Bisexuals and Fascism: Sorting out Legend of Korra

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I feel like a brief, separate pow-wow is needed to discuss some things I’ve noted about people’s reaction to the ending last week in Legend of Korra.

We anticipated the backlash against Korrasami so I did cover most of what I wanted, with some caveats.

First, insofar as the pairing itself:  I think it’s important to remember Legend of Korra is STILL an action show.  The pairing is significant, absolutely, but it is one of many side plots, as any other character side plot. The focus is still on the action romp.  As time passes and in ten years, when (hopefully) this kind of thing has become the norm, no one will mistake Legend of Korra for a romance series, but recognize it as tweens action cartoon.  Let’s keep this in mind as we try to strike at the way it was handled. Korra is not trying to be Twilight.  It should not be held to that standard of genre, nor should it be defended like it attains it.

To that end, absolutely. Absolutely they probably could have done more to lean the direction. For instance, have Tenzin comfort Asami when Korra goes missing, have Asami narrate part of the clip show, slip in something there.  Sure, more PROBABLY could have been done.  But this is armchair quarterbacking.

Plenty of people who weren’t usually engaged in shipping wars (such as yours truly) or those who didn’t particularly CARE were calling it in Season 3. There was enough chemistry established between the characters to lead on those of us with the analytical eye.  It was definitely buried, but let’s accept the limitations, and as the creators themselves admitted, lack of courage and lack of commitment to the idea in the early goings on. There was enough that it didn’t strike most of us who HAD been following the series as out of the blue.

But that is really the minor of the two points, as that debate is EVERYWHERE still.  I just wanted to add that one addendum that most people seem to be missing.

The real focus I want to address is the conclusion of the ACTUAL plot, that of Kuvira and the Earth Empire. Continue reading

Completely Predictable Post: Legend of Korra: Balance

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Season 4 of Legend of Korra has drawn to a close. You know what that means.

If Change was recovery, where Korra retread its roots and became Avatar again, Balance was where Korra truly came into its own.  Its own identity, its own style, its own story. It had strengths and weaknesses, but it truly felt like something unique in its own right, rather than a continuation or pale imitation.

There’ll be a lot of spoilers if you haven’t seen the season yet, so be warned. We’ll also talk about the series as a whole. Continue reading

200th Post: The Three Episode Rule

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So here’s a fair warning: My blog is extremely condescending. I am extremely condescending.  This post? Even I’m finding it condescending. Read forward at your own risk.

A bit of a lightweight compared to our last milestone post, but with the moving, my lack of blogging, etc, yeah. This is the main reason I haven’t begun the Autumn 14 season in earnest yet.

So, let’s address one of the mainstays of the anime fan: The Three Episode Rule.

If you haven’t heard of it, oh mysterious anime viewer who is involved enough with the community to scour small time anime blogs on wordpress that focus on small, current run series without name recognition but NOT community savvy enough to know one its staples, the Three Episode Rule (TER) is the idea that, at the beginning of a season, you don’t really know what is gold waiting to be mined and what is shit on a stick. And pilots can be misleading, due to story issues, budget overblowing to attract you, and trailer editors are meanspirited nazis who exist to make the Smurfs look like the Bourne Identity. Thus, in order to better gauge a series when first trying it out, you don’t judge it too soon in case you miss a gem, but wait until the third episode to make up your mind. The blogging sphere is full of people’s seasonal updates after the third episode.

In my opinion…it’s nonsense.

At best, the TER is like a stopgap you use for someone until they become sophisticated.  Like, say, the way we often explain transgender individuals as being “a woman trapped in a man’s body/man trapped in a woman’s body”.

If you have the barest of scientific knowledge regarding sexuality and hormones, or taken one semester of a gender studies course your girlfriend at the time said would be bonding but the two of you broke up halfway through the semester and it’s too late after the academic withdrawal period so now you’re barely paying attention enough not to fail and drag down your GPA…

Point is, if you’ve ever had to examine the issues involved, the biological, sociological, or political, it is abundantly clear that that lie is NOTHING like the truth. It isn’t. It’s far, far too complicated to explain that way.  BUT WE DO IT because Liza Jane from the South Will Rise Again rally in suburban South Carolina Soccermomsville simply doesn’t have the intellectual maturity to approach the topic, so we dumb it down as a stopgap until later when, maybe, hopefully, our hick here will be more receptive to the information regarding it, now that they THINK they’re enlightened.

