After Taichi’s exorcism, Iori renounces the principalities and powers. She is free to love selflessly, because she has been so loved. The fear of death loses all hold on her, because perfect love casts out fear. Iori has died, and Iori has resurrected.

So it is no surprise when Heartseed possesses her body and jumps off a bridge. Iori has already died, after all.

Dying with Iori

After Iori’s fall, the club has to decide whose soul will die with Iori’s body. No one wants Iori to die. Taichi wants to take her place. But Iori decides that she will die. She is afraid, but since she has already died, the power of death has no mastery over her.

The important thing to note here, though, is that to Heartseed it doesn’t matter who they pick to die. (Well, fine, nothing seems to matter to Heartseed, but…) If Iori dies, they will all die with Iori. By allowing the students to choose who will die, the power dynamic has been reversed: death doesn’t have power over the students. It is the students who have power over death. In their hearts, each considers death as something they can choose. Now, oh Death, where is thy sting? Death’s power and hold on them is weakened.

Why did this have to happen to me?

Iori accepts her coming death, but still asks the tough questions. Here was Jesus’ answer to the same question:

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.” — John 9:1-3

Once Iori is healed, Heartseed makes a similar claim: that despite their trial and ordeal, the students benefited from the experience. Given our previous discussion, this seems indisputable. Heartseed is not evil. Which leads us to our next topic.

Heartseed and the Kingdom of God

Earlier, Heartseed is asked an interesting question: “Can you play God with our lives?”

Heartseed’s response: “Of course not, but the fact remains that I’m capable of many things.” Heartseed’s answer, and his name, remind me of the proverbial mustard seed:

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

— Matthew 17:20

Perhaps Heartseed is a reflection of the students’ own hearts.

Jesus tells another parable regarding mustard seeds:

 “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

— Mark 4:30-32

I’d like to think of Heartseed as the tiller who is growing the kingdom of God, that is caring for the tiny seed that is taking root in Iori and friends’ hearts.

22 thoughts on “Kokoro Connect 05 — To Conquer Death, You Only Have to Die

  1. So far, is this series good?
    (also arent there any interesting sci-fi series like steins;gate or clever series like code geass coming soon?).

    1. I would say this is my favorite from the current season. It has its funny moments, cute little things that make you smile, serious times, and (from this epi) yelling at the antagonist for his actions.
      I am also delighted to see Draggle’s view on Iori’s rebirth.

      As for an anime recommendation, I don’t see anything on par with S;G or Geass recently. If you don’t mind a slightly older series, try Noein.

    2. Yep, it’s my favorite series of the season, I highly recommend it. You can check out my impressions of this show’s season here: http://blog.draggle.org/summer-2012-first-impressions/ . Humanity has Declined and Muv-Luv are both sci-fi, although neither are much like Stein’s Gate. Nothing along the lines of Code Geass either, unfortunately, although a Code Geass OVA should be coming out soon!

  2. I’d like to think that this post is what I would’ve written if I had taken the time to examine the episode better and to clearly put my thoughts together.

    That’s what I’d like to think, because your post is amazing. But I doubt I could write anything this well.

    It’s funny, but I agree with you about Heartseed. At this point, at least, it appears to something GOOD – something that is pushing the group to grow. Last night, some tweeters mentioned how evil Heartseed appears to be, but I see it as quite the opposite.

    1. You write great posts too! I’m sure it wouldn’t turn out exactly the way mine did, but it would be interesting in its own way. And as you know, the vast majority of my own posts don’t turn out this good either. 🙂

      Yeah, I can’t really see how Heartseed would be construed as evil. He might not be “good”, perhaps he is neutral, but I can’t bring myself to see him as evil.

  3. I’m not so sure I agree with your assessment of Iori accepting her death because “the fear of death loses all hold on her,” after Taichi’s “exorcism”. She was willing to let her own soul die with her body because as Inaba rightfully pointed out living with the knowledge that she’s alive because somebody died in her place would be even worse. She already loved her friends enough that she didn’t want them to die in her place and didn’t want them to try and persuade her to let them or to see her in her final 30 minutes that way, so she just did what she always did. That is put on another “mask” and pretend to be strong and that it would be best this way. But Taichi knew she was putting up a front and so refused to cry so she could go ahead and be herself in her final moments. So we see her in her final moments while in Inaba’s body as she really is…a little girl who is afraid of dying.

