By Josephine Lee
With his upcoming post-session course Studies in Anime, Professor Jo Suzuki is once again offering students the chance to earn three literature credits from home (or anywhere else). Streamed via Zoom, the two-week class will meet Monday to Friday from 1:00-5:00 after the conclusion of the spring semester.
What will students do for four hours? What kind of homework is involved? The simple answer to both: watch anime. It may seem an untraditional subject for the Department of Arts and Letters, who offers the course alongside staples such as Shakespeare and The Short Story.
But Suzuki believes the genre is much more valuable than many give it credit for.
“If you just start watching it, you realize how deep it is…Anime deals with existential issues. It’s often very dark and thought provoking. You have to understand the historical, cultural, philosophical, ideological background in order to appreciate it fully,” Suzuki said.
Perhaps no one on campus is more equipped to convey this background than Jo Suzuki, and not only because he was born and raised in Karuizawa, Japan. In 25 years at TMU, Suzuki has built a repertoire of philosophy, critical theory and linguistic courses spanning subjects from Feminist Criticism to Modern English Grammar. He approaches anime as he does every other cultural object—with a bedrock of theology, an arsenal of philosophical expertise and an uncompromising sense of humor.
Camden Specht, a senior who took the course in 2021, said, “I really appreciate Suzuki’s unique Christian view on Japanese culture, because it’s just an unfortunate reality that most Japanese people have never heard about Christ…so to have such an intelligent, Christ-fearing professor, who cares about his students and the material he’s actually teaching, is a rare combination.”
Students will be immersed in a selection of both classic and contemporary films and series, beginning with three classic Studio Ghibli films created by Hayao Miyazaki, Japan’s most well-known anime director. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away span post-apocalyptic, post-history and present settings respectively, while exploring the complex relationships between humans, nature, and technology.
Other topics students can look forward to include “the nature of destiny, or fate, as understood by the Japanese”, which Suzuki ties in with “the notion of fates in Greek mythology, as well as the sovereignty of God” when discussing beloved 2016 film Your Name. Cultural phenomenon Naruto: The Last, featuring the eponymous ninja, will prompt conversations about love and the unique Japanese understanding of courtship. Popular series Demon Slayer takes a deep dive into demons and vampire mythology.
Students can expect uniquely Suzukian insights throughout. Speaking on the main character of One Punch Man, a fan favorite anime which parodies the trope of the overpowered superhero, Suzuki said, “[T]o me, he is like a prototypical manifestation of what Nietszche calls the ubermensch. He is devoid of what Nietszche calls the ressentiment; he doesn’t care when other people get credit for what he’s done, because he’s not after fame or fortune…he’s the strongest.”
Suzuki believes more Christians should be taking a page or two out of One Punch Man’s book (or manga). “Because that’s what we are with the power of the Holy Spirit. If some people insult you—who cares?…What is the secret to Christian strength? It’s so mundane, so simple. Have faith in Christ,” he said.
Both long-time fans and those brand-new to the genre are guaranteed these thought-provoking takeaways in tandem with engrossing discussion and exploration of themes. A final project gives students the opportunity to employ what they’ve learned to present an anime of their choice to classmates.
With Studies in Anime, TMU students can quickly fulfill their literature elective while gaining cultural literacy in this incredible medium. Brandon Champion, who earned his badge of attendance in 2021, had this to say: “in all the infinite possible universes of the multiverse, I would take this class again.”