Similarly, like how the information on the internet runs like “a series of tubes” to deliver its multitudes of data to the corners of the earth.  The internet is NOT a series a tubes, but the expression is a convenient metaphor to try and explain to someone of a youth-challenged generation why, say, not having enough IP addresses is a problem. Or why data caps are fucking balls and are you KIDDING ME THAT’S STILL A THING, MIAMI? YOU FUCKHOLES MADE ME GO TO AT&T BECAUSE IT’S THE ONLY PLACE WITHOUT THEM? 100 BUCKS FOR 100GB A MONTH, WHAT KIND OF LANDLINE IS THAT?!?! ….*cough*

The Three Episode Rule, in my mind, falls under a similar umbrella.  It is a useful tool for idiots. It is a guideline, at best, and should never be observed religiously. When someone is first getting into anime and doesn’t fully understand the tropes, the cultural continuity, the style, etc, we say “Okay, try the first three episodes then make up your mind”, like you were explaining it to an eight year old.  But once someone is comfortable to saying they are, definitively, a fan of anime, it’s time to use your mind more judiciously, in my opinion.

Leaving aside the fact that, in my mind, I can’t think of a single series that was “saved” by its third episode, cannot think of a series that hooks SPECIFICALLY on the third episode, nor anything really magic about the 25% marker for the story in any OTHER medium (Read the first 1.75 books in the Harry Potter series if you don’t like it. No really! You CAN’T know you’ll dislike it for good until you do. (Or, using word counts, the second chapter of Goblet of Fire. You’ll never really know if you like Harry Potter until you’ve read THAT FAR, it might get better!)).

Leaving aside ALL that…let’s examine it’s assumptions. Continue reading

Not-So Surprise Post: Legend of Korra: Change

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So, you may remember the first special post I did, which was at the conclusion of Season 2 of Legend of Korra last year. In short, I expressed my concerns that the series had become aimless and had ceased on trying to deliver satisfying fights, storytelling prowess and character evolution that the franchise has been so renowned for, so much as it was trying to be a Michael Bay movie for kids.

Season 3 seems to indicate that this will indeed be remembered as the fluke of the series, as this season, “Change”, was a return to…well…practically the classic series.  So much felt like the original series, that I think for the first time they finally managed to capture that this was indeed the EXTENSION of the old series.

Not that I’ve ever been one of those who feels that Korra needed to be “like” the first series.  Season 1 was different and I was cool with that.  My problem with Season 2 was how it failed to live up to the barest amount of scrutiny.

I think now a more complete picture of the show itself, and the behind the scenes jackassery that this creative team has to put up with, is starting to give us a general picture, and it seems like it’s been corrected for.  My hunch is, as of now, that seasons 3+4 are going to be a much tighter story arc along the lines of Earth and Fire in the original series if they were condensed to 13 episodes each (making them even more tight). Be warned, ye head into spoiled waters. Continue reading

Dataport Doll’s Top Ten: Introduction

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Top tens would be foolish if they were completely objective.  The only differences would be in the author’s viewing habits that simply prove they haven’t seen X in order that they might place it on the list.

So with that in mind, I’m going to lay out a few simple things that will be skewing the list you are bound to see.  As with the standard reviews you see here, I am foregoing the usual clinical stuff, and merely using my personal enjoyment as a benchmark.  That doesn’t mean I won’t try to analyze WHY I enjoyed something, to deconstruct a series to some key elements.

But deconstruction is an imprecise tool when we get to things we actually enjoy, rather than those which are miserable to sit through.  Just because we can break down the elements of a series, it does not therefore follow that any series which assembles those elements together again will be as enjoyable. Sometimes these elements are subtle, sometimes they are gross, but I don’t think I’m alone in believing there to be a magic to storytelling that, if one tries to reach out into it like mist, you might end up washing it away into thin air.

So what are the angles that influence Dataport Doll?

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Well, I’m sure if you’ve read any number of my reviews, the first should be obvious.  I would be lying if I said my sexuality doesn’t influence my appreciation of media.  But you can go back to my Yuri Goggles post, or the Sakura Trick recap, to see what I feel about lesbians in media.