    But on the Mustard seed allegory I gotta say that sounds kind of neat. Yeah I guess Heartseed could be seen as actively trying to have the students benefit from all of this, but whether it’s from purely unselfish curiosity or not I think is too early to say for sure.

    1. She already loved her friends enough that she didn’t want them to die in her place and didn’t want them to try and persuade her to let them or to see her in her final 30 minutes that way, so she just did what she always did.

      I’d see this love as a sign that Iori *has* overcome her fear of death.

      That is put on another “mask” and pretend to be strong and that it would be best this way.

      I don’t think that masks in and of themselves are necessarily a sign that someone is a slave to death. It’s only when the identity is constructed in service to the principalities and powers that death’s power as work. In this case, I felt that Iori had constructed her mask out of love for the sake of protecting her friends.

      So we see her in her final moments while in Inaba’s body as she really is…a little girl who is afraid of dying.

      I think that everyone is afraid of dying— even Jesus had his night of Gethsemane. When I say the “fear of death” I don’t mean literally whether you are afraid of dying so much as whether you live your life as if you are afraid of death— whether you are enthralled in building up yourself and your self-esteem, or whether you are able to live in selfless love.

      whether it’s from purely unselfish curiosity or not I think is too early to say for sure.

      I agree with you there, this part is pure speculation. I think the name “Heartseed” is a big clue though, I don’t think it was chosen because of the plant. It could still be the seeds of destruction though.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, I really appreciate it!

  4. I’m here as promised. 😉

    I have a couple questions. First, why are the idols “worthless rubbish” if they can accomplish the same thing “dying” does – solving the fear of death? Is it because they only push the problem aside and “dying” outright eliminates it? Just trying to understand it from a “practical” standpoint.

    Also, I’m having a little trouble understanding the nature of Iori’s death here. I know it didn’t actually involve her losing her ability to live, but then how exactly *did* she die? From my understanding, it’s that she cast out her inner demons, effectively starting a new life (and thus her old self would be dead), but if that’s the case, I’m left wondering what happens if the powers and principalities gain hold over her again? Does she have to “die” again? Perhaps I’m looking at this in the wrong way (from a “practical” standpoint instead of a theological one), but I’m just trying to figure out exactly how this “death” of Iori’s works.

    “If Iori dies, they will all die with Iori. By allowing the students to choose who will die, the power dynamic has been reversed: death doesn’t have power over the students. It is the students who have power over death.”

    While I’m a little curious as to what you mean by that first sentence, I think this is a really good point, one I totally didn’t realize. I seriously have nothing to add to this, so I won’t try, but I just think that’s very interesting.

    Anyway, nice post.

    1. First, why are the idols “worthless rubbish” if they can accomplish the same thing “dying” does – solving the fear of death?

      Yes, the idols don’t “solve” the fear of death, they simply push it aside in favor of things that are ultimately worthless in the face of death (e.g., money, power, pride). Besides, the fear of death is not the problem in and of itself: the problem is that the fear of death enslaves us and prevents us from living a life of selfless love. Simply averting the fear of death itself is not the goal.

      I’m left wondering what happens if the powers and principalities gain hold over her again? Does she have to “die” again?

      I think the answer to comes this becomes clearer if in this instance we refer to the actions in service to the principalities and powers by their more common name, “sin.” As Paul says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Even after Iori has died (or is “saved”, if you will) the principalities and powers can and will return to gain a hold over her. It is not a one shot affair, but a constant struggle. And this is where the idea of “grace” comes in.

      While I’m a little curious as to what you mean by that first sentence,

      Compare that sentence to the quotation I took from Romans 6 and the analogy will hopefully become clearer.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

    1. I like your idea of “commentary” better though. 🙂 Because it is just about one episode.

      I hate preachiness too.

