At first sight-1

Okay, confession time.

All of us with internet access are binging a lot right now, aren’t we?

So, I up and watched a show that I knew my family was going to judge me for watching, and some of you might too.

No, it’s not Tiger King, or whatever.

It’s a show that just came out in the last few years: Married at First Sight.

If you don’t live anywhere you’d have seen commercials for this, then let me sum up the pitch for you: Arranged Marriage by scientists instead of parents.

Willingly consented to by the adults.

Sounds crazy right?

Not so far fetched, the research behind the success of arranged marriage is that there’s only about a 4% divorce rate, as opposed to the less than 50% but still sizable amount of marriage as we see it. (Though, I have a lot of international readers, so some of you might be from a country where arranged marriage is still normal. I don’t judge, I think it’s fine… I wouldn’t do it, but if the person is okay with the practice, I don’t see a reason to hate on it. Marriage is marriage.)

Before I get into the show, I guess I should make my stance on the experiment clear:

While I do believe arranged marriage is perfectly fine (it’s biblical, as is freely chosen marriage.) I do not believe in total strangers with degrees in whatever choosing someone for you to spend your life with. I wouldn’t trust them to know me well enough to pick someone for me. However, I believe Marriage is sacred, so if you’re in, you’re in. Don’t flip around with it.

(Why I plan on being very careful who I marry.)

However, since the 3 couples were daring enough to try it, I thought, why not see how it worked out?

Spoiler alert if you care:

 

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If you don’t like spoilers 😉

 

So, two of the three couples in season 1 stay together. Jason & Courtney, and Jamie & Doug.

I have to wonder, it almost seemed planned. The couples were all so different, they demonstrated different things. I did like how real they seemed to be, despite the cameras, which they later admitted put a lot of pressure on them. Also, apparently people on Social Media put on the heat to tell them to get along.

Reason No#1 I don’t want a public romance story, ugh, can you imagine? (I mean, if you can, then #respect.)

Anyway, my sister joined me on episode 2 and we ended up watching the rest of the season together, and we kind of agreed.

Now I called that Jamie and Doug would stay together from the beginning, I even said they should be paired up during that stage of the show, and no, I did not know they had their own spin off show about parenting (but I kind of want to watch it now) I just thought they were saying the same things, and Doug seemed like a solid guy, Jamie was more honest about herself, I thought.

Turns out the experts agreed, after a lot of testing and discussion. Whether its a credit to my instincts, or a detriment to the scientific method that it took me ten minutes of screen time to come to the same conclusion is anyone’s guess.

I thought Jamie and Doug demonstrated the values and outlook to last, and I was also more hopeful about Jason and Cortney.

But even before the marriage part of the show started, Vaughn and Monet rubbed me the wrong way. Vaughn especially.

I think the show was edited to highlight it so that the audience could figure it out, but even so, it didn’t stop social media for giving the couples some flack.

Imagine having a crowd of people rooting for your marriage to work out. I guess if we believe the Bible when it says we have a great cloud of witnesses, then all of us are living that.

My sister suggested I devote one post to each couple so I can say all I want to say, but I have more to say about two of them, so I think I’ll talk about Jason and Cortney here.

Couple No# 1

They had instant chemistry. I think because both of them were younger, hotter, and had less failed relationships or bad experiences under their belts. Courtney had a good family, Baptist background, though she was not particularly religious. All this made her a good candidate for the experiment, the experts thought.

But credit where credit is due, I had to respect Courtney for her attitude. She was determined to treat this like a real marriage, to be a person Jason could trust, to be like a good friend would be as well as a wife. To help him move past his insecurities.

She also could be more grounded than one might expect from her more peppy way of talking.

Jason was a stellar guy who is used to putting others first, a good marriage quality, but had difficulty trusting. (I’m not saying anything he didn’t admit himself on camera, and I think it’s best if I can stick to that as much as possible and avoid speculation).

Jason knew how to be a good giver, but not a good receiver, and Courtney wanted to see him grow. She herself was more ready for the wifely role, and her weaknesses were not really brought out by the challenge. I think she had more of handle on herself than the other candidates.

While they were a good match by logic, and the compatibility tests, that is not what made it work out.

Jason fought his insecurities the whole way, almost tempted to duck out because he didn’t know if he could count on Courtney to be there, he was going to be really busy, and his mom’s health was failing, would a total stranger be able to handle that.

But actually, I think that was why it worked out. Courtney accepted that she couldn’t know everything about Jason beforehand, that her family did not support her decision, and that life isn’t always easy. She wanted to walk with someone through it, they said it felt like “us against the world.”

But they chose to let that bond them, instead of blaming each other for what was beyond their control.

The thing is, it would have been easy to blame each other, just like Adam and Eve did in the garden, just like you’ve heard many couples do, and like I heard growing up.

Is it your spouse’s fault that A, B, and C happened? No, but it’s easy to project that blame on them. “Why did you do this?” “Why didn’t you do that?” On and on.

It’s not Jason’s fault his mom has cancer, or that being a fireman takes so much training, he did his best to work around that for Courtney. She could have decided he wasn’t ready to be married. He must have felt that way from what he said.

Courtney was busy too, and her family thought she was nuts. Jason could have decided she just wasn’t stable enough in her life for marriage.

But they didn’t blame each other. Cortney accepted the time conflicts and resolved to work around them.

Jason put in effort to leave Cortney notes and gifts when he couldn’t be home, to show he was invested.

And mind you, neither of them were in love at this point. It’s easy when you’re in love, you’re obsessed with the person, you think of them all the time, so gestures are easy to make.

When you aren’t in love, you went in not expecting the butterfly feelings, and if you decided to give it your all despite that, you’re far less likely to pull out if you don’t feel that magic right away.

That was the point of the experiment, and these two got it.

They ended up falling in love after all, it was really cute. They were not in love like we see some young couples, the only talk about each other and get all dreamy kind, it was more solid, like marriage tends to be. They tried each other, and they made the grade.

I had to appreciate that, and I’m happy for them. I also hope the media leaves them alone from now on, though there’ll probably be some 5 year or 10 year check up that’s nobody’s business, but ratings.

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.

 

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