An honest look at Sakura Haruno.

I felt like committing weeboo treason today…

Nah, kidding.

This is just an anime fan post, so I don’t expect that many people to read it, but there is one thing I’d like to discuss that applies in real life to everybody.

Sakura, if you don’t know, is one of the Main Characters of Naruto. She has the privilege of being one of the most hated characters in popular anime that I know of.

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I’m here to look at the question honestly: Does Sakura really deserve it?

I’m going to make the case that Sakura as a character does indeed deserve to be hated, but it’s for a reason almost no one talks about, and it’s not the reason she gets dumped on by the fans the most for.

The charges leveled against Sakura are as follows:

  1. She never does anything.
  2. She never does anything and is useless
  3. She never does anything and is annoying
  4. She never does anything but smack Naruto around
  5. …..Uh…what other character traits does she have?
  6. Oh, yeah, being obsessed with Sasuke. The hands-down worst person on the show.

You get the idea.

According to my sister, the author himself was puzzled by the fan-hate toward Sakura after the initial seasons of the show were released, and decided to give her more things to do. Allegedly.

But his idea of fixing the problem was having Sakura begin hating on herself for being helpless, making a couple attempts to defend herself that ultimately ended in her still needing to be rescued; become a medical ninja, but still staying out of any plot relevant battles until the final season; and going from hating Naruto to loving but still treating him unfairly.

Sakura annoyed me and I usually try to like female leads. The females tend to bring more skills I can relate to to the table, like book knowledge, science, or emotional intelligence.

When Sakura was pitched to the audience, via the teachers, as a smarter character, I was down for that. I don’t think all team members need to be boss fighters to be cool. S

However, Sakura is not very helpful in the intelligence department. She has a few moments here and there, but I can’t say she ever came up with a plan, or did more than give a few helpful tips.

So, the tech support role was out for her. (She might have done better in a show with more technology based battles.)

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The next option is usually emotional intelligence. The character who keeps everyone at peace and sane.

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The show pitched Sakura as this also, but she has a short temper and is not paitent, so the role never really took hold.

It felt like Kishimoto was trying to figure out what the heck to do with her, and kept trying one plan after another

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Finally, he had as stroke of genius–at least he clearly thought so–why not the healer? Everyone loves the healer characters!

Give Sakura some cool life-saving moments through medical science, and people will finally quite hating on her, right?

Wrong.

As a professed fan and analyst of sorts, I recognize what my sister refers to as “illogical salt” when I see it.

I have to say, I never liked Sakura except briefly in Shippunden between major plot point, but dang it, if I’m going to bear with her for the whole show, I’m not gonna hate on every little thing she does.

Since I’m taking a honest look at he character, it’s only fair to say she doesn’t deserve a lot of the hate she gets for the reasons I mentioned above.

An all fairness, Sakura is not useless. That charge is the biggest one, and one I said myself without even knowing it was what everyone else said, back in season 1 of the OG show. (Yeah, I’m not one of those people who states things other fans have said as if it’s my original idea, I just pick up on patterns really quickly.)

Sakura was useless a lot, but I don’t discount small contributions. Since I tend to like characters who get less screen time anyway, I’ve learned to appreciate little gestures, and my guess is Sakura’s supporters (there are a surprising amount) are the same kind of fans. There’s traits that come with characters who don’t get attention as much, and if you prefer those, you’ll prefer those characters, it’s just how it works.

One such fan commented under one of the episodes a lengthy defense of Sakura, I shortened it for this post and took out some rude jabs at the haters:

“.. have you forgotten she’s also a part of team 7 or team kakashi? have you forgotten that she stood up to those sound village ninjas when naruto and sasuke were passed tf out? have you forgotten that she herself dislikes how useless she’s been and therefore trained hard to be a medical ninja so that she can also be of use and not just stand in the way? have you forgotten that sasuke also considered her as a friend which is why he said “thank you” to her as a parting gift? have you forgotten that she’s long grown since hating on naruto and finding him annoying to actually admiring and caring for him?… like she isn’t supposed to represent a more casual ninja without all the sad and tragic backstory and dead parents, seriously what did you expect of her? girlie has hardly experienced any pain and yet she’s trained and worked hard to better herself.”

All this is fair, and what the show claimed it was doing with her. Some fans choose to accept the clumsy execution of these ideas.

I am annoyed that they never did it well, but I appreciate the attempt.

However, it would have been wiser to have her grow out of the traits that people hated the most. And that is where I think the author simply did not care enough to really give Sakura the kind of attention she needed to grow.

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While characters complain about Sakura’s flaws, they never challenge her on them. In fact her teammates and teachers are always telling her to sit a fight out, and keeping her in the background. When challenged, she rises to the occasion, but you can count the times she’s challenged on one hand, and it’s never by her friends. Except Ino…yeah…that’s almost more painful. (I do like their friendship okay, but their fights are a joke.)

She’s never held accountable for her short temper so that she might have to learn to control it.

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And unfortunately, that’s not even her biggest problem.

All this would render her annoying, but likable, if passes off the right way. There were a few arcs they succeeded in making her dynamic with the others work. One of the better ones is Guren and Yuukimaru.

I could forgive Sakura a lot, if she was a good person I could admire.

But I don’t think tenacity itself is admirable without a reason behind it, and that makes me a tough anime fan to please, if you’re intent on using willpower itself as a good thing.

To will is to do, but not necessarily to do right. You will to do evil too.

Sakura’s tenacity falls all on the side of not giving up on trying to get better, but never on learning more about people and life in general.

To be blunt: She begins the series as a fool, and she ends the series as a fool…and she continues into the next series as a fool.

Sakura may be brave, she has visitations of kindness and compassion, she’s not useless…but she lacks wisdom.

I said before that a show needs wisdom in order to be good. So does a character.

Sakura is not a bad character if you take bad to mean unrealistic, she’s very real.

She exemplifies real problems many women have.

She’s obsessed with someone who abuses her.

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WHYYYY?

Sakura supposedly loves Sasuke because she can’t help it. She is like Nancy from Oliver Twist. Nancy recognizes she’s with a bad man, but tells her friend that she cannot leave him anyway, she supposes its a judgement on her for being a prostitute. In the end, Sikes kills Nancy in a cruel way, Charles Dickens loved his tragic deaths for female (and male) characters. It’ll make you cry, really.

Well, Sakura doesn’t die, obviously. But Sasuke does attempt to kill her, on record, at least twice, could be more times, and puts her under a genjutsu that looks like it will kill her at first.

Sakura, surprisingly shakes this off in a matter of hours, and goes back to daydreaming about Sasuke.

Well…I really blame bad writing for that.

Sakura also has a counterpart, Karin, who likes Sasuke and displays the same traits, but she admits that they are abusive, in a sense, she can’t seem to help herself. However, Karin initially liked Sasuke because he saved her life when he didn’t have to. She admitted later that he was different, and appeared to be over him, but she wasn’t allowed to be because the author just hated to let any girl not be hot for Sasuke.

Anyway, Sakura later acknowledges her love for Sasuke makes little sense, but she just can’t help it.

What does not happen, however, is an acknowledgement that this is abusive. I found fans who said it was, but not that many.

And this is my real complaint against Sakura as a character.

(SPOILER ALERT):

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She later marries Sasuke, and they have a kid. Sasuke is not around much for either of them, due to some dumb reason like guilt.

The message sent by this is that it’s okay to marry someone who neglects you, has always treated you like dirt, and has tried to harm you multiple times.

Sakura and Sasuke are never equals, as she can never make him listen to her, or do anything she says. There’s no give and take in their relationship, even early on before it was abusive.

Sasuke never encouraged Sakura during most of the show, so it was more of her doing it to herself, but at the end he eventually does, and it’s played off as romantic.

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But it really is Sasuke treating her like a convenience who has to wait on his whim if he should happen to want attention. Whether the defense can be made that he feels this is better for her over all or not, I don’t really care, because neither option is a good relationship.

