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.

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Southern Scramble

Apparently my book will have a food chapter.  The name of this delicious dish is the Southern Scramble, which I shamelessly took from a similar dish at Black Bear Diner.  It’s easy to make and SO delicious.  My wife basically made sausage gravy using those summer sausage gift packages and pouring it on some scrambled eggs and homemade biscuits.  Delicious!  Will make any man happy, no doubt!

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Why Ender’s Film Could Never Work

Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game didn’t need to be made into a movie, one could argue.  It was one of those books with a jillion sequels, but you only really remember the first one (unless you’re me).  I read this book as a child and marveled at how such a book could be published in 1985.

In this book, there are laptops in every school.  Children posing as adults on the Internet.  At the center of it all was a six-year-old boy who had to be dangerous enough to be powerful, but gentle enough to not want power.  I read this book as the oldest of four siblings, and the first scene with Peter was one of the scariest things I could imagine.

From Chapter 2:

“Lie flat, bugger. We’re gonna vivisect you, bugger. At long last we’ve got one of you alive, and we’re going to see how you work.”

“Peter, stop it,” Ender said.

“Peter, stop it. Very good. So you buggers can guess our names. You can make yourselves sound like pathetic, cute little children so we’ll love you and be nice to you. But it doesn’t work. I can see you for what you really are. They meant you to be human, little Third, but you’re really a bugger, and now it shows.”

He lifted his foot, took a step, and then knelt on Ender, his knee pressing into Ender’s belly just below the breastbone. He put more and more of his weight on Ender. It became hard to breathe.

“I could kill you like this,” Peter whispered. “Just press and press until you’re dead. And I could say that I didn’t know it would hurt you, that we were just playing, and they’d believe me, and everything would be fine. And you’d be dead. Everything would be fine.”

Ender could not speak; the breath was being forced from his lungs. Peter might mean it. Probably didn’t mean it, but then he might.

“I do mean it,” Peter said. “Whatever you think. I mean it. They only authorized you because I was so promising. But I didn’t pan out. You did better. They think you’re better. But I don’t want a better little brother, Ender. I don’t want a Third.”

“I’ll tell,” Valentine said.

“No one would believe you.”

“They’d believe me.”

“Then you’re dead, too, sweet little sister.”

This scene made me feel for Ender, quickly and uncontrollably.  It was the first time I was subjected to the abrupt method of OSC’s characterization; when you meet an OSC character, you form an opinion right away.  There is no “getting-to-know-you” period.  Or rather, there is, but it doesn’t matter because you’ve already decided what you think about him.  From that moment on, Peter was my enemy, and Ender Wiggin was my friend, Val his savior.  This is the moment that made the rest of the story have meaning – not the Battle Room, not the inventions of a fascinating future, but really the only thing that has a chance of pulling anyone into science fiction that doesn’t want to have to be subjected to whole universes of learning curves to read a simple book – a human story.  Ender was a six-year-old, his sister was 8, and his brother was 10.  Then the brother had an arc; he apologized to Ender, which scared Ender even more – because either his brother secretly loved him and had no self-control, or he was still at it – still manipulating him.

This essay isn’t about whether Ender’s Game was a good movie – at least compared to the book.  There are countless sources out there that will tell you it failed in that respect.  I argue that this cannot be made into a movie, no more than you can make a movie out of a book like The Things They Carried.

No Control of Time

A book gets into the mind in a way a movie never can – and this pains me, because I love movies so much.  Ender’s Game is no longer even close to the best thing I’ve read anymore.  But it’s proof that a book can have something that a movie can’t.  In the movie, the scene with Peter lasts seconds.  There is no time for anything but fear.  There is no moment to consider Peter’s character.  Peter’s apology is also gone, but I don’t blame them.  If it had been there it would have confused viewers to death!  Movies are supposed to be clear about their characters, or at least let you have something concrete to hate; to have a moment of cruelty then sympathy in the span of a few minutes in a movie isn’t something a movie viewer will trust.

No Trust

This is something that is hard even for books to do.  Ender’s Game is trying very hard to tell a story without being interrupted.  My wife hates this book, and frankly I can see why.  While I may see here an allegory for the human race’s need to communicate with itself and how mankind’s hope resides in the adaptability and kindness of its children for the future, she sees something that her heart and mind will not let her get past: images of children hurting and even killing each other, being mentally manipulated to do so by adults who supposedly are saving the world.  When I read this book as a child, I gave it my trust, letting my walls drop to take in the story.  An older reader with developed morals – like my wife – sees the cruelty and slaps it from her presence.

