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Bateszi

Anime fans fornever

All ends with beginnings; Naruto’s swansong

Naruto is making me cry with each chapter it releases. The rebloggables are suddenly through the charts on my tumblr dashboard. Open Facebook or Twitter on a Jump release date, and there are people there to commiserate with. It’s the ending we always dreamed of, quietly gripping our rubber prop kunai, gleefully purchased as preteens at our first anime conventions.

General spoilers for the manga; but very little in the way of specifics.  

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Special Edition

I’m a perfectionist.  Being a perfectionist isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being unhappy with your work when it isn’t.  Sometimes you have to ignore that impulse and just release your creation to the world.  Sometimes though, you get a second chance.  George Lucas epitomises this phenomena.  Audiences didn’t appreciate it when Lucas revised Star Wars.  Long time fans lashed out at him when he released the special edition movies.  Japanese fans of Dragon Ball Z had a similar reaction when the special edition version of the show, called Dragon Ball Z Kai came out.  I haven’t watched the Japanese subtitled version of the shows so I can’t judge that version of Kai.  But I did watch the English dub.  And it is the best Dragon Ball Z to date.

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Childhood’s end: Naruto and Pain

I’m finally caught up with Naruto and not a moment too soon. Episode 175 closes not just Pain’s overwhelming story arc, but fulfils Uzumaki Naruto’s transcendence from annoying, mouthy kid to fully-fledged hero.

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This is the Naruto I remember

There were times when I considered dropping Naruto.

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Naruto & child soldiers / The thrilling tragedy of Kakashi Gaiden

Does Masashi Kishimoto think about how children are depicted in Naruto? Ninja are tools of war, after all, and Konoha trains its children to become ninja; isn’t that wrong? On a base, moral level? Of course, Naruto is intended as entertainment and, as such, there’s a certain amount of distance one feels between it and the real world, but to compare it to another boys-orientated action anime, like One Piece, reveals just how dark a world Kishimoto’s characters are born into, a place where children are trained to fight almost as soon as they can walk.

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Naruto Shippuuden episode 82 is a masterpiece

After all these years, I still love watching Naruto. I’ll place it on hiatus every now and then, but it still is, and always will be, one of my biggest favourites. This past weekend marked the end of my latest break from Shippuuden, but already, here I am again; writing away. I couldn’t let this feeling pass without trying to convey it, this sense of being an anime fan and seeing something so great it can’t be contained by just me alone; I have to share it with you.

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About an anime fan

I’ve been an anime fan for no more than 5 years and already I’m starting to feel like I’ve been around forever, yet the truth is that my mere half-decade of devotion barely even scratches the surface, after all, some hardy souls have been following this foreign Japanese stuff for more than 30 years; a concept so baffling I can’t even begin to imagine how they managed it.

I’m fascinated by the biographies and anecdotes of anime fans. Young or old, everyone has a story that recalls their moment of excited discovery and the subsequent realization of what anime has to offer. To me it happened with the appearance of that brand new Simply Switch broadcast.

It’s comforting, almost reassuring to read fellow fans trying to convey those memories in the context of their lives, each person coming from different, interesting circumstances. My own story is something of a modern cliche, but that’s really the point of this article, the chronology of an anime fan.

I suspect we can look at the recent history of anime fandom as containing three distinct and converging ages of “gateway” anime. They are Video Nasties (1990 – 1997), Childrens TV (1995 – 2002) and the Digital Revolution (2002 – present day). All three have impacted on my life.

During the mid-nineties, I was a bored teenager looking for some edgy entertainment, so it’s rather predictable that my first glimpses of anime would be snared during the Video Nasties era, courtesy of bloody, gore-filled flicks like Ninja Scroll and Fist of the North Star. I remember how I would often figure out what to buy next based on which badly-dubbed trailer had condensed the most violence and profanity into its 2 minute preview. I spent a lot of money on bad anime, even going so far as to mail order chunky VHS releases of such politically-(in)correct “manga” as Angel Cop, but it remained a rather superficial phase and died out after a year or two.