  5. Excellent and very inspiring post, draggle, which had me thinking for a while!

    My knowledge of Christianity is rather limited, so please allow me some questions/ comments:

    I fail to see how poor Iori succumbed to the powers and principalities of evil. E.g. her starting point was that she adopted different roles to get along w/ her various (step) fathers (who didn’t treat her all too well). You can call this selfish, but it seems to me rather like an existential necessity for someone in Iori’s position as a child. Shouldn’t we draw a line between averting existential threats (as living our life is what we’re supposed to do) and vainly trying to become immortal? Besides, isn’t what Iori did basically following commandment #4?

    Iori certainly needs to develop a stable personality of her own and I guess that’s part of what happens in childhood and puberty, maybe a bit belated in Iori’s case. But I wonder if children who didn’t find this stable personality yet did fall prey to the powers and principalities.

    I also have some doubts that fear of death (not referring to immediate threats but referring to the fact of death in itself) is an important motivation for someone Iori’s age.

    Also, my impression is that Iori wasn’t prepared to die in the 2nd half of the ep. b/c she had already symbolically died and was “redeemed” by Taichi like half an hour before. To me, it rather felt like she was still stressed out by her desperate situation before which had her lose some of the will to live. Her “redemption”, I think, should inspire her to continue living instead of passively accepting death.

    This point, though, is obscured by Jesus… äh… Taichi who unrealistically offered instantly to sacrifice himself in Iori’s place. Taichi is really dragging down this show imho. The girls’ conflicts and problems are well-portrayed and the setting is interesting but it’s just hilarious that Taichi solves each of these conflicts within a few minutes and with a few nice words and a pat on the head. If this series tries to depict the live of some Messiah-without-heavenly-mandate than ok.

    But I understand (and appreciate) that this series tries to show some healing process for these conflicts w/ the trouble caused by Heartseed as a catalyst. In this respect the series is a failure. By using Taichi like some deus ex machina the creators imho have just wasted the chance to depict the healing/ personality development process and trivialized some of the more serious stuff behind these conflicts.

    1. You can call this selfish, but it seems to me rather like an existential necessity for someone in Iori’s position as a child. Shouldn’t we draw a line between averting existential threats (as living our life is what we’re supposed to do) and vainly trying to become immortal?

      This “existential necessity” is exactly what I mean by the fear of death. We try to hide and insulate ourselves from the reality of death and cover it up with success, health or mental well-being. Because Iori lives in fear of maintaining her identity and existence, she is unable to love others fully. If your arm causes you to fall into sin, cut it off, yada yada.

      Besides, isn’t what Iori did basically following commandment #4?

      The commandment is to honor your father and mother, not to satisfy their self-destructive urges. I would argue that because of her existential anxiety (fear of death) she was not able to honor her father and mother by attempting to lead them away from their destructive actions.

      But I wonder if children who didn’t find this stable personality yet did fall prey to the powers and principalities.

      Finding a stable personality isn’t really the point. It’s more *why* Iori constructed these personalities, out of fear. But yes, I would say that pretty much everyone has fallen prey to the principalities and powers, to some degree.

      I also have some doubts that fear of death (not referring to immediate threats but referring to the fact of death in itself) is an important motivation for someone Iori’s age.

      I highly recommend checking out the series I linked to above, it should be highly accessible even if you aren’t well-versed in Christianity and explains it better than I will be able to. But the short answer, I think, is that the “existential necessity” you mentioned (an excellent phrase!) is the fear of death.

      To me, it rather felt like she was still stressed out by her desperate situation before which had her lose some of the will to live.

      Didn’t Taichi just confess to her? It seemed to me like she wanted to live…

      Taichi is really dragging down this show imho.

      Yeah, pretty much. In this case I didn’t mind though, since he didn’t end up doing it. Based on what we’ve seen of him so far, I can certainly imagine him offering. And Iori didn’t really need help from Taichi in this particular case.

      1. Thanks, Draggle, for these explanations! Hopefully I’ll find time soon to have a closer look at the series you linked.

        Well, maybe I should even prioritize that over watching anime…

Leave a Reply to TSouL Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.