But I would find the charge that I am “politicizing’ my favorites a distasteful one.  Rather, I think that it is easier for me, as someone who identifies as lesbian and enjoys character studies more than almost any other form of story, to identify with a character who either is lesbian or can possess lesbian undertones (see subtext).  And many of the characters you spy in this series will have probably been the scale that tips them into the list.  You’ll note I still use Suigintou as my avatar, but thinking about it for ten seconds, there’s no way I’d actually put Rozen Maiden among my favorite series.

…This is actually the biggest reason I might adopt individual character studies as special posts.

But Suigintou is a great example of how several series did end up here.  Character study + Darkness + Lesbian = DataportDoll favorite.

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Tied into this point is that character studies will show up a lot here.  Two shows are here for similar, nigh identical, reasons, even though they present their subjects differently.  You’ll see when we’re done, as one of these shows I’m mentioning is #1.

A third factor I’ve taken into consideration is some -slight- alterations for the sake of balance, and nostalgia, giving weight to older series which are still rather close to my heart in favor of perhaps newer series which ring stronger in my ears due to how long it’s been since I’ve seen them.  I’ve thrown around titles like “the greatest ____anime” over the past year, and also felt it should be honest I include some of those.

And a final factor…how many avatars do I use from that series?  How much did a series affect me that I incorporated parts of it into my online identity?  I feel this is actually an important benchmark as I truly believe art is transformative.  And for a series to demonstrate that in me, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to say that THAT should be considered as to what I deem “favorites”.  Number 10 actually landed on the list this way from a four-way tie.

It is these subjective reasons which will influence my Top 10.

After much hand wringing, I’m deciding to NOT include Avatar: TLA due not only to its nature as American-based, but also complications that arise about Korra (Season 1 of Korra being my favorite TLA franchise set of all, Season 2 blowing, and the rest incomplete).  I also have to admit that, much like a series that did not make the Top 10, while I do LOVE Avatar to death, objectively speaking this devotion is reserved for small PARTS of a 61-episode series.  Not to say I think most of it is crap, just, I don’t go back and watch the entire thing for fun.  I don’t marathon it like I do many of the Top 10s.  That and if I gave it a slot, I’d almost HAVE to rank Korra up higher, and thus use 20% of my spots up.  The Top 10 gives me chances to speak about shows I don’t mention a lot, and Korra has been mentioned on the blog before, so I’m content at that.  And it’s not like Avatar: TLA was jockeying for the top spot, it was going to end up somewhere at Eight or below, so I don’t feel -as bad- cutting it.  But I wanted to give it a super-special mention.

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As a bonus, when I crafted up this list, I came up with 17 series.  Those that did not make the cut heretofore get an honorable mention.

-Naruto: As I mentioned in my “Where Naruto Should Have Ended” post, I feel the series should be over, but the fact it isn’t continues to make me want to punch it in the face too much to include it here. But those parts I loved, Essentially Tsunade Retrieval through the series gap into Pain Arc, is a pretty strong contender.

-Inuyasha: No series gives me the same sense of nostalgia as Inuyasha.  It was family bonding time in my house, even my dad had picked out Kikyo as his favorite character.  But, much like Naruto, too much is mindless dragging along that I cannot score the series as a whole to put in on the list. Even though Kagura’s death makes me teary every time.

-Fullmetal Alchemist: Oh damn. Yes, FMA does not quite make my cut.  I think the simple fact is that I enjoyed it, and objectively (being purely objective here), it may actually be the greatest of the great. But I haven’t felt the need to watch it, nor Brotherhood since either series ended, and feel content not watching it again.  So, subjectively, it doesn’t belong here. But it gets close.

-Witchblade: Stop judging me.

-Gankutsuo: A visual masterpiece and a great character study, I mark it down for just not quite having the ‘umph’ in its climax I was looking for.

-Baka to Test: A glorious little comedy series, it’s still one of the first I try to show to people who want to get into anime.  Excellent dub and original, the lovely Shouko and the greatest teacher ever, it falls just short primarily because there’s a comedy series that outdoes it in laughs and absurdity, for me.

-Higurashi: This was a difficult cut because I wanted to make it work.  But if I use ONLY the first season, I felt the Keiji arc went on for WAY too fucking long to justify its presence here.  And if I expand into the sequel series, well, even cherry picking those, there’s too much filler and the eventual lack of grittiness that would be dropped in favor of swimsuits can’t justify its placement here.