Perhaps is was never meant to be an example, but given that it’s one of the two main ships on the show, and given a lot of attention, far more than Hinata and Naruto’s is, and not called out for the issues it does have, it’s kind of like saying that’s okay.

And that’s a terrible message to little girls. I’m concerned about all the people who like the ship.

And believe me, I get it, emotional abuse is a real pain.

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Having experienced emotional and physical abuse myself, in different levels, I understand how it gets into your brain.

You just can’t believe a person close to you would do such a thing, and you try to come up with a reason.

Sakura does this when she says she made Sasuke hate her initially, and that she is always too weak to stop him.

And you try to believe they are better than that. That they have to care about you more than that, maybe they could snap out of it. Maybe they would stop if you met their demands.

The demands are always impossible to meet.

Sakura does this when she offers to go with Sasuke on his revenge quest. To join an evil maniac’s organization, if it means she can be with Sasuke. Sasuke is quite reasonable to turn down this offer, as he never wanted it anyway.

At this point, he really wasn’t abusive on purpose, as I said. But he was a jerk to her.

You try to forget each incident after it passes and focus on what you like about them, or, if they are complete jerks, you make stuff up.

Sakura does this a lot, she even calls Sasuke a kind person at one point…this is the guy who dumped her on a street, tried to kill his best friend, intends to wipe out her village, and can’t be bothered to even show remorse for any of this. To name some of what he’s done.

Sasuke is not kind. He’s barely human by the middle of Shippuden…and not really human by the end, he and Naruto both become demigods.

Finally, in abuse, you feel helpless, that’s why you pretend it’s not real. You don’t tell anyone about it. You don’t let anyone question the person you’re with.

Check and check for Sakura.

Abuse also comes with an obsession. You can’t stop living around the person.

Sakura’s whole life is trying to get to Sasuke. She and Naruto even discuss how they cannot stop thinking of him, hoping it’ll work. One of the myriad of times she fed Naruto’s own unhealthy obsession.

All this, and Sasuke didn’t even want it, and when he does finally go along with it, we’re supposed to be happy.

Ugh, gag me with the script.

Naruto, the anime that tells kids abusive relationships are true loyalty…yay!

All this is the real reason to dislike Sakura. Her personality doesn’t matter in the least, if her whole purpose in the show is deeply skewed, and it’s lying to the audience to tell them she should be admired for loving Sasuke.

Eventually, they attempt to make her seem less abused, because she tries to stop Sasuke in order to stop him from making himself worse.

However, as she fails before even making a move, and never tries to again, and doesn’t bother to make him pay any sort of price for it.

In the end, Sakura doesn’t change, just like the other two, she is stagnant.

Some might argue that doesn’t make her dislikable, and perhaps for them, it doesn’t. I won’t even say that’s wrong. But it is wrong to support such an example of toxicity.

That’s my honest look at Sakura, or Hot Take, as I think they call it now. She’s an ordinary girl, who shouldn’t be hailed as any kind of role model, but shouldn’t be hated as especially bad. She just is.

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Until next time, stay honest–Natasha.

 

The Element of Kindness.

Happy Day-After-Christmas, peeps.

Hope you had a good one, I spent most of mine bingeing The Dragon Prince first 2 1/2 seasons. (Not a recommendation, though it’s okay.) I was with family, my siblings and I had been wanting to watch it.

I was checking my stats today, and I have one post that’s had a total of 130+ views, including my own. (Why do blogs count your own views on your post?)

It’s A Strong Mind and a Soft Heart. (Link here: https://drybonestruth.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/a-strong-mind-and-a-soft-heart/)

I never expected it to be so popular, I based the title on a song by Steffany Gretzinger and Amanda Cook.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-cVRxhnrY0)

It’s a bit rough, but the post is mainly about kindness and reason being blended together in our actions. The heart and the head not being separated, and how it is bad when they are.

I also said that even someone with a mental handicap might understand this better than a genius, and be wiser.

I still think that its true, in fact, I think it is more true now. Intelligence might be measured by IQ, but thank the Lord, Wisdom is not.

There is something I thought of after writing my Naruto review, it actually hit my before I finished the OG show, I talked about it with my sisters and they agreed. It’s kindness.

If you’ve seen the show, or a similar one, you’d probably agree. The characters themselves begin pointing it out after a certain season.

The Ninja world is highly cruel, and according to my mom, that’s a pretty accurate depiction of what real ninjas were like. In fact, the show’s portrayal is almost too real. One of the things that makes Naruto more than just an average Shonen anime is that it’s based on something that existed. Ninja and Samurai were both tools of the empire in Japan, used differently, and against each other. Ninjas used dark arts; secret ways;  things like that.

Of course it gets ridiculous on the show, but the disturbing element is that some of it, or most of it, isn’t all that much of an exaggeration.

It would be nice if I could say Japan was the only country that was like this (though not to Japan) but I can’t.

Every country is like this. Cruelty, if you look at human history, is not the exception but the rule of human dynasties, small societies, and everything in between.

No matter how you slice it, cruelty is nonsensical. People often speak and write of senseless cruelty, as if there was a cruelty that made sense; but if it makes sense, we’ll always find in the end, it was not cruelty.

It makes sense to use triage in a war or crisis, some people think of this as cruel, but in the end, it can save more lives than trying to treat everyone would. (Triage is a rating system that determines who gets treated first when there’s limited medical supplies and staff, which there always are, even in hospitals.)

It seems cruel to the addict to deny them their substance, but that is kinder than enabling them is.

What’s astonishing about Naruto’s version of it is how blatantly stupid the cruelty was. Yet, there are times and places where even what was shown there would be less than what was really happening in real life in history.

The cruelty shown on anime tends to be either neglect, direct abuse, emotional abuse, molesting (usually implied, not shown or said outright), mass killing, and torture for the fun of it. Also bullying is common, as well as people being ostracized for being different, sometimes in almost non-existant ways.

It’s awful how most of the time that cruelty is directed toward children.

Naruto‘s reached the point of being a sickness with the whole show, and it became a major talking point of all the villains on it, in the end the main villains all wanted to remake the world into their image of a kinder, softer place where everyone would be happy.

I’ve run into that idea countless times, from The Left Behind series to YA dystopian fiction (movies, I don’t read them.) Heck, if it’s not the big finale of whatever super hero/special abilities show or movies series you’re watching… I doubt you’re watching them(*cough Endgame *cough.)

I began to wonder what could have possessed Kishimoto to write such a dark show that aired, I may remind you, on Nickelodeon (I think, or Cartoon Network, or both.)

I always wonder that about these writers, even in more Americanized anime.

Perhaps there’s a hint to their thinking in what Torchwick from RWBY tells Ruby before he gets eaten by a monster “The real world is cold, the real world doesn’t care about spirit.”

Why are ninja so cruel? They are taught to be, because they are taught with the assumption that enemies are everywhere, that no one can be trusted, that even your closest friend may be ordered to kill you if you go against the village, and therefore, it is better to not have many friends.

This is, ostensibly, the idea Naruto himself rebels against and changes, however it does not work, because Sasuke’s crimes were not against a village’s martial law, but against the Laws of Life itself and what is Good in general.

What I hated most about this show was how little it bothered to be honest about human beings. The world was portrayed in the worst possible light, everywhere you turn there’s a massacre, a genocide, a child being abused into being a monster, a friend stabbing another in the back… but nowhere were there ordinary people just living their lives, doing small acts of kindness, camaraderie, and unselfishness. If we got perhaps a minute or two of it, the focus never lasted long enough for it to make a point.

I do not exaggerate when I say the only times the show highlighted people living ordinary, happy lives was right before a disaster so that we’d feel like it meant something, the rest of the time ordinary people were portrayed as jerks to the main characters.

It was so exhausting and unfair. I discovered that besides Wisdom, there is another element a story must be written with in order for it to work properly: Kindness.

