So, my woman holds the keys to the NetFlix account. Worse, she monopolizes the TV time. So I don't usually get to watch at home. I only get to watch at work when I'm doing something particularly monotonous. Which means Hulu.com. Which means free. We're already paying some $20 bucks a month to stream. It may at some point be worth it to pay an additional $10. But given how much free content is still on the site, well, it hasn't proven necessary.
Anyway, Naruto was one of my finds. I loved cartoons, as most kids do. And as I grew older, and my taste grew more sophisticated, I found myself turning to Manga where it's "ok" to watch adult cartoons. Oh to be sure, we have many adult comedy cartoons of our own. But frankly, no drama, no sci-fi or fantasy cartoons. I'm not a huge fan. As I said, I really don't have much time for TV or video content. But I do have a few favorites including Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Robotech and a few others. Anyway, manga cartoons are usually science fiction in nature, featuring giant robots facing off against huge aliens. And like much science fiction, they tend to be apolycalptic in nature. Narruto is an exception to these tropes. Narruto is strictly fantasy.
What makes Narruto a fantasy? Short answer, the character of Narruto. The TV show, while a hit for older audiences as well as younger ones, has some pretty blunt, hit-you-over-the-head themes meant for a younger audience. However, the blunt nature of the messaging, may also be a part of the Japanese culture. I've often laughed at transliterations of Japanese shows and films with really obvious titles. Something lost in the translation, or a tendency to just name things as they are? But the theme of Narruto is simple, "We're all different, of different ability, but whether you're born talented or not, any one who tries hard enough can succeed." That is the nature of the main character, Narruto. He does, in fact, have a wellspring of amazing power. But he's a fillbertygibbet, a clown, impulsive, often thoughtless. The other thing that makes him a character worthy of fantasy fiction is that he is deeply, deeply good. At some point in the second season, he is assailed by a couple of bumbling debt collectors. He kicks their butts, but when he learns of their plight, he arranges to help them. Debt collectors, thugs! In the first season, one of the enemy ninja is an orphan who murdered his parents. Narruto takes pity on him too. Why is this fantasy? It's all tied up, to me, with the notion of what is good. In Jordan's epic, there is a saying "No man can stand in the Shadow so long that he cannot find the Light again" from The Eye of the World. Naruto takes a very similar stance, even evil ninjas are not beyond redemption.
Another fantasyesque characteristic of the show is that there are literally dozens of characters. And the show makes a real effort to provide real distinguishing characteristics to all of them. So Narruto, when he passes his test to become a Genin, the lowest level of ninja, gets put into a squad with Sasuke and Sakura. Sasuke is much more of the hero type, dark, quiet, driven, good looking. And of course, Sakura plays love sick girl to his tall dark and handsome. While on the topic of Sakura, none of the female characters in the first season are particularly strong. I understand that Japanese culture can be heavily sexist, this could be an indication of that, though I hope to see this myth dispelled in further episodes. The world of Narruto features a plethora of interesting, fun and real characters. This is classic fantasy.
I don't know much about Japanese fiction cliches. Even so, I can venture a guess at some. Personal paralysis. This is something I noticed first in the Neon Genesis Evangelion series, one of my faves. Since at heart they are cartoons, grouped in twenty minute episodes, and shown to children. Young kids are at the heart of them. Funny, I grew up watching G.I.Joe. There were no kids in that show. There are no kids in any of the syndicated versions of Batman, or the X-Men series. I wonder what that says. Naruto is twelve or thirteen when the story starts. Likewise, children are at the heart of Evangelion. And they are impulsive, and they get really really scared when faced with these life threatening situations. All to the good. Still, its a cliche. And when Naruto freezes up in fear in the first B rated mission outside the Village of the Leaf, overcoming that fear is what the next few episodes are about.
I've sort of already gone over the theme of Naruto. To recap, they are:
1) Never stop trying
2) Always be kind
3) Always forgive
4) Life is a Competition
5) Protecting those you love is the greatest thing to aspire to.
Overall, I'd say these are pretty good memes to live by. Peace out until I finish Season 2!