So there you have it.  I will be blatant though in sharing what WILL be coming in at #10…

I’ll see you all in the Fleet of Fog.

Cut Away Review: Shinsekai Yori

(Another archiving review from MyAnimeList, this time 100% spoiler-free! A look at what I would defend as the best science-fiction anime ever.)

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First off, let there be no doubts that Shinsekai Yori is a quality show, and every criticism levied is done so in the interests of the undecided viewer and objectivity.

Shinsekai Yori is probably the best example to hold up when warning someone off the “anime is a genre” trap. Because it should not be viewed by people who simply consider themselves fans of anime and manga. Not to say those common elements don’t exist, but there is a far better, more descriptive way to explain it.

Shinsekai Yori is a masterpiece of science fiction.

That probably won’t sit well with some people, but it’s the truth. At best, you can just broadly say it is in (more socially acceptable term) speculative fiction, but Shinsekai Yori is the definition of what science fiction is: It uses fantastical elements to explore the human condition in spiritual, sociological, and political ways.

Once again let it be said, Shinsekai Yori is a quality show. But it cannot be recommended to -everyone- simply because it is a pretty anime. If you are not a fan of science fiction as a concept, Shinsekai Yori will probably not sit well with you. The most apparent problem with this is the beginning. It is slow in the terms of plot. That is because, again, like many science fiction novels, it chooses to focus first on universe building. This isn’t any worse or better, it’s just the stylistic choice of the novel, and the show sticks to the novel quite well.

Speaking of which, there are lots of elements that will feel like a book on screen, the least of which aren’t several time skips that most television seeks to avoid.

Even among all these warnings: Science fiction fans who -want- something intellectually challenging may be put off by certain details. These are almost always cultural differences. Without spoiling, but as a general example, whenever the government or ruling body holds a policy that treats people as inferior, expendable, or second-class in some way, in anime it is typical that it slides by without much comment, merely being accepted as “for the common good” (this occurs a lot in Ghost in the Shell). Whereas in Western sci-fi, that is usually the sticking point for most plot twists and paradigm shifts. That is not to say there is not an opinion presented, but it is not -direct-, and that can infuriate some science fiction fans. So, advice towards them: Go in without expectations.

It is also science fiction in that the plot is the primary device, not the characters, though they are well developed enough to sympathize with their plight and even pick favorites.

There is indeed homosexuality presented. But again it is mostly in a sense of showing how different this society is. On top of that it is not fan-servicey in the least. In fact, though I am a considerable distance from a yaoi girl, even the boy-on-boy was endearing and tastefully handled, in my estimation. It would do the entire industry some good if more television handled it this way.

One thing that I can’t praise the show on much is the animation. Though I only jumped in around episode 17, I marathoned the entire series in a night. But nothing particularly jumps out at me as a “moment of badass” for the series. Other than the flashbacks during the “introductory” phase of the show, which were quite effective and chilling in an Akira tone.

I will again say: if you are on the fence about this show, it comes highly recommended. But if you are vehemently against any of these stylistic choices (the sci-fi nature, the novel-on-screen, the plot-as-driving-force) then it would be hard to blame you for not enjoying it, it simply is not for everyone. But neither is The Lord of the Rings, Citizen Kane, or Batman, but that doesn’t make them bad.

Cut-Away Review: Kannazuki no Miko

(Another repost from MyAnimeList for archiving purposes. We’re going to the way back machine…for a series I didn’t watch until last year. Science!)

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So, as someone who wasn’t much more than casually involved in anime until around 2006, I have never truly gotten around to watching this one, which is odd, considering my likes. So I figure I will toss my hat from here, 2013 and ten years hence production (*Note: at the time of this writing.).

I came at this from the angle of someone who likes mystical and yuri romance. I haven’t ever been more than neutral towards mecha, not avoiding it, but not going out of my way either. I enjoyed this series immensely, but mostly as a character study (my preferred method of series). But a character cannot exist in a vacuum, so let’s get the bad stuff out of the way.

