Category Archives: Television

Not Unnoticed: Asians in Pop Culture

I’m a pretty chill guy.  Not critical at all.

No, that’s a lie, I’m pretty darn critical.  That being said, most of the things I like to argue about and criticize are hypothetical, and not something that I feel passionately about.  Usually, it’s because I’m discovering whether I care or not as I discuss – usually by the end of the argument, I care very much.

So it is with the Asian presence in pop culture.

Something is off…

When I first encountered this issue, it was (as it was for a lot of people) upon viewing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Short Round was just… offensive.  I was a child, so I couldn’t really put my finger on it.

Then I watched Big Trouble in Little China in elementary school during afternoon day care.  I was surprised when a character in the middle of the movie started fighting everybody with clear, practiced moves, as I had assumed the character to be a helpless bystander.

“He can fight?!”

Brandon, the aide watching my class during afternoon day care, said “He’s Chinese, so in this movie, of course, he knows kung fu.”  Then he and the students around me laughed; his laughter was because the movie was making fun of pop culture by enabling it, and the students’ was because that logic just made sense to them.

I just didn’t get it.  I assumed it was a plothole.

I grew older.  I grew up on Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Yuen Biao – and absolutely anything by Tsui Hark, Corey Yuen, or Yuen Woo-Ping.

I found out that Jackie Chan was going to be in a movie with Jet Li.  It would be called “The Forbidden Kingdom.”  This is the poster:

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It would get a western theatrical release!  How exciting!  Choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping?!  Yes, yes, yes!

So imagine my surprise when the movie was in English.  Okay.  Interesting, considering almost nobody in the movie speaks it as a first language.  Then I saw the most offensive part.

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Who the flying Funk & Wagnalls is this, you ask?  It’s the star of the movie.

What, was there not enough star power with Jet Li and Jackie Chan?  These are international powerhouses.  The marketing alone shows that they were aware of how Li and Chan would draw people in.

I was reading The Joy Luck Club with my class, and I decided to watch the movie.  I didn’t end up showing it to my class because a lot of the movie has a mother talking to her daughter about her life at home in China – all in a thick, Vietnamese accent.

I got mad about it.  I read Yellowface in college and got mad some more. Then I decided that the world needed to take a chill pill.  It’s not worth being mad about, I thought.  The world will learn, people will see.

Nobody sees.

Warning: the following image may cause intense physical pain to the viewer if they are in any way appreciative of the manga/anime Dragon Ball.

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I can’t even talk about that one without seething for the rest of the day, (no matter who apologized) so I’m going to discuss one that all Americans have a chance of understanding.

Bones is one of those rare shows that both my wife and I enjoy.  In it, a forensic anthropologist named Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan works with her FBI partner Seeley Booth to solve crimes by looking at the clues found in murder victims’ human remains.  The show is entertaining because it has action, mystery, romance, and even elements of science fiction (the multi-million dollar Angelatron named for the Bachelor of the Arts grad that can hack into anything and create facial reconstructions from remains – no matter how grotesque of a condition they may be in.  Once, the victim was already cremated.)

I was binge-watching the series with my wife on Netflix today when we got to an episode of Season 10 called “The Lost Love in a Foreign Land.”  In this episode, Bones and Booth discover an underground human trafficking ring in which women were being trafficked out of Yianbian, China.

The murder victim looked pretty Korean to me, but that’s okay, I reasoned.  [Further research explains this, as Yanbian is on the border between Korea and China.  I didn’t know this, but before you start forgiving people, keep reading.]

Then it got insulting.

The Angelatron used facial recognition (or some other garbage tech) and pulled out a list of suspects.  This led them to their suspect, Sung Dae Park.

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I’m just so thoroughly disturbed by how Vietnamese his accent was.  At this point, I realized that the story they wanted me to buy was that this Vietnamese guy had a Korean name and lived in a village in China.  Maybe you can’t hear it, but his accent might as well have been Australian, and his name Igor Boris Natasha – that’s how noticeable these things are to an Asian audience.