Some time later and the Childrens TV era inspired my then lazy-university-student self to rise at 6AM for day long marathons of Dragonball Z. This was just another phase that had nothing to do with ‘anime’, instead I was hopelessly carried away by Goku and his (literally) death-defying adventures. Amusingly, I still own the home recorded VHS tapes (with their carefully organized labels) of some 250+ episodes of Dragonball Z, but for all that effort, I doubt I’ll ever play them again. I still keep them around, anyway.

Everything changed when the Naruto anime premiered in Japan during 2002 and, on a reluctant whim, I started watching its fansubs during 2003. This was around the beginning of the Digital Revolution as fansubs proliferated via Bit Torrent. It was the first time I’d willingly sat through any media in a foreign language, yet, as if over-night, I’d suddenly developed this interest in Japanese culture and completely reevaluated my opinion of foreign cinema. In fact, I’d been so impressed by those opening 50 episodes of Naruto that I started looking into other anime, and the discovery of other series, many of them classics, were soon to follow, from Cowboy Bebop to Berserk. Everything, all of this, was sparked from that point, a reluctant whim.

Aside from the cliche jibes about ‘bad English dubs’, I think it’s important to note the pivotal role played by watching Naruto in a foreign language. Watching anime in Japanese presented the unavoidable truth that I was seeing a unique product of an exciting foreign culture. The very moment I started following Naruto was also the moment I realized I had been missing out on something so infinitely special. That was that, and I’d become an anime fan.

My little story ends there, but alluding to everything I’ve said above, this is the part where I ask you the same questions.

How did you become an anime fan?

Naruto Shippuuden: The return of Orochimaru, stuff happens

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There is perhaps no anime I want to love more than Naruto. I’ve been following this story since 2003 and even if it drags on for another decade, I’ll still be camped out all night waiting for its end. I know full well it’s far from perfect, but by now I’m too caught up in these characters to actually care whether or not Naruto is objectively good or bad, that it simply is Naruto is good enough for me. I suppose this is a lot like being a Star Wars fan, you have to be willing to completely invest yourself in the story, kick reason to the curb and accept what you’re seeing. If all you can do is complain about the fucking ewoks, you’re completely missing the point.

The last few episodes of Shippuuden have been good. I’m not sure if it’s simply because the Gaara retrieval arc was a little too long, or if I just wasn’t as engrossed in it as I thought, but only now is it feeling like Naruto is recapturing that exciting and compulsive feeling. All this is connected with the return of Orochimaru and Kabuto and a sense that we’re getting closer to that inevitably awesome first encounter with bad Sasuke.

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To be honest, I still don’t completely understand the motivations behind trying to "save" Sasuke. Naruto obviously believes that if only he were stronger when they originally clashed, he could have stopped Sasuke from leaving by force and everything would have been fine, but this is ignoring that Sasuke clearly wanted to leave everyone behind, ally with Orochimaru and chase down Itachi. Fundamentally, we’re yet to see if he is capable of committing evil and, knowing how Naruto will never give up on a friend, it remains to be seen whether or not his heart can be sufficiently moved to change perspective.

All that said, you can’t help but honestly and utterly cheer for Naruto; the depth of his feeling is unquestionable and his complete willingness to sacrifice everything is aptly symbolised during his murky internal dialogues — drowning in helplessness, Naruto, knowing full well he is shortening his life span, does the only thing he can do to try and save his friend; combine with the demon fox and embrace his cursed power. It was disturbing to see that his final transformation literally burns off his skin. Naruto, with his blood red eyes, is fast becoming a monster.

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I loved how he so nonchalantly tossed aside an attack from the ever condescending Kabuto, but of course, I can’t wait to see how far he will push Orochimaru too (that is, before Yamato is inevitably forced to seal Naruto’s escalating power). Here’s hoping for another beautifully animated and big budget smack down.

Naruto Shippuuden rises from the ashes! A dramatic return to form!

