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.