Compare it to a conversation.  “This government is like Hitler’s” someone might say to begin. (Granted, if he was slightly socially unaware…)

There are two responses that I believe are the most likely.  There’s the very understandable “You’re crazy, get out of my face.” that we learn to protect ourselves.  It ends the conversation.  Then there’s the “Really?  I think you’re wrong, but tell me why.”  My wife’s conversation with this book ends the first way – because some people don’t want to be convinced that this cruelty can be part of entertainment – and why should she?  “I’m going to enjoy this book about a six-year-old being abused into saving the world?”  It’s a small wonder that many adults hearing of this story for the first time balk at its premise.

If a book couldn’t gain trust, how could a movie possibly do so when it assumes the trust is already there?  It has no chance.  In possible anticipation of this, the movie changed the ages to be about 6 years older.

Nice, now you have Space Harry Potter.

Behind the Events

When OSC speaks of the creation in the definitive edition of Ender’s Game, he mentions it as something he wrote simply to set things up for Speaker for the Dead.  I often wonder if that would have made the movie more palatable as well; what if they had made a movie called Speaker for the Dead and then after the movie marketed a prequel about the main character’s childhood?  It worked for Star Wars.  I feel like the movie lacked any kind of answer to the question of “Why?”  Why are we seeing Ender’s story?  Why do we see so little of the Earth we wanted to save?

Perhaps even a fusion of Ender’s Shadow with Ender’s Game might have made TV as a science fiction drama.  At least then it would have more control of time, more chances to earn trust, and more opportunities to explain origins behind characters and events.  Without these luxuries, a complex series like this is better left on the page.

Fettuccine Spaghetti

Every mother desperate to feed her child has a fallback.  A secret weapon.  A dish that the child will not be able to resist.  This dish is the holy grail; it’s complaint-proof, idiot-proof, and above all, it’s easy.

One of my mother’s fallbacks was spaghetti.  To be precise, it was spaghetti noodles, a pot of Ragu, and veal.  Yum!  When veal became scarce (thanks, PETA) it was replaced with hot dogs.  All four kids in my family grew up on this stuff.  When I got older, I asked my mom once why she didn’t add anything else to it, as my mother liked to add [unnecessary] vegetables and things all the time.  She answered that she was cooking for too many children to experiment successfully – she didn’t dare deviate from the winning formula.

And so I progressed through life with my perception of spaghetti being that – Ragu sauce, spaghetti noodles, and some hot dogs.

My world has changed.

While I will look fondly on those Fridays, my wife has made some major modifications to my spaghetti palate.  First of all, the stuff is still easy to make; how a “spaghetti factory” drums up any business is beyond me.  Secondly, the availability – or lack thereof – of some ingredients has triggered the need for some invention.  (Necessity is the mother of that cutie, after all.)  Invention that has now become a hallmark of the dish.

The Sauce

Spaghetti is only as good as its sauce.  With marriage came the introduction to a meaty, chunky spaghetti sauce filled with things like onions and beef and peppers.  While this was eventually toned down to the heating of a simple jar, as before, I’ve found that Prego is now the proper weapon of choice. Add some zucchini for a surprisingly effective flavor booster!

The Noodles

This is the first real hack of the dish.  Ever have problems choosing which brand of spaghetti noodles to go with?  It’s because you’re asking yourself the wrong question!  This is the part where I earn your trust.

Fettuccine noodles.  That’s right.  It’s like flat shoelaces – they catch easier on the fork, they work with multiple utensils, and they settle on lumps of meat a lot easier with every forkful.  Gone are the slip-and-slide days of yore as you struggle to catch the whiplashing ends of a runaway noodle.

The Meat

My wife’s answer for this is twofold; she usually prepares a larger meat portion – here called the “main meat” – and then she also cuts up a smaller “secondary meat” into the sauce itself.  For example, slices of sausage get cooked with the sauce, but some parmesan meatballs or country-fried steaks are the large, main meats.  I’m not as much a fan of just a meaty sauce as the main meat; you need some lumps to wrap the noodles around your fork.

Do you like spaghetti a specific way?  I know someone who eats it with rhubarb!