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After realizing my disappointment in Naruto Shippuuden, I quit watching and renounced my faith in the old girl; for me, the magic had faded. All at once, it felt too slow, too choppy, too cheap and too predictable; my dreams had been lost – the hero’s comeback never happened. In that time, I enjoyed being one of those cool anime fans. Suddenly I had refined taste, people invited me for interviews and guest collaborations as I mingled with high society, yet my true colours, my dirty secret, never faded, and this weekend, the inevitable happened; I relapsed like a hungry junkie and gobbled up the last dozen episodes of Shippuuden"¦ Why does it feel so wrong, yet taste so good? Time to admit the truth, my name is bateszi and I’m a narutard! (more…)

Naruto Shippuuden – 5 – Keep The Car Running

The massive clash of Gaara’s sand vs. Akatsuki’s blonde bombshell Deidara rages ever on while Naruto and Sakura celebrate with a bowl of ramen having again teamed up with their perverted old sensei; anti-social bastard that he is, Kakashi declines their company, no doubt to finish off the latest volume of his favourite romantic yarn “Make Out Paradise”. In between the action, we glimpse a sun drenched flashback to a pre-Kazekage Gaara and Kankuro, striding atop a cliff that majestically looks over their endless desert, reaffirming their new found desire to work hard, protect the innocent and earn friendship the good old fashioned way – just like Naruto. The episode ends with a devastating explosion when what appears to be a clay-based nuke is dropped in the middle of down-town sand village by Deidara. Civilian casualties are expected.

I can see why people are already starting to complain about Naruto Shippuuden. It’s true that the story is slow going, just as it’s true that the animation has been mediocre since the superlative first two episodes. I’m still enjoying it though. As is the case with Death Note, it seems that reading the manga is key to our ultimate enjoyment of Naruto; I’ve steered clear of the manga for that very reason, I’d rather not spoil the story. I enjoy anime more than I enjoy manga.

Sometimes I wonder why I’m so compelled by Shonen Jump’s “fighting” anime; characters like Gaara are the answer. Over two hundred episodes plus and we’ve seen him dragged through hell; abused and isolated as a kid, lost in life and consumed by hatred, yet he finds salvation through friendship. That he changes so much through out the series and finally discovers a meaning to his existence, only a heart of stone would not feel a pang of attachment to him.

Next week’s episode is an hour long special. Here’s hoping something big and flashy happens!

Naruto Shippuuden – 1 to 2 – Well worth the wait, my fellow Narutards

I forgot how damn awesome Naruto is when it gets serious. These first two episodes are brilliant, the new soundtrack is wonderful too; dramatic, epic and even a little nostalgic. It just looks and sounds all grown up. After this and Mushishi, composer Toshio Masuda is fast becoming my favourite anime soundtrack-er.

There is an overwhelming sense of mythology and fate sweeping through the show now, for better or worse, the characters are growing up and fulfilling their potential – suddenly realizing Gaara had become the Kazekage of the Sand Village set against him striding a-top that building looking over his village was a great moment. The Sasuke meeting/Kyuubi scene was particularly good too, approaching theatrical levels of animation; you could cut the tension with a knife, while Naruto returning to Konoha and meeting with all his old buddies provided a massive injection of feel-good nostalgia and inane cuteness (Sakura is still borderline psychopathic).

Then there is the Akatsuki couple – especially the fat one, dragging himself across the sand, slowly walking through the desert, approaching the Sand Village; just two of them against an entire army – you know they are good; combined with the gigantic Star Wars influenced soundtrack building, swooning and chanting in the background, this scene was distilled, liquid awesome.

All in all, a more than welcome return to form. Riveting from start to finish. A big time pay off episode. And I just let off a lot of steam.

Standing on the brink of a new era, looking back at Naruto

Standing on the brink of a new era for Naruto, I’ve turned back the clock to look at my favourite moments from the series; fair warning – hyperbolic fanboyisms ahead. I started watching the show in 2003 with a cheap 15″ CRT monitor and two tinny sound blasters, at the time I wasn’t interested in anime and hated bloody subtitles. 4 years on and I find myself hooked up with a 24″ LCD flat-screen, 6.1 Dolby Surround Sound system and I’m writing on my own anime blog. What the hell happened?! Honestly, I blame Naruto.

