Watching anime, I go through peaks and troughs.
The start of the year was a peak, but throughout February, I’ve been in a bit of a trough trying to find something new to watch and fall in love with.
At some point, I remembered that there’s a whole bunch of Shonen Jump anime that I should get back in to. I mean, I never finished Naruto Shippūden. Naruto is the reason I became an anime fan in the first place, my gateway drug. Apparently I’ve seen 573 episodes of One Piece too. I used to love One Piece and somehow it’s still going, with my last count showing 826 episodes and rising. Bloody hell, that’s a lot.
Naruto is making me cry with each chapter it releases. The rebloggables are suddenly through the charts on my tumblr dashboard. Open Facebook or Twitter on a Jump release date, and there are people there to commiserate with. It’s the ending we always dreamed of, quietly gripping our rubber prop kunai, gleefully purchased as preteens at our first anime conventions. General spoilers for the manga; but very little in the way of specifics.
I’m a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being unhappy with your work when it isn’t. Sometimes you have to ignore that impulse and just release your creation to the world. Sometimes though, you get a second chance. George Lucas epitomises this phenomena. Audiences didn’t appreciate it when Lucas revised Star Wars. Long time fans lashed out at him when he released the special edition movies. Japanese fans of Dragon Ball Z had a similar reaction when the special edition version of the show, called Dragon Ball Z Kai came out. I haven’t watched the Japanese subtitled version of the shows so I can’t judge that version of Kai. But I did watch the English dub. And it is the best Dragon Ball Z to date.
I’m finally caught up with Naruto and not a moment too soon. Episode 175 closes not just Pain’s overwhelming story arc, but fulfils Uzumaki Naruto’s transcendence from annoying, mouthy kid to fully-fledged hero.
Does Masashi Kishimoto think about how children are depicted in Naruto? Ninja are tools of war, after all, and Konoha trains its children to become ninja; isn’t that wrong? On a base, moral level? Of course, Naruto is intended as entertainment and, as such, there’s a certain amount of distance one feels between it and the real world, but to compare it to another boys-orientated action anime, like One Piece, reveals just how dark a world Kishimoto’s characters are born into, a place where children are trained to fight almost as soon as they can walk.
After all these years, I still love watching Naruto. I’ll place it on hiatus every now and then, but it still is, and always will be, one of my biggest favourites. This past weekend marked the end of my latest break from Shippuuden, but already, here I am again; writing away. I couldn’t let this feeling pass without trying to convey it, this sense of being an anime fan and seeing something so great it can’t be contained by just me alone; I have to share it with you.
I’ve been an anime fan for no more than 5 years and already I’m starting to feel like I’ve been around forever, yet the truth is that my mere half-decade of devotion barely even scratches the surface, after all, some hardy souls have been following this foreign Japanese stuff for more than 30 years; a concept so baffling I can’t even begin to imagine how they managed it.
I’m fascinated by the biographies and anecdotes of anime fans. Young or old, everyone has a story that recalls their moment of excited discovery and the subsequent realization of what anime has to offer. It’s comforting, almost reassuring to read fellow fans trying to convey those memories in the context of their lives, each person coming from different, interesting circumstances. My own story is something of a modern cliche, but that’s really the point of this article, the chronology of an anime fan.
I suspect we can look at the recent history of anime fandom as containing three distinct and converging ages of “gateway” anime. They are Video Nasties (1990 – 1997), Childrens TV (1995 – 2002) and the Digital Revolution (2002 – present day). All three have impacted on my life.
During the mid-nineties, I was a bored teenager looking for some edgy entertainment, so it’s rather predictable that my first glimpses of anime would be snared during the Video Nasties era, courtesy of bloody, gore-filled flicks like Ninja Scroll and Fist of the North Star. I remember how I would often figure out what to buy next based on which badly-dubbed trailer had condensed the most violence and profanity into its 2 minute preview. I spent a lot of money on bad anime, even going so far as to mail order chunky VHS releases of such politically-(in)correct “manga” as Angel Cop, but it remained a rather superficial phase and died out after a year or two.