As has been mentioned, the villains in this series are rather bland, even distracting. At best, they exist to fuel the tension in the love triangle. More often than not, they are mood killers for a few nice character moments. As such the entire plot can feel bogged down by the quirky-sentai team of mech fighters. The meta plot on the whole is not much better, being repetitive episode to episode and poorly explained. A show like Madoka Magica gives just enough details about how the mechanics work so that, if you WANT to, you can fill in the blanks. Kannazuki no Miko is decidedly short of that standard, and the nature of the bad guys, how their mecha tie into their roles, and the powers of the priestesses are all vague and poorly developed (the latter only becomes clear at the very end). Look at it as a framing device for Chikane, anything more and you may be courting disappointment.

The animation is pretty good for the time, and holds up as “average” post-renaissance. It isn’t as hard lined and simplistic as the early 90s but neither does it have the flow of a modern eye. Point being, while you’ll note some still-frame panning and extensive dialogue padding (as its cheaper than animating), it probably won’t detract from your experience like some older shows can.

The formulaic first half of the series can be a bit of a chore, and is by far the slowest point in the entire series (ep 3-6). There is some “drama” about how the girls need to learn their true miko powers, some character development about how nice Chikane is to Himeko (because of her secret feelings) and some Himeko/Souma romance that gets interrupted by a mech arriving to crash their date. This pattern is repeated way too often.

But then you find out the game Kannazuki no Miko has been playing, and it wasn’t for a status-quo baddy fight. Continue reading

Cut-Away Review: Kamisama no Inai Nichiyobi

(This is just a simple repost of my review on MyAnimeList, for archiving purposes, but you’ll get to see my thoughts on an “oldie”. Expect more of these over the next few weeks.)

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I will skip the summary, I assume you have it at the top of the page. Suffice to say, the undead, no more babies, and a little Gravekeeper three years too young to exist, Ai. As my other reviews show, while animation and mood are nice, I focus on acting and story. So this will slant in those directions. For that reason, you will find I am rather negative towards this series.

I am not someone who has read the book series, so when Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi (hereafter KIN) popped up on the season’s list, I was intrigued. I didn’t quite know what to expect. I purposefully approached the series on its own merits, without research about the background, to let the show stand on its own. I am always of the opinion I should not have to do homework to enjoy a work. There was but a brief description about the premise, and color me interested, I tuned in the very first week.

After the first few episodes, I wanted this show to blow everything else out of the water. I wanted to LOVE this show. I wanted to parade this series around come the fall like it was the next Fullmetal, or Death Note, or Madoka. It very early on demonstrated a theme of “hope within absolute darkness”. It had little girl tea-party heartwarming alongside the living dead. Ai was a fantastic character, really every character is fantastic. This show was going places. I was sad at the end of the Humphney Humbert arc, but who wouldn’t be? But I was left with a complete sense of….contentment. KIN had an excellent pace, and seemed to know exactly where to put its focus. The art was beautiful, eerily beautiful for a show about (essentially) the twilight of humanity. The music was spot on, and voice actors perfectly cast. Of all the series I was watching (some five), KIN was at the top of my list, the one I anxiously stood on edge for to see next week. Continue reading

100th Post: The Anatomy of Yuri Goggles: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Flowers

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Evidence is Not the Same Thing as Proof

So throughout the past months in KILL la KILL I have made several jokes regarding Yuri Goggles. This is a subject of some personal fascination for me. And since this blog exists to let me yap about what I want, let’s take a deeper look into this issue.  All the more fitting now that Nobunagun and Sakura Trick have worked their way into my blog.

Be warned, ye enter forbidden, uncharted waters.  I might ramble for hours. Who knows? Anything could happen! Come see Anna be academic serious less of an asshole! After all, it is the 100th post.

Yuri Goggles, for those who are unfamiliar, is the term applied to when a viewer interprets a scene between two characters as being homoerotic, specifically between two women.  The resulting girl on girl isn’t outright stated to be romantic, but is merely one of many ways to interpret art.

There are various types of goggles, too. The term “goggle” simply means you have put up a lens through which you are passing information through with a specific objective.  This applies to anything, including counterpart Yaoi goggles. More familiar, you may be aware of the whole “proving God” argument. If I am someone of faith, you cannot disprove to me that a miraculous event was not God’s will. If I am someone without, you cannot prove to me that it is. Both are sets of goggles towards which bias enters, and the degree to that lens, that is to say, the degree of the warping of the information being given to you, will vary from person to person, issue to issue.