Kindness is so basic to older literature and shows, to the point of being overly cheesy, that I took it for granted. I never thought of it as necessary writing element, and you won’t find it in a trope discussion, or writing class. I daresay, next to myself, only fiction writers of the old fashioned happy story brand will even mention it. (Check out J. R. R. Tolkien’s views on the Happy Ending sometime.)

But even if a story is not happy, it needs to have kindness in it somewhere, or it will only depress people. Romeo and Juliet is an infamous tragedy, but it’s built around the kindness of two young people who are able to look past their family’s feud and really see each other. Juliet more so. (I never like Romeo.) Without that element, the tragedy would mean absolutely nothing.

Sadness has this particular quality, it really can only exist where there has been kindness. Who really mourns the death of a tyrant or miser or witch?

I commented to my sisters in the middle of one important Naruto arc that the darkness on the show didn’t really stick with me after watching, because it was innocuous. We wonder why, eventually we concluded it was because there was just so much, and it was just so over the top, that it was impossible to believe it. There’s always the insane cases, but they are not every case, and not nearly as frequent as this show made out.

But even more so, there wasn’t enough kindness to make us regret the destruction of the characters that much. None of the places that got wiped out had good or happy people in them, usually. We never got to see the simplicity of everyday life being played out. Heck, Fairy Tail showed more in its Edolas arc with the talking cat society than this show ever did with human beings.

You may find it morbid of me to say Sadness only exists because of Kindness; but nowhere in the Bible, or in the study of human psychology, does it say that Sadness is a bad emotion. Women make themselves sad on purpose to relieve stress. Depression is bad, but depression and sadness are not the same thing. (Inside Out, anyone?)

Naruto ultimately lessened the impact of its own point about cruelty by never showing any other options in the main plot. By the end of the show no one has the faintest idea how to rebuild the world except the Sand Siblings, Gaara, Temari, and Kankuro, who have spent 3 years working on spreading kinder customs in their own village. Only they seem in the least prepared to take on the revamping of Ninja society. They begin new customs between the villages and hold them accountable to it. Once, Temari purposely reminded the Leaf that they need their allies and they can’t go back to the old ways of mistrust, turning her natural fierceness into a protective thing instead of an intimidating one.

However, the Sand gets zero credit for basically being the only reason the world didn’t end, and it all goes to Naruto, who has no clue what he needs to do. As he himself admits.

In the end the whole point falls flat. The viewer doesn’t really know how they will do it, we are just told to believe they will…even though we have no concrete proof to believe in.

I need to see you be kind if I’m to believe you can make a difference.

It was the simplest thing, a child could have pointed it out, heck, some of them did…yet it was like the show was allergic to it.

But, what scares me is not that Naruto was so bad at it, for that’s just one author, but that it;s not all the a different from at least 90% of the adult and kids shows that air on our TV networks here.

From Soap Operas, to Sitcoms, to whatever the heck the Disney channel and Cartoon Network are, there’s a theme that’s been going on since the 80s at least… no kindness.

I like sarcasm fine, but when that’s all your show is, (and stupidity,) then there’s just not much about the human beings to like.

I remember watching The Cosby Show and thinking it was way different in that way (I know what happened, but the show itself was really cute.)

I was lucky to grow up on The Chronicles of Narnia, and similar stories, which are full of wonder, quirkiness, wisdom…and kindness, it was everywhere, hiding in the corners or out in the open. Kindness that needed no explanation, no motivation, beyond that kindness was natural and right, and it was the people who lack it who are unusual.

I said cruelty is senseless, without exception, and that is because it never benefits anyone to be cruel. C. S. Lewis observes in The Screwtape Letters that some men have been twisted to enjoy cruelty, it is true. But enjoyment of the wrong thing cannot be said to be a benefit, unless you’re crazy enough to defend drugs on that account…oh yeah, pot got legalized with that as an excuse…my country is crazy…Well, oh well.

Kindness is defended even by skeptics as a necessary evolutionary instinct. That theory doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny, but if even godless men feel the need to defend kindness, it is because kindness is reasonable.

I find what’s godly is always reasonable.

That said, cruel stories are never rational. Naruto proved it to me, if I was ever in doubt, but I’ve seen many movies and shows, and a handful of books, that would confirm the theory. the worst was Ender’s Shadow, please never read that.

And that is where I am going to conclude for today, whew, I could get material out of this show for months…until next time–Natasha.

 

 

Naruto: 5 months of frustration, 2.

Okay…wow… that last post was one of the saltiest I’ve ever written.

Now to get to a more pleasant subject: The good things about the show.

The animation. yeah, that’s pretty good….

Kidding. This will be a Spoiler Heavy Post.

Fair warning, I’ll still be criticizing the show in this part, but I do like these characters.

I would say my top 5 characters on this show are Gaara, Shikamaru, Sai, Temari, and Kankuro. I like Hinata, but she is used so little and given so little to contribute that it’s hard to rank her at the top.

Though to be fair, all the female characters are underused.

After detailing why I hate so much of how the show handled it’s three main themes, I want to talk about the good themes it brought up and didn’t totally ruin:

  1. Love versus hate, with loneliness
  2. Learning to understand grief and love
  3. Processing grief
  4. Trust.

I talked about it a bit when I wrote about Gaara in my anime bondage series, but he is absolutely the best written character on this show. It was like he was a compass that kept getting magnetically drawn toward good writing decisions.

After he initially is introduced as a flipping scary monster, he is changed by Naruto’s determination to protect the people he cares about, Gaara is brought back to what his uncle once told him about love, and he decides to try to understand love after this.

He begins an off-screen journey of learning to value the people around him. We are not shown how or why he succeeds, but presumably part of the reason are his two siblings. Who did not treat him like a monster and accepted his remorse and resolved to help him find a new path. We are not shown much of them doing this, but we’re shown enough to tell us they really did care about Gaara and wanted him to be happy.

One of the better parts of the writing is how little needs to be said or shown to convey the Sand siblings dynamic. When we first meet them, Temari and Kanuro are jerks, but on the level of schoolyard bullies, with Temari slightly less so, but she doesn’t try to stop the more violent Kankuro. However, they are both terrified of Gaara and don’t dare to defy him. Later he threatens to kill them and they act very disturbed. Clearly it’s their assignment to protect him.

Still, they go farther than they necessarily need to, and risk their lives for him and Temari is shown to be clearly concerned when he injures himself and then loses control to the sand raccoon spirit inside him.

We are able to infer a lot that later gets confirmed, much, much later than it should have been, but with this show you had to take what you could get even if it was late. We are able to see that they loved Gaara but due to their inability to help him, they were too scared to try; and that Gaara himself did not understand that they loved him because he didn’t believe anyone could love him, since he was a monster. He interpreted their fear as fear of him, and not also fear of what he would do to himself, which was plain to the audience.

We find out later that as kids they were close at one time till their gem of a dad separated them by force and didn’t let them be friends, though he still let them guard their brother.

Kankuro warns Gaara that winning over Sand Village will be hard, but Gaara resolves to do it anyway, and Kankuro decides to help him out. In a few years Gaara becomes the Kazekage of his village, and his siblings both hold important positions. Kankuro is basically the only reason Gaara hasn’t been assassinated, and Temari handles relations between Sand and Leaf to keep the peace they forged, which clearly only still exists because of their efforts.

To consolidate it, Gaara develops into a strong leader during the war and wins the respect of the other kage, as well as the ninjas as a whole, by humbling himself to them and admitting they all need each other, even saying if they want vengeance they can take it out on him after the war. Temari and Kankuro continue to support him.

We see them change in smaller ways, though they retain their surface hardness, they become more merciful. Temari, who starts off as harsh and critical of anyone she perceives as weak later is able to acknowledge people have strengths that aren’t always obvious, we also learn that her harshness can be a from of trolling to challenge people to be better, and she is willing to acknowledge when they surpass themselves.