Some time later and the Childrens TV era inspired my then lazy-university-student self to rise at 6AM for day long marathons of Dragonball Z. This was just another phase that had nothing to do with ‘anime’, instead I was hopelessly carried away by Goku and his (literally) death-defying adventures. Amusingly, I still own the home recorded VHS tapes (with their carefully organized labels) of some 250+ episodes of Dragonball Z, but for all that effort, I doubt I’ll ever play them again. I still keep them around, anyway.
Everything changed when the Naruto anime premiered in Japan during 2002 and, on a reluctant whim, I started watching its fansubs during 2003. This was around the beginning of the Digital Revolution as fansubs proliferated via Bit Torrent. It was the first time I’d willingly sat through any media in a foreign language, yet, as if over-night, I’d suddenly developed this interest in Japanese culture and completely reevaluated my opinion of foreign cinema. In fact, I’d been so impressed by those opening 50 episodes of Naruto that I started looking into other anime, and the discovery of other series, many of them classics, were soon to follow, from Cowboy Bebop to Berserk. Everything, all of this, was sparked from that point, a reluctant whim.
Aside from the cliche jibes about ‘bad English dubs’, I think it’s important to note the pivotal role played by watching Naruto in a foreign language. Watching anime in Japanese presented the unavoidable truth that I was seeing a unique product of an exciting foreign culture. The very moment I started following Naruto was also the moment I realized I had been missing out on something so infinitely special. That was that, and I’d become an anime fan.
My little story ends there, but alluding to everything I’ve said above, this is the part where I ask you the same questions.
How did you become an anime fan?
There is perhaps no anime I want to love more than Naruto. I’ve been following this story since 2003 and even if it drags on for another decade, I’ll still be camped out all night waiting for its end. I know full well it’s far from perfect, but by now I’m too caught up in these characters to actually care whether or not Naruto is objectively good or bad, that it simply is Naruto is good enough for me. I suppose this is a lot like being a Star Wars fan, you have to be willing to completely invest yourself in the story, kick reason to the curb and accept what you’re seeing. If all you can do is complain about the fucking ewoks, you’re completely missing the point.
The last few episodes of Shippuuden have been good. I’m not sure if it’s simply because the Gaara retrieval arc was a little too long, or if I just wasn’t as engrossed in it as I thought, but only now is it feeling like Naruto is recapturing that exciting and compulsive feeling. All this is connected with the return of Orochimaru and Kabuto and a sense that we’re getting closer to that inevitably awesome first encounter with bad Sasuke.
To be honest, I still don’t completely understand the motivations behind trying to "save" Sasuke. Naruto obviously believes that if only he were stronger when they originally clashed, he could have stopped Sasuke from leaving by force and everything would have been fine, but this is ignoring that Sasuke clearly wanted to leave everyone behind, ally with Orochimaru and chase down Itachi. Fundamentally, we’re yet to see if he is capable of committing evil and, knowing how Naruto will never give up on a friend, it remains to be seen whether or not his heart can be sufficiently moved to change perspective.
All that said, you can’t help but honestly and utterly cheer for Naruto; the depth of his feeling is unquestionable and his complete willingness to sacrifice everything is aptly symbolised during his murky internal dialogues — drowning in helplessness, Naruto, knowing full well he is shortening his life span, does the only thing he can do to try and save his friend; combine with the demon fox and embrace his cursed power. It was disturbing to see that his final transformation literally burns off his skin. Naruto, with his blood red eyes, is fast becoming a monster.
I loved how he so nonchalantly tossed aside an attack from the ever condescending Kabuto, but of course, I can’t wait to see how far he will push Orochimaru too (that is, before Yamato is inevitably forced to seal Naruto’s escalating power). Here’s hoping for another beautifully animated and big budget smack down.
After realizing my disappointment in Naruto Shippuuden, I quit watching and renounced my faith in the old girl; for me, the magic had faded. All at once, it felt too slow, too choppy, too cheap and too predictable; my dreams had been lost – the hero’s comeback never happened. In that time, I enjoyed being one of those cool anime fans. Suddenly I had refined taste, people invited me for interviews and guest collaborations as I mingled with high society, yet my true colours, my dirty secret, never faded, and this weekend, the inevitable happened; I relapsed like a hungry junkie and gobbled up the last dozen episodes of Shippuuden"¦ Why does it feel so wrong, yet taste so good? Time to admit the truth, my name is bateszi and I’m a narutard!