Top Ten: Naruto weirdness

This originally started as “Why (a lot of) anime is (kind of) fucked up,” but eventually I realized that, well, that’s what makes it so appealing in a lot of ways; the worlds of anime (their “chronotope” if you will…yes, I am learning things in my English class)  is a totally different place where different rules apply, and that allows all sorts of fun things to happen. Like giant robots battling giant space aliens whilst an international conspiracy unfolds (Neon Genesis Evangelion, and that’s about as normal as I can make it sound). Or running around catching strange and powerful beasts instead of going to school (Pokemon). Or being a ninja in a world that still has some modern technology (Naruto).

That said, there’s still a lot of plot hole/just plain weird type stuff that goes on in a lot of anime/manga series (and movies), so I decided to take a look at what I thought (read: completely subjective) were some of the most extreme examples of that vaguely defined category in Naruto. Because shut up.

I realize that if you aren’t a Naruto fan, you probably don’t care about this. Just in case, here’s a cast of characters (very brief):

Naruto Uzumaki: the main character (duh). A hyperactive and silly but determined young ninja who has a demon spirit thing (it’s complicated) trapped inside him and who wants to become the leader of Konohagakure (his village).

Sasuke Uchiha: Naruto’s teammate and rival at the beginning of the series. He’s way more talented than Naruto at the beginning. He wants to become as strong as possible to avenge the deaths of most of his family by killing his brother.

Sakura Haruno: Naruto and Sasuke’s teammate. She has a crush on Sasuke,  Naruto has a crush on her, and Sasuke couldn’t care less because of the whole “I’m an avenger” thing. She’s pretty useless at the beginning.

Kakashi Hatake: Teacher/team leader/mentor/father figure for Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura, and one of the most powerful ninja in Konoha. He kicks ass.

Hokage: the title of the leader of Konoha village. The 3rd Hokage is the one in power at the beginning of the series.

Iruka: Naruto’s academy teacher and father figure.

Ninja academy (usually “the academy”): the school that kids have to go to and graduate from in order to become ninja and go on missions.

Rock Lee: a ninja of Naruto’s age who is very determined and talented with physical attacks. His mentor is Might Guy (“Gai-sensei”).

Zabuza and Haku: the villains of the first story arc. They’re pretty badass.

…Ok, I think that’s enought of an introduction. Here it goes, the top ten most fucked up things about Naruto:

10: The more sex-crazed you are, the better ninja you are–This come ups early in the series and remains a joke throughout. The word that the dub (which may or may not be the same as the subtitled or original versions) uses is “pervert” which I don’t particularly agree with, since I don’t want to stigmatize erotica or sexuality. The first really sex-crazed ninja we meet is the annoying Ebisu, who claims to be a fantastic tutor (and actually is pretty skilled), but is incapacitated by Naruto’s “Sexy Jutsu,” in which the 12-year-old boy turns into…a definitely pubescent girl. Actually, if you want to be technical, Iruka and the 3rd Hokage (that’s Naruto’s academy teacher and the leader of the village, respectively) fall victim to the Sexy Jutsu first, and they’re established as pretty powerful and cool characters in their own rights. Next up the scale of perversion is Kakashi, who is a fan of the “Icha Icha” (translated as “Make Out”) novels that are apparently so racy that they can only be sold to people over 18. Needless to say, Kakashi can kick just about anybody’s ass (or he would be able to if the plot didn’t demand otherwise so many times…). And then there’s Jiraiya, who writes said novels and peeps at women in the bathhouse, and who is, in his own words, “A GODDAMN SAGE!” who can summon giant toads and is one of the “legendary ninja” of the village, along with the (spoiler) 5th Hokage and the first Really Big Bad Guy of the series. I don’t know. This just struck me as weird. Maybe it’s a Japanese thing.

9: Everybody is an orphan–Granted, this is justified to some extent in the ninja villages because, well, being a ninja is dangerous, and it’s probably really hard to make it to old age. But isn’t it convenient that a lot of these people had kids and then popped their clogs at most 8ish years afterward? Let’s see, people who lose or don’t have one or more parental figures: Naruto, Sasuke (extreme example), Sakura (where’s her dad?), Kakashi, Rock Lee, Gaara, Ino, Haku, Iruka, the list goes on. And then there are there are people like Hinata. She isn’t an orphan, but her family basically abandoned her to the ninjas. Not when she was a baby, either: they told one of the ninjas “this girl is worthless, so you should take her.” And again with the justification: what about Inari (the bridgebuilder’s grandson)? He lost his father at a young age as well, and he isn’t even a ninja! Anyway, this makes thinking about people’s home lives rather awkward. Where the hell does Sasuke live, in the house where his entire family was murdered? How does Naruto get money to feed himself?

8: When are we, anyway?–This is more of a general gripe than a sign of fucked-up-ness, but…there are computers, refrigerators, and wireless headsets, but no guns, cars or phones? Maybe you can argue alternate-universe = different technological development, but I find it very hard to believe that people didn’t think “Hey, these wireless headsets are useful. If only they worked over longer distances…”

7: There are no therapists–Except for your sensei, of course. But he/she probably isn’t actually that qualified for the job. Seriously, you would think that with all of the weirdos running around with freaking superpowers (Gaara, I’m looking at you), someone would think that maybe prevention of craziness is the best option when you’re dealing with ultra-talented ninja. Maybe someone should have given Sasuke some Valium or something before he decided he was an avenger and dedicated his entire life to that purpose. There should at least be some sort of psychological wellness exam in order to become a chunin. Oh well. Instead we get Might Guy telling Rock Lee to never back down from a fight (or some shit like that, I dont remember very well), and subsequently in tears because Lee took him a little too seriously and is now very incapacitated.

