Naruto Inc., RIP

As a typical idiot who watches Naruto (seriously), before writing this, I didn’t take the time to take a look at this handsome explanation by Dattebayo, which renders some of my post to be baloney: Dattebayo to Drop Naruto, Effective 01/15/09


sharingan-tsukuyomiNice recent post over on GameSpite, about how well 16-bit console RPGs translated from Japanese into English. In other words, the Final Fantasy games are still pretty cheesy in their original language. For anyone unaware, Gamespite is perhaps the best console video-game blog/zine around, though for computer jocks, be warned that it leans toward the retro and RPG/anime-influenced Japanese gaming spectrum. Of course, that is not so much a warning as a major CRM endorsement, haha! (How could anyone hate a blog/zine that loves Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher?)

At some point in that article, the author mentions how the writing in certain games is no better than, say, Naruto. Now I’m sure Naruto doesn’t have Mamet-quality dialog, but the show has terrible writing compared to what? Zatch Bell? Pokemon? Air Bender? I know GameSpite didn’t mean anything significant by the comparison, and I’m not griping about them by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, I can only praise GameSpite! But their Naruto reference does give me a good opportunity to blather on about a few things related to the series. My apologies to those of you who hate anime or only want to hear about music, etc. Nothing to see here! Come back tomorrow (or never again — hahaha!).

A lot of elitists the internet over do not like Naruto. But instead of snidely mocking Naruto fans (yes, I too get it — there are dumb Naruto fans, like with anything that becomes popular amongst a large common denominator) we should just be occasionally specific or concise with adequately leveled Naruto criticism. I can understand if people think it’s simply overrated, given the amount of commercial success Naruto has garnered. And I, for one, think that the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and Macintosh and The Office and a whole slew of other commercial/artistic ventures are “overrated”, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t high-quality. It just means I think their praise is not tantamount to their actual integrity and talent. Whatever, insignificant — moving along!

I would agree with the Naruto criticism that the plot arcs run on for too long. And to top it off, the episodes spend like 5 minutes to recall the last episode, wasting valuable storyline time. Seriously, during fight segments, the show probably spends about 3 minutes per episode actually advancing the storyline at all. It takes so damn long that unless you have 20 episodes queued up on your computer or DVD, it’s almost unwatchable. The payoff is that the show can also be extremely good. When it’s good, it’s one of the best “fight animes” that exists, with rewarding plot twists and deep character development. It makes me cry all the time, even though I don’t even like to cry.

The problem most fans have with watching Naruto is that it is no longer available online. The volunteer fan group, Dattebayo, used to torrent their high-quality fansubs (higher quality subtitles, as per usual, than the official subtitles) but due to legal threats, and the fact that Naruto is now in circulation on American television, they have been forced to stop making their fansubs publicly available. It’s too bad, really, not just because their subtitles were free, but because Dattebayo makes subtitles of actual salable quality, moreso than the “official” subtitles. It would be bizarre if they have not been contracted based on their work.

Now that the Japanese fansubs are no longer openly or legally available to the public, Naruto fans are faced with two options. The first is to buy tons of official, overpriced DVDs with sub-par subtitles — a nauseating option considering the typical Naruto plot arc takes about 20+ episodes and has severe problems with repetition. And if you factor in that the average anime DVD has about 4 or 5 episodes on it, and costs at least 20.00 USD, that’s almost a hundred dollars for each plot arc. And then there’s the problem that Naruto episodes are rarely stand-alone episodes, and that there are a number of insubstantial filler plot arcs which would have to be included in the official release. How many DVDs would it take to own a 300+ episode series? That’s almost as crazy as owning the Berserk manga!

The other option is to watch Naruto on North American/European television, in English voice-over dubs. But as we all know, dubbed anime is pretty depressing. It just feels awkward to watch, because the original intent of the show’s creators/producers do not often transition into the English voice actors’ roles. I don’t know why that is, but it almost always happens. There are a few exceptions, but in dubs, a handful of characters always have intolerable voices or do not fit the characters.

One further gripe I have with the foreign release of Naruto dubs, is that they often cut out the opening and ending musical segments. Only more recently have they (producers? localization/import teams?) decided to keep some of the Japanese opening themes, because they realized that their shoddy North American studio tracks actually perverted the show’s personality. I don’t know the politics behind these decisions, and there are surely international marketing licenses and royalty fees for the artists and labels of the songs, but the ending theme for the American broadcast of Naruto is terribly mediocre and has never changed — even after they decided to include some of the Japanese opening themes.

Anyway, it all makes me kind of depressed because Naruto has a really endearing set of characters and story arcs. I used to skip over the filler arcs, and follow the main storyline and I was always pretty darn satisfied by the turn of events, even if it took a long-ass time to get to the point. I suppose the main criticism is that Naruto has, since going international, become like it is in Japan — a shameless commercial venture, where the more money the consumer spends on it, the less he/she receives in return. Naruto has become a cross-medium arcade/pachinko scheme, which takes serious investments of time and money to get any results from it. It’s really too bad, considering Naruto has some wonderful qualities beneath it all. But now we’re forced to watch it in dubbed, tea-spoon-sized television servings or in high-cost video increments (at least until Netflix decides to carry the episodes; that ought to use up your free Netflix trial extremely quickly!).

It is funny then, that one amusing point of the GameSpite article I mentioned at the beginning, is that sometimes the poor translation of old console RPG stories actually developed deeper resonance with their audiences. That is, the games somehow became uniquely endearing, or could masquerade as more artistically sophisticated amongst foreign audiences, due to their dopey translations. And strangely enough, the same qualities actually butcher certain mangas and anime ventures.


~ by chaosrexmachinae on December 25, 2008.

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