— 5. Haku “killing” Sasuke

“What’s with that face, you total moron?” utters an impaled Sasuke, as the stunned Naruto wakes to discover his arch-rival has probably saved his live at the cost of his own. “Why did you save me?”, “How should I know… I hated you…”, “But… Why? Why me? I never asked for this!”, “I don’t know! My body just moved on its own… Idiot”.

I love that dialogue, it beautifully epitomises their begrudging respect and friendship without getting all sappy on us. When I first sat through this scene I was stunned, on the edge of my seat, completely captivated by the drama unfolding before me.

— 4. Gaara breaking Rock Lee’s spirit

To say this fight was awesome is probably the understatement of the decade. Amidst the sheer surprise of seeing Rock Lee go all out for the win and Gaara playing up to his sick, sadistic personality type, I was blown away by how exciting and unpredictable it all was. Tragically, it ends with Rock Lee losing. He is the Rocky Balboa of anime; mediocre talent but limitless determination and GUTS, and I mean a whole lot of GUTS. The match-up was perfectly balanced between Lee’s physical martial arts and Gaara’s long-range, supernatural control of sand; the ensuing carnage is a credit to the visceral brilliance and inventiveness of Naruto at its best.

— 3. Naruto becoming a hero

Up until the Invasion of Konoha arc, Naruto had been a bit of a punk, an adorable one, but still quite yappy and annoying. Fighting with Gaara he comes of age; fulfilling his obvious potential of becoming a true (super) hero.

Hated and ignored for most of his young life by school mates and neighbours alike, the outcast, without a moments hesitation, proudly lays his life on the line to protect them all. It’s a powerful and moving sentiment, a feeling that’s beautifully conveyed by the biggest action set-pieces seen in the series.

— Brief Interlude: Favourite Opening Theme

Opening Theme No. 5
Artist: Sambomaster
Song: Seishun Kyousoukyoku

Sasuke leaves Konoha in Orochimaru’s barrel-o-evil with “the five” ninja slash friends sent to retrieve him; looking back on it, the mission was never going to end well for our heroes; after all, it was Sasuke’s decision to leave. No, I’m still not over it. SASUKE YOU BASTARD1!!11!

I loved this OP within 5 seconds of glimpsing the moody artwork; the clear look of seriousness, regret and dejection reflected on the faces of Naruto and Sasuke as the shaky camera blurs in and out of focus on their silhouetted shapes. The next scene is “the five” standing a-top of cliff, all noticeably concentrated and composed, while the camera spins around their circle formation; it feels utterly cool. We hardly ever see Chouji without food, and here he’s not only empty handed, but running too. The fat dude is running.

— 2. Zabuza’s last stand

“Don’t look away; it’s the end of a man who lived desperately”.

The climax of Zabuza’s and Haku’s story is the strongest section of Naruto, that it comes so early in the series means that it’s often forgotten; this is an injustice. Episode 19 is especially heart breaking for the previously cool-as-ice Zabuza’s (knife in mouth) tearful breakdown and uncontrollable rage; he comes to a brutal, bitter sweet end, having been stabbed dozens of times in the back, the swords still hanging from his flesh, lamenting Haku’s sacrifice, regretting their parting of ways. In short, Zabuza was a fucking cool character, and this episode made me the anime fan I am today.

— 1. Sasuke defeats Naruto, the end

Looking back on it now, I feel stupid, but the truth is that I never expected “my hero” Naruto to lose against Sasuke. Yet again, Kishimoto dealt me a back hander; well done good Sir. I was majorly deflated by the outcome, a depressing feeling only amplified by the ensuing years of unrelenting filler beginning immediately afterwards.

To this day I’m still in awe of episode 133; its theatrical animation quality, explosive drama and most of all, fist pumping action choreography. If you’re yet to be convinced of what Naruto has to offer, this is the episode to watch; an all too short, flashy tour-de-force that is not only the dramatic peak of Naruto’s ever bubbling story, but also one of the single best episodes of pure action anime produced for a decade.