I understand that the Korean thing can be explained by the bordering Korea thing, but you can bet that if it was a white person speaking Spanish, they would bother to explain why he knows the language.  They just threw us Chinese people with Korean names… then had them played by Vietnamese people.  Even if you excuse that, the accent!  The ACCENT!  Worse, the accent was a choice – by either the director, the producers… or Scott Ly, the actor himself.    How do I know that?  Look, Ma, no accent!

(“Ly” is a Vietnamese name, in case you’re doubting me.)

Maybe they couldn’t find anyone to play this character more authentically, you think.  Well, Bones was filmed in Los Angeles.

 

enough

 

This was just like the lady in The Joy Luck Club.  If Jackie Chan can play a Vietnamese guy in his upcoming movie The Foreigner, then surely this is to be expected, right?

Wrong.  I know I can’t effect change all by myself, but I’m putting them on blast.  You thought surely nobody would notice?

We all notice.  Be ashamed.  Do better work.

That being said, I’m torn – because The Foreigner looks awesome.

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About This Here Power Rangers Reboot…

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Whoa whoa whoa, slow down, America!  We’re really doing this?  We’re going to make a reboot movie of a show which literally took action footage from another show and inserted white people to make a completely new show with roughly the same storylines and battle scenes?

Okay, I’m down.  But we all know this is going to be bad, right?  Even the best parts of the original show are bad.  Awesome?  Sure, but nobody thinks that this is going to be good, right?  Like am I going to be mad because Saban’s Power Rangers was overlooked by the Academy?  Every year, I keep expecting the acting for the latest Power Rangers franchise to get better because, hey, it’s 2016, maybe they figured it out by now.  No such luck.  The movie will not be better.  CG doesn’t make everything better.

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This is the armor Saban made for the very first movie.  Besides removing the lump that was the Yellow Ranger’s package (he was a man in Japan, you see) and making everyone shiny with little coin logos, there wasn’t much modification done.  Now we have alien cyber-suits, possibly some kind of bio-engineered thing.  But of course those aliens made sure the girls got boob cups and high heels.

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And let’s not forget our classy villain played by Academy Award Winner wait no sorry Elizabeth Banks.  She’ll be wearing an equally practical suit for ruling the world.  Is that part of her gauntlet doubling as shoulder armor for an otherwise bare shoulder?  She looks like a stand-in for Poison Ivy from Batman and Robin.

Ooh.  Just got a chill.  Must be a freeze coming.

The only way I’m really on board with this is if it really embraces what it is and doesn’t even try to be serious.  This is not going to be Chris Nolan material – heck I’ll be glad if it’s even Chris Rock material.

Half of the success of the Power Rangers is the amount of camp in it.  No camp = no Power Rangers.  If they try to get dark and gritty, or worse, go the way of CG = Everything.  If that happens, I wouldn’t be surprised if we got an apology to the fans a decade later.

I could swear I’ve seen something like this, where an alien suit gets dropped down and some kid finds it and uses it to fight the alien chasing after the suit… I could never find that movie.  I guess I won’t have that problem anymore after this.  Just…

(UPDATE 5/7/16: Because the Internet is mighty, I found it.  The movie is called Star Kid.  Don’t watch it.  Just rest knowing that it was found.  Curiosity satisfied.  Case closed.  Keep moving.  Don’t IMDB it.)

Are we sure we want millions spent on this?  Don’t we have a struggling education system that could use the money more?  What if they just made a new series with our own CG and solid acting and just aired it after Arrow on the CW until people realizes it won’t work, or it backfires and goes on for 10 more seasons and makes a lot of people famous?

Update 5/07/2016

I can’t believe I didn’t see this before: WHERE’S FREAKIN’ TOMMY?!

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I mean, yes, they’re probably doing the whole evil to good arc considering that’s the only story arc worth anything from Mighty Morphin’, but still… how dare they cause us to doubt his presence.  Obviously if they can’t get JDF in there they should at least have the character.

Daredevil Season 2: Upstaged – Review (Spoilers)

First of all, I want to say that yes, I am a Daredevil fan.  I am familiar with “the lore” as Sam Winchester would say.  Secondly, I watched the original movie with Ben Affleck, and I thought it was awful.  Thirdly, I then saw the director’s cut of the movie, and thought it was wonderful.  And fourthly I want to say that I did watch the first season, and for the most part, I thought it was great.  With the second season comes more to love… and then more to not love.