6. What happens to all the people who fail?–It gets mentioned numerous times, especially at the beginning, that only about a third of graduates of the ninja academy actually become genin. What does everyone else do, go back to the academy for the year? Take a year off? Just fail altogther? How much would it suck to go all the way through the academy learning not math or science or writing composition, but fighting, the rules of conduct for ninja, magical powers, and (for girls) flower arranging, and then not get to actually apply them? Maybe that’s where the “normal” people in the village come from; they’re the graduate who failed. On another level, what if you’re a genin your whole life? Would you have to spend it as a sort of glorified gardener/pet finder/bodyguard?  That might be even worse.

5.The problems of the kekkei genkai (bloodline trait)–I hope I spelled that right. They say that only a few people in most clans have that clan’s special ability, but it seems that for narrative purposes, anyone from a clan that has a trait associated with it will have it. First of all, there’s some mention in the first story arc of how people with the traits were persecuted by others but…a) we don’t really hear about this again (at least, not as far as I am), b) why? and c) they’re ninja, being persecuted by peasants. Can’t you just kill them? I guess it’s like sparrows mobbing an owl.

4. The military–is nonexistent. According to Kakashi in an early episode, the hidden ninja villages comprise the entire (basically) military strength of a nation. I guess he forgot/didn’t know about about the “samurai” mercenaries that Gato hired and used to terrorize the Land of Waves. Admittedly, an entire mob of them could probably have been wiped out by a single jonin (Zabuza or Kakashi spring to mind), but not after they had already been fighting for a while. Again, sparrows mobbing an owl.

3. Ninja in a bright orange jumpsuit, and other gripes–Apparently it’s considered unsporting to unleash a really powerful attack before your enemy is expecting it. This results in a lot of flashy duels that are a mainstay of the series. But wait a minute: aren’t ninja supposed to be stealthy assassins that attack from the shadows and melt back into the background the moment they finish? Shouldn’t the real test of how good a ninja is be that you’ve never heard of them and have no idea what they look like?

2. Honor and the rules of the shinobi–This is where we get back into “fucked up” territory, although it might just be a case of the characters not practicing what they preach. It seems that the ninja code of conduct has a lot of things like “A ninja is just a tool in the the hands of his employer” and “A shinobi must never show tears,” which is all well and good until something goes horribly wrong. And then we have situations where the “correct” thing to do is abandon your teammates to torture and death and do the mission yourself if you have to, or where you can’t cry over the death of your best friend because it’s not allowed. I know that both Kakashi and the 3rd Hokage, as well as some other people probably (I don’t remember) say that they’re just guidelines, and ninja are human like everybody else, so it’s OK if you can’t follow the rules all the time (Kakashi seems to just ignore certain rules, and nobody cares), still. Geez.

1. Age–You might have guessed this one from the beginning, but a lot of these things (especially the stuff above) wouldn’t be quite so bad if the main characters at the beginning of the series weren’t 12 years old. Hell, they start training when they’re 7 or 8, or earlier in some cases (Kakashi apparently graduated from the ninja academy at age 5), so they get the whole “no emotions, you’re just a tool” thing drilled into their heads really early. Even though they’re a bit of an exceptional case, let’s look at Team Kakashi for a second (that’s Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura). [[[Incidentally, SPOILER WARNING for the first two story arcs.] Their first “real” mission is bodyguarding for Tazuna, a bridge-builder from a different country that’s being oppressed by an evil shipping magnate who has hired a rogue elite ninja, Zabuza, and his protege, Haku, to take out Tazuna. Various shit happens,  but by the end, they have a huge all-out battle on the half-finished bridge. Sakura stands around “protecting” Tazuna, Kakashi fights Zabuza, and Naruto and Sasuke take on Haku. How does that last part end up? Well, Haku kicks their asses until Sasuke get his magical eyes power (ok, Sharingan) and can thus see Haku’s super-fast movements. Unfortunately, Haku decides to attack the unable-to-move Naruto instead of him, so Sasuke beats up Haku…and ends up with about a dozen giant needles sticking through his torso and neck, and stays up long enough to insult Naruto a bit before falling over, giving Naruto some tearful last words, and dying in Naruto’s arms. Naruto goes superpowered and kicks Haku’s ass for real, prompting Haku to convince Naruto to kill him in cold blood (basically), despite their friendly past encounters. That doesn’t actually happen, but they come damn close before Haku decides to die saving Zabuza instead. Then Naruto has to break the news to Sakura that Sasuke is dead, and she has a breakdown due to the whole “a ninja must not show tears” thing clashing with the ” the boy you’ve been in love with for several years is dead” thing. Turns out he isn’t actually dead, but she still went through that. Fast forward a bit, and Kakashi tells Naruto not to look away from Zabuza’s rather gory and depressing death, because “when you live as a warrior, this is how it ends” (English dub). Fast forward to the next story arc, and the young ninja from all the different villages are set loose in a forest full of dangerous monsters and told to fight each other as teams to pass, and later are put in one-on-one deathmatches.]]

For those of you skipping the last bit of that paragraph, the operative phrases are “person dying in his best friend’s arms,” “different person convinces someone to kill him in cold blood,” “person is told that a painful death is what awaits him because he’s a ninja,” “person finds out that the person she loves is dead, but is not allowed to show any emotion,” and “no-rules fights to the death.” Now keep in mind that all of these things are happening to 12-year-olds. How the hell do you even thing about killing someone or dying a horrible death when you haven’t even hit puberty?

For all it’s weirdness and corniness (yes, there’s a lot of friendship and teamwork and believing in yourself shit that happens in this show as well, which is a bit weird), I enjoy watching Naruto. I just sometimes wish that it wouldn’t freak me the hell out.

…But hey, at least it’s not Neon Genesis Evangelion, right? That’s really fucked up…

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