March 05, 2005

Naruto Finally

I've been trying to wrack my brains on how to do a post about my favorite anime show, Naruto, without giving away everything to the uninitiated. So to hell with it all, I'm just going to start at the beginning, and work my way from there. As they say, start from the beginning, get to the middle, and finish at the end

The main character is a 12 year old named Uzumaki Naruto. The Japanese way of doing things is a bit different from the old USA network, in that they read from right to left. Or top to bottom. Or right to left and top to bottom. Ever see those Chinese kanji characters that look like chains linked ogether? That's how the Japanese do their thang, and that is why Uzumaki is Naruto's last name. Right from left, remember?

All in all, it's good to know the Japanese way of thinking isn't too ass backwards. Unlike some isolationist paleo-conservatives we have here in the US, in which their thinking really is ass backwards. People like Pat Buchanan that thinks Iraq is an imprudent mess, filled with nasty and inferior types of people compared to Americans like Pat. The Japs certainly have their xenophobia and their various atitudes towards "gaijin", or "foreign people" I believe. Sorta like gringo. Regardless of all this of course, it sorta feels nice to know that the Japanese still put their first name first and their family name last, even though we have to flip things on its vertical axis a bit.

So, this kid when he was born, was infused with this monster, the 9 tailed Fox. Now the Nine Tails is pretty badass. It's like the United States Marines meet Ghenghis Khong. Konoha, the birthplace of Naruto, had to be defended from this menace. Many sacrificed themselves to hold the line before the Fourth Hokage could arrive to "deal" with the Nine Tails. There's a lot of warrior mythology here. You know the deal, monsters galore, low level cannon fodder holding the line until the "hero" arrives with his kickass powers. Naruto differs a bit from that line. In that it actually glories each individual sacrifice, instead of just the benefits to society and to family and to name. Japan is a society centered around shame and honor. Sort of tribalistic in a fashion. They are only a century removed from the Shogunate and the Meiji era, after all. And Japan's Imperial "dynasty" of circa early 20th century didn't exactly leave "good" impressions. The civilian population of Japan has only come into the modern world in the last 50 years or so. Which was the start of television, mass media, speed of light communications, etc. Coincidentally, that also includes America. The Japanese loved electronics, and their affair has produced quite an advanced industry in land limited Japan.

But all in all, the traditions of Japan still remained in the populace to this very day a strong symbol of duty and honor. When you meet a Japanese businessman formally, there are specific rituals to go to. The Japanese will say, "yes" in response to what you are saying in order to communicate that he is paying attention. Even if you asked him, "Do you think this plan is risky?", he will say yes, but he only means he hears you. Just recently, there was an incident in Japan where two police officers ran the POCK away from a crazy man with a bat. These two officers had guns and was scared witless. The Prime Minister of Japan expressed his intense displeasure at that. And you know why? Because the two officers not only brought shame on their family, on their names, on their selves, on their police department, but they also brought shame on their nation. And that is why the PM would remark about some minor incident with two police officers running away from a guy with a bat.

This relates to Naruto in that these principles of honor, shame, duty, sacrifice, courage (yuki), and so on are core principles. Not just some fluff people talk about as if they are playing "Klingons" or something. It doesn't satirize this virtues as some Japanese and Western European elitists might. It doesn't portray these people as idiots for following some archaic "ninjutsu code". Rather, it portrays this people in terms that the average American or even an average Iraqi might empathize with. These people defending Konoha, their home, are just like your neighbors. Except with ninjutsu powers.

There are two episodes that portray these principles quite well. The first one and another one somewhere along the first main story arc.

The first episode, shows Naruto's sensei(teacher) trying to defend his student. It is a very emotional scene, as the protected suddenly finds the determination to defend his sensei when his sensei is the one that needs help. It portrays the bond between the weak and the strong, between the rescuer and the rescued, between the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan and the citizens of the American invasion force. This eternal human condition, represented by the bond between family, between siblings, and between absolute strangers is very powerful.

Just as Americans went in and helped the Iraqis be free from Saddam, the Iraqis themselves helped us by proving to the naysayers who are anklebiting the Americans, that they would not fold under terroist threat. When the Iraqis were down and in a state of despair, we went in and pulled them out. When America and her leadership were under constant daily assault from the fake liberal seditionists and the terroist masterminds in the ME, the Iraqis gave us intel tips and translation help and all kinds of encouragement. The same applies in Afghanistan.

It is the proof that someone is not only in need of help, but that that someone deserves help. Many people need help, few ever earn that help either through their character or repaying that help in the future.

The second episode I mentioned has to do with yuki, courage. It shows how fear can make people stupid and slime. I did not grow up in a culture where showing fear as a child was something to be frowned upon, Japan I conjecture is such an environment where children who are cowards are ostracized. However, even though I did not grow up in such a culture, I still loathed the behavior shown on screen, of a snively coward. Too scared to help his friends or even to protect himself. Which is why when the character shows yuki, you understand through his actions what yuki, courage, really is. It is not the reckless endangerment of yourself without fear, it is the transcendence of fear itself. You admire him not because he was big or that he was so capable of defending himself, but rather you come to admire him because he wasn't initially capable of defending himself. It was not the virtue that he never fell that was good, it was the fact that he always got up after falling that you noted.

It was one of the more artistic and creative and genuine portrayals of courage and fear that I've seen in awhile. Japanese animation has creative possibilities that movies simply cannot duplicate.

Courage, was something many Americans required after 9/11. Courage, was what the Iraqis required on January 30th. Courage, was what Afghanistan required when it came time for their elections.

Courage, is a virtue that few in this world appreciates, because courage is an anachronistic virtue that few in this world even remembers. Only America's culture of individualism promotes courage in a future generation, the courage required to try and take back a hijacked airplane in order to prevent further deaths. And now, given Japan's resolute steadfastness against China and North Korea, with their cowardly south korea cousins in tow, the Japanese now show that courage is a tradition that has not been excised out of them. Their immune systems could handle the virus of democracy, something that the Germans could not. The Germans fell prey to the pacifism that is the toxic byproduct of democracy. The Japanese culture, loves Naruto. And I think I know why... it hearkens of a day when Japan can take back her dishonor for losing a war to the US, and strive for a new age of justice. It spells out a day when Japan can rebuild her military, and see just how much honor she still retains.

American occupation after WWII, completely pacified the nations under our care. The job was done too well perhaps.


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