We’re going deep into this one, folks.  If you’re the audience that can’t take spoilers, get out now.  This is for people who have either already seen it, or for people who watch things for the experience, not for the surprise.

Matt Murdock – Shaking, But Not Stirring

murdockCharlie Cox returns as Matt Murdock, and some things became quickly apparent.

One immediate problem was that Matt’s got nothing new.  Charlie Cox is struggling to show off in this series but there’s nothing he can do; he’s blind, so facial expressions don’t really make sense.  You can’t look into his eyes.  I don’t envy the acting challenge.  Ironically, it’s when his face is covered that you see him come alive.  The physicality of his role as Daredevil is extremely demanding.  The “life” his character shows when in combat is not just the product of his choreography, you can see which fight scenes were filmed on off days and which weren’t.

The character of Matt is harder to identify with as the people around him start asking for things that he can’t give.  It’s not like Batman or Spider-Man, where you feel like the people would back off if they knew of his secret pasttime.  No, in this case his partner Foggy knows everything, and is asking for things that anybody in the position of business partner and best friend would ask for; namely reliability and the ability to count on him in times of need.  As Matt begins neglecting his day life and going out more as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, it’s hard to agree with his logic.  I began to miss the lawyer scenes.

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

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You’re a good man, Foggy Nelson.

Here is where as a character Matt becomes seriously upstaged.  Foggy Nelson is once again played by a cast-out-of-nowhere Elden Henson, who kills it in his role by being likeable, mouthy, yet unashamedly straightforward, decent, and honest.  In the old Ben Affleck movie, Foggy was a comical afterthought.  Here he is a true character.  He struggles to keep Nelson & Murdock afloat and tries his best to understand Matt’s other commitments.  He is also deeply hurt at Matt’s insistence on keeping him excluded from his activities and for never telling him about the darker part of his life, and this shows during the times when he has to tend to Matt’s injuries – from getting him hospital care to one point simply reaching out to wipe some blood from Matt’s head as they walked together in the street.  Matt takes this guy for granted, and it becomes hard to understand why as a viewer when he’s so obviously an asset, being both a fellow lawyer and a good friend.

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Deborah Ann Woll returns as Karen Page, this time with her character being a very obvious reason to explore the Punisher’s past.  Unfortunately, these parts tend to drag, as some things that are very easy to guess seem to take forever for her to figure out.  She is also the only one in many of her scenes to not know who Matt is, which becomes tiresome, especially when she and Matt begin to tentatively date.  In the end, she gets mad at him – pretty understandably, because after days of no-showing she finds him at home with Elektra in his bed… not a lot of explanations she can possibly think of in her head.  In fact, it sort of looks like Stick is her pimp in that scene.  I’ll talk about her later though, because I can’t hold back from this next guy.

Upstaging the Hero

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That’s right – it’s the Punisher.  As promised.  He is completely intact as a character, though I don’t think this version smokes.  Jon Bernthal steals the show in every scene he’s in.  In the beginning he’s believed to actually be a disgruntled army – only later is the threat revealed to be one man.  The trauma not of being at war… but being at peace and then losing his family – and then being forced to relive that trauma again and again due to his brain condition is one that makes it easy to sympathize with this murderer.  His dialogue is so unabashedly fascinating that when he’s out of the picture for a while the series slows to an unbearable crawl.  An awful crawl.  Almost a turn-off-the-TV crawl.  Then…

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Kingpin is baaack!  Oh, welcome back, man!  I was so grateful to see this guy because up until then I was ready to quit the series.  Man, was this guy scary last season.  Calm and cool… then ANGER EXPLOSION!  His scenes with Punisher are some of the most riveting.  The series picks itself back up again here, even though I’m going to talk about the things that hurt the series next, it’s worth it to give Vincent D’Onofrio his dues as the one who saved Season 2 for me.  Especially since the things that hurt Season 2 for me were quite unforgivable.

Awful Things That Make Me Worried About Season 3

Failed Femme Fatale

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Elektra looks like she’s constantly trying to seduce the director into not firing her.