This association leads many to dismiss any interpretation that may lend itself to Goggles, But I think in the case of Yuri Goggles, we have to dig a few steps deeper to understand their usefulness.

For the record: We will be addressing MANY examples, and some are series that we have not covered. If you wish to avoid spoilers for these shows, abandon hope. Continue reading

Where “Naruto” Should Have Ended.

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What do you do when you are a minor critic, whose only contribution has been swearing and peanuts, and quite possibly the most successful anime ever nears 700 episodes?

Talk about why it’s bad of course!

The last time I did one of these was…the Korra review. And who remembers that, really? So consider this one of my very occasional indulgences.

I do count Naruto (used here to refer to the combined series Naruto and Shippuden) among some of my fondest anime memories.  And simultaneously, a series I have grown bitter about.

As someone who got into Naruto around 2007, my opinion of it remains very much the same as most people who got into it around that time or earlier: After 14 years it is hard to care anymore. (14 being tentative from the launch of the series)

But for me, it goes one step past simple burn out.  To me, Naruto is over already. Its arc completed long ago, and everything since then has been so much stalling to keep the subscriptions (in manga) and episodes (in anime) coming.

We have to go back in time quite a few years.  So come along with me! As we pretend to enter the world where Naruto’s storytelling did not consist of seven weeks of flashbacks and one week of fighting! I know. Crazy right?

The Underdog Series

Naruto’s greatest contribution to anime, and fiction in general, actually, was its depiction of the Underdog AS an underdog.

Naruto’s victories in the early series were not because he overpowered villains.  They were, and you’ll forgive my application of a football term, armchair quarterback fights that his superiors could say “Well, any shinobi could have done it had they been there, but good work on doing your job, Naruto.”  His victory was getting INTO the Chuunin exam.  His victory was -deterring- Zabuza.  His victory was beating Kabuto, while the legends around him dealt with Orochimaru.

And, every now and then, he got his ass handed to him.  Indeed, in some arcs, such as Gaara Retrieval, he was mostly a hindrance to his team.

This was a good thing!

It was an incredibly optimistic time for the series! In Naruto we had a character who was genuine.  He had his determination, and while it was a little obnoxious listening to him blab about becoming Hokage at the drop of the hat, when we saw him overcome the elitist pricks he often went up against, after so many stories about how he is just a BAD shinobi…we rooted for him. Even if we didn’t like him as a character.

I also think that it helped contribute to the ensemble nature of the show.  While it was okay to humor Naruto, to tolerate his presence because every Shonen series needs a spunky, teen male viewpoint character, most of our favorites back in the day were the periphery characters.  Orochimaru, Itachi, Sasuke, Kakashi, Hinata, and Gaara would probably have all made favorites markers ahead of the title character back in the day.  Not even counting Tsunade, Kabuto, Lee, Sai, or really any of the Rookies at the time.  I knew at least half a dozen other people who were watching Naruto before me.  None of them really liked Naruto. We found him a positive presence, a necessary spark of hope among the jaded shinobi, but he was never “the favorite”. And this was an incredible strength of the series.  It may have been about Naruto, but the show did not feel “Naruto-centric”.

It’s difficult to explain, certainly one might say “But Anna, every character and his dipshit brother is getting a flashback in the Shinobi War”, and that’s true.  But the world has become centered around Naruto.  I don’t even mean, “we must fight a war to protect Naruto”, that’s fine. But the outcome of said war is completely dependent on him.  No other players feel like they truly matter anymore.  They’re just stalling until Naruto can swoop in and kill Tobi (no spoilers!) and Madara. The world prior to this first went about its business.  Orochimaru attacked Konoha for reasons OTHER than Naruto.  He interfered in the Tsunade Retrieval for his own reasons.  The Akatsuki were the ones who needed Naruto, and it wasn’t even about him, but the kyuubi he hid inside himself.

Naruto turned from “Greek Hero”, that is, while he was a central figure, he was elevated to that position by his friends, peers, and superiors by his ability, attitude, and victories.  Once the whole Shinobi War starts, by this point he is firmly entrenched in the “Persian Hero” status. The chosen one. He will lead not because of merit, but because DESTINY! *jazz hands*

This is a disservice to the series.  But it’s not even the worst one. Continue reading