Kankuro we see go from being a bully to being a softie about his siblings, he makes a moving plea for Gaara’s life, and protects them vigilantly. Though he can be more practical about cutting his losses, and letting people face hard tests, he protects his troops well in the war.

At the very end of the show we get to see the three siblings cap off their growth by finally having something like a normal, jovial demeanor with each other, and softening toward their other friends also.

What makes this so very different from the love is better than hate message of the main plot is that we see results. Gaara grows in wisdom as he pursues love. He makes decisions that are merciful, he puts others needs ahead of his. While his siblings are less magnanimous, they respect his efforts and ultimately support him even when they think he’s carrying it to far. But they all grow, they all change. And what’s better is we also get to see that not everyone shows love in the same way. Kankuro shows it in actions, Temari in challenging people, and Gaara in being merciful and self effacing when he could with all rights be severe.

Gaara also purposely makes efforts to be a better friend, he puts thought into it we never see even Naruto himself put in. It’s clumsily shown in the very last arc when everyone is trying to get a wedding gift, while the others get caught up in the impressiveness of it, Gaara is thinking of how he can show his friendship the best way.

And to me that was what made it believable. While Naruto goes on and on about change, Gaara and his siblings actually implement it. We don’t see Leaf change at all, but Sand goes from being the scary, unfriendly desert village to being the kind merciful village that protects all the others. We see in the chunin exam arc that the ninjas in Sand have learned from Gaara’s example and his mercy toward them, and have begun to treat outsiders and each other with more kindness.

My sisters and I hailed Gaara, Temari, and Kankuro as the best trio, and the only people who know how to get crap done.

Shikamaru:

Shikamaru is the best written Leaf Ninja, and his good writing occasionally extends to his two teammate Ino and Choji like an umbrella of grace. By which I mean they are at their best whenever they are in an arc centered around him.

And amazingly, Shikamaru escaped the big curse of this show: Stagnation.

He actually grows over time from being a lazy, unmotivated character, to being a hard working, reliable one.

His ability to strategize, instead of making him stuck up, gives him the opportunities to be merciful where other ninjas lack the brain power to think of a better solution.

Shikamaru repeatedly is able to choose to protect his teammates, instead of what is considered the hard, but logical decision of leaving them to die if necessary. The one time Shikamaru chooses to kill, it is over a monstrous person who only he could figure out how to stop.

Let’s talk about that.

In the arc Shikamaru loses his teacher Asuma in, the subject of grief is dealt with. The show brought it up a lot, but from Sasuke to Naruto to every other villain in the dang series, people handled grief badly. Usually choosing revenge.

In this arc, Shikamaru is bottling up his pain, as is the usual way for ninjas, and his dad takes him aside and drives him to explode, then tells him to “let it all out and then decide.”

Shikamaru then breaks down and his dad leaves him to cry it out, finally Shikamaru is clear enough to come up with a strategy to take down the psychopath who killed Asuma and intends to kill more people.

The plan succeeds, and in a beautiful moment of good writing, Shikamaru tells the villain and the audience that he is not doing this for vengeance but because he, like his teacher, has the will to protect his village, and the people important to him.

He then finds peace in having brought justice.

The whole thing is later upstaged by Naruto getting involved when he shouldn’t have, but at least that part was well done.

Shikamaru becomes a good leader and is able to minimize damage to his team. Later he becomes the adviser to three of the Hokages. It was my opinion that he was the only reason Leaf survived long enough for Naruto to even become Hokage, because the previous Kages were idiots.

When Ino and Choji are with Shikamaru, they get shown to be more loyal, competent friends than they are the rest of the time. The friendship between Shikamaru and Choji is the most natural and believable one of the show. Shikamaru is able to work with whoever is with him, they don’t have to be the strongest. That is why he can always use Ino, who is generally even more useless than Sakura, thanks to no one being able to think of a way to use such OP powers as she might have, except Shikamaru.

And that brings me to the theme of Trust. It’s not brought up a lot, but Shikamaru is shown to trust his teammates, and that is why he is able to come up with such good plans.

At a later arc, he strangely doesn’t choose to trust his friends or the village alliance, instead wanting to handle something himself in order to protect Sai. He foolishly doesn’t give his allies enough credit for being able to understand. A fact that Temari gets furious at him over.

When Temari, being the best girl that she is, helps Ino and Choji find out where Shikamaru is, they bust in and rescue him and his teammates, and Sai, and slap some sense back into him–literally.

Shikamaru later tells Temari he’s counting on her to keep him accountable if he ever starts to lose his grip again…and then marries her… bringing his arc full circle. He went from being lazy and not liking to be challenged to realizing the importance of trusting people close to you to challenge you for your own good and help you improve into the best version of yourself you can be.

This supposedly is what Naruto’s story is supposed to be about, learning to trust and love making you better, but Naruto fails completely to show this message because he does everything alone, while Gaara and Shikamaru both actually do it, and they gather friends and family around them, and improve.

Shikamaru starts changing Leaf in small ways by leaning more toward loyalty and mercy and cooperation in the exams. Temari acknowledges this to be the best path, so her correction of him later makes sense. While highlighting the good thing about her character, that she makes other people try harder.

A solid dynamic that Ino and Choji get included in and become better because of.

Last but not least, I have Sai. And Hinata.

Sai is point number 3, learning to understand grief and love.

(I just noticed that the problems of this show are with the overall plot and MCs, and the good parts are with side characters and their personal journeys. Make of that what you will.)

When Sai was introduced, the characters kept saying he kind of looked like Sasuke and maybe acted a bit like him…which was funny, because Sai acted totally emotionless except for a weird fake smile.

In an astounding example of the lack of self-awareness where Sasuke was concerned, Naruto and Sakura didn’t like Sai, for displaying the same freaking qualities as Sasuke-kun.

He was just so detached, and didn’t seem to care if he hurt their feelings at all, I mean who could ever like someone like that…Sakura.

Sai also asked them why they cared so much about Sasuke when he had ditched Leaf and betrayed them by going to their enemy, Orchimaru, and aiding him. Sai didn’t even say Sasuke was a dirty rat–he said he was a traitorous cockroach, which was true. But Sakura and Naruto both acted like he’s spat on Sasuke’s grave or something.

Later Sai is touched by Naruto’s loyalty, and it helps him understand something about his own past.

Sai had a friend, it turns out, who he considered to be his brother. His brother dies of a sickness before graduating the underground training. We later learn that to graduate you had to kill the person closest to you in order to complete the emotion suppression requirement that the leader imposed…you know…like you do.

Sai didn’t have to kill his brother because he died before that point, but he couldn’t understand how he was supposed to look and feel over it.

Again the show used symbolism well here, Sai carries a book of his brother and himself, and the bond they have, in the end Naruto helps him know how to finish the book.

He chooses to try to help them capture Sasuke, instead of killing him, as was his original assignment. Of course they fail.

Sai sets out on a personal quest to understand feelings. He starts reading Self-Help books about how to act around friends, and taking notes on how the people around him interact. It’s uphill work since the ninjas are very dysfunctional, and most of them are not self aware about it, but Sai beats the odds and begins to learn anyway.

He later steps in to defend Naruto when Naruto is letting a woman from Cloud village beat him up instead of Sasuke, whom she hates for harming her teacher, Lord Bee.

Reality check time: At this point Sasuke has joined the Akatsuki, a group hell bent on capturing all the people with tailed beasts, including Naruto himself, and killing them to get their power. And our lovely Sasuke is helping them do this for his own personal reasons….yeah, Naruto, you take that beating for him.

Well, Sai, who is consistently the only sane person on this show, decides to step in. Then he and Shikamaru, the other sane person when the plot demands it, decide to tell Sakura enough is enough.

Sakura listens, and tries to convince Naruto to give up on Sasuke. But the point where it would have worked is long past. (A running theme on this show was good advice too late, past when the person might have listened.)

Sai gets blown off later when he wants to stop Sakura from doing something stupid, and also wants to know what happened with Sasuke after they confronted him under the bridge.