Elektra is in this season, and she’s boring as anything.  She likes Matt, and she likes killing.  She’s sad about Matt not liking killing.  Then she’s sad about liking killing.  So she leaves and then after killing Angelo from Switched at Birth goes after Stick.  Then Matt decides he loves her and wants to leave the country with her.  But everyone knows Elektra dies right?  So she dies.  NOOOOOO! screams Matt.  Nobody cares.  Because the other thing we all know is that Elektra is always resurrected.  ALSO, there’s even a character from the first season, Nobu, that already has been resurrected, so it surprises nobody even so.  She’s boring and not intriguing or interesting.  She’s not exotic, she’s just boring.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.00, just go directly to jail.  Except jail would have Kingpin, which would make it more interesting again, so…

 

Stick

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So the old guy is back, and while he was great in the first season, he’s all over the place here.  Matt can’t seem to decide whether this guy is crazy, deserving of his help, or an awful person.  One second it’s “screw you, Stick!” then it’s “I owe him everything!”  Stick seems similarly confused, as he vacillates between sentences of admiration “You’re the toughest kid I’ve ever met.” and derogatory remarks about how Matt has supposedly “gone soft.”  The end result ended up feeling like an excuse to keep us away from Frank Castle and Kingpin stuff… Unforgiveable!

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So on a scale of 1 to 1o, I give this season a 5.  This is the best version of Kingpin and the Punisher I’ve seen so far, but a lot of this season felt like filler.  The parts with the proper villains shine through wonderfully.  Here’s to more of that next year… you know, after they’re done with all that ninja garbage nobody cares about.

 

 

“N-Naruto…-” Get Real.

All heroes have their admirers.  Naruto is of course constantly after Sakura, as she is the heroine that he hangs out with constantly – plus he knows that she’s in love with his rival, Sasuke, which only makes her more attractive to Naruto as a challenge to overcome.  As Naruto’s arc develops, so too does Naruto himself develop in maturity.  His relationship with Sakura also develops too.

So naturally, this means that Naruto eventually winds up with Hinata.

… Wait, what?  Is this some kind of joke? How does a writer as brilliant as Kishimoto – the man who wrote Naruto’s inspiring speeches, developed lovable ensemble characters like Shikamaru and Choji, and cultivated long-standing relationships such as Naruto’s bond with Kurama – know absolutely nothing about writing a proper romance?  Hinata is the worst choice of character for our hero, and there are plenty of reasons why.

A Bad Example

Hinata is an awful role model for girls.  Her entire existence – spanning decades if we’re going to consider her little scarf debacle in the last movie to be canon – has been about Naruto’s approval.  She’s the heir of a wealthy clan, born with a biological advantage (the Byakugan), and apparently a very capable ninja and a master of the Hyuga clan’s signature Gentle Fist style.

I guess you can’t have too many skills in one basket, because she also seems to have some kind of crippling personality disorder.  She never speaks up for herself, never goes for what she wants, and has very stalker-like tendencies when it comes to our hero.  She even deals in creepy stalker absolutes; “I want to stand by your side – forever!” she rehearses at one point.  WHOA.  Forever, girl?  How about you go out for noodles first, then see whether you even like the same things, because I can’t think of someone more different from our hero than you.

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Her dialogue is literally “N-Naruto…!” whenever he does something to vaguely acknowledge her – positively or negatively.  She wilts and blossoms at his syllables.  What this teaches is that girls should be meek little flowers that wait until the object of their affection’s whims lean in their direction.  

Some may say that Naruto is an anime series, not a fable, and that it has no responsibility to teach anything.  If that’s true, why create such an inspirational character as Naruto?  He’s a brat that stays fixated on one goal – stubbornly refusing to be shaken from the morals he grew up with, even when it seems that all above him are ready to do so.  He wins not only the approval but the admiration of his teachers and peers alike because of this.  When it’s time for him to decide his Ninja Way, it’s that he’ll never give up on something once he’s decided to do it.  Naruto is not the best ninja there.  He isn’t the most powerful or the most experienced.  He’s not the first person they call for  an emergency.  He isn’t Goku, the all-powerful hero.  He’s a flawed child with a personality to be infectiously good despite his rough manners, boisterous personality, and tactless rhetoric.  Why go to the trouble to create such a role model for kids – such that they realize they don’t have to be perfect in order to be good people – if you’re going to not teach lessons through what he does?

