A Trip Through Time and Fiction Part 3: A Most Unlikely Ninja

Enough with the west! Time to visit the Orient. One of my best friends got me interested in anime years ago when the Kingdom Hearts video game franchise began. With the same friend I saw snippets of different animes: Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Dragonball Z, Yu Yu Hakusho, and, of course, Naruto. I didn’t actually start watching Naruto on a regular basis until the past year or two, and I finally managed to make it through the first series and into Shippuden. I think Shippuden a vast improvement on the original with a much more interesting villain and story line. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Manga and anime seem to be a big part of Japanese culture. They are certainly becoming very popular in other parts of the world. One could call them comics and cartoons, but they’re not, exactly. Not in the sense that common parlance in the West would indicate. Here, when we use the word comic book or think of comic books, we often think of something for kids or some melodrama about superheroes.  That’s not actually the case for many comic books, and it’s certainly not the case for the Japanese version, called manga. Although it does have its comedies, much manga is actually rather serious. Manga sometimes feels like a book or a movie that’s just illustrated on paper instead of written or filmed. Most of it, I would say, is certainly not for kids. The same is to be said for anime: much anime is simply a televised version of a manga, often with a few changes and episodes known as fillers–that aren’t in the manga and don’t have much to do with the actual plot of the show. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because it’s animated it’s for kids. These shows are pretty much like soap operas or prime-time dramas. They just appear in smaller doses (20 minute episodes). That doesn’t mean that it’s not marketed to Western kids: I remember, as I’ve said, seeing certain anime when I was a child. But those shows were edited: unedited Yu-Gi-Oh!, Sailor Moon, and  even Pokemon aren’t as innocuous as they seem.

That’s why I’m very careful about my anime: it can get very kinky and perverted very fast. Even Naruto has its moments with Jiraiya, the Ero-Senin (Pervy Sage), being a peeping-tom and writing racy, if not pornographic, novels, and Naruto’s own “Sexy Jutsu.” Fortunately, these things don’t pop up too terribly often, and you can fast forward through them when they do. It doesn’t seem any worse than our prime-time television. Therefore, while I expressly would not recommend it for children, for the discerning adult anime, and Naruto in particular, can be enjoyable to watch.

Why? Because, even though it can get dark, there’s always an element of hope, and the show emphasizes the good qualities of community, faith, hope, perseverance, friendship, loyalty, and compassion, among other things. Not to mention that the humor is funny and the characters likable, even the sometimes obnoxious Naruto Uzumaki. He’s not really much of a ninja: he wears bright orange, gets riled up easily, rushes into things recklessly. Not very stealthy or secretive, which is what usually characterizes a ninja. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a fighter or a warrior, which seems to be more important for the ninjas in this show (in fact, he might’ve made a better samurai). It also helps that he’s got a bunch of chakra (energy present in all living things that allows humans to execute what you might call ‘magical’ attacks) and the Nine-Tails–a wild, supernatural ‘demon’ in the form of a fox with nine tails (called Kyuubi)–sealed inside him. But he’s also got heart and guts, which is more important than any of that. He shouts a lot and can be somewhat dense, but his love for his friends and his dynamic, upbeat personality make him endearing. Another aspect of the show that I especially like appears in the characters of Nagato and Sasuke.

Let me preface this with the fact that I’m only on Season 6 of Shippuden, so I don’t know any of the choices that Sasuke makes later in the show. And I should mention this paragraph contains spoilers for those who know nothing about the show. The message from Nagato (in part) is that it’s never too late to do the right thing. Even if you have chosen evil, you can choose good. Sasuke’s message is a little bit different, kind of a flipside to the other, if you will. It’s that even people who begin as good can voluntarily choose evil. People might complain, “Sasuke had a really traumatic experience!” as if that’s an apology for him and makes everything OK. I feel sorry for Sasuke because what happened to him was awful. But where I get upset with him is that despite having friends and teachers who care about him and who are there to support him and listen to him, he chooses to become evil and seek power. There are other orphans in the village (Naruto and Iruka-Sensei to name two) that he could bond with. But he pushes everyone away. The other thing about him that irritates me (besides his caustic personality and curt manner) is that he’s naive. “Sasuke? Naive?” Oh, yes! “Naruto’s waaaaaaay more naive than Sasuke.” Actually, I don’t think so. Naruto’s of average intelligence–or a bit less–and he knows it. So his naivete in not seeing that people are using his emotions to get at him is understandable. But Sasuke thinks he’s all that, which is what allows Orochimaru and Tobi ( I’m not going to call him Madara because I’m not sure if he really is or not) to manipulate him, both using his feelings for his brother and the tragedy that struck his family.

Ok. I’ll stop ranting about Sasuke now. It’s just, he makes me so angry sometimes! He does NOT deserve a friend like Naruto. Maybe he’ll shape up in the future. I’ll just have to wait and see.

General knowledge about the show for first timers: The story began as a manga and was then turned into an anime. It’s been split into two TV series: the first called Naruto, the second Naruto Shippuden. The first series details Naruto’s adventures as a 13-year-old just out of the Ninja Academy up until he goes off for personal training with one of the most powerful ninjas in the land. The second describes his adventures two-and-a-half years later, after that training. And I must say, Shippuden is much, much better than the original series. Naruto is more loud than obnoxious, and has actually learned quite a bit, and relies a lot less on the Kyuubi and lot more on his own power. And the villains are better. But, that’s enough said on Naruto for now.

And that concludes my Trip Through Time and Fiction!
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