In the war Sai does make some more friends, and start to release more of his emotions, without losing control to them. He begins to really feel that he wants to protect his friends.

At the end of the show, Sai’s arc get capped off at the same time Shikamaru’s does. I thought the show would forget about him, honestly, but instead, we got to hear how he feels insecure about his place on team 7, now that Sasuke has switched sides, sort of, they no longer need a replacement for him…not that he’s on the team, but Sai was the emotional replacement too.

Sai quite justly feels that team 7 does not care about him as much…which he’s right about. And doubts whether he has friends who truly care. Ino is able to help him by telling him that they, team 10 and Temari, who came to save him, are his friends.

Sai snaps out of the daze he was put under by the villain of the arc. It was a touching moment to see Sai get to realize he had other people who cared about him besides those idiots on team 7.

Sai is basically the person Sasuke should have been if the show was going to work. Someone who realizes they have emotional problems, don’t really understand love or how to process grief, and set out to learn to do it in the right way, after Naruto inspires them.

The lack of self awareness of Naruto and Sakura was so glaring I would have sworn it was intentional, but there never is a Euraka! moment of them waking up.

Thank goodness Sai is smarter. He’s the only one on team 7 who never blames themselves for what Sasuke does, or seems to feel any real pity for him. He only wants to help his real friends. In the end he realizes who those people are,and there are more of them then he thought.

It’s a good ending for him. And a much better message of what learning to love is, and how you can understand grief and pain better by sharing it with other people.

 

As for Hinata, she doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the message of the show, but she does stand as the only other girl who can recognize real value of character, and she actually can support Naruto emotionally, and back it up.

One of Hinata’s best moments is when she steps in to save Naruto from Pain. The symbolism that pain can only be defeated when we share the burden is heavy in that scene, she takes some of the weight off Naruto, and gives him love instead of blame. She does something no one else has the brain cells or courage to do, even when she was stupidly told to leave him alone to have the crap beat out of him because “he could handle it” (dang! I hate so many of the people on this show…)

But Hinata didn’t do it. Though she never gets a lot of acknowledgement form anyone that what she did was the right thing to do, Naruto later does say she saved him. The fans love her for it.

Hinata may not have the words to express it, but she does get it, more than most of the characters do. She provides the rare element of kindness, only a few characters on the show possess. She also supports everyone, not just Naruto, and tries to be kind as a principle, not just for one person, like Sakura does.

This is it folks, these are the good characters. (Who get any attention worth mentioning.)

(There is one other good arc, the Guren and Yuukimaru one, which I recommend watching, without seeing the rest of the show, because it was beautiful, just beautiful, but has no bearing on anything else in the plot, and no one learns from it. In fact it has the supreme irony of Naruto preaching a message of letting go of the wrong people that he never follows himself. But the arc itself is amazing. I can’t believe the same person wrote it.)

Thanks for reading my very long review of this show, and my fingers are tired, so I am going to end it here, until next time, stay honest–Natasha.

 

Naruto: 5 months of frustration-pt 1.

Well…it’s time. Whoo-oo.

I finished all of Naruto and Shippuden in about 5 months, skipping a lot of  later filler because my siblings and I got tired of wasting our time on stuff that had no plot relevance.

I started off kind of liking it, I thought Naruto was cute, I thought Sasuke was okay, I did not like Sakura, but I wasn’t alone in that, at least 90% of the fandom doesn’t either.

About halfway through the OG show I stopped liking Sasuke completely, and about halfway through Shippuden, I stopped liking Naruto also. I began to like Sakura briefly, but before the Ninja War started I stopped liking her again.

However, I do have favorite characters, The Three Sand Siblings, Shikamaru, and the surprisingly great Sai (seriously never expected to like him as much as I did.) I also like Hinata, naturally. I’m going to devote a separate post to them so I can get into more depth.

Anyway, so I do have some positive feelings for the show, but overall it was the most frustrating thing I’ve ever seen.

I don’t need to go over the bad framing, horrible timing, and repetitive character types, because that’s not saying anything a million other people haven’t already said. Plus, those are aesthetic, cosmetic complaints that would not really matter if the quality was still good. Phineas and Ferb proved that repetitive humor and character types can be used in a genius manner, bad framing is annoying but not a death sentence. (Framing, in this context, means the plot points that set up a big confrontation or development. And the ones that follow it to create a cohesive story line. Avatar’s framing is famously well done to be just the right amount of filler and non filler so you don’t feel bored or exhausted.)

What killed this show for me were two, maybe three, consistent issues.

My Little Pony has shown that you can build an entire series out of one main message, split into many different facets and themes, like Friendship, and it can still be fun and profound.

So when I say the show Naruto has one or two basic messages, I do not mean that makes it bad inherently, I have no problem with repeating the same message over and over if you’re doing it well. I grew up on shows like that.

My problem is the messages themselves.

The three main messages are:

  1. Don’t ever give up on a friend who’s lost their way.
  2.  Choose love over hate.
  3. The world is a dark place but by sharing our pain, we can make it better.

Since the friend, Sasuke, is the biggest problem with this series, I’ll start with him.

Like many fans, by the time Shippuden was over I really hated Sasuke. I had been told he was going to go to the dark side, but starting a 500 episode series, I figured there was no way they could drag out his redemption arc till the last 30 episodes…or the end, depending on how you look at it. I was wrong. So, so wrong.

Even so, I don’t think that was what made it bad.

Sasuke starts out as an okay character. He’s introduced as your typical dark, edgy, emo, anime boy. Everyone’s favorite. Literally, on the show, everyone likes him. It’s a bit of a mystery why since he’s antisocial and openly rude to most of them,and we never see him do anything kind or noble around the other ninjas. He finally does something cool at the end of season 1 by saving Naruto, and becomes more likable. For about two seasons after that he’s a good character, he and Naruto have a rivalry that makes some amount of sense. Sakura is annoying, but Sasuke doesn’t treat her terribly and she’s not totally bad all the time. So far, it’s okay, and Naruto is adorable.

About this time we start to get to know our side characters, and Shikamaru grabs our attention. Gaara is introduced, and it’s pretty compelling.

Then, Orchimaru shows up, bites Sasuke (ew) giving him a curse mark that gets activated when he loses emotional control, and says Sasuke will come seek him for power. Permanently traumatizing Sakura, who has flashbacks to this into the following show.

After that, over time envy and hate and resentment take over Sasuke’s soul, and he finally leaves to do exactly as Orchimaru said. He spends the rest of the show going from bad, creepy scientist to bad, creepy cult, to being his own band of bad, creepy people, all the while rejecting every attempt of Naruto, Sakura, and their teacher Kakashi to get him back. Ultimately, he holds the entire world a hostage to get his way, and Naruto fights him, finally winning but at a high price. Then Sasuke leaves again to go on his hero’s journey of atoning for his sins.

(If you think this is poetic coming after my Jellal post, then yes, I’m aware.)

Sounds okay if you only outline it, but the execution was horrible.

I sat through arc after arc of this show knitting my stress scarf waiting for Sasuke to start sucking less…it never happened.

The problem of Sasuke’s character in one word is: Stagnation.

After his brief period of being Naruto’s friend, and not a good friend, by the way, just one who didn’t totally hate him, he goes back to being the way he was before, and after that he stays that way the whole time. He NEVER CHANGES…EVER.

Like stagnant water, Sasuke gets more nasty and sour and gross over time. No matter how often he’s proven to be doing the wrong thing, he never gets it. He goes from one bad decision to another. When he eventually begins to care about “truth” he finds it out and still concludes he should do the same dumb crap that got the ninjas into this position.