So then Naruto fan boys and girls, let’s get emotional; what are your favourite moments from Naruto? Your favourite opening or ending theme? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Naruto – 219 – For the love of god, not long now

We join the “fun” just as Gaara corners the warrior from Takumi, and given his murderous ability, a simple win for the ultra-strong sand man is expected, but the warrior turns to confidently exclaim, as diabolical villains often do, that in fact, Gaara is now “the one cornered! Muhaha…” Naruto arrives on cue just in time to save a crest-fallen Gaara, who gets trapped in a chakra sucking machine designed to feed on his monstrous energy and resurrect Takumi’s long dead legend Seimei; this turns out to be a white haired inbred looking chap with a big phallic sword and impossibly manly voice. Just as Gaara is overwhelmed by his latent Shukaku possession, the episode ends. Damn.

It’s hard to remember a time when I actually enjoyed watching Naruto. While not terrible, this episode (and the detested fillers arcs in general) commit the far worse crime of being mediocre to the point of boredom; the animation is flat and the characters are stuck in a nonsensical narrative loop, repeating the same old moves and phrases time and time again. I’m watching this for one reason – Naruto: ShippÅ«den (Hurricane Chronicles) begins February 15, 2007. And the current OP is one of the best too; in place of the episodes it opens, this sequence so well illustrates the nostalgic and energetic value of Naruto.

For what it’s worth, I enjoyed seeing Gaara again – as ever, he proves an interesting character and his half- Shukaku transformation remains positively disgusting. Seeing this reminded me of the show at its jaw-dropping best; the epic sight of seeing him and Naruto fight it out atop two impossibly giant animals in Konoha forest, it seemed the world was at stake – Naruto eventually wins the day with a head-butt full of bravery, courage and friendship. I desperately hope Hurricane Chronicles can capture that same spirit.

Naruto – 201 – Weapons of mass destruction

It’s those damn terrorists again! As we’re all aware, the war on terror knows no bounds, and now, not even our anime is safe! The beloved hidden village of the leaf (known to gurning locals as Konoha) has become the target of crafty suicide bombers – who could have suspected berserk eagles with explosives strapped to their claws, aimed straight at the popular village’s renowned statue? One can only imagine how these ingrates managed to brain wash wild animals. Later that day, a veteran suicide bomber disturbingly hinted that it’s now only a matter of time before these eagles are taught to carry weapons of mass destruction.

Luckily for the civilised world, terror soon became jubilation when a brave group of young peace loving ninja, led by one Uzumaki Naruto, stood up for their love of freedom by beating the [geriatric] terrorist to death. Freedom for the win!

Naruto – 200 – Filling time with ninja

It has been a while since I last caught up with Naruto – still its a series I treasure deep within my heart, but these ever enduring “filler dark ages” are even dwindling the concrete enthusiasm I once felt for master Rock Lee and his “spring time of youth”. True to Naruto’s emphasis on fighting spirit, I will never give up on this show, I won’t read ahead and spoil myself with the manga – instead my fandom is on auto-pilot, navigating the blue seas with Monkey D. Luffy. Only god knows when the fillers will end – but my guess, for what another fanboys desperation is worth – is episode 208, the next true increment if the series is seperated by the anime-standard of 26 episodes per season. Fingers crossed, anyway – its been a year already and I’m starting to feel like I imagined characters like Orochimaru, Itachi and even that damn angsty bastard Sasuke.

As far as the quality of this particular filler arc goes – it’s not too bad. Despite a typical lack of tension thanks to the nagging knowledge that deep down we know Naruto is in no real danger and that Konoha won’t be blown up, in small doses it’s still fun and ever so slightly exciting. It’s nice that the chemistry between the various characters still works; them playing off each others ecentric quirks is shallow but entertaining. In other words, I can’t help but enjoy Hinata’s shy affection for Naruto exposed again and again by his dim witted and innocent brauva. It’s great that ANBU are popping up now and again too; their aggressive and cold presence, though fleeting, rekindles my smouldering faith in the darker side of Naruto and reminds me of how once upon a time, this was actually burning brightly as a quite brilliant action series. I long for those days again.