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Naruto gains the lifelong respect of former adversaries – like Gaara – due to his persistence and strength of character.

Below His Character

While there are plenty of reasons to admire Naruto for the many things he has done for his village and the world – as well as for his winning optimism and eagerness to be the best shinobi his village has ever seen – there are not many reasons for Naruto to see anything to admire in Hinata.  When watching the movie The Last: Naruto the Movie, it became apparent that the biggest factor for Naruto’s reciprocation of her affections was… it was a sure thing.

Ew.  What a seedy way to portray the character that worked so hard to win my respect.  The excuse commonly given for Naruto’s ignorance of Hinata’s love is that he “hasn’t had anyone to express it to him before.”  First of all, lies!  Second of all, he expresses his own affection for Sakura constantly, such that he would definitely understand if Hinata were to talk to him like a human being instead of stuttering his name all the time.

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Naruto: “Wow, Hinata, you sure did a good job eating all that ramen.”

Hinata: [shocked that she was noticed at all] “N-Naruto…!”

Naruto: “I’ll bet that’s how you bulk up to get so strong!”

Hinata: [shocked at being complimented] “N-naruto…”

Naruto: “Well, I’m going to go talk to people that actually talk back.”

Hinata: [sad that their interaction is over] “Naruto…” [Her eyes swell with tears, partly with happiness at the overall tone of their conversation, partly because of the welling of emotion that she feels for him.]

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What is there to admire?!  All of the paragons of awesomeness that Naruto worships are people with real skills, real admirable traits!  He appreciates Kakashi for what he learned about being there for your comrades.  He learns some really neat skills from Jiraiya.  He respects Might Guy for the way he bolsters Lee’s confidence.  He admires Sakura for being a strong person.  He admires Sasuke’s drive to achieve one goal, with the possibility that this might have even been the inspiration for his ninja way.  Sure, Hinata is powerful, and Naruto can respect that, but she shows no initiative in using it.  It might as well have been a secret!  Naruto starts using sickening language like “I’ve been in love with you.”  Do you know what “been” means, kid?  It means that it was an ongoing thing.  You expressed no such thing in the past – not to the audience, not to your own internal monologues, and certainly not to anybody else.

The disappointment I feel in such a poorly written relationship for such a well-written series AND main character is tantamount to what would happen if Luke Skywalker had been killed by Jar Jar Binks seconds before entering Jabba’s Palace.  It’s like if Goku’s death to defeat Raditz had been his exit from the series.  It’s like if the Clone Wars replaced the EU’s Mandalorian warrior race with a race of peace-loving… wait, that one was real.

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One of the saddest retcons in Star Wars history.

Anyway, Naruto’s sudden decision to reciprocate in such a way (“I’ve always loved you, Hinata!”) cheapens Naruto as a character and worse, advocates behavior like this.  Better that he stay single than do this.  There’s no risk here.  There’s no character that puts their feelings on the line for the other – Hinata never even has to admit how she feels.  Naruto ends up reading her mind (via magic water and of course in true Naruto and Naruto Shippuden style: a series of flashbacks), so he knows it’s a sure thing.  There’s no risk at all for him to express his affection, and worse, because it’s the first time he’s ever expressed this affection, it looks manufactured.

Things Matter

This is why even fillers should be vetted carefully by those familiar with the main storyline.  These Hinata fillers are the reason why Hinata is getting such a nasty portrayal.  They’re still canon!  Character development always matters!  Handle your characters with care, or else you might just cheapen the character you worked so hard to create.

Naruto vs Goku

This is not an indulgence of ignorant universe-crossing what-ifs.  I’m not comparing the characters of these series in terms of how powerful they are, but how effective they are as characters.  In other words, this is a comparison of the series as entertainment.

Premise

The basic premise of each of these series is irresistible to children, as usual with anime and manga directed at that age group.

Dragon Ball follows a character based on the Chinese Monkey King, Sun Wukong.  Simply called Goku, the character is small, cute, and incredibly small.  He is also super strong, and in fact half of the series’ appeal is watching bad guys underestimate Goku, and then have them be completely wrong.