Sasuke initially wants to kill his brother Itachi, who’s presented as basically the worst person imaginable, and then retconned into being a tragic hero because, for the sake of the village, he agreed to murder his family and entire clan, including children of all ages, old people, and people not involved in the politics of it…he was so noble, doing all that to protect Leaf Village, just, wow…

I repeat, Itachi committed mass genocide on his own people because Leaf told him to, and didn’t warn any of them to get out, and killed children under the age of 12, and he was portrayed as a tragic hero of the Leaf…

Sasuke finds out that Itachi was forced into it…not that anyone actually told Itachi if he didn’t do it they’d kill his family or anything, they just said he could spare his brother…for some reason…so, you know, they were generous.

But yeah, totally forced. No other options existed. So, Sasuke decides to learn from the past and not stop at one clan, but wipe out the entire village, including the innocent children, and the new Hokage who was not part of the assassination plans and wasn’t even in the village when it happened. You know, cause clearly the problem here was that Leaf was the one that survived, not that genocide is wrong or anything

What’s really hilarious is when he explains this idiotic plan to Naruto, Naruto doesn’t tell him it makes no sense, instead he tells him he can’t just destroy their bond, and that he’ll have to go through him to get to the village. Sasuke for some reason agrees to this plan and says he’ll kill Naruto first, Naruto being, in his own words, “his closest friend.”

If this hasn’t gotten insane enough for you yet, it gets better.

Later on Sasuke finds out from a reanimated dead guy that the Uchilha clan has always had issues with being unstable and turning on their friends, and abandoning their people in order to seek out dark power, in fact, one such person is the one currently trying to destroy the world as they know it.

Sasuke decides to do what Itachi did and protect Leaf Village…by holding the entire world hostage until he can kill off the current five kages, (three of whom are so new they had nothing to do with the massacre, and have been trying to implement more merciful practices into their villages,) and take over as Hokage. You know…totally unlike the previous rulers who messed things up to this point.

I mean, clearly, holding the whole world hostage till you get what you want is better than what that skunk Madera did by putting the whole world asleep into his jutsu dream prison. Huge difference there.

It’s really a thing of awe that Sasuke is so oblivious to his own hypocrisy…until you realize that’s because the show itself is.

You see, after a certain point, I realized I couldn’t blame the character. Some characters are written to be bad, others are just badly written.

Kishimoto, the writer of Naruto, seems to be the one with the Sasuke infatuation. Somehow, no matter how many bad choices Sasuke made, everyone kept defending him. The plot itself defended him by not having him get himself into serious trouble at any point where he should have.

When Sasuke is confronted by his friends, they never take the tack that what he is doing is horrifying and inhuman, instead they try to convince him that he needs friendship and love.

And he does…but he really needs to be hit over the head with a big stick first.

Even a lawyer who believed that “we are the product of our environment” couldn’t defend Sasuke’s actions because they make no sense. He was admired for no reason, worshiped simply for having good genetics, and at the end of the day he does not rebel out of disgust for that, but because he is too stupid to learn from the past.

However, Sasuke’s one good trait is simply that he hates BS. His open disgust with his friends and village is understandable because they don’t treat him realistically. He knows he’s a villain, and he gets sick of them acting like he’s a lost puppy. Naruto literally laughs it off when Sasuke tries to murder the girl who Naruto’s had a crush on for years, twice. And then threatens his entire village. You know, just Sasuke’s usual antics. What are we gonna do with that boy?

I have a trash can he’d fit in…

I honestly found the show’s attitude disturbing toward Sasuke, it never bothered to prove him wrong, or have him learn that relying on dark power is unwise. On top of that the show then turned the guy who cursed him into comic relief. This guy experimented on people, made them fight to the death, and abused children…and he never repents of all that, he just says his curiosity is now directed elsewhere…and he’s not even imprisoned…

The attitude towards villains on this show was disgusting. No matter how terrible they were, if Naruto fought them and won them over they were hailed as tragic heroes. After all they were just trying to do what they thought was best…even if that was putting the whole world into an eternal trance.

Now, the argument can be made that all anime does this. But there’s a difference in how they do it. Fairy Tail redeems nearly all its villains, but the villain are confronted with the wrong way they view the world, and they admit that love was better. It’s not always well done, but there’s a clear statement of what was wrong with their way, usually.

Naruto never provides that. Naruto himself is often unable to answer the villains.

What killed it for me was the Pain arc. This is the 2nd message: Choose Love over hate.

At the end of this arc, Pain is changed when Naruto gives him a speech that is based neither on facts, nor logic, nor virtue, but on a very vague idea of hope that he might find a better way than Pain’s to fix the Ninja world. This was not the first time Naruto gave a bad answer, but since he was up against someone with a very developed, though terrible, ideology, it struck me as 100% ridiculous that Pain would be moved by such a clumsy argument.

It wasn’t even an argument, just blind, baseless hope.

Naruto can say nothing about the value of love, about the folly of letting pain control you, and of the blindness of choosing to filter the world through only the lens of the horrible things in it.

Instead he uses a book that is fictional, as the basis for his defense of not destroying the real world. Not cleverly, but vaguely. Because Pervy Sage believed in it.

Though Jiraiya was a failure who couldn’t even define what he wanted and walked out on his students multiple times, though the show tried to retcon him into being a good mentor… it didn’t work.

Supposedly, Naruto is walking the path of love, but yet he is unable to defend it by anything more than he believes in it just because.

Yet, Pain listens to this stupid speech and decides to undo all the death he caused…for Leaf, not for anyone else… and leaves the future in Naruto’s hands. Yay…

3. Sharing our pain.

The show is sadistic toward it’s audience.

The show likes to introduce characters who are more lighthearted than the others, get us to like them, and then kill them off in front of us.  Most notably with the jinchuriki they introduced later in Shippuden. We know they’re gonna die, but they still are so likable that it stings when they do. And in senseless ways. No honor.

The show also liked to take any happier moment the characters had and just murder it with something going horribly wrong.

If that wasn’t enough, everyone in this world who isn’t a main character, or a side character of some importance, is a horrible person. All the kids are bullies, all the adults treat anyone who’s different like an outcast. And to expect a common sense approach to problems is like asking someone to jump over the moon…actually that’s more likely, because in one of the movies they go to the moon.

Ninjas can’t seem to not pick the worst possible way to deal with a problem. Either using a forbidden jutsu that is extremely destructive, or ordering murder.

Apparently it’s a cruel, cruel, cruel, cruel world, but it’s also mad.

The reason this kills the show is because of the first two points, that of how Sasuke is handled, and how Weak Sauce Naruto’s defense of his Ninja Way is.

For some more context, back in season one of the OG show, Naruto’s way of ninja was formed when Kakashi told them about Zazuba murdering his fellow ninjas as part of an exam. Naruto was quite properly horrified at this, because at that point the show hadn’t started treating mass murder as negligible in the list of crimes a human being could commit…(again, I am not kidding here.) Naruto resolves he will never be cruel enough to kill his comrades just because its what’s done, and he’ll change the Ninja system.

Which is great. I liked it. Sasuke and Sakura even seem on board with this way of thinking.

But Naruto later changes his Ninja way into meaning he will never go back on his word, even if it was a promise that doesn’t rely just on him in order to be kept, like bringing Sasuke back.

The focus shifts from Naruto seeing the world differently to his obsession with Sasuke, and his guilt over failing to convince him. But Sasuke rejected Naruto because he was his friend, not because he was weak or not good. It had nothing to do with Naruto’s approach.

Instead of being realistic about this, Naruto resolves to try harder next time, but not to change his outlook. However, it’s not necessarily bad writing because Naruto grew up with no examples of love until he was 12, and then it was still never taught to him directly what a healthy relationship was. It’s reasonable that he would not get why this is such a bad thing.

However, at no point is anyone able to explain to him why it’s destructive, no one seems to know what to say to Naruto.

Later, when my boy Sai criticizes the oh, so precious Sasuke, (not a lot, he simply states what Sasuke literally did by abandoning Leaf,) he gets punched. Later, Sai is the only one who bothers to step in and stop Naruto allowing himself to be abused for Sasuke’s sake. And to confront Sakura to make her stop using Naruto herself. Good for Sai!