The most influential people in your anime fandom

The ever reliable ICv2 recently posted up a list of the “ten most powerful people in the North American anime industry“. The run down makes for interesting (if a little predictable) reading and sitting at the top is Gonzo’s bestest buddy Gen Fukunaga (of FUNimation), who managed to visciously kill off any competition with his company’s swelling ranks of mediocre action anime to become “the one” (or should I say, Jyu-Oh).

This got me thinking about the people who have had the most influence on my development as an anime fan, or more specifically; which sick bastards transformed me into the hardened anime junkie I am today?

The list of shame

4. Yoko Kanno – Cowboy Bebop

Soundtracks play a great part in my love of anime and no one does it better than Yoko Kanno. I first heard her work in Cowboy Bebop and have since been totally and utterly defeated by her varied tunage and heart wrenching, nostalgic stylings.

3. Chika Umino – Honey & Clover

At a time when I was feeling seriously jaded about anime (I couldn’t even make it through the first 3 minutes of Gonzo’s Black Cat), along came a funny slice of life series called Honey & Clover that completely refreshed my enthusiasm for the genre. This was a geniuenly funny, life affirming drama with colorful, original animation and a wonderful soundtrack to boot. Chika Umino wrote this story, so deserves credit first and foremost, but irregardless of that, everything about Honey & Clover is brilliant.

2. Kentarou Miura – Berserk

Berserk was the first anime I fell head over heels in love with and Kentarou Miura is the genius behind it all. In combining though-provoking philosophy with an extremely violent, complex cast of characters, Miura will forever be the brilliant mind behind my favourite anime of all time.

1. Masashi Kishimoto – Naruto / Shonen Jump

Although it is with something of a guity conscience, I simply wouldn’t be watching anime today if it wasn’t for Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto. This was the first ever fansubbed series I got my mits on and to this very day I still remember the nerve-wracking, sweat-inducing climax of the Zabuza story arc. After sitting through around 50 episodes of Naruto, I realised I had to check out more anime. And furthermore, I realized subtitles should always be the way to go with foreign film and TV.

Dr Who inspired by Naruto, eh?

Now this is something quite bizarre but looking at the evidence (images above), a recent villain from (the staple of UK sci-fi) Dr Who could well have been inspired by Sasuke’s (from Naruto) “cursed seal” form.

It’s easy to dismiss this all as a mere coincidence, but you should note the red eyes (mirroring Sasuke’s sharingan) and the fact that both characters breathe fire, and we may just have a case here! It’s just cool to think that the writers at the BBC are watching Naruto, I wonder what they think of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya?

Source:
Thanks to Necromancer for the Dr. Who screen cap and Animated FatCat for fighting his case!

Naruto – 188 – Fear the piranhas of death

As much as I want to be surprised by these Naruto episodes, as much as I want to watch some gripping drama, desperate sacrifices and shocking deaths, it’s not going to happen. I know that, you know that. To complain any more would be a waste of time.

With your expectations so low, it is possible to still enjoy Naruto. This episode is a good example of how such a colourful, varied world and exciting premise can just about carry what amounts to a bunch of wafer-thin cardboard characters. The essence of what makes this such a fun series is still alive and kicking; the ninja. And try as they might, Studio Pierrot can’t make ninja boring.

Revenge, honour, tactics and technique are all brought into this story arc and while I’m hesitant to outright praise this ultimately generic effort (the disguised male peddler is actually a beautiful princess, didn’t ya know?), I will always enjoy watching supernatural ninja pound the crap out of each other. There is something so fun about Naruto getting trapped in a sphere of floating water infested with flesh-eating piranhas! Coolest-technique-ever!

I wouldn’t recommend watching these episodes one after the other (such superficial enjoyment barely stretches 22 minutes), but it’s a fun way to while away a hot, lazy June afternoon.