Then you have Naruto, a series about a young ninja in a ninja village who wants to grow up to be… the best ninja in the village.

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Master Roshi trains Goku and Kuririn by having them perform assorted chores – Mr. Miyagi style.

Main Characters

Goku’s adventures  involve him traveling West, to find the legendary Dragon Balls for some noble, Goku-related reason.  In fact, Goku is inexplicably kind, innocent, and giving, with almost every other character having some kind of flawed personality.  His main pull is his naivete.  Goku is always the kindest, most innocent character in the room.  His foils are the vain Bulma, the posturing Yamcha, the obsessive Tienshinhan, the lecherous Master Roshi, the similarly perverted Kuririn, and other characters that are part of his revolving entourage.  The other irresistible element of this series is Goku’s ability to befriend former enemies, as to him fighting is a sport, and part of the game is knowing how to separate that from personal feelings.  Almost every comrade Goku travels with has fought against him at some point.

To sum up his character as introduced by the series, Goku is:

  • young
  • innocent
  • super strong
  • constantly underestimated
  • noble
  • orphaned
  • fun-loving

It’s no wonder people love this guy!  It’s a blast to watch him defeat whole armies led by fat, corrupt commanders, or take down a master assassin who can kill people with his tongue.

Naruto, however, excels in its execution.  Immediately Naruto is presented as a bratty orphan that everybody hates or looks down on, including the wise adults and the good guys.

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Naruto, even when put down by the entire village, still finds a way to smile.

Adults may be quick to hate such a character, but children latch on immediately.  Who hasn’t felt like everybody was judging them?  Who hasn’t felt like the world considers them a nuisance?  Who hasn’t had a dream that they would show everybody that ever doubted them that they were wrong?  Naruto is what Goku isn’t; an Everyman.  Naruto is not initially skilled at anything; he must always find his own niche, and that’s what makes him fun to watch.  His version of the Rasengan involves his own special method.  His Shadow Clone jutsu as a specialty is in itself a symbol; he relies on himself to support himself in battle, because he knows himself the most.  His constant flashbacking shows his power to reflect.  If the children I knew were as reflective as Naruto, they’d all be young novelists.

As a result, Naruto is more grown than he has the maturity to show.  He can see when an adult is looking out for him because he has spent so much time as an orphan.  However, he doesn’t know how to properly repay such a kindness – he lacks the social maturity to do anything but act out.

Instead, what becomes Naruto’s trademark is to pay it forward.  If Kakashi treats him a certain way, he makes sure that he treats anybody else the same way if he’s in that position.  Did someone save his life?  He’ll save someone else’s, because he’s learned that life is precious.  Especially potent are times when Naruto sees himself in other people and moves to protect them.  He sees Neji insulting Hinata, and even though he is not involved in that family’s conflict he rushes to Hinata’s aide.  When fighting Gaara, a stranger, he immediately recognizes the loneliness they have in common.

“It’s almost unbearable, isn’t it… the pain of being all alone. I know that feeling, I’ve been there, in that dark and lonely place… but now there are others – other people who mean a lot to me. I care more about them than I do myself, and I won’t let anyone hurt them. That’s why I’ll never give up. I will stop you, even if I have to kill you! They saved me from myself. They rescued me from my loneliness. They were the first to accept me as who I am. They’re my friends.”

Naruto is a very flawed character with a sense of right and wrong burned into him by the very role models that have failed him in other ways.  One thing he has learned for sure is that he has to believe in himself, even when it seems nobody else will.  Anyone who has spent any real time with Naruto cannot hate him.

Conclusion

I have been a fan of Dragon Ball since I was a small child.  I was only introduced to Naruto this year, and even so it was with extreme skepticism and cynicism.  I had a million questions, and I tore episode by episode apart with reckless abandon, annoying my wife horribly as I pointed out plotholes and obvious instances of filler – then Naruto opened his stupid mouth and ruined it for me.

Morally, I would want my kids to watch Naruto.  My previous favorite is a deadbeat alien father who constantly abandons his family (Adult Goku).  Naruto ruined me with his stupid optimism, his stupid compassion, and his stupid perseverence.  Be a brat, kid.  You grow up more with every episode… it feels real, even if it takes place in a ninja world.