His reward? Nothing, no acknowledgement whatsoever from them. Instead he gets flipped off by them and the plot and treated like an outsider.

All this comes together when the show’s big moment of preaching that we should share pain is used as a way to win Sasuke back. At that point, my sisters and I started laughing because why the heck would Sasuke listen to Naruto? Naruto knows nothing about sharing pain.

Naruto tries to take all the pain on himself, no matter if it even involves him or not. He tries to be the savior of the world. Instead of demonstrating this very destructive mindset to be faulty, the show gives Naruto god-like powers to be able to fulfill his fantasy. And they thought Madera was insane.

Naruto continues to go on about Sasuke and him being like brothers, and the bond, and all that nonsense, even after Sasuke has divorced himself in every way from morality and a bond with them. He’s completely delusional. Which some people point out. But they don’t stick by that opinion because somehow through pure optimism, not results, Naruto wins them over.

The message of sharing pain is further undermined by the fact that the show rarely bothers to show characters interacting as friends, and never shows them talk about what they’ve gone through, or heal from it. (There’s one exception to this in Shikamaru, I’ll cover that in part 2). The show also devotes pretty much zero time to building up the friendships it does have. They don’t get to be happy, and the romances get almost no attention, and it’s usually pretty clumsy when they do.

So, with no human interaction to back up the claim, we are expected to believe that Naruto understands anything about love and the way it softens pain. Great.

Sasuke would have been justified in laughing in his face. But instead it works because the show was ending and it had to. Not because anyone still cared…well, some people did, but not me.

Anyway, I could go on for a book’s worth of words about why I hate these messages being delivered in such a bad way, but I’ll conclude with this:

The real sin here is that the show lies to its audience, and to its own characters. In real life, Sasuke and Naruto’s relationship would be entirely abusive, but it is abusive on both sides, became Naruto never grants Sasuke the freedom to make his own decisions. He wants to ignore Sasuke’s free will and make him come back and be his friend. Sasuke doesn’t get a choice. Because the choice would mean he had to suffer consequences for it. And we can’t have that.  Either Sasuke was destined to be at odds with Naruto because of the 6 paths, or he was destined to be his friend because Naruto said so, but either way he had no choice.

And with that, I end part one, if you made it this far, thank you and sit tight for the next part which will cover the good things in the show– Natasha

Death= Redemption.

I got the idea from this from a comment conversation I had under my last post. I have been thinking about writing it for a while, so let’s talk tropes.

Although this trope is not exclusive to anime, as I’m sure all of us have seen it in movies and shows, anime uses it a lot.

Correction: anime pretends its going to use it a lot.

All us weaboos know the annoyance of animes that pretend they’ll kill everyone all the time, and then never kill anyone…except that one person you were kind of rooting for to make it. (sniff, Pyrrha.)

Then there’s Death Note where everyone dies.. (I don’t watch it.)

Well, I don’t care if nobody dies, I just hate being lied to and faked out so many times.

Naruto is almost sadistic about killing characters, it will inform you a character died a whole two or three seasons in advance, and then bring in the character later for a side arc, or flashbacks, and show them being cute and lovable and ready to actually be happy…and then they show your them dying, alone…(I’m still salty about The Bubble Guy Utaeka, I think.)

But, sometimes villains die, and they might stay dead, and then you have the redemption arc.

Anime accomplishes the arc part usually with flashbacks, while American media tends to either show you the villains in the beginning of the film and hint at a possible redemption, or maybe drop small hints throughout the movie or show, and then they have the death be a surprise.

Anime rarely makes it a surprise, by the  time they’ve actually died you’ve been watching for like, three episodes, or seen half a dozen flashbacks dragging it out.

Anyway, before I get into the meaning of it, I wanted to point out that not every redemption death is for a villain. Sometimes it’s a good character who left the fight, screwed up royally, or never committed to actually helping until that point. They aren’t a villain, sometimes they are a chaotic neutral, if you will, but they choose to sacrifice themselves and end up a hero.

The most infamous example of this in America may be Darth Vader from Star Wars, everyone loves that redemption moment of self sacrifice.

Often in kids media, its common that the character not actually die. In The Little Mermaid, Arial’s father sacrifices himself without dying exactly, (but I always found it much more horrifying to be turned into a worm-thing than just straight-up dying.) Or they will appear to die, but end up being okay.

Anyway, the kinds of characters you’ll see get a redemption death are usually villains who were shown to have a human side, maybe a person they still loved, even more likely if the person is the hero, take Thor and Loki’s back and forth relationship in the Avenger movies; another common one is bad parents who couldn’t seem to get it up until then, but show they love their kids by dying for them (Darth Vader); also the mentors or sage characters who failed to stop the villain make a sacrifice to give the heroes more time to figure it out. That’s even in The Lego Movie.

MHA has used this trope in a slightly different way, equating losing your powers with dying, for a hero, in a way. Thereby adding a weight to their fights that actually has a longer lasting impact on the show itself, not just the characters, because it means they can no longer use that character as a fail safe.

So why is this so  common?

The simple answer is that it’s easier to use death to create sympathy for the character and often it just doesn’t seem practical for a villain to survive, they would just go to prison or die anyway, why not let it be a blaze of glory instead?

But mechanics aside, I think there’s a deeper reason this is used so often.

The thing about tropes is, people mock them, but the reason they are so common is because they reflect meanings about real life that people feel to be true. Romantic tropes mirror what happens in real life, Chosen One tropes mirror the feeling of purpose we all want to have, and fallen Hero tropes mirror the knowledge we have of our own human weakness.

The Death=Redemption Trope is no different, it mirrors a feeling human beings have that death is somehow the only thing that can make up for our sins.

The Bible says “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” For thousands of years that meant animal blood, so that people could be pardoned. After Jesus came and died, His blood was enough to cover all men throughout time.

Fiction has felt this truth, whether the authors admit it or not, and that is why villains die so often to redeem themselves. somehow death seems to be the only way to blot out the memory of their evil.

Anime is interesting here, because as I pointed out in my last post, it has many bad guys who end up living. And without fail, those bad guys feel they must atone for their sins.

See, when the death part does not happen, the good guys are faced with the much more complicated problem of still remembering what the bad guys did and having that reminder in front of them. Even if the bad guys are sorry, the good guys may have a hard time seeing past that, sometimes they do not want to. Like Katara with Zuko on Avatar.

If the villain is dead, you can’t punish them anymore anyway. Only rarely will a character obsess over not getting to kill the villain.

Plus, dying for someone is just so hardcore noble, that it can challenge the heroes to think maybe the villain was never as evil as they thought. a lot of shows choose to later reveal that the villain did some good things along the way, often that they even help the heroes by leaving clues as to how to solve future problems.

Naruto did this with Itachi Uchiha…I hated it…

Now that I’ve discussed why this is so common, the better question is, does it work?

IS it good to send this message?

The answer is yes and no.

While death=redemption can be a beautiful way to symbolically show how we need to die to our sin, and how “greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (-Jesus) there is one problem I see with it.

The whole point of fiction is to be symbolic. Sometimes when shows try to break down too much if death really equal redemption, then you have to start being more realistic.

The discussion then becomes “Should you have to kill yourself in order to be redeemed? Isn’t there a better way than that?”

Fairy Tail did this over and over again, and nearly always concluded on the side of life. But one time, at the end, they had Irene, the mother of Erza, kill herself because she did not trust herself and wanted to prevent herself from falling to the temptation to use Erza or her friends again.

When this happens it’s similar to Jesus telling us that if our right eye causes us to sin, pluck it out. If you really jsut cannot control yourself, then it’s better to lose an eye.

The bible is not saying self mutilation is a good idea. It’s saying that if we view sin that seriously, then we will put that kind of effort into getting free of it.

But we do not have to die fro our sins.

