Friday, July 12, 2013

AKB0048: Musical Missionaries

I recently finished both seasons of AKB0048, a show that I completely fell in love with and has become one of my favorite shows of all time, for some particular reasons. It's a show based on the real-life Japanese idol group AKB48, but director Shoji Kawamori, mastermind behind the Macross series, has taken these idols into space and outfitted them with mechas and sci-fi weapons for a grand space adventures.



Also included: lots of hearts, sparkles, and colorful, shiny lights.




The story goes as such: It is the year 0048, that is, 48 years after a massive intergalactic war had destroyed the Earth and forced humanity to inhabit other planets across the universe. During this time, the government has banned things that "disturb the heart", namely art and music, and has appointed the DES to enforce this rule with an iron fist (and mecha drones). However, this has not stopped the idol group AKB48, now re-formed as AKB0048, from holding concerts and bringing their songs of love to even planets with the strictest bans on entertainment--helped in part by the idols also being experts in (non-lethal) combat.



On one such planet with a total entertainment ban, four girls had heard about one of AKB0048's guerilla concerts and sneaked out to attend it, and there, they completely fell in love with music. Many years later, they defy parents and leave behind everything they know in order to try to join AKB0048 themselves. There, they learn to fight and sing and dance and bring the love of AKB0048 to people all across the universe along a number of other trainees, under the guidance the current main members ("successors" of the original AKB48 members), all while defying the entertainment ban and the DES.



To Christians, perhaps that summary might sound vaguely familiar... doesn't it sound an awful lot like Christian missionaries bringing the Gospel to places where Christianity is illegal?



Indeed, I found a lot about this show that was very reminiscent of missionaries, and that made me really fall in love with this show. (And yes, I am fully aware of the irony that a show about "idols" is so reminiscent of Christianity.) Really, I could cover so much about this show that has some application for Christians--and I probably will do an in-depth arc-by-arc coverage of this show--but here, I will simply cover the major theme of this show: making fans (a.k.a. disciples) on all planets (a.k.a. nations).



THE GREAT MUSICAL COMMISSION



18 And Jesus came and said to [the disciples], "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." - Matthew 28:18-20After Jesus's resurrection, and before his ascension back into Heaven, he gave a clear command to his followers: make disciples of all nations. After all, God's gift of salvation wasn't just for the "chosen people" of Israel anymore; it was for all of humanity. And in order to bring the Gospel to all nations, the church would have to send people to go all over the world, even to those places that would be hostile to Christians. This has been the driving command for missionaries all the way to the present, and churches continue to send out people to every corner of the earth in order to fulfill the Great Commission.



For the musical missionaries of AKB0048, they can clearly see how much some planets need some music. When the girls visit one planet with a total entertainment ban, they notice just how bleak life on that planet is. It's not just that everyone has to line up to get soup from soup pots; everyone just looks downright depressed and lifeless. But once they put on a concert, the mood changes entirely. Their life circumstances might not get any better, but their hearts now have joy and hope, and somewhere amongst all of those new fans may even be a future member of AKB0048.



When the Gospel is brought to the nations, a similar thing can happen. The Gospel brings new life to the people there (who frequently have to deal with poor living conditions), and disciples, including new missionaries, can be raised up. The effect could be exponential, as these new disciples then reach out and make more disciples themselves, and a ripple effect occurs.



The verse, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" (Romans 10:15, ESV, referencing Isaiah 52:7) is very fitting here. It's easy to see why the idols of AKB0048 are so popular and admired; they are bringers of good news to people that so desperately need to hear good news. Likewise, the feet of the missionaries who bring the Gospel (which literally means "good news") to all the nations are just as beautiful to God.



THE MISSIONARY FAN CLUB



That said, just like how not everyone can be an actual member of AKB0048, not everyone is called to be a missionary. God also wants people to spread the Gospel and make disciples in their local spheres of influence. However, that doesn't mean we can't participate in this global mission to make disciples of all nations. We can become fans of missionaries, especially those in our church.



The fans of AKB0048 are quite important to the group's success in bringing music to all the planets. They buy their products and thus provide AKB0048 with financial assistance. They write letters to their favorite idols, meet them at handshake events, and give them encouragement (and constructive criticism) to keep doing what they're doing. Some of them even go an extra step as they form their own "fan club", the WOTA, that aids AKB0048 in combat and helps them find their way safely into dangerous areas.



This should give a good idea of how, even if you do not think God is calling you to actually go to other countries, you can still be a part of a missionary team. At the very least, pray for them. Then, give them your financial support, your emotional support, or perhaps even logistical support. (If you do not know what else you can do to help the missionaries of your church, you can ask your pastor for help.)



In the end, though, whether you are called to go to a foreign nation to share the Gospel or are called to do it more locally, there's one thing that is important for idol and missionary alike...



THE GREATEST OF THESE: LOVE



If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. - 1 Corinthians 13, ESVOr, for an alternate reading, "If I sing like an angel, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."



One thing's for sure, though. There are a lot of motivators for the girls of AKB0048, but the greatest of those is love. They have varying levels of talent, but it is love--particularly, love for their fans and the people of the universe--that truly allows the girls to shine on the stage.



That love has to be strong: the girls have to be willing to sacrifice anything, work hard, and push their way through all sorts of danger. That love has to be able to put aside personal ambition and prioritize the success of the concert first and foremost. That love cannot be conditional, either; they sing not just for their fans, but for all of humanity--and that includes any humans of DES that happen to be there. (Most of the battles against DES is done against drones.)



There is one scene that I think really highlights the deep love AKB0048 has. In one flashback, some of the members wondered whether it would really be worth it to conduct a guerrilla concert on a planet with a total entertainment ban; it's not like the people there particularly want to see them, as they think they're getting by just fine in life, so is there really a point to it?



However, one member, nicknamed "Acchan", declares that she wants to do this concert, not because the people there want to see her, but because she wants to see them.



And that is real love. That is the kind of love that Jesus showed when he died for us while we were still sinners. And that is the kind of love we need to bring if we really want to reach souls for Christ. Love means we can't sit back and just wait for people to ask us about Christianity; we have to love the people of the world so much that we want to see them and tell them the good news.This concludes an introduction to the "musical missionaries" of AKB0048. Here, I'd just like to say again; there's just so much I love about this show. It's a show I'd highly recommend that people check out. Even if the "missionaries" part doesn't interest you, it is still a great story and a great anime about space and music. But for Christians, it's definitely worth looking at to see if you can connect with these musical missionaries. As I said earlier, this probably won't be the last time I talk about AKB0048, as there really is a lot to this series and I could easily write pages upon pages for all of it.



Both seasons of AKB0048 can be watched on Crunchyroll for free . Sentai Filmworks has licensed this show and will be releasing the first season on Blu-ray and DVD with an English dub in September.
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