Wang Yangming calls Black☆Star out

Soul Eater‘s Black☆Star is always bragging that he will surpass God and become the greatest hero ever.  We see him training like crazy to achieve this goal and despising any pursuit other than that for greatness.  Still, early on in the story he has a chance to partner up with the idiosyncratic Holy Sword Excalibur (from United King’, of course:) ) and what does he do?  He passes it up, just as does everyone else in Shibusen.   I can cut the others slack for doing this, but not Black☆Star.  If Black☆Star’s number 1 priority is to be a superhero, then Excalibur can show him the way.  If he doesn’t pair up with Excalibur then it means all his talk is just that…talk.

He's not serious.

He's not serious.

There’s a connection here to Wang Yangming’s central insight: the identity of knowledge and action.  Wang Yangming is imhbtco (in my humble but totally correct opinion!) the greatest contribution from China to the world in the last 800 years or so.  Confucians tried to study how to act properly, and then tried hard to apply that knowledge with in their lives.  But Wang Yangming taught that the person who knew “Confucian” morality would automatically act morally, and that immoral acts could never be performed by those who understood morality.  There is no gap between correct knowledge of what to do and actually doing it.

I imagine Yangming would have serious issues with the Christian sinner.  If you know that stealing is wrong you will never steal.  If you have stolen, that is because no matter what you may tell yourself and others, you think stealing is OK and you can get away with it.  I.e., you’re not a true Christian yet.

Wang Yangming was basically concerned with morality, but his teachings can and are often applied more widely.  A historical example: when Emperor Meiji of Japan died a lot of nobles bemoaned the loss and wondered how could they possibly go on living without His Imperial Majesty.  General Nogi, who was a follower of the Yangming school and a friend of the Emperor’s, immediately killed himself.

Black☆Star passes up on Excalibur because at heart he is seeking more than just glory, he wants happiness and he wants it with Tsubaki by his side.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, on the contrary, it means he is a much more complex character than he’s willing to let on.   He does not truly believe his own single-minded hype and he has yet to really know what his task in life is.  In the meantime he trains.  And when he does know, he’ll act.

~ by Haloed Bane on November 25, 2008.

3 Responses to “Wang Yangming calls Black☆Star out”

  1. Yangming’s idea sounds vaguely similar to what I understand about Satre’s concept of ‘bad faith’, but I don’t understand much about that so I could be completely off the mark.

  2. IKnight, after researching Sartre a bit, I’d say you’re right. Sartre points to what Yangming would call “knowledge of the truth” and renames it “bad faith” because by choosing one moral code (as the only good one) you are limiting your own freedom. But ultimately with Sartre you still must act, it’s just that he wants you to be fully aware of your responsibility for that action instead of doing it just because “it’s what God wants”.

    In the case of Black☆Star in “Soul Eater”, his God is himself! (not his real self, but a vision that he has created for himself since his traumatic childhood). By trying to keep up with this code (given by God/Himself), he’s acting in “bad faith”, but because he does break away from it by rejecting Excalibur, helping others and so forth, I think he’s still free to act. Paradoxically, by not believing in himself, he is on his way to truly finding himself and ultimately realizing the Yangming ideal of knowledge=action.

  3. […] his own declared goal of “becoming god” by mixing it with all sorts of niceties [post here]. Mifune on his […]

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