In the real world, this questions is also prevalent in our legal system. Should we just imprison people? Or should we kill them? Can’t anyone be redeemed? The real thought behind the more merciful system in America is that men can turn their lives around. But some men don’t, so we still need the Death Sentence.

Of course, Christians know that men on the verge of death for their sins have been saved, the thief on the cross is the most famous example. It happens nowadays too, in prisons and hospitals alike. But they still die.

The Bible does not seem overly concerned with whether men die in the body or not, as long as they are alive spiritually. That is, it is pro-life, but holds biological life as second in importance, if you follow God. And if you die immediately after accepting Christ, you are not the loser by any means.

Basically, with God, no one has to die for their sins, but some people still will because men cannot know for certain when there’s a change of heart, but that death is just of the body and not seen as a punishment to the christian anymore.

That said, you could say Death=Redemption really hangs on how well the villain understood why they were changing. You have to feel that, had they lived, they would have kept changing, not that they died out of some unhealthy, spur-of-the -moment, self hatred.

Dying for love is the preferred reason. And the one that reflects the most what Jesus did for us.

Though nonchristians may deny that, I don’t know anyone who hates this trope. It seems to be written into our psyches to see meaning in self-sacrifice. I know a YouTube reviewer who will give a movie a win every time there is a self-sacrifice in it.

Death is a tricky subject in fiction where death can be undone. Or prevented in ways we in the real world can only dream of.

Did they have to die? Does their death truly atone for their sins?

Death is all that can atone for sins, but yet, if they keep on living, can they live free?

Most often the answer is, they have to learn to love, to be a good person, to change.

Christianity ties these two things together by having a way to die before you die, to die to your sinful self, and to live in Christ.

As crazy as that sounds, the proof is in the pudding, more people become good because of Christianity than any other reason I know of. Throughout history, the bad kids, the rebels, the slaveholders, the cruel, the arrogant, have made 180 degree turns because of Christianity. Whole countries have changed over it. They still are.

In closing, there was one time Naruto did something with this idea that I thought was profound. When Gaara, a former murder/demon possessed person tried to learn about love, he later got kidnapped and killed in order to steal his power. He lost the demon (thank goodness)but also his life. But then a woman who had stuck him with the demon to begin with gave her life in order to resurrect him, with a little help from Naruto himself. Gaara is essentially given a new life, someone else’s life, and able to live free from then on. No longer needing to worry about losing control.

Easily one of the best examples I’ve seen, up there with Frozen.

Until next time–Natasha.

 

 

 

Anime Bondage: Fairy Tail

It’s been awhile…hey. 😁

Well, I think anime fans, sorry, weaboos, might laugh at me for using Fairy Tail as an example in this series.

I’ll admit Fairy Tail is on the lighter-hearted side, this is more about an anime trope that fairy tail introduced me to, but I’ve since realized is common.

It’s really pretty sad how common it is, and unquestioned.

For lack of a better term, I dub this trope the “I am too much of a sinner to be happy.”

In Fairy Tail, the character who fell under this trope was Jellal, who also happened to be criminally underused, and the other half of one of the better ships.

Saltiness aside, I was a bit surprised.

As someone who’s grown up on American media, and English Fairytales, I expect happy endings, pure and noble characters, and positive messages.

While anime features characters so relentlessly good they’d almost meet George MacDonald’s standard of the “common good uncommonly developed” it is a lot darker as a rule than our stories. Happy endings are hard come by and can feel rushed and incomplete compared to the rest of the story.

I started to like anime because it showed very real problems and made love and goodness the answer to them.

But I started to get frustrated the more I realized anime is incomplete also.

Here’s the skinny on Jellal if you don’t know:

Jellal is a villain in season 1, but he’s being controlled by another character. he began as a very brave, kind, and noble boy of around 8, and in a moment of weakness to hatred, was possessed by dark magic from a different villain looking for a victim.

Jellal goes on to try to kill all his old friends, and resurrect the Black wizard Zeref, causing a lot of pain and suffering along the way.

Later he survives being blown up (like you do on anime) and loses his memory. he meets his love interested again and tries to prevent a catastrophe. Then gets arrested and imprisoned. About 6 years later (time skip) he gets out and forms a group of former villains turned good guys to try to atone for their sins.

At this point he meets up with his love interest, Erza, again, and turns down her offer of a relationship and forgiveness. Telling  his new friends that for someone like him, love is out of the question. Love and happiness.

He then spends most of the show running from just that, and treating his own life as negligible. At the end he is told he should try to live to make Erza happy. We’re given a hint that he intends to do this, but it’s not shown.

Now, I’m happy it worked out in the end…but the pattern went on for a long time. It’s gone on longer on other animes. Including freaking Naruto (almost done with that finally.)

The reason I would call this attitude of self-inflicted punishment bondage is because it does not even work, even if it were acceptable.

No one ever changed themselves by punishing themselves.

I’m more concerned with how unchallenged the idea goes on anime then that it appears in the first place.

It’s even on my favorite MHA when Iida chooses to leave his hand injured until he can deserve healing.

It’s a very real struggle people have. My dad is one of them. In the past I’ve wondered about it myself, if I need to punish myself for things.

I remember it was humorously explored in one of the Anne of Green Gables books, the 7th one, Rainbow Valley. Where four children elect to bring themselves up by implementing rather creative punishments whenever they do something wrong. It does not work.

Interestingly, the Bible has strong words to say about people harming themselves, and treats the idea of self punishment as rather abhorrent.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “Don’t you know that your body is a temple that belongs to the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit, whom you received from God, lives in you. You don’t belong to yourselves. You were bought for a price. So bring glory to God in the way you use your body.”

Leviticus 19:28 “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”

In 1 Kings it says of the prophets of  Baal “And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.”

This worship practice is not something you’ll find God telling His people to do.

Now, we are sometimes told to repent in physical ways, dust, ashes, sackcloth, fasting, but there is no health damage in any of this.

The same applies to emotional damage. Making ourselves miserable is discouraged by the Bible.

In speaking of guilt, Paul says “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Cor 7:10).

After repenting initially, we are supposed to receive God’s forgiveness, and give up thinking about our sins.

We no longer need to be haunted by regrets.

The reason for this is that God takes even our mistakes and uses them, once we’ve repented, to bring us into more freedom. We have to take sin seriously in order to want to be free of it, true repentance is not wallowing in guilt, but acknowledging how serious sin is, then trusting that God can deliver you from it.

There are many christians haunted by regrets, but that is not biblical. Some churches have taught it because they misinterpreted the teaching of the bible…or ignored it.

In my experience, actually, it’s not the chruches fault. A christian chooses to live in regrets.

I have had, since becoming a christian, been mostly free of regrets. Early on I embraced the idea that I do not need to beat myself up anymore about my past.

Probably because I watched my dad live that way for years, and saw how little good it did, and then had to deal with him imposing that on me because we treat others how we treat ourselves.

I let my past go, I only wished he’d do the same. I still do.

And so, when it comes to the self-punishment thing, I just can’t get on board.

From a logical standpoint, nothing is really accomplished by choosing to keep yourself either injured, or emotionally empty.

One might say ” I do not deserve love.” But welcome to the human race. None of us do.

Love is not about what you deserve, it’s about what you need to be a full person.

Jellal never has much success atoning for his sins while he is doing it out of guilt, the few times he does it out of love are when it ends up working out. Contrast it to Erza, who learns earlier to start forgiving herself and living out of love, and has success after success against impossible odds because love’s power fuels her.

The bondage of guilt is one any honest human being has to face, but we do not have to stay in it. God’s forgiveness sets us free if we just ask it.

And human forgiveness is good too. Honestly, more people need to learn to accept each other’s forgiveness and quit worrying about it.

Perhaps I leaned more on the christian side for this, but I can’t separate my idea of forgiveness from my faith.

Christianity is a very free religion in that way. The only one I know of that says guilt can be completely gone, that you can no longer require punishment, and can live free and happy no matter what your past is.

Until next